Hard Floor Maintenance

The Costs of Stripping and Refinishing VCT Floors

Vinyl composition tile, or VCT, is by far the most common resilient floor covering that the floor maintenance technician is exposed to.

Vinyl composition tile, or VCT, is by far the most common resilient floor covering that the floor maintenance technician is exposed to. We see VCT everywhere from small hair saloons to gigantic box stores, schools, hospitals, government buildings and just about every other environment possible. The VCT floor is durable, has an appealing look, is available in every color imaginable and is a relatively cost-effective floor to purchase and install. However, once that floor is installed, it will be subject to the damaging effects of foot traffic and will require a floor maintenance program, which comes with a price tag that is variable to the individual client.

The floor maintenance program consists of four separate maintenance periods: initial, daily/routine, periodic and restorative. For the most part, businesses are successful at calculating the initial, daily/routine and periodic maintenance costs, but struggle when it comes to establishing a cost for restorative stripping and refinishing. The reason for this is that the stripping and refinishing service procedure is the most difficult service to prepare for and perform in the entire program.

The restorative maintenance service procedure for VCT is stripping and refinishing, and as the name implies, it has two primary parts. The definition of stripping a VCT floor is to remove all pre-existing coats of seals and/or finish from the surface of the tile (including edges, corners and baseboards). This is accomplished by using stripping chemicals in conjunction with abrasive pads or brushes attached to a floor machine and various detailing tools and materials. After the floor has been stripped, detailed and rinsed, applications of floor finish are applied until a desired gloss or protection level is achieved. It sounds simple enough, however there are several different variables to consider.

The first step of the calculation is to determine the scope of the project. We know that we are stripping a VCT floor, so we need to determine the amount of chemical, the type of equipment, tools and materials, and the number of technicians to perform the service procedure. True, most of the calculation is based on the square footage of the floor, but there are other factors that have to be taken into account as well. Many calculations are in jeopardy from the gate because the calculation is based solely on square footage and productivity rates alone.

Understanding the environment summarizes all the conditions and soils that the area is exposed to, which is important when trying to determine the current condition of the floor. Throughout the maintenance lifecycle, the floor will be dust mopped and wet mopped on a daily/routine basis, and will have been scrubbed and recoated several times. Although the machine scrubbing process is used to remove embedded soils, it seldom removes all soils. During the recoating service function, the remaining soil is then encapsulated between coats of floor finish, and over a period of time and many applications, the floor will ultimately brown out. The number of coats, or the thickness of the existing floor finish, will directly impact the stripping calculation.

Equipment selection is determined by the way in which the square footage is divided up. If you are in large wide open areas, automatic scrubbing machines and propane equipment might be incorporated to expedite the productivity rates. If you are in small confined areas, the standard rotary floor machine and wet vacuum package will be required. Productivity rates are directly impacted by the equipment packages that can be used.

The stripping chemical used is the most important factor in a successful strip job. Not all stripping chemicals are the same - most are manufactured to work in a system. What that means is that most stripping chemicals are designed to take off a particular floor seal and or finish, but they will usually work on like formulations. If you don’t know what brand of floor seal and/or finish is on the floor, and we generally do not, then you will have to rely on a good stripper that works for you in most situations. This may take some research on your part, but having a good stripper that works well on all floor finishes is something that you will undoubtedly need for your tool kit.

To establish the amount of stripping chemical required to remove the old finish, a couple of variables are required: the dilution ratio and the coverage of the solution. The dilution ratio will be the individual manufacturer’s recommended product usage and coverage will be 100 to 150 square feet per gallon of diluted solution. Determine the amount of stripping chemical you will need, and then double it - you may have to strip the floor more than once. This part of the calculation will determine your stripping chemical costs.

The second part of the equation is reapplying floor seal and/or finish on the floor. This is a much easier part to calculate. All that is required is the coverage rate and the number of coats that will be required to achieve the desired gloss or protection level. Once again, not all floor seals and finishes are the same - some out-perform others by more than a little, so coating selection is also very important. Coverage for most acrylic floor seals and finishes for VCT range between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet per gallon, but there are other variations. The number of coats applied is variable, but generally are between four and six. With some floor finish systems, buffing or burnishing after application will have to be calculated as well.

The final part of the equation is labor, the human factor. This is the most fluctuating factor of them all. Different people have different skill sets and different speeds in which they perform. It is the technician that drives the productivity rate. A highly skilled crew with lots of experience in the stripping and refinishing process will produce better results in a shorter period of time than an unskilled crew. That does not mean that they can do the job in less time than it takes to do the job, it just means they are more proficient. Productivity rates will be directly attributed to the skill of the technicians in the crew.

Once you have established the chemical, equipment, tools and materials, and labor costs, then you will need to apply the other costs that support the project. While the above costs reflect the actual time on the job (the actual square footage of the area being serviced), they do not take into consideration vehicle costs, travel to the job, loading and unloading of equipment, traveling from the janitor closet to the work area, water pressure, personnel congestion or a myriad of other factors that can make the job unprofitable. These are the factors that are often overlooked when calculating the cost of stripping and refinishing VCT floors. Although stripping and refinishing a floor is difficult to calculate, it is not impossible, but it is important to remember that your calculation will ultimately be your contract, so it is wise to look at all the variables.

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