CLEARING THE AIR - DOES YOUR
SELF-SERVICE LAUNDRY MEET CODE REQUIREMENTS
FOR BOTH MAKE-UP AIR AND COMBUSTION AIR?
Most coin laundry operators have
heard the expression “make-up air.” A
lesser percentage of operators have heard the expression “combustion air.” Many think these terms refer to the same
concept, but they do not! Do you
understand the difference? And what’s
more important, has your coin laundry been designed to provide both adequate
make-up air and combustion air?
States generally adopt the
International Plumbing and Mechanical Codes or the Uniform Plumbing and
Mechanical Codes, or slightly modified versions, to govern construction
requirements, and such Codes are in turn adopted by local communities.
The Uniform Mechanical Code, for
example, requires that “Fuel-burning equipment [dryers} shall be assured a
sufficient supply of combustion air . . . .” The Uniform Mechanical Code goes on to define
the manner in which combustion air, obtained from outside the building, shall
Insufficient combustion air will
cause gas charges to increase and may also cause dryers to “run cool” or
essentially run with insufficient heat to dry the clothes within the time customarily
Many operators use the expression
“make-up air” when referring to the air necessary to create proper combustion;
however, make-up air is in fact an entirely different matter.
Make-up air is required to
replenish air exhausted by the ventilation system and the make-up air intake
must be located so as to avoid re-circulation of contaminated air within the
enclosure in which the dryers are situated, i.e., exhaust ducts should
not be directed toward a make-up air intake.
If contaminated air is allowed to
remain at ground level, it may not affect adult customers walking about in your
coin laundry, but could prove dangerous to small children playing in front of
your dryers or repairmen laying at ground level behind your dryers!
These codes also require that
venting systems terminate at least three feet above a make-up air inlet located
within ten feet, and at least four feet from the property line of adjacent
It is my belief that most coin
laundries have not been constructed
with a knowledgeable mechanical
engineer, architect or contractor retained to adequately focus on the Code
requirements for make-up air and combustion air.
In one notable situation which
resulted in litigation prosecuted by my office, a coin laundry operator was
required to leave open not only the door to the dryer area, but also the
exterior door so that sufficient combustion air would flow to the dryers!
As observed by the California
Supreme Court, “a contract to build an entire building is essentially a
contract for material and labor, and there is an implied warranty protecting
the owner from defective construction.”
In this important Supreme Court
of California decision, the court continued:
“In the setting of the marketplace, the
builder or seller or new construction - not unlike the manufacturer or
merchandiser of personality - makes implied representations, ordinarily
indispensable to the sale, that the builder has used reasonable skill and
judgment in constructing the building.
On the other hand, the purchaser does not usually possess the knowledge
of the builder and is unable to fully examine a completed house and its components
without disturbing the finished product.
Further, unlike the purchaser of an older building, he has no
opportunity to observe how the building has withstood the passage of time. Thus, he generally relies on those in a
position to know the quality of the work to be sold, and his reliance is surely
evident to the construction industry.
Therefore, we conclude buyers and sellers
of new construction should be held to what is impliedly represented - that the
completed structure was designed and constructed in a reasonably workmanlike
If your coin laundry suffers from these issues, you may be entitled to
relief from the developer or contractor.
Each state, of course, has enacted statutes of limitation which prohibit
pursuing claims after a certain period of time specified in the statute. A knowledgeable attorney can assist in
determining whether you can pursue a claim for any discovered defective
If your coin laundry suffers from violations of the Uniform Building
Code or Uniform Mechanical Code, even if the contractor has obtained a
Certificate of Occupancy, the developer or contractor may not assert the
issuance of the certificate as a defense to defective construction.
Building inspections conducted by Department of Building and Safety
representatives are periodically conducted in a negligent or inadequate
fashion. As a consequence, most state
legislators have adopted the rule that the public entity providing the
inspection is not liable for the failure to conduct a proper inspection. Courts have thus held contractors liable for
damages under such circumstances, notwithstanding the fact that city building
inspectors saw the defective condition but made no complaint to the
The moral of the story? The
purchase of a coin laundry is a major financial investment. Consider the retention of a sophisticated
licensed contractor or mechanical engineer to review issues of Code
compliance. When buying a residence,
purchasers frequently retain home inspectors to assure themselves that the structure
as well as plumbing and electrical systems do not require repair. Should you not take similar action when
making a major business acquisition?
[This column is intended to provide general information only and
is not intended to provide specific legal advice; if you have a
specific question regarding the law, you should contact an
attorney of your choice. Suggestions for topics to be discussed
in this column are welcome.]
Reprinted from The Journal
Myles M. Mattenson © 2009