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Street Smarts: The importance of exterior maintenance

September 19, 2010
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As far back as the mid-1980s, retail establishments realized that outdoor maintenance concerns were paramount to meeting customer expectations.

Many service companies started offering parking lot sweeping, along with other outdoor services, such as snow removal and lawn maintenance.

This gave some contractors the advantage of providing customers with "one-stop shopping".

Work your way in

Many building owners feel that a floor care program begins at the front door, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

A well-executed, long-term maintenance strategy begins on the street in front of the building, continues through the parking lot, and winds its way along the sidewalk leading up to the entrance.

Let''s take a look at some of the exterior issues involved in building services.

Sand, grit and other seasonal debris are just waiting to damage carpet fibers, floor finishes, and any grout channel they can find.

A strong preventative strategy will keep this detrimental material out of the building, or at least keep it contained to the entry area.

If there is parking or other vehicular traffic near the facility, we must consider leakage from automobile engines.

Engine oil, brake fluid, anti-freeze, and transmission oils will be deposited over time and must be removed.

Not only is this unsightly, but eventually these oil spots will attract dry soils and will start to approach the front door.

Oil absorbents can be used as a poultice to bring oil stains to the surface, where they can be removed.

Dry granular absorbents work well on outdoor jobs and act best if left on the spot for several hours or days, depending on the severity.

These spots can also be pressure washed with a strong degreasing agent. There are several pressure-washing tools with vacuum containment, but watch for the runoff.

A well thought out sweeping program will also keep approaching gritty soil at bay. Standing at the front door, look out and see the entry apron.

If the apron is concrete, check the finish of the concrete to match bristling on push brooms to the surface type.

With a smooth concrete finish, use a finer sweeping broom to remove the smallest particles.

For large areas, you may want to consider a walk-behind sweeper with an edging brush to pick up loose soil along curbs and flower beds.

If this soil is left behind, wind or rain will move this material into walkways.

Many contractors have opted for a "water broom" for clearing soil from walkways.

This process can also remove any oily soils or sticky spills, keeping them from becoming a problem indoors.

Attached to a simple garden hose, these "brooms" flush potential maintenance headaches down the drain.

If you choose this option, check out local municipal requirements for runoff from this type of outdoor cleaning.

Certain local laws may prohibit runoff from entering a storm sewer.

Surface knowledge

The real key to providing great service of outside debris removal is to understand the surfaces you will be working with.

Everything from concrete driveways and asphalt parking surfaces, to paver-block walkways and natural stone outer lobbies are found in today''s buildings.

Having a good working knowledge of each surface type is necessary to develop long term maintenance strategies.

1. Concrete

People in the concrete trade have described the material as a "very hard sponge".

Concrete will absorb most liquids deep into its capillaries — the pathways where water used in the curing process works its way to the surface for evaporation.

These pathways are available to liquids even after the curing process is complete.

Many factors determine the size of this capillary structure — or the porosity of the concrete.

A simple test to see just how porous your concrete is: Carefully pour some water on the surface and see how long it takes to be absorbed by the concrete.

Porosity, dispersion and volume of pores affect not only the durability of concrete, but also its strength.

Concrete structures also have a high-alkaline pH. Well-developed concrete has a pH of nearly 12, which can mean mineral deposits may "wick up" to the surface in the form of a whitish residue, which is more noticeable on darker or color-pigmented concrete.

This residue — called efflorescence — can be difficult to remove with traditional water-based cleaning techniques since water used in the cleaning process can cause more efflorescence to appear.

And, when tracked inside, this crystalline salt deposit will scratch hard floor finishes.

Efflorescence can be removed with dry brushing or with clear water and a stiff brush. Heavy accumulations or stubborn deposits may require the use of special cleaners.

2. Asphalt

Asphalt paving is an oil-based compound made from a mixture of bitumen, limestone or siliceous filler, sand, and gravel.

The asphalt top coat is the "roof" of the engineered structure, which needs several re-coatings throughout its useful lifespan.

