Car wash is thinking green

It’s no secret the Foothill Car Wash Lube Oil and Detail Center has gone green. The giant solar panels on top of the car wash are dead giveaways and there are multiple signs posted at the site, in the 2300 block of Foothill Boulevard.

It’s safe to say Steve Berkman, the owner of the business, isn’t shy about his newly-acquired power.

“We provide 60% of our electricity [with solar power] and that’s significant in this business. We use a lot of electricity,” said Berkman, whose solar panels at the Foothill Car Wash have been up and running since March 8.

It’s also significant because the installation saves Foothill Car Wash, in business for 25 years, quite a bit of green. Berkman’s first electricity bill after installing the panels was half what he paid in the same billing period last year, even though he’s worked on more than double the number of cars in the same period this year.

“On Tuesday, June 7, we produced 347.96 kilowatt hours. That’s more than most people use in their homes in a month,” Berkman said, chuckling. “Whatever we don’t use goes back to the grid. For just March, we sold 994 kilowatt hours back to the grid.”

Foothill Car Wash does more, environmentally speaking, than harness solar power. The business reclaims all the waste oil from every vehicle serviced and has it refined into a reusable product, reuses 90 to 98% of its own water and recycles whatever customers bring in, such as cans, bottles, old cell phones, household batteries and paper.

“That’s pretty much our green program, we just try to tackle it on an industrial level,” said Berkman, whose business recently received a Green Business Award from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Berkman wanted to install solar panels for a long time but never thought it was feasible until he attended an Automotive Oil Change Association convention that discussed going solar and later heard that J’s Maintenance, a commercial janitorial service located in the Glendale annex portion of La Crescenta, had made the transition to solar power.

“I thought if they can do it, another small company, why don’t I look into it?” said Berkman, who decided to add the solar panels while he was getting other roof work done.

Installing the panels and getting the roof work done was a $320,000 project. Foothill Car Wash received $95,000 of federal funding for the job and will receive $40,000 in rebates over the next five years. Berkman says he’s always cared about the environment, but he really appreciates the financial benefit of going solar.

“It lowers our energy bills hugely,” Berkman said. “It was an economic decision, but it was something that I could feel good about.”

According to the Foothill Car Wash’s live solar data, which is available at its website (, as of June 14 the solar panels have generated 24,015.10 kilowatt hours in just over three months. That’s the equivalent of removing 17 tons of carbon dioxide out of the air and saving 1,945 gallons of gas.

Berkman sends the link to the business’s solar data to local science teachers to use in their classes and shows it to his children for a science lesson of their own.

“I took over this business from my father,” Berkman said. “I have been working here since I was 7 and I have three kids I want to hopefully leave the business to, so I want to leave them in a better environment than I took off with.”

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