General Business Question Related to Pressure Washing

I just have a business question for estimates on pressure washing. I had an issue today where my estimate for pressure washing was off by a couple hours. It was a combined package of window cleaning, pressure washing flat-work, gutters and moss treatment. Originally I made it clear as an estimate for the hourly based pressure washing, but after the customer added a couple of these and those to pressure wash, combined with the bionic moss that was asked to be removed off the driveway the time took a lot longer. Bear in mind that I did not stop…@ssholes to elbows so to speak. It took as long as it took to get the job done right. The client was so thrilled with the outcome along the way and assured me she would refer me to a few of her neighbors that all used the former window cleaner. In the end I gave her the price estimated on the business card, but left knowing that I gave up at least a couple hundred bucks in the process. Opinions or advice would be welcome, preferably in the “estimate” vs. “solid quote” part of being a business owner. Thanks in advance!

Eric J
A Fine Reflection, Seattle

I’m not clear on how you bid the job. What is “hourly based pressure washing”? Did you not charge for the “these and those” that the customer added?

Do you have a quantifiable bidding system?

“hourly based pressure washing” as in "this is how much I charge an hour to pressure wash your project.
I’m pretty close on for most things and can give a price as to how much it will cost, i.e., two car drive way with side walk, or my flat price for roofs. but this was one of those every piece of concrete on the property and for that all I can do is either guess or tell them it’s hourly. If my strategy is wrong, then advice is welcome. I assumed that she knew as per our initial meeting that it was just an estimate, so when she added a patio of slate steps and stuff like that, that is would obviously increase the price. If I do end up getting a few more customers out of the deal then that is great, but still I don’t like losing a couple hundred dollars. As an example, a client yesterday wanted their pool area done, a lanai, a 200 foot driveway and after my estimate she said to just do whatever I thought needed cleaning and left an open check with her house guest to sign. I made a ton of money yesterday and did a great job. Today I worked the same amount of hours and made 1/2 as much.

Sounds like you’re shooting from the hip. Start with a square foot price for flat-work and then add for subjective factors.

Why didn’t you invoice her for the extra work that was added after the estimate? When a customer likes to surprise me with extra work on the day of service I like to surprise them with extra $$ on the invoice.

As Rob said charge by the sq ft. Plus add on for anything that will require more than your normal procedure.

I agree with your assumption. I hit the target often, but not often enough. Thanks for the advice on a square foot price!

Eric J

Thank you for the advice. My only dilemma is figuring out a square foot price and then the time it’s going to take to add up all the footage on particularly interesting jobs?

Eric J

Generally Cement cleaning with a surface cleaner you can clean 800-1200 sq ft per hour. At .10 cents a sq. that is $80.00 to $120.00 per hour. If you do most jobs that way, you’ll make money.

As far as not making as much on that one job, just remember to look at it this way, divide how much you made on that job by the number of hours that you worked, and then when you get home look at all of your neighbors surrounding you and basically figure out what they make per hour at their normal jobs, (mechanic $18.00 per Hr. Carpenter $20.00 per Hr. , etc. etc.,) and you’ll see that you are still making some serious bank and doing great for your self. Next time just give an estimate for all flatwork based on square ft., and you’ll never lose.

Dont worry… be happy!!!


yup flat work is by the sqft, anything is extra. and if she added work you add money for that work.

I was going to quote and individually comment but in a general thanks will suffice. Thanks!!!
I charged by the hour as the fellow that got me into this business did that. That is where my window pricing comes from (not hourly) as well, though I added on to his price as it was too damn cheap. I shoot for 75.00 an hour as that is reasonable for my services…I just need to pressure wash my driveway again and track the time/sqft and figure it all out. I was happy with the amount, but I knew I could have made a lot more. The day prior was a 700.00 dollar day pressure washing. The only positive I get out of it was her intense pleasure with the outcome and the referrals from the job. The lady gave me a sandwich and two bottled waters…sang praises all day between shots of brandy… I felt like at least I made some cash and felt good?? or icky…or something. Back to the day before…great job, “do what you want and can” customers.
On a good note, the followup with the prior day customer led to a lucrative window cleaning on the 4th prior to their party. I mean, now that the pool area and lanai are clean, why not clean the windows for the party?

Eric J
A Fine Reflection, Seattle
A Fine Reflection - Window Cleaning & Pressure Washing

Ok I’ll reply with a quote anyway…
Thanks, that gives me something to go off of. Being in business for myself now is new, cool and has uncharted territory. I know my work ethic and quality is awesome, but the details of pricing and such are tough to figure out. So I tell a customer that to do there work is .10 cent a square foot. Sometimes I think that they would rather hear, 75.00 an hour at approximately 3 hours or so. I dont want to have to count a radial designed pool area. That customer said, they like the way I sounded on the phone just do it…and paid me. It was easy to land…easy to do and I made a bunch of cash. Now if I had to figure out the sq footage and tell them I would lose time and sanity. I can see your point. I’d like to know the sq footage just to know what I made per foot, but in 7.5 hours to make 631,00 is pretty nice and the details don’t matter as much. Advice is encouraged!!

Eric J

Just tell them, your driveway will be $225.00 or whatever it is. You don’t have to tell them your sq. ft. price. If they ask, you can tell them. At least that way they know you’re being objective and they’re paying for results.

When you give them an hourly rate, you’re always on the clock and they’re paying for your time. This kills your incentive to do the job better and faster. If you charge by the square foot, you might think, “Hey, I could make more money if I used better chems and bought a larger, better surface cleaner.” But working hourly should logically give you incentive to hold on to antiquated tools, methods, and to drag your feet on a job. Think about it.

Good points!
I would like to point out that I want to buy a surface cleaner and that is being budgeted for right now. The one thing about me as a person is that I don’t drag my feet on anything I work on. I know on some other forum comment I’ve said this before, but I was and still pay dues as a union ironworker. As a general foreman and project foreman for a small company we had no luxury to drag our feet or we’d be fired. I really value my time off of work so much that I like to get the job done and get home, or onto the next one so I can get home.
With all that said I like your approach and appreciate the comments. You brought up chemicals for flatwork. Any recommendations? Even without the surface cleaner, going straight water is still a process. Also, with cleaners applied to areas that drain into landscape beds do you ever have any issues with dead plants and bleached out grass along the edges.
Thanks in advance and have a great weekend!

Eric J

Listen to what he said here. You are making this harder then it has to be. You might want to start charging per foot or window or what ever until you know how long things take to complete. Never tell a customer your charging per hour or per foot. You just give them a flat price. Gpd luck.

Charge by the job not by the hour.

Again thanks all!!!

Eric J