It comes during the winter and cannot be stopped or controlled. It is snow and ice. Sand, grit, and debris almost invariably follow a snowfall, and much of it ends up being tracked into buildings. It can attack with a vengeance and ruin carpeting and hard floors.

Building service contractors in snowy climates can minimize the damage by establishing a carpet and hard-floor care program that includes several key components. A successful program contains both proactive and reactive measures, including preventative maintenance and respond to weather conditions as they occur.

Prepare and prevent Andrew Carr, owner of Carr Building Services in South Portland, Maine, prepares for winter by machine scrubbing or stripping and refinishing floors. He applies eight coats of finish. Four coats are applied the first night and four the next night.

“We use a two-pad system for cleaning and buffing floors,” Carr adds. “We keep the grit off the floor and then buff it back. It holds through the winter with the eight finish coats.”

Other contractors prepare similarly.

“If we seal to protect floors, we will do that in the fall,” says Robert Bloom, operations manager at J&K Cleaning Co. in Chicago. “We strip a floor, put the sealer down, and then cover it with two coats of wax. We discuss matting needs with customers and provide them with a list of matting suppliers.”

On the other hand, not everyone refinishes the floor before winter.

“If rock salt is used, it winds up melting and the water pools and melts through the wax,” says Robert Coleman, contract administrator at Pegasus Cleaning Corporation in Buffalo, N.Y. “We schedule stripping and waxing at the end of winter.”

Another step BSCs can take to prepare is assessing their personnel needs, says Carr.
“During the winter our core payroll costs go up 15 percent to 20 percent,” he says. “We know that we will need extra help during the winter so we hire more people in the summer then we need.”

Dramatic entrances
When snow and ice do hit, the first step is to keep as much of it out of the building as possible. So, contractors should concentrate on the entranceways.
“The biggest issue is tracking in rock salt and ice melt,” says Coleman. Rock salt damages hard floors and carpets.”

Indoor entrance matting is vital for keeping ice-melt and other debris out of the building, Coleman adds.

“We attempt to trap debris at entranceways and have enough matting down to clean people’s shoes before they enter office areas,” he says.” We place matting 40 feet into main entranceways and 20 feet into secondary entranceways on hard floors and carpets.”

“Use matting only inside buildings,” Carr adds. “Outdoors, mats are tripping hazards and freeze up. We use a vinyl back and cloth top mats for hard floors and carpets.”

Also, be sure to change mats out on a regular basis because when they get wet they are useless, Coleman adds.

In addition, as sand and grit tend to linger long after the snow melts, Coleman recommends his customers get their parking lots and walkways swept at the end of winter, to keep tracked-in winter debris from becoming a year-round problem.

In the building
Even the best entrance-defense system won’t keep all snow, slush and sand out of the rest of the building. So, wet-floor signs are critical, says Carr, to warn people of potentially slippery areas.

After placing signs, BSCs need to remove the soils from both hard and carpeted floors. For the former, Coleman prefers autoscrubbing to mopping because the machine can pick up more salt, sand and grit.

Bloom recommends using a salt neutralizer in water to lift the salt and artificial salt off the floor.

“Salt will destroy a floor,” he says. “It will eat through a finish and chew up concrete.”

Carpet cleaning also is essential during winter months; vacuums will likely be called into duty much more often.

“We vacuum all traffic lanes of carpeting at night,” says Carr. “We vacuum daily and sweep out front entranceways [frequently].”

A wet-dry vacuum can help with entranceways and other damp areas.

For periodic carpet cleaning, Carr prefers a cellulose-based dry-cleaning system. The product is more expensive but it minimizes re-soiling, he says.

Scheduling concerns
During snowy winter months, contractors might find they need to adjust their workloading, not only for big snowstorms but for day-to-day operations.
“Scheduling work depends on the flexibility of our customer,” says Coleman. “We add a day per week to deal with winter conditions.”

During a snowstorm, BSCs will need to plan for both extra work and absenteeism due to poor road conditions.

“If there is a snowfall of more then four inches, we don’t work that night,” says Bloom. “We would be fighting our way from store to store with no place to park. We schedule an extra day at the end of the week to visit clients we missed because of a snowstorm.”

Besides, adds Carr, cleaning crews might not be needed during a blizzard anyway, as the day of the storm is normally not the day the debris starts pouring in.

“It’s the next day, after entranceways have been salted and sanded that we need our personnel to come to work,” he says.

Contractors in snowy climates can use these tips and take a multi-pronged approach to keep winter debris at bay, and the results will be much more than just aesthetic. The carpets and floors will stay intact and will last longer, and customers will stay safe and satisfied.

To Shovel Or Not To Shovel

A major snowstorm hits your area, and your customer is snowed in. He asks if you can handle the ice and snow removal. Should you do so?

That’s a decision each company should assess based on their labor force, training, potential for profit and liability. For example, Robert Coleman of Pegasus Cleaning Corp. in Buffalo, N.Y., says his company’s contracts do occasionally include removing snow at entrence ways, but not in parking lots. When they’re called to do so, they do try to minimize their use of ice-melt products, as not to create more work for their floor and carpet crews inside. He recommends using potassium and chloride products, rather than rock salt, as they are more environmentally friendly, especially on concrete and bushes, hedges and other plants.

Andrew Carr of Carr Building Services in South Portland, Maine, agrees that ice-melt products are often more trouble than they’re worth.

"The product will melt the ice and turn it into a puddle,” he says.” When it gets colder, it will refreeze and make the problem worse."

Some BSCs don’t handle snow removal at all, even at entranceways. Chicago’s J&K Cleaning Co. does not shovel snow or spread ice melt at building entrances due to the increased liability. Taking responsibility for snow removal can make contractors liable for accidents or injuries caused by ice and snow.

Ken Fracaro is a business writer in Hixson, Tenn.