Seal-coatings based on refined coal tar were introduced in the 1950s and have been used extensively to protect off-street pavements.

These are often referred to as CTPE — or coal tar pitch emulsions — denoting that these coatings are water based, and created by dispersing refined coal tar in a matrix of clay and water.

These coatings can "walk off" the pavement — via pedestrians'' shoes — and into the building, causing varied levels of brownish to yellowish discoloration on many types of flooring materials, from vinyl composition tile (VCT) to carpet.

It helps to have information about these coatings; when this service is being performed, ask seal-coating contractors about them and their performance in high-traffic situations.

Certain geographic environments can also have different effects on asphalt surfaces.

Ice melt compounds can interact with the binding agents in the asphalt and cause disruption of the matrix leading to premature breakdown which, in turn, allows sand and grit from the matrix to enter the building.

Ask the pavement contractor about long-term strategies for seal coating and maintenance procedures.

The routine maintenance should include the typical sweeping or debris removal and possibly pressure washing at periodic intervals.

3. Natural stone

Natural stone — particularly in outdoor environments — can be extremely difficult to maintain.

To keep indoor areas clean, it''s important to remove as much loose soil as possible from stone surfaces.

Stone can be finished with several different processes for a smooth- or rough-top surface. Precautions need to be taken for each finish type, and cleaning procedures will be determined by stone category.

If the surface is rough, removal of dry particulate soils, such as sand and small pieces of rock, can be difficult by sweeping.

If the surface is smooth, sweeping is easier, but the surface can become slippery with rainfall or snowmelt.

Marble usually has a porous surface, similar to concrete, which means liquid spills can get into the pores and permanently stain the marble.

Acidic compounds can deteriorate the stone by etching the surface, causing spotting on smooth finishes, which leads to rough patches.

These etched areas need to be resurfaced with abrasives to smooth out the surface area.

Diamond pads or abrasive powders can be used under a floor machine for this procedure.

Granite has a very hard surface and is composed from different minerals than marble, so dry soils are not as harmful to the surface appearance.

But, granite can still be porous and stain easily from liquid spills. A penetrant protector is recommended to stop spills from being absorbed into the capillaries of the natural stone materials.

Slate usually has a rough surface for outdoor usage and is not that absorbent.

However, each type of slate will react differently to liquids.

A liquid test should be preformed on each of your stone areas to test the absorbency.

The rough surface will make dry soil removal difficult because slate is a stone built of thin, flat layers, and damage can be caused to the stone surface by using aggressive sweeping techniques.

Once you have tested all of your outdoor surfaces for porosity, abrasion resistances, and sensitivity to cleaning products, proceed with a four-level approach.

The path to clean

Exactly as we do for interior floor surfaces, we need to approach our outdoor surfaces with the initial/preventative, routine, interim/periodic, and restorative disciplines.

To prevent soils from accumulating at entry areas, the preventative approach of parking lot sweeping will keep the soil away.

Also, a penetrating protector will prevent soils and spills from ruining the look of your entrance.

Routinely remove dry soils that get past the preventative measures.

Periodically execute a cleaning procedure that uses an extraction process to physically remove the buildup of fine or greasy soils from your entrance.

Restoration needs to be employed when the periodic procedures are no longer effective.

We can restore these surfaces with heavy-duty cleaning procedures like pressure washing or, depending on the surface type, diamond abrasive pads to refinish the scratched or etched finish on natural stone.

Once you realize how much outdoor soils come into our buildings, plan to address these areas as part of an overall cleaning plan.

After the plan is put into play, you will start to see some cost savings on your bottom line.

Cost savings is only part of the opportunity; with good marketing of this issue, we can leave our competition behind when these areas are not addressed in the bidding and estimating process.

Clients expect us to look into the future to tell them where the problems are going to surface.

By thinking "outside the door" we can give them peace of mind for years to come.

Dane Gregory is the president and CEO of 3-D Corporation, parent of Dr. Clean Consultants, a company that provides technical and management training to businesses worldwide. He has previously served as president of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC).

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