It’s a cold, dark night and winter is sneaking up on you.

You just completed a long day of carpet cleaning, and as you arrive home, you wonder if you should “plug in” your van … it could freeze tonight, but after all, it”s only November.

Winter doesn’t start until December 21.

You decide that the odds are with you and saving on electricity is important …so you park your van and truckmount in its normal spot, go inside to your warm, cozy home and enjoy a nice dinner.

You retire for the night … all is well.

The next morning, you wake up to a temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

“What!” you say to yourself as you spill coffee down your shirt. “It wasn’t supposed to get that cold!”

You then run outside to see if the truckmount is still alive …

Winter weather

It’s a fact that most carpet cleaning companies are “small” operations, those owned and run by families.

Because of this, many companies operate out of their home, and many do not have the protection of garages in colder, northern climates.

When winter weather strikes, most are prepared for the inevitable — most, but not all.

Freezing temperatures are feared by carpet cleaners, not only during cold nights, but also during the day, while working.

It only takes a minute or two for your solution line to lay on the frozen ground to prove that freezing temperatures can wreak havoc to your equipment — and your bottom line.

Freezing temperatures can slow down, hinder and even bring to a halt your entire carpet cleaning production.

Freezing temps

Although water does freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, additives such as cleaning solutions hinder the freezing process, although only by a small fraction.

While most substances contract, or shrink, in volume as they get cold, water only contracts until it is close to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

And at that point, it begins to expand. At the freezing point, 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it begins to expand enough that it can cause damage to equipment that uses water — such as your truckmount.

When disaster strikes

When winter weather and freezing temperatures do arrive, carpet cleaners must take extra care to protect their equipment.

But, when a machine is subjected to freezing temperatures and does “freeze up,” it’s important to think carefully about the next step.

“As soon as the cleaner realizes that the machine has been frozen, he should take every step possible to start putting heat back into the van, to stop any more damage from occurring,” said Brent Wiegand, equipment production manager with MasterBlend Inc.

Wiegand stressed the fact that starting a machine and running the pump with ice in the system can cause expensive damage beyond what has already occurred. However, if the pump can be deactivated, the heat from the running engine can help thaw the unit.

“If the machine has a pump clutch so the pressure pump can be deactivated, start the cleaning machine and let the residual heat from the machine thaw the ice,” Wiegand said.

Chris Bowling, the process, quality and training manager at Jon-Don Inc. headquarters in Roselle, IL, echoed Weigand’s thoughts.

“Starting the machine with ice in the system can inflict even more damage to the pump, so do not try to start the machine if there is the slightest chance it is frozen,” he said. “To minimize further damage, try to get the machine into a heated area.”

Kevin Miller, engineering support expert with Sapphire Scientific, realizes that a frozen machine is big trouble.

“When a machine freezes, it is usually already too late for any restorative action,” he said. “You just have to swallow the bitter pill and have the damage repaired. But don”t start the machine, as this will only cause more damage.”

When damage occurs

Wiegand, who has many years of experience working with truckmounts in cold climates, knows that the cost to repair frozen truckmounts can range greatly.

“Typically, in a relatively minor freeze, the pressure gauge, solution meter, wand and upholstery tool valves can be damaged,” he said. “If it is a major freeze, the heater coils, pressure hoses and the quick disconnects can also be damaged.”

The amount of damage can range greatly. “In some severe cases, I have also seen the pump heads damaged. The costs can run from nothing, if the cleaner is lucky, to several thousand dollars if the heater coils and pump are broken,” Wiegand said.

Bowling said it is very difficult to estimate the cost of damages.

“It is very hard to give estimates on frozen machines,” he said. “Most of the time, you have to repair in steps because as soon as one thing is repaired, and you are able to build pressure, you find something else is leaking. The repair bills can range from anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars.”

Prevention — the best medicine

Obviously, preventing damage is smart business.

“It would be great if we could all afford the extra space to park our vehicles in a nice, toasty shop or garage during cold weather,” Miller said. “But if you can’t, even a shielded light bulb can be enough to ward off a potential problem.”

Wiegand suggests cleaners use remote thermometers that can be placed in work vehicles. These trigger an alarm if the temperature gets to the freezing point, he said. “These can be a very inexpensive purchase to save thousands of dollars in damage.”

Bowling said that the best preventive medicine is to winterize. “Winterizing is the most effective way of preventing damage,” he said. Running an approved antifreeze solution through the machine may seem like “extra work,” but it will save your machine if a hard freeze does occur.

Another option is to think about the construction of your van and truckmount.

“Add a raised wood floor and insulation to the sides of your van or box truck,” said Rick McDonald, national service manager with Interlink Supply. “This keeps the truckmount from being in direct contact with the cold, metal floor. It also helps keep the heat generated by the machine while it is running inside the van after you shut it down for the evening.”

McDonald also offered advice for the occasions when keeping a van heated or protected in freezing temperatures isn’t an option.

“If you simply have no way to keep your equipment warm overnight, as a last resort, regularly run your equipment for 15 minutes every three or four hours to add some heat to the van and keep water moving. Moving water does not freeze easily,” he said.

Scott Warrington, a technical support expert with Bridgepoint and Interlink Supply, had a few easy tips to help prevent damage from freezing temperatures.

“Opening an in-line filter or strainer may allow a little room for water to expand and reduce the damage done if your unit does freeze,” he said.

The need to protect accessories is also important.

“Even if you don’t have room to park your van in a garage, you probably have enough room to bring your solution hoses and wand indoors overnight. This can save valves and quick connects,” Warrington said. “If solution hoses must remain out in the cold, add an open-ended quick connect to the end of each hose. This provides an opening for water to run out or to expand.”

No matter what you do, whether you have a heated garage or not … do all you can to ensure that your machine and all accessories do not freeze when winter does arrive.

Winter is coming. Be prepared.

Jeff Cross is the executive editor of Cleanfax magazine and an industry trainer and consultant, and offers carpet cleaning marketing, disaster restoration marketing and contract cleaning marketing seminars and classes through Totally Booked University, and also IICRC technical training for carpet and furniture cleaning, spot and stain removal and carpet color repair. For more information, visit his technical training website and marketing training website.