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Focus On...Laundry

August 1, 2005
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Designing Your Laundry Room for Maximum Efficiency by Kim Shady
focuson Laundry

Designing your laundry room for maximum efficiency

Kim Shady tells how the benefits of a well-designed on-premise laundry operation extend beyond the laundry room The on-premise laundry can and should play an important role in controlling your long-term care facility's operating costs. Often conceived as an afterthought in the design process, an improperly sized, designed, and equipped laundry room can increase utility, labor, and other operational costs.

Designing an ideal laundry room that will run smoothly and efficiently requires that several factors be considered. This article outlines those factors and demonstrates how beneficial a well-planned laundry room can be, using as an example a recently renovated and expanded skilled nursing facility in Boston, Sherrill House. This independent, not-for-profit facility increased its resident capacity from 164 beds to 196 beds yet is saving money through the improved operational efficiency of its new on-premise laundry.

First, Find a Partner
Before starting your laundry room, one of the best resources you can turn to for information is your local equipment distributor. "Whenever we start a new project, we always find a good distributor, whether we're upgrading the kitchen or, as in this case, the laundry room," says Don Powell, formerly the executive director of Sherrill House. He is now Sherrill House's project manager for the extensive, ongoing construction project. "Our distributor, Daniels Equipment Company, was great when it came to designing a laundry room that met our expectations," Powell adds.

Several factors must be considered before selecting a distributor, including what kind of service it will provide after the sale, what type of service agreements it offers, how long it's been in business, etc. A good distributor will be there for you after the sale, not just when its representatives are trying to sell you its products.

Once you've selected your distributor, get a representative of the company involved in the design process as early as possible. This will help to circumvent any potential problems.

"We learned early on that you need to get the architect and the equipment distributor to the table during the initial design phase, rather than having the architect design something and finding out later, once you start to spec out the equipment, that you can barely fit it into the room, much less move around," says Powell. "Sometimes architects don't take into account the myriad of carts and other pieces of equipment that have to fit in the laundry room," he explains.

How Much Space Is Enough?
The size of your laundry room will affect everything else in your laundry operation: the equipment mix selected, the laundry's operating costs, and its operating efficiency. To make sure your laundry room will be large enough, the first step is to determine the amount of laundry, in pounds, that you'll be processing in a day. Based on that number, the laundry room floor plan should include 1.2 sq. ft. of floor space per pound of soiled laundry processed per day. Fifty percent of the total square footage should be dedicated to equipment, 20% to soiled linen, 20% to space for folding and carts, and 10% to clean-linen storage.

Allowing 1.2 sq. ft. per pound of laundry processed daily may seem like a lot, but bigger is definitely better when it comes to an on-premise laundry room-a fact to which Powell can attest. "The biggest benefit of our new laundry room is definitely the space. There's more room for laundry staff to move around in, enough space for them to take clean linen out of the dryer, and a large enough area for them to fold it properly without bumping into each other," he says.

Sherrill House's new laundry room's increased square footage has also afforded the facility the luxury of clean-linen storage in the laundry room, opening up much needed space in nursing units. "With the extra room, we've been able to eliminate a linen room on each floor, replacing it with two laundry carts-one for dirty linen and one for clean linen," says Powell. "Things run much more smoothly with the cart system."

Selecting the Right Equipment Mix
Choosing the right equipment mix will play a large role in controlling the labor costs of your on-premise laundry. An essential factor to consider is the size of the machines. As with determining the square footage needed for the laundry room, you must base your equipment selection on how much laundry your facility will process in a day (see sidebar, "Formula for Determining Proper Equipment Size"), as well as how many hours each day you want to operate the laundry room. Remember, the square footage of your laundry room will determine the size of the equipment it can house. Thus, if you need three 60-lb washer-extractors to operate efficiently but are forced to install just two 20-lb washers because of space constraints, your facility's labor costs will go up because of the extra hours required to keep up with the amount of laundry that needs to be processed.

You are looking for an efficient balance of space, labor, and capacity in your laundry room. For example, Sherrill House previously had two 50-lb washer-extractors and three 50-lb tumblers to process the soiled linen for its then 164-bed facility, and its laundry operated 160 hours per week. Today, it has two 60-lb washer-extractors, one 100-lb washer-extractor, three 75-lb tumblers, and a 120-lb tumbler for its renovated 196-bed facility. This has reduced the laundry's operation to 120 hours per week, saving the facility the cost of one full-time position.