Hard-Floor Maintenance: The European Way
A common scene repeats itself in facilities all over the United States: A cleaning crew works every night, and a custodian will damp mop the floors. Every so often, a janitor will buff the floor back to a shine.
And, a specialty crew will come in occasionally and strip and refinish the floors to keep them looking lustrous and new. Depending on the contract and on the intended use of the area, this specialty team could do their work once every few years, once every few months, or according to a more nebulous “as needed” basis.
All of this floor care is extremely labor intensive, and expensive, between labor costs, insurance, floor-finish chemicals and equipment. But, American facility managers want their wet look.
However, the standard is very different in Europe, says Rita McCauley, president of Grosvenor Building Services Inc., in Orlando, Fla.
“In Europe, the standard for floor care is to spray buff with a high-speed machine on a daily basis,” she says. “Facility managers want a bit of a sheen, but not a wet look.”
European cleaning crews also don’t strip and refinish floors, at least not with nearly the same frequency. In addition to the daily spray buff, janitors perform some intensive scrubbing, McCauley points out.
McCauley uses a European-style floor-care system for many of her American clients. Grosvenor is a 40-year-old cleaning company originally out of Ireland. It’s now a full-service building service contractor with locations throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as in Florida, Mississippi and Georgia. The company employs more than 700 workers in the southeastern United States.
Selling Points There are several advantages to European-style floor care, says McCauley. For instance, the cost savings can be great, especially over the long term.
“It is extremely expensive to strip and wax a floor,” she points out. “In this country, specialty crews come in for floor-care work, but a regular cleaning crew can handle spray buffing. You may have more equipment per job site, but overall it’s much less expensive.”
In Europe, all custodians are expected to be able to perform all tasks, including floor care, McCauley says.
“It’s a training issue,” she says. “In Europe, they don’t have the attitude that a floor person must be a specialist. All janitors are trained in floor care.”
Also, daily spray buffing is safer than the American way, she says, as slip-and-fall accidents are more common during the stripping process. In addition, strip-and-recoat operations can have a much greater impact on the health of the workers (as they’re exposed to a range of volatile organic compounds and other substances), as well as a greater impact on the environment.
“In Europe, they’re more green conscious than they are here; they’re more aware that most floor finishes aren’t very environmentally friendly,” she says.
While the environmental impact of floor finishes has improved over the last 18 to 24 months in the U.S. with programs such as Green Seal, American BSCs still aren’t as environmentally aware as their European counterparts. Europeans, she says, are loath to put excess floor finish and other chemicals into the wastewater system, so they choose less chemically intensive procedures.
The Customer Is Always Right However, not all of McCauley’s clients are warm to the European style, so she still has a need for the chemicals, equipment and personnel associated with stripping and refinishing floors.
“We do have to mold our operations to our customers’ needs,” she says. “A lot of them require a higher level of sheen — especially in retail stores — and we can accommodate that.”
For other facilities, it’s a matter of education, and McCauley will try to point out the advantages of daily spray buffing. Still, if the customer requests, she will send crews to strip and refinish the floors as needed. Some clients simply require the prestige associated, for better or worse, with a wet-look shine.
Also, she says, not everyone in Europe does things the European way, either.
“There are exceptions,” McCauley says. “Some retailers in Europe now want the wet look.”
She attributes this to the American influence — many U.S. companies are now doing business abroad, and the managers want the same floors they have back at home. Similarly, European facility managers are traveling to the States and seeing the floors here and taking that look back with them.
On the other hand, even in the United States, many facilities are moving to no-wax tiles and rendering the strip-and-recoat versus spray buff debate moot.
“Malls and airports, especially, have been trending in the last five years away from tiles that require stripping and waxing, and to tiles that come sealed,” McCauley says.
Regardless of floor-covering trends, labor costs and chemical safety, European way of maintaining floors may never become the standard in the United States. McCauley sees that as a positive for her company.
“We’re probably unique in the United States,” she explains, “and because of that, we’re one of the leading cleaning companies in Florida.”
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