A clean-as-a-dream machine

#188 in a series of true experiences in real estate
April 1997, Hills Newspapers

At Costco a couple of weeks ago we happened into the high-pressure water sprayer section. It hadn’t been in our minds to shop for water cleaners, but there we were and without a word between us, we began to look closely at the different machines while visions of spotless concrete danced in our heads.
Anet read out loud, “Good for washing the outside of houses, cars, patio furniture, decks, rain gutters. Wow!”

“Gee, for $160, we could clean everything,” I said. “It was going to cost me $100 to hire someone just to clean my back patio.”

“And my deck needs washing,” Anet went on. “We’d save money immediately.”

“I wonder if it’s dangerous,” I said. “I heard about a painter who blew a hole in his hand with a paint sprayer. But maybe that’s different.”

“No, these can’t be that strong,” Anet assured me.

She read me all the power ratings and announced that the larger, more expensive machines were the contractors’ versions, not the ones we wanted.

“This littlest one is only 1200 psi,” she said, managing to sound like she knew what she was talking about.

“We could use it for our listings,” she went on, enthusiastically. “The company could buy it.”
And so we lifted the smallest machine into our basket. The clincher for me was the 800 phone number printed on the box, an official resource any of my fearful questions.

Standing in line waiting to pay, I said we’d have to be careful operating the washer. Anet was more worried about keeping the kids away from it.

“Imagine what Nick could think of to do with this thing,” she said. I could imagine. Nick is 13.

We talked about the first time we’d heard of power washers. We had a listing, a house that needed a lot of renovation. The seller was willing to pay for the work but he didn’t want to decide what should be done or even be there to see it happen. He moved out and we hired a contractor.

One of the things the contractor suggested was washing the front walkway. The house needed a roof, termite and fireplace work, a new furnace, paint, light fixtures — and a kitchen. The cleanliness of the front walkway didn’t seem very important to us.

But after the other, extensive work had been done and the sprayer-washer man had come, it was easy to see that our contractor friend had been right. A clean walk has quite an impact.

Ever since that experience I’d been planning to have my concrete front porch and large patio at the back of my house washed. Last summer I even called around to get prices but never got any further.

Our wet winter had left moss all over my concrete and now I was dying to see if our new machine would work.

A few days later when the kids were at school, I opened the power-washer box, looked at all the parts and read every word of the instruction manual. Anet, more mechanically inclined by far than I, was busy doing something else. But by the time I’d decided I could avoid electrocution and had assembled the parts, she couldn’t stand it and came to see what I was doing.

I switched on the machine and started spraying the moss. Clean strips of pavement slowly appeared, erased by the stream of water.

“It works but it’s gonna take forever,” I shouted to Anet over the noise of the machine.

“Let me try,” Anet said. And with that she was lost to all else in life for a number of hours.

She is a natural. I left it to her, helping by moving things out of her way, positioning the machine behind her, arranging the hoses for maximum ease of motion.

“Sure, try go ahead. Wash the fireplace, too,” I said when she inquired. “Yeah, and the wood steps.”

We couldn’t believe how well it worked. Seemingly tons of moss and dirt melted away, years of muddy accumulation. We were completely mesmerized watching everything become lighter and lighter by shades.

When Anet finally stopped washing that afternoon and came inside the house, her pants and shoes sopping wet and dirty, she said, “I’ve got to stay away from that thing. I just can’t stop.”

We discussed the finer points of spray washing. Dirt splashes up on the house and has to be washed off. Washing it off leaves the windows dirty. Loose and thinly applied house paint disappears in the mist.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to repaint that door,” Anet told me. “But I think it’s the only damage I did.”

She said she’d wear her high rubber boots the next time and I teased her that this could be her second job, rent her and the machine out. And maybe she could do the front porch soon, such a small job.

The next day, planning to take only an hour or so, Anet washed my front porch. Warmed up now, she moved on to the brick paths and steps.

“Should I clean all the bricks?” she shouted. “See, they look brand new when they’re washed.”

“I don’t know,” I shouted back. “Maybe you shouldn’t wash them quite so clean. I kind of like the old brick look.”

So she cleaned some bricks “new” and left others with a used look. And when she was done, she began to clean my extensive concrete driveway.

“Who would believe it could look this good” I cheered. “It’s beautiful!”

On she went, out into the street, spraying and pulling the little washer behind her.

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