The right machine, paired with the correct environment and proper user training, can translate into big savings for custodial executives. Rather than lugging a small machine around a room, plugging and unplugging as they go, cleaners can now sit atop a self-propelled machine with a 20- to 30-inch wide cleaning path, unencumbered by a cord. This process dramatically increases the cleaning rate, while also reducing worker fatigue.

The difference between traditional and ride-on machines is not nominal. On average, distributors say an upright vacuum can clean about 4,500 square feet an hour and a backpack vacuum about 10,000 square feet. Depending on size, a ride-on vacuum can cover between 17,000 and more than 20,000 square feet an hour.

“You are talking about huge jumps in productivity,” says Evan Ghen, vice president of sales and operations for Scoles Floorshine Industries in Farmingdale, New Jersey. “Managers can save hours of labor by switching and that’s the end all, be all. The math on it over time is so significant. It’s a home run.”

Of course, the math doesn’t add up for every facility. Without enough square footage, it may take years to make up the initial capital outlay of purchasing new equipment. The average lifespan of a ride-on machine is 3 to 5 years, so it’s important that managers do the math to determine whether it will pay for itself — and then some — in that time.

Custodial executives that need help deciding should ask their distributors to use workloading software to determine whether the return on investment makes sense. Using variables such as square footage, hourly wage, insurance costs and cleaning frequencies, the program will calculate the payback period for the machine.

“The initial price of large equipment may scare some managers, but using software allows us to show them how much they can save with the machine in labor, which then frees you up to get other projects done throughout the day,” says Rob Sabbag, janitorial equipment specialist at EBP Supply Solutions in Milford, Connecticut. “Typically it’s a relatively quick payback period that makes sense.”

Battery Issue

In addition to initial cost, custodial executives in the market for ride-on equipment worry about the battery life. There are two battery options available for this type of machinery and each has pros and cons.

Traditional wet-cell lead-acid batteries use a solution of water and sulfuric acid to create energy. Most can be recharged but, like all batteries, they will eventually become unusable, requiring replacement. How long they last depends on a combination of use level and maintenance, which involves frequently checking and adjusting water levels.

“With a standard battery, if you don’t do the proper maintenance, you may have to replace it within a few months or less,” Ghen says. “You are also relying on employees to maintain it correctly because, if not, they could actually cause damage to the equipment.”

Newer absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries are maintenance-free sealed wet cells that take the guesswork out of the battery. But that comes at a price. Upgrading a ride-on vacuum or sweeper to AGM batteries adds $400 to $700 to the price tag. The fool-proof batteries should last 2 to 3 years.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Ghen says. “AGM batteries take the maintenance away from someone who could cause more damage than good, and lets them focus on cleaning instead.”

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