Building service contractors continue to seek ways to maintain profitability in the midst of a sluggish economy. Many BSCs are facing reduced revenues and increased expenses. A number of their clients are also experiencing lower incomes and escalating costs. As a result, facility executives are pressuring contractors to reduce costs. 

BSCs will often decrease cleaning frequencies in order to accommodate clients’ requests. Vacuuming is one of the most common cleaning functions to be reduced. For example, carpets that have been vacuumed five times per week now might be vacuumed only three times.

 his seems like an easy solution but it is not without consequences. Reduced vacuuming frequencies can diminish carpet appearance, require more frequent wet cleanings, decrease durability and degrade indoor air quality. 

To help maintain a higher frequency of vacuuming, but still keep costs in line, BSCs can switch to a wide-area vacuum to clean more space in less time.

Productivity gains

BSCs have been somewhat reluctant to fully embrace large-area carpet cleaning machines. The reason is two-fold: cost and efficacy.

A wide-area vacuum does cost more than a typical 12- to 14-inch upright. However, the production gains can seriously offset the higher initial expense. Remember that labor comprises 95 percent of all cleaning costs. Look at the following production rates in light of that fact.

Vacuuming with smaller machines:
12- to 14-inch upright: 2,000 to 3,000 square feet per hour;
16- to 18-inch upright: 3,500 to 4,500 square feet per hour;
24-inch upright: 4,000 to 6,000 square feet per hour;
Backpack: 4,000 to 11,000 square feet per hour;
Edging: 2,000 to 7,000 square feet per hour.

In contrast, vacuuming with wide-area equipment:
28- to 32-inch machine: 5,000 to 12,000 or more square feet per hour;
48-inch machine: 10,000 to 15,000 or more square feet per hour.

As an example, assume a 20,000-square-foot carpeted area is vacuumed five times per week using a 12-inch upright. Using a $10 per hour labor rate, the cost is $500. 
A 32-inch wide-area vacuum would reduce the cost down to about $80. That is an 84 percent labor savings. Applied to the contract life these savings can be enormous.

Ideal markets

A wide-area vacuum is most suited for large, open areas. Airports, civic centers, shopping malls, hospitals and schools are just a few possible candidates for this equipment. 

Wide hallways in office buildings are other good places to consider. Most commercial offices have carpeted halls spread out over multiple floors. Combined, they can add up to thousands of feet of carpeting. Since most wide-area vacuums fit through 36-inch doors, they will also fit on most elevators. Additionally, large meeting rooms and lobbies, large churches, and banquet facilities are good areas to use these machines. 

Keep in mind that a wide-area vacuum can also be used to dry clean hard flooring. 

Converting equipment from traditional vacuums to wide-area machines is one way BSCs can try and maintain carpet frequencies. 
Louie E. Davis Jr. is a jan/san industry veteran and a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala.  

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