The Columbia Public School District, in Columbia, Missouri, consists of more than 3 million square feet of cleanable space within 37 separate buildings. With roughly 144 custodians and six supervisors on staff, it is up to Michael Jones, director of custodial services, to make sure workers are efficient and productive and every inch of the district is kept clean.

One area he has been successful in achieving this goal is in floor and carpet care. Just this year, the district has completed the replacement of all upright vacuums with backpack options. Used to control dust and contaminants on both carpeting and tile floors, the backpack vacuums have increased efficiencies and productivity among workers.

Although Jones has seen successes with backpack vacuums, the shift to weed out uprights was not necessarily an easy one. Previously, the district had been using a combination of upright and backpack vacuums, and according to Jones, roughly 70 percent of the staff preferred the uprights.

“In many cases, that’s all they’d ever used,” he says. “It’s what they knew and were comfortable with.”

But, Jones pressed on with a goal to shift the perception of his crew. His initial focus was on cleaning efficiencies.

The district first incorporated backpack models in select buildings about 10 years ago and quickly realized that custodians that used backpacks (roughly 25 percent) cleaned more square footage per hour. Unlike uprights, the backpack vacuums could easily transition from carpeting to hard floors to stairways, making workers more efficient.

Industry standards support what Jones was experiencing. According to ISSA’s 540 Cleaning Times, backpack vacuums are more productive than upright options. For example, vacuuming 1,000 square feet of carpet using a 14-inch upright vacuum will take a worker 21 minutes. At the same time, vacuuming 1,000 square feet with a backpack and 14-inch orifice tool will take only 8.1 minutes — 62 percent less time than the upright.

Further research found that when used in the crowded classrooms of a K-12 setting, backpack vacuums continued to outrank their upright counterparts in terms of efficiencies. According to Jones’ research, backpacks are 70 percent more productive and they remove roughly 40 percent more dirt.

The increased productivity and dirt removal came from being able to move easily in between chairs and desks, Jones explains, adding there was often no need to move furniture. It was a win-win for the staff.

On average, custodians vacuum an hour to an hour and a half a day in areas such as classrooms, offices, stairwells, entrance vestibules and small hallways. Over time, the staff has commented favorably about the increased use of backpack vacuums.

“It’s common to hear staff say things like, ‘I don’t spend as much time vacuuming as I used to,’” says Jones.

With this in mind, and after factoring in the maintenance and repair costs of the existing uprights (roughly $10,000 to $14,000 per year), the district elected to replace all of its 110 vacuums with new backpacks.

next page of this article:
Benefits to Using Backpack Vacuums