Cleaning Coast to Coast: Pressure Washing in California

Cleaning Coast to Coast

Pressure Washing in California

By Terri Perrin / Published November 2021

Photos courtesy of Shamblin Softwash & Pressure Washing

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of state profiles highlighting the opportunities, advantages, and challenges of the pressure washing industry across the USA. To read about opportunities in a specific state as the series is updated or to read past state profiles, please visit www.cleanertimes.com.

Dreamers Welcome!

     Ahhhh! Sunny California (CA). Home to Hollywood movie stars, Silicon Valley’s technology, Napa Valley’s wines, some of the nation’s best universities, and the largest entertainment and fashion industry in the country. However, California is not just about tourism, movie stars, and wine. Other industries bring in more money and help drive the economy, offering opportunities for all facets of the pressure washing industry. Aside from real estate, the computer and electronic products manufacturing industry contribute the most to California’s economy, and construction, manufacturing, and agriculture are also huge.

     With a population of about 40 million—that’s more than the entire country of Canada—California is the most populous state in the USA. It’s a place, so they say, for “dreamers,” with ideas for many of the world’s most recognized brands being born here. California was the birthplace of Apple computers, theme parks (Disneyland), blue jeans, fortune cookies, and the Barbie doll, to name a few!

     An average 42.9 percent of residents in California are college educated, earning it the distinction of being one of the country’s wealthiest and most socially and politically influential regions. It is also considered to be a “minority-majority” state, with 63 percent of its population being of Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native Ameri-can, or other minority group descent.

     California takes its name from Queen Califia, a character in the book, Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián), written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The official state nickname—The Golden State—came to be in 1968, representing the discovery of gold in 1848 and the fields of golden poppies seen each spring.

     In addition to a large population, California tops the list in geographic size as well. Its land area covers 155,959 square miles, and its water area extends 7,734 square miles. The state’s coastline is an impressive 840 miles, offering plenty of beaches and beautiful vistas. Only Alaska and Texas have more land than California, and the state is comprised of 58 counties.

Power Washing Opportunities

     A huge benefit in California is that you can power wash year around. Restaurant cleaning is big as well as fleet washing, flat surface cleaning, and residential work. There are lots of businesses that have power washing facilities on site, so there is less need for contract cleaners. This is still good for the sales and distribution sector of the industry because these businesses still need to purchase equipment, parts, and chemicals as well as schedule replacement, repairs, and maintenance of equipment.

     Trevor Shamblin is the owner of Manteca, CA-based Shamblin Softwash & Pressure Washing. He is a member of the PWNA, recently assisting them with updating protocols for wastewater recovery certification and teaching at their 2019 convention. Shamblin started his company in 2016, fulfilling a long-held dream of owning his own business.

     “The most noticeable difference in California is that we can pretty much work year-round, but we get some breathing room with less demand during the winter,” explains Shamblin. “We do have to worry about regulations; not that California has more rules, but those they have are strictly enforced. I am shocked every time I talk to people from other states, and they don’t know they should be practicing water recovery methods.

     “In general, the types of opportunities here are similar to other parts of the country—residential, gas stations, restaurants—and we also clean power plants, manufacturing facilities, military bases, and more. My company specializes in cooling tower system cleaning for the manufacturing and food processing industries, and we travel throughout the state and even into Arizona to do this. We spread our business out widely, making us less susceptible to ups and downs and seasonal fluctuations. During the height of the pandemic, those service providers who focused solely on restaurant cleaning, for example, were in real trouble. Some went out of business. Diversification is key.”

     Shamblin adds that there are a few things that are unique in California. For example, soft washing is different from other regions.  

     “One of the worst things that people in this area do is watch a YouTube video from Florida and expect the same ‘instant’ cleaning results using those methods here,” laments Shamblin. “What organically grows on a roof in California may be different than other regions, and cleaning techniques are not the same. Factors that affect organic growth include temperature, humidity, airborne pollutants, pollen, and different airborne organics. When we soft wash a roof, we are selling a service where the customer may not see results right away. The pretreatment (not cleaning) process kills the organic growth, and it comes off on its own in a few months. Customers must be patient. I have it down to a science now how to explain to customers how and why this process works. Instant results are not always possible. This also affects pricing as it is more time-consuming.”

Following are other differences of note:

  • Californians are more interested in conservation and are extremely environmentally conscious, as compared to the rest of the nation, and water is a most precious commodity! In California, every drop of water that goes in or out of your property must be paid for. As a result, some companies are looking for waterless ways to clean, such as dry ice blasting, steam cleaning, and dry cleaning.
  • There are lots of boats, but all must be removed from the marina for washing.
  • There are fewer contract cleaners for the population because the dry climate eliminates some factors such as moss, mold, and mildew. Consequently, the Power Washers of North America (PWNA) has fewer members in California than other states.
  • Manufacturing facilities are often shut down for cleaning. A company may fly a crew in and rent equipment locally.

