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Now That You Have More Carpet

Now that the size of your facility has increased or the amount of floor space dedicated to carpet has increased, but your maintenance budget has not increased proportionally, how do you handle this challenge? Often, facility managers insist that the cost of maintaining additional floor covering increases relative to the added floor space, but this is not necessarily so. A number of options are available to the facility manager to reduce costs without reducing cleaning efficiency.

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The importance of the planning function remains one of the most overlooked segments of the maintenance system. Many facility managers consider planning to consist of establishing a budget for labor costs, chemical costs, and the occasional equipment breakdown, but these considerations typically only scratch the surface of controlling maintenance costs. Most maintenance personnel understand that their function is to clean the facility but have very little direction as to how this task should be accomplished or how it can be accomplished more efficiently. Recently, while working with an elementary school maintenance staff, I was told that each maintenance staff member was given twenty (20) minutes to clean each classroom, due to budget restrictions. Each staff member was given a list of tasks to accomplish during this twenty minute period. I observed that in no case did any staff member complete more than half of the tasks on the prepared list before moving on to the next classroom. When asked about the remaining items on the list each staff member explained that if the items were on the list the following day and if time allowed, the items would be completed at that time.

Establishing realistic objectives and developing a training plan for each maintenance staff member is crucial to the maintenance process, but objectives should be results oriented rather than activity oriented. An increase in certain maintenance practices that currently receive little attention can reduce the overall time required for maintaining other surfaces, thus lowering maintenance costs.

Establishing A Maintenance Plan
The first step in developing a maintenance plan is to identify areas within the facility that may require additional maintenance. In identifying these areas it is important to note traffic patterns and sources of soiling. Carpet is unique in that it traps soil and localizes soil to manageable areas. Other flooring surfaces allow soil to spread throughout the facility, greatly increasing your area of focus. To identify these areas, obtain a blueprint or scale drawing of the facility and note areas, such as building entry points, stairways, funnel areas (such as doorways), areas in front of vending machines and copiers, restroom entryways, hallways, break areas, and any area adjoining a hard surface floor covering. Other areas that have a history of heavy soiling or spills should also be noted.

Preventative Maintenance
Once areas requiring additional maintenance attention have been noted try to develop preventative maintenance measures to ease the burden on your maintenance staff. A preventative maintenance measure is anything attempted to reduce the appearance of soil or measures taken to reduce the amount of soil brought into a building and should begin outside the building, which is the source of most soil. More than seventy-five percent (75%) of the soil in any building is tracked in on the soles of shoes. Most of this soil (80%) can be trapped within the first twelve to fifteen feet (12-15 ft.) after stepping onto the carpet. Preventative maintenance can play a key role in reducing maintenance costs by reducing the amount of soil contained in a building.

Soil Barriers
Establishing soil barriers at entry points is one preventative measure. Soil barriers may be as elaborate as a grate system with a hollow compartment beneath the grate to trap soil or as simple as a walk-off mat. Walk-off mats should be long enough to take a minimum of two steps before entering the building. These mats should be used whether the entry area utilizes a hard surface flooring or carpet. While using a hard surface entry is preferred by many architects and specifiers, these surfaces can be a maintenance nightmare for the facility manager. Hard surfaces must receive constant attention because of the surface’s inability to trap and hide soil and safety concerns. With a hard surface entry area, most soil is tracked to the closest carpet surface, where it is deposited. Without a carpet surface, the soil is tracked throughout the building.

Walk-off mats must be cleaned regularly, otherwise they become filled with soil and become a source of additional soiling. Many office supply companies can help lower short-term maintenance costs by renting mats and replacing them on a frequent basis, thus reducing the cost of purchasing and maintaining these mats.

Other preventative measures include keeping sidewalks clean, shoveling snow rather than using snow-melt chemicals, and removing fallen leaves quickly. Entry areas should be vacuumed daily with multiple passes (10 or more) with the vacuum cleaner.

Evaluating Equipment Options
Once the facility has been evaluated to identify potential maintenance concerns, equipment selection should be carefully examined. Because of budget considerations, selecting inexpensive equipment that performs poorly is a common practice for many facility managers. Better quality cleaning equipment can actually lower long-term maintenance costs by cleaning more efficiently, providing more durability, and reducing the man-hours necessary to accomplish various tasks. Equipment selection should also be results oriented rather than activity oriented.

Equipment Needs For Daily Maintenance
Daily maintenance activities are among the most important activities impacting the health of the facility. Daily vacuuming can remove more than eighty percent (80%) of the dry soil contained in most carpet and is considered the most productive maintenance function. Equipment selection criteria should be based on cleaning effectiveness rather than cost effectiveness. The daily maintenance equipment needs for carpet are fairly simple. Vacuum cleaners, a supply of vacuum bags, and a spotting kit will handle most of the daily maintenance needs. A small, portable extractor is also useful for spot removal, expeditious removal of moisture, and interim cleaning of traffic areas or other small areas.

In selecting vacuum cleaners look for models that offer high efficiency air filtration and high airflow, as well as high waterlift for maximum cleaning efficiency. An upright vacuum with rotating brushes is recommended for most commercial installations. A beater bar and brushes are suggested if the carpet is installed over cushion. Cleaning efficiency and impact on indoor air quality far outweigh material costs in the choice of vacuum cleaners. Other suggested features to evaluate include a long extension cord for convenience, dual motors versus a single motor, internally housed vacuum bags versus bags with cloth enclosures, and sensors to alert staff of full bags, clogs, or other equipment malfunctions.

Selection of Cleaning Methods
While daily maintenance has been determined to be the most effective cleaning function, regular interim or restorative cleaning is necessary to clean hard to remove soil and to improve carpet performance. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) recognizes five methods of cleaning: dry absorbent compound, dry foam, hot water extraction, rotary bonnet, and rotary shampoo. Contact the carpet manufacturer to determine the recommended method of cleaning. Carpet cleaning should be scheduled according to traffic load and facility conditions, but it is recommended that all commercial carpet be deep cleaned a minimum of every six (6) to twelve (12) months.

By placing a strong emphasis on planning, concentrating the majority of your daily maintenance efforts on the sources of soil, and deep cleaning regularly, maintenance costs can be brought under control without reducing cleaning efficiency. For the ultimate benefit of the facility and its occupants, maintenance should be performed for health rather than for appearance reasons.