Let’s face it: facility executives aren’t floor-care professionals, and most of the time they don’t fully understand their floor-care needs.

“About 90 percent of the time people are off the mark about what their floors need, so it’s my job as a contractor to educate building management about what they need and what proper floor care involves,” says Scott Smith, president of Executive Cleaning Company Inc., Billings, Mont.

Asking the right questions during the estimating process can help nail down the variables that shape proper floor care and can reduce misunderstandings between BSCs and their clients.

“It’s a good rule of thumb to ask the prospective client how they arrived at their specifications before you bid,” says Dannette Young, vice president of United Building Maintenance Inc., Dallas, Texas. “I have seen specifications that say, strip and refinish all vinyl composition tile (VCT) weekly, which is illogical. What they probably mean is buff and re-coat when needed.”

Just the fact that management isn’t happy with their current contractor could be an indication that something may be wrong with their specifications.

“I look at the condition of the floor and ask what frequencies are being used to keep the floor up to the client’s standards,” says Art Rose, president of Mr. Clean Maintenance Systems in Colton, Calif. “If the current contractor is performing to the client’s specifications and the floors don’t look good, then the specifications are off.”

Determining the proper specifications during an estimate and workloading accordingly is a matter of determining daily traffic and the environmental factors that the client expects the finish to withstand. BSCs also must choose the proper equipment and frequencies, and track the necessary time and labor.

Know your flooring
The type and quality of flooring will determine what kind of care it needs. For example, there are different qualities of VCT, according to Charles White, owner of Hanover Maintenance, Hanover, Pa. “The cheaper the VCT the more porous it is and the more finish it will require.”

“Retail facilities, like department stores, often have floors that don’t need finish at all,” says Rose.

These surfaces, such as granite, ceramic tile, marble or carpet, only may require general cleaning, but other spaces need layers of finish.

“About 40 percent of the space we do is concrete. Concrete is more porous and sometimes needs as many as five or six coats of sealer and up to 15 coats of finish in high traffic areas,” Rose adds. Miscalculating the need for so many layers could lead to grossly underestimating necessary labor and cost.

BSCs also need to know what type of finish the last contractor used on the floor to properly estimate new work.

“When you go into a place and don’t know what type of finish is on the floor, you don’t know what type of stripper to use,” says Nick Bralich, president of All-Kleen Commercial Cleaning Service, St. Petersburg, Fla. “A job can take you two to three times longer to strip if you don’t know what stripper to use.”

Another thing to look for is the quality of the polymers in a finish.

“Newer finishes use clear polymers, as opposed to amber color polymers in older and cheaper finishes,” says Rose. “And many of the finishes that we use these days don’t need sealers, which is also something that you have to consider.”

A reliable vendor also will provide information on what finishes and equipment to use for different jobs.

“I also expect a vendor to provide my employees with equipment training,” adds Smith. “A good vendor will provide these services knowing that if a contractor successfully performs their job, then he will have that contractor’s repeat business.”

Climate considerations
Understanding the demands that climate and traffic places on floor surfaces will provide some idea of when and how often to perform time consuming tasks. For instance, in most cases a complete strip and finish project only is necessary twice a year, while less time and labor intensive tasks like a scrub and re-coat or a simple clean and burnish will increase in frequency during inclement weather.

In a building that is in a particularly sandy region such as the Southwest or an icy region, such as the Midwest where sidewalk salt is a problem, daily sweeping and mopping will be necessary to keep these abrasives from being ground into the surface. Keeping such dirt and other debris off the floor surface will extend the life of a finish, reducing the need for more frequent recoating.

“The type of businesses in a building also will determine its maintenance needs. Offices with executives don’t need as much daily maintenance as in-the-field businesses where people track in mud on their shoes.”

If traffic in places like these is heavy, the floor may have to be burnished on a daily basis to rejuvenate the finish, according to Bralich.

Estimates also should include daily maintenance to keep the floors looking their best. BSCs also may have to show customers a cost comparison illustrating the lower price of consistent floor care versus more frequent finish projects.

Time and equipment needs
While choosing the right equipment for a project is largely a matter of experience, it is vital to understand equipment applications and limitations. For instance, certain types of equipment, such as propane burnishers — which are fast and capable of creating a superior finish — often can’t be used when tenants are present, due to emissions release.

“If the flooring to be maintained is relatively small, you may choose a low-speed buffer that can multi-task. However, for large areas, the type of equipment is determined by how many man-hours it takes to do the task. If you have a 30,000-square-foot area that has to be buffed weekly, you might choose a walk-behind or propane buffer,” says Young.

A good source for estimating the time and space a specific machine can cover is the International Sanitary Supply Association’s (ISSA) 358 Cleaning Times, which lists estimated times for almost all cleaning tasks. For example, a 27-inch, electric rotary machine takes 4.2 minutes to burnish 1,000 square-feet of floor, while it takes 2.7 minutes for a propane model to do the same work. The difference of 1.5 minutes may not seem like much, but in large facilities or for multiple applications, it can add up.

Burnisher speed is not the only consideration when choosing the right method for a job. Pad pressure, which varies greatly between different equipment models, is an important factor in the quality of the final finish.

The more heat that’s generated between the pad and the finish during burnishing, the stronger the finish, says Rose. Propane machines provide between 20 and 35 pounds of pad pressure, while the battery models provide between 12 and 20 pounds, and electric-cord models offer about seven to 12 pounds. (Dragging a cord from socket to socket also needs to be factored into the total time.)

It’s also a good idea for BSCs to create their own specifications sheet for each contract, as it’s a good item to have during walkthroughs or bidding and estimating sessions. This will enable the sales person to make sure the right model is being used for the job.