Published April 2023
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series of state profiles highlighting the opportunities, advantages, and challenges of the pressure washing industry across the USA. To read past state profiles, visit www.cleanertimes.com/cleaning-coast-to-coast.
Located in the northeast U.S., the state of Pennsylvania (PA) is one of many states that experience all four seasons. When it’s winter, those who make a living pressure washing often have to find alternate ways to keep their employees working.
Covering an area of 46,054 square miles (119,280 square km) and with a population (2020) of 13 million-plus, this rectangular-shaped state stretches about 300 miles (480 km) from east to west and 150 miles (240 km) from north to south.
The state’s highway system is one of the most extensive in the country, providing manufacturers and distributors with excellent access to major transportation routes.
The economy of PA has evolved through three distinct eras since the time of the first settlement in about 1682. Initially a rural agricultural economy dominated the area. By 1920 PA had developed one of the world’s great industrial economies, based on the production of iron and steel, machinery, fabricated metals, leather, textiles, and apparel. Since then service activities have increased dramatically and have come to dominate employment. Of the total workforce, only a tiny fraction are now employed in agriculture, mining, and lumber. About one-fifth are employed in manufacturing and construction, and the remaining workers are in the service sector.
This evolution of industries to the present day has resulted in a myriad of opportunities for pressure washers.
Adam Rager is the future president of family-owned East Hills Power Washing, located in Johns-town, PA, a small city of about 20,000 people. East Hills offers a wide range of services for their commercial, industrial, and residential customers. Their general service area is about 1½ hours’ drive from Johnstown and includes State College, Pittsburgh, Mechanicsburg, and Cumberland (Maryland).
“When it comes to pressure washing, this area is very similar to other parts of the U.S. that experience cold winters and snow,” explains Rager. “In winter you can’t work in some areas. We are lucky to have a lot of trucking fleets that we service year round as well as five waste management locations in our region. This has been an anchor for us with weekly or bi-weekly service contracts for the last 25 years.
“In addition to the regular spring and summer job options, we also work with several power plants, hospitals, the steel industry, resorts, and more,” adds Rager. “And with its long history, PA is also home to many historic buildings that need to be cleaned and/or restored. I’m a big history buff, so I get excited to work on those! We have enjoyed a lot of success by being quite diversified in the services we offer. We’ve been very fortunate that for about 20 years we were the only power washing company in the area. Since the pandemic, there has been a boom of pressure washing start-ups, and now there are six new service providers here. A challenge is that the economies of scale simply aren’t there [compared to larger centers], so there is a limited volume of work due to the small size of our city. We have to hit it from all angles to make it worthwhile. A bonus is that the cost of living is much cheaper here as compared to other states.”
Rager adds that yellow staining on homes with light-colored exteriors is commonly found and is hard (but not impossible) to clean. “The source of the staining is un-known,” he says. “It may be acid rain because there are several power plants close to us, but it really is a mystery. It took considerable trial and error for us to come up with a cleaning technique that worked … but we did it!”
Recently, East Hills has started offering soft washing. They did a lot of research on it, decided to give it a try, and were blown away by the efficiency. If they use traditional pressure wash processes, it can take five hours to wash a house. With soft washing, it’s two hours or less, and the results are better. “I felt like I had discovered fire!” declared Rager. “It blew me away, and overnight it revolutionized how we cleaned houses.”
Bruce Tassone is president of HydraMotion Cleaning Systems based in Pottstown, PA. The company has specialized in the manufacturing of flat surface cleaning equipment and specialty detergents for exterior cleaning and mold removal since 1996. They are proud to have built long-standing relationships with vendors throughout the country, with parts suppliers in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Everything they sell is designed, engineered, and built in Pottstown.
HydraMotion recently relocated to a new facility. “It has been a major advantage as the Pottstown Area Economic Development has been a driving force to assist local manufacturing businesses. They provided transition support and have advocated for us at the state and local level to help secure new resources, develop new opportunities, and provide recommendations to acquire new employees.”
“In addition to the service opportunities mentioned by Adam [Rager], residential swimming pools are big in PA,” reports Tassone. “Contractors can also make connections business-to-business. Many use our products to clean convenience stores and strip malls.”
Danny Ebling is general manager at Baren’s Inc., located in Seneca, PA. They’re a wholesale supplier specializing in pressure washer parts and accessories. Established in 1993, Baren’s has grown to become one of the most respected supply houses in this industry. In 2019 Baren’s was purchased by BE Power Equipment. They represent major pump manufacturers including AR, Cat, Comet, General Pump, Giant, and UDOR along with accessory suppliers Suttner, PA NAM, TecoMec, X-Jet, Veloci, Baldor, Suntec, Beckett, Wayne Combustion, and many others.
