2011 - Cities like Houston are adopting rules that can negatively affect pressure wash contractors in a serious way.

They have applied a one-size-fits-all approach to BMP's. They are requiring the same steps to clean an awning or a sidewalk as they require of cleaning a parking lot. There is no reality in that approach.

One vocal contractor says it really isn't these particular regulations that are causing the most harm. According to him, enforcement is the problem. Inexperienced enforcers are apparently citing contractors under the assuMPTion that a judge will dismiss those who can prove they weren't polluting. Cha-ching! With big dollars rolling in from fines every month, where is the incentive to be rational?

It looks like the city and the contractors missed an opportunity to become partners in addressing environmental issues. Instead, the city unilaterally wrote tough rules aimed at contractors which failed to recognize the complexity of the issues. The result, unless these regulations can be amended, will probably be fewer contractors, fewer jobs, cheating, higher costs, and higher prices.

This is what happens when you start with the assuMPTion that contractors are polluters.

Contractors do not add pollution to the environment. The pollution is already there. The contractors have the opportunity to reduce the total amount of pollution, and direct where it goes, and should be treated like environmental heroes when they do. Instead, in Houston it looks like they have been singled out as the problem instead of the solution.

For one thing, the city virtually bans soap. Is this really the smartest answer? Not using soap means one thing for sure. It means you will use a lot more water. Soap speeds the cleaning process and minimizes the need for rinsing. I could make a good argument that the right soap cuts overall water use by as much as a third. So which is better: using lots more water or adding a reasonable amount of soap?

Keep in mind that there are different kinds of soaps as well, a fact the Houston regs fail to recognize.

Personally, I would rather use a cup of soap and ten minutes less labor and 50 gallons less water. The problem with using any kind or amount of soap under these rules is that this automatically requires the contractor to capture and take the water off site for disposal. IMHO, the city bears some responsibility to make sure that the contractor has suitable sanitary drain access on every property instead.

Asking a contractor to carry used water to the local treatment plant goes against the heart of the CWA, too, where the idea is that the dirt should never leave the property it came from.

I don't know what process the city of Houston used to get where they are today, but if you are going to make a radical change like this why not experiment with the highest pollution problem and see what kind of an impact you might have? Why not start with parking lots, and develop a program specific to that situation. If your parking lots and structures are not built with retention tanks and pools and other modern protections, then why not require those sites to provide on-site access to sanitary disposal? Instead of trucking water several times each year to an off-site disposal, you simply have a one-time expense - borne by the owner of the pollution. That's justice.

If you take these rational steps and realize big gains, then attack the next biggest problem with the same open mind.

That is a lot smarter than just telling contractors they can't use soap to clean an awning (the only reasonable way to clean an awning BTW) without buying a recovery system. This amount of soap used in awning cleaning, and the kind of soil freed during cleaning, is hardly the stuff of environmental nightmares.

The truth is that, for some cleaning, you don't really need powerful reclaim equipment. Sidewalks, for example, can be washed without soap - and you can let the water run straight down the storm sewer in many jurisdictions. If you do use a little soap, just divert the water to a suitable grass area.

Taking care of the environment from my perspective should be all about working in balance. Use less water, use a little soap when it is appropriate, and don't allow pollution to reach the waters of the United States. Keep your approach balanced. Don't use more soap than you need and throw down oil socks EVERY time you wash something. It costs almost nothing to do this.

Unfortunately, it may take legal challenges in Houston to bring the situation to some reasonable and rational solution.

It has come to this because we failed to get involved before the regs were written. I and others have been urging contractors to get involved to prevent this kind of problem for years.

Now at this stage we are at the perfect place for one of the national contractor organizations to step up and involve attorneys and lobbyists to address the issues. This would be the most legitimate voice for contractors.

The funding to fight the regulations will most likely have to come from the affected contractors and funneled through whatever national organization is ready,willing, and able to fight the battle.