Preparing for the Harsh Winter Season: Are Your Floors Ready?

October 7, 2005
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While the winter season doesn't officially begin until Dec. 21, temperatures will soon start plummeting in some parts of the country, bringing ice, sleet and snow. While it's still mild outside, now is the time to take a step back and start preparing for the upcoming harsh winter season. As a floor care professional, you can start by asking yourself an important question: Do you have your winter program ready to put into place?

If you haven't thought about how the winter elements that will be tracked onto your flooring can quickly take a toll on the finish, then consider a not-so-attractive alternative: a negative impact to your bottom line. Thinking about a preventative plan now - complete with staffing, cleaning and matting programs ready to deploy - will save you time and money in the long run. Otherwise you could face higher costs for finish, repair and restoration due to the wear and tear of winter.

Think of this as the calm before the storm. Just as families stock their pantries at home, equip their cars with emergency kits, dig out the shovel and tune up the snow blower, as a professional in the floor care industry, this is the ideal time to prepare your plan of attack to fight winter's harsh impact on your floors. After all, spending a little time developing a plan of action before winter begins will allow you to prevent the salt, sand and standing water from taking a toll on your finish.

It's likely you designed your floor care maintenance programs with two goals in mind: delaying the cost of the most intrusive part of floor care - refinishing - while keeping the floors to the client's desired appearance level. During the winter season, while the goals remain the same, it's up to you to factor in extra messes your floors will soon be facing. Investing some time in thinking about what your floors will battle - everything from grit and sand to ice melters - will allow you to prepare for how you need to proactively adjust your floor care program.

How's Your Floor Finish?
To successfully prepare for the winter, you'll want to begin by making sure your floors are in good shape. How's your finish? Are the floors noticeably clean or is the finish discolored or yellow?

Are your floors due for a stripping and recoating? Consider using the time before winter to perform these maintenance tasks. Stripping and recoating in the middle of winter should be avoided; besides, many floor care professionals consider it wasteful to try to do it during the messy winter months. And, you could be faced with double the work and cost if the floors have to be stripped and refinished again due to poor maintenance during the winter.

If it is time to refinish, use this opportunity to select a finish that will hold up to daily wear, tear and maintenance that winter elements will bring. A durable finish will sustain daily wear and hold up under harsh conditions to survive the winter. Additionally:

  • Consider selecting a highly durable finish for high traffic areas, along with areas that have a high concentration of winter soils and salt.
  • During the winter, it's likely that the floor will be less accessible for buffing or burnishing, and thus the benefit of a finish with burnish response will be wasted and probably then look worse. This is the best compromise for gloss, given that winter is a less than ideal time period for maintaining target gloss.
  • Be sure to look for a durable finish that has a high initial gloss and will maintain gloss longer without buffing or burnishing.
  • Finally, consider using this finish as a top coat in the worst areas, just for winter.

    Choosing to refinish, or scrubbing and applying a top coat if the finish is still in good condition (to minimize the cost) before the onslaught of snow, also means that you'll be starting off with a protective layer.

    Do You Have Enough Layers?
    To add to the protection, consider building up the depth of the finish. More layers of finish will give floor care technicians additional finish to work with when they burnish. If your facility dictates that you maintain that high "summertime" gloss levels, buffing or burnishing could be maintenance measures you may have to perform more frequently in the winter. As this will reduce the amount of finish on the floor over time, the extra layers of finish will come in handy. For that reason, this preventive step can help you delay stripping and refinishing.

    Do Your Floor Cleaners Fight Sand, Salt, Dirt and Grit?
    To prepare your arsenal to fight the winter elements, you need to build up your defense with high-performing floor cleaning products. Removing the tracked in soils on your finished floors is vital to minimizing the damage to the finish. During the winter, these soils, including calcium chloride and rock salt, can quickly eat away at the finish. It's imperative to have a cleaner that will attack winter elements.

    The crux of your daily maintenance program year-round is the daily floor cleaner. Here are some floor cleaner tips to keep in mind during the winter:

  • Choose a cleaner that will effectively remove the tough winter elements, but is not so harsh that it eats away and removes your finish.
  • Select a cleaner that won't dull the finish and can extend the life and shine of finished floors.
  • Consider switching to a cleaner that will neutralize salt.
  • Choose a cleaner that is the same brand as your selected floor finish. Using the same brand of daily cleaners and finishes can help ensure synergies in the product formulations and will enable the products to work better when used together.
  • Select a high-performing cleaner that can impact labor. Giving employees products that work exceptionally well can save labor time.
  • Make sure you invest time in training procedures for employees, especially if you switch cleaning products. This could really mean the difference between whether or not soil is actually removed or if it is just "moved around."

    What is Your Daily Maintenance Plan to Battle Winter?
    Daily maintenance, designed to keep the floor's surface clean, is the most important aspect of floor care maintenance. Effectively removing soils will prevent premature wear on your finish. Left unattended, soil can be the biggest cause of wear, discoloration and damage to the finish. Simply put, these soils will abrade and become imbedded in the finish.

    The best place to start is an evaluation of your current daily maintenance program. It's likely that your program consists of removing particulate soil by dust mopping and damp mopping. Consider several proactive things you can do to address the harsher elements you'll be facing:

  • Vacuum carpets near the entrance, in the elevator and walk-off mats several times each day, especially after the busiest in-flow of foot traffic. This will help stop the dirt, salt, grime and sand from transferring onto the floor.
  • Dust mop several times a day to remove grit, loose soil and sand that can get transferred onto the flooring via heavy boots and shoes (typical of the season).
  • Damp mop with a floor cleaner designed to remove the harsh winter elements. Focus on damp mopping the facility's entrance to stop the soils from being tracked further into the building.
  • Auto-scrubbing with a scrubber vacuum can lift dirt and take it away, helping to ensure that the soils are really removed and not left on the floor.

    Is Your Matting System Ready?
    Your floor care system starts at the door, and during the winter, your matting system should actually start outside the door in the form of knock-off mats. If your facility isn't equipped with mats outside the front entrance, consider adding them for the winter season. These mats can be your first line of defense and can trap some grit and dirt before it comes inside the facility.

    Directly inside the facility, you should have another set of absorbent mats for further soil and moisture removal. Extra indoor absorbent mats should be considered for the worst days of winter.

    A successful matting system will stop the water and dirt through a variety of inside and outside mats. But having mats in the right locations is only one part of the equation - you need to have a plan in place to clean and replace the mats as they become soiled and saturated.

    Your floors can survive the winter season if you do well at the fundamentals. It all comes down to a durable finish, tough daily cleaners to fight winter's worst elements, and a daily maintenance plan that is successful in removing those elements. Invest time in thinking about how you'll fight winter now and avoid adding the cost of premature stripping and refinishing into your