More from the Floor

Housekeeping managers discuss the benefits of taking a lead role in specifying flooring materials in facilities

By Darin Hargraves  

In an era of tightening budgets, it is more necessary than ever for building designers and construction committees to consider the long-term choices that will affect maintenance budgets throughout the life of a building.

“Involving maintenance personnel in the early design phase is the greatest form of preventive maintenance,” says David Schwartz, manager of environmental services at Providence Hospital in Anchorage, Alaska.

For years, managers have dealt with buildings designed and constructed without janitors’ closets, which can greatly affect the cleaning program and the organization’s costs. Equally important to adequate designs for these and related areas, however, is the conscientious assessment of the costs related to cleaning, including building materials and equipment. The selection and installation of flooring is especially crucial to future maintenance costs.

Specifying Cleanable Flooring

Schwartz cites his own success story as a contributor to the floor-selection process in his facility.

“Snow, rain and grit were damaging our carpets terribly, and it was likely that we would be replacing them frequently to maintain the clean appearance of the hospital,” he says. “Even when the carpets were clean, stains and damaged carpet fibers gave the appearance of the carpets being old.

“In a facility of nearly 1.5 million square feet, 80 percent of our traffic enters the building through four main entrances. Keeping those areas looking their best was a challenge.” The answer for Schwartz was textured, natural granite.

“I suggested to the facilities people that granite should be installed because it was durable, safe for facility users (non slip) and easily cleaned,” he says.

Schwartz also suggested that a granite floor would enhance the indoor air quality of the facility and, unlike carpeting, could be disinfected daily to help prevent the spread of disease.

Collecting Comments

While Schwartz was successful with his getting his recommendations heard, it is too common for others in facilities to ignore environmental managers’ recommendations.

For example, facility engineers in charge of designing a new school recently approached maintenance managers in their school district to ask their opinion of a new flooring material. They claimed the flooring was virtually maintenance free, according to sales literature, and nearly twice the cost of the vinyl composition tile used in most district facilities. Unfortunately, the claims were not the full story, and the maintenance managers found that the product created more of a maintenance nightmare than a solution. When facilities managers were told the true maintenance story and were asked to drop consideration of the new material, they confessed that the flooring already had been purchased and most of it had been installed.

Lack of consultation with environmental managers is one of the greatest problems with the building design process in many facilities projects. Too often, consulting the maintenance department is treated as an afterthought, and, as Schwartz calls it, a feel-good act. Such consultations often are done for the appearance of inclusiveness and not in the spirit of actually trying to prevent costly extravagance.

Flooring materials often are selected for color and texture with little regard to cleaning ability or simply because it is prestigious to work with new materials. Often, the net result of such decisions is an increase in maintenance costs to the organization for the life of the floor.

Exceptions to the Rule

As with most rules, exceptions exist, regardless of higher maintenance cost. Wood gym floors versus synthetic gym floors are a notable exception. While industry trade associations on both sides of the issue have stated reasons for believing their product is superior, there should always be consideration for the perception of facility users. Gym floor coverings often are highly controversial, politically charged topics for schools and athletic facilities.

“Some flooring installers will tell you that a high-quality synthetic floor can perform much the same as a wood floor,” says Rob Holland, custodial consultant for Frontier Paper, a floor-coatings distributor. “But most coaches and players will tell you the opposite. They prefer a wood floor if given the choice.

“Be it real, or imagined, wood floors are the preferred sports flooring by building users and architects in many parts of the country. While the cost to maintain a wood floor is greater, the perceived value of the flooring is worth the additional cost in many facilities.”

Flooring should always address the unique needs and characteristics of a facility, he says.

Making Maintenance Matter

On one recent project, facility custodial managers called Holland to collaborate in developing a maintenance program for polished granite flooring at the new Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. Once an organization invests in flooring, it is important that the organization implements right floor-maintenance program.

“The new airport is a half-billion-dollar showplace for our community, and it is important that the image portrayed by the facility and building investment be protected,” he says. The best way for managers to accomplish this goal is to consider all variables related to the cleaning program:

  • Desired building appearance is the level of cleanliness to be achieved, including the degree to which cleaning crews will allow soil to collect before removing it and the level of shine required on the floor.
  • Building design should be considered to help determine other aspects of the cleaning program. If storage space and cleaning areas are configured to allow the use of riding equipment, for example, then achieving the desired appearance will require less manpower.
  • Labor is often determined by variables unrelated to the true cost of cleaning for the desired building appearance levels. Managers often budget for manpower by using square-footage formulas or through a process of “best guess.” But knowing the availability of manpower will “help to determine the best methods to be used, to most closely achieve the desired appearance levels,” Holland says.
  • Supply and equipment budgets can affect the cost of cleaning dramatically. With equipment that enhances productivity, managers will need less manpower to achieve higher levels of building appearance.

The design and construction of facilities will set the parameters for the use of supplies, equipment and labor for the life of the building.

Collaboration Considerations

Product vendors can be powerful sources of information when managers are collecting useful data on new floor coverings. For example, a chemical vendor told the school district described earlier about the negative experience of a user across town.

The same vendor also suggested a host of questions that managers needed to ask regarding the upkeep of the floor material. The reference and questions provided the information needed to garner the negative recommendation of maintenance managers.

Schwartz also relied on collaboration with manufacturers and distributors before suggesting natural stone to be used in remodeling of the hospital. He asked questions to vendors and solicited comments from other health care institutions to formulate his recommendation.

Ultimately, collaboration regarding the maintenance program has benefited the Ted Stevens International Airport by providing much needed expertise that didn’t exist within the housekeeping department.

“I collaborated with airport personnel to evaluate the cleaning program used by another large airport on their polished granite,” Holland says. “By not reinventing the wheel, we were able to recommend flooring materials and equipment that protect future maintenance budgets.”

Becoming Part of the Process

“It was simple for me to become part of the flooring selection process,” Schwartz says. “I demonstrated my willingness to provide my opinion and the facilities department was happy to include me in the selection process.”

As a result, the hospital has an attractive, functional floor, and Schwartz’s department benefited by increasing the level of cleanliness in the facility at the lowest possible cost.

Schwartz says he plans to continue his involvement in specifying materials to be used in future construction and remodeling, adding, “Whenever I have the opportunity to recommend cleanable materials, you can bet I will participate.”

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  posted on 6/1/2004   Article Use Policy

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