Leading The Industry In Wastewater Recovery

     Considering the region often experiences severe drought conditions, it should come as no surprise that environmental regulations relating to water use and air quality significantly impact almost every industry sector, including the pressure washing industry. California typically leads the way relating to environmental issues and employee rights.

     “We have a lot of water restrictions because of droughts,” clarifies Shamblin. “During droughts, no cosmetic cleaning is allowed. Regulations change from city to city, and we often have to obtain permits for jobs that we do. In most cases, we obtain a general permit that allows us to perform work across the board. Some cities only allow work on certain days in some neighborhoods. I suspect that, going forward, regulations will become stricter, so we will have to become innovative and possibly reuse the water. Some companies may not have the resources to do this.” 

     Jim O’Connell is president and owner of the Hotsy Pacific distributorship in Modesto, CA. This location has been providing the Bay Area cities of Modesto, Hayward, and Santa Rosa with pressure washers and industrial cleaning solutions since 1985.

     “Our industrial cleaning services include consulting all the way to full implementation of any of the equipment needed to enable our customers to use less water and/or recapture water for recycling and/or re-use,” explains O’Connell. “We have many water treatment systems in stock, or we can scope, design, and manufacture ones for our customers’ specific needs.”

     Following both water reclamation and air quality regulations presents a big challenge. “A prime example right now,” adds O’Connell, “is that we use Honda engines as part of our pressure washer fleet. We have to comply with certain air quality issues. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) states that if your product does not comply, it can’t be sold in California. There are also requirements to have permits for units that burn fossil fuel. It does limit what products we are able to sell. What I have noticed over my years in this industry is that California often sets the standard, and then the protocols are replicated in other states.”

A Burning Question

     When this article was being written, forest fire “season” was raging across the USA, especially so in California. I asked O’Connell how the threat of forest fires affected our industry.

     “Because none of our stores are in heavily forested areas, we have never been threatened by fire,” explains O’Connell. “But our Santa Rosa location is often impacted by smoke. Some days we can’t work because the smoke is so thick. Watching people cope with the after-effects of fires is heartbreaking. To be proactive, four years ago we launched a program to help. If someone needs to clean due to smoke residue, we will lend them a power washer for three days at no charge. This offer is open to individuals, businesses, and some contract cleaners. It is our way of supporting the local community, but there is no real winner in this scenario. It takes a tremendous toll on property and individuals. The only advantage for us is the goodwill it creates.”

Pros & Cons of Life in The Golden State

     O’Connell and Shamblin add these final notes about their home state.

     From a personal (and personnel) point-of-view:

  • We have the ability to experience many different climates, geography, and recreational opportunities just a few hours’ drive from our homes. (Mountains, ocean, and desert.) For entertainment and recreation options, there is so much to do!
  • You can make a fairly good living here and stay quite insulated from economic factors that affect other states.
  • The diverse nature of California’s economy is amazing…from cotton to pistachios to dairy. The state ranks #10 in the USA for Overall Economy and #2 specifically for Business and Environment according to https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/california.
  • From the employer’s point-of-view, it is a little more difficult to do business here. Costs of maintaining and hiring employees can be 10 to 15 percent higher (it varies across the state), and there have been significant rent increases.
  • Because of the large population, you have an advantage of being able to choose from a larger pool of prospective employees with diverse backgrounds.
  • Skilled and technical labor is harder to hire. COVID-19 has made it more difficult.
  • The IRS’ 1099 rule affects your business. The IRS has strictly enforced guidelines about what qualifies as a 1099 or self-employed/contract worker. If your company has the right to control how the worker performs his job or you have control over the financial elements of his business, you cannot pay the work as a 1099 job. If you offer benefits to the person performing the work, such as health insurance, paid vacations, or a retirement plan, it does not qualify as a 1099 contract position, according to the IRS.
  • Workers’ compensation rates are higher—extremely expensive but necessary! It can be hard to compete against smaller companies where they pay lower wages and offer no benefits.
  • Fuel prices are horrendous. It is a big sticking point because the state has some of the largest refineries in the world.
  • It would surprise people to know how self-sufficient the state is. There is virtually nothing that we can’t buy that isn’t produced or couldn’t be produced here.
  • Most people think that all of California is super nice, but it is not. The center of the state is dry and not so awesome. It would surprise people to know that it can also be very dirty here, so there is a lot of work for power washers, but you can’t go anywhere without seeing garbage.

The advantages will always outweigh the challenges!

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