“One of the advantages in our PA location is the close proximity to our shippers/carriers, such as FedEx and UPS,” explains Ebling. “We are close to the major interstates and highways, which necessitate a lot of truck washes and big truck stops. A challenge would be that we have really hard water, and also water systems in Seneca are not very high pressure, so power washing equipment can tax the water system. Moss can also be a problem for homes located among the trees, and the state has plenty of trees! So soft wash is becoming more popular.”
Consider it a blessing or a curse, but PA has four distinct seasons, and one of them is cold and snowy winter! Overall, it generally has a humid continental climate characterized by wide fluctuations in seasonal temperatures, with prevailing winds from the west. The average temperature in July is about 70°F (21°C) and in January about 28°F (−2°C). On average, about 40 inches (1,000 mm) of precipitation fall in the state annually. The daily weather is influenced by the passage of cyclone fronts in the westerly wind system.
“With its long history in agriculture, mining, and forestry, this has always been a blue-collar state,” recalls Rager. “Back in the 1970s when the Bethlehem Steel Company pulled out of Johnstown, it resulted in a mass exodus of people from all walks of life. But because the area is more affordable, it does attract blue-collar workers. This is good for our business because there are a lot of people willing to do some very dirty jobs. We do a lot of work for waste management companies, cleaning garbage trucks and other equipment—it’s not for everybody! Thankfully, the people that we have are not afraid of anything, and we would never ask them to do anything that we ourselves wouldn’t do.”
“A challenge for PA contract cleaners is keeping staff during the slow months, so employers have to be creative,” adds Tassone. “In winter they may not be 100-percent focused on pressure washing. Many contractors offer snow removal for the same strip malls they pressure wash in the summer months. Some are getting into remediation work, which is not typical of a contract cleaner. Others focus on interior cleaning of fast-food restaurant floors, kitchen hood fans, and such.”
“Yes, this is a blue-collar state, and that is a positive thing,” echoes Ebling. “Employee retention rates are better here. People have the mindset to make a job work and enjoy what they are doing.”
“We are fortunate in PA in that we don’t have a lot of restrictions in terms of wastewater collection/protection and water use that you see in other states,” clarifies Tassone. “And we haven’t seen drought restrictions in recent years. Different counties have their own rules with regard to environmental regulations, and most take a commonsense approach. Service providers are taking the lead and being proactive with regard to environmental protection. We have seen an increased interest in equipment to capture and remediate water.
“The specialty detergents we manufacture are great alternatives to chemicals such as bleach,” adds Tassone. “Even though the chemicals are more expensive, there is less setup in terms of pretreating vegetation and protecting landscaping. The issue that we have is showing contractors the benefits and value-proposition that it really is cost-efficient and saves time, with less damage to consumers’ property. It’s an ongoing education issue. Keep in mind that the industry has a lot of momentum; this is a sharp change for them.”
“The biggest concern we have is when we work with waste management customers,” informs Rager. “Our customers [often] have no policies in place to have us do extra water recovery. We are more or less on the landfill, or in a gravel parking lot, but as environmental awareness has progressed, we have moved to washing on a containment tarp and putting the wastewater through on-location oil separators. When we were working with Walmart, for example, we had to do a lot of research into what would be required. This usually required putting bumpers around the drains to catch debris.”
“PA offers the best combination of the three types of areas. We have urban conveniences, but the transition between urban, suburban, and rural is very short. We can walk downtown to enjoy events and then go to our homes and have some nice privacy. We have a lot of amenities but not a wide array of popular fast-food chains and other stores, which makes it unique.”—Adam Rager
“I was born and raised in the tri-county area, and I’m particularly biased about the benefits of living and working in PA. We get to experience all four seasons and have a great school system and affordable housing. Most of our employees have been with us for at least 10 years—some 30-plus years—so our location has been a real advantage for them and their families. We don’t have a high staff turnover, and PA does not have a transient workforce.”
“Pennsylvania is very cool from a historical perspective. Oil was first found in Titusville, PA, in 1859, and there are lots of towns with historical buildings, such as Oil City. Historical building cleaning and restoration is good business, with many homes and buildings being designated as historic sites. The cost of living is relatively low. The topography is gorgeous with rolling hills and mountains. Living in a fully wooded state is really nice.”
Philadelphia, PA, was once the capital city of the United States. While the state no longer lays claim to that designation, it can celebrate that they are home to the city of Hershey—the “Chocolate Capital of the USA.” One claim to fame, however, that can’t be taken away is that the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia in 1776.
PA is also home to many American firsts—the first piano built in America (1775), the first U.S. daily newspaper published (1784), the first public zoo (1874), and the first school in the country—State College Area High School—to teach drivers’ education (1958), to list a few.
Also, we can’t forget one of North America’s most famous rodents! Punxsutawney, PA, is home to the world-famous, weather-forecasting groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club was founded in 1886 by a group of groundhog hunters, one of whom was the editor of the town’s newspaper, who quickly published a proclamation about the town’s local weather-prognosticating groundhog (although Phil didn’t get his name until 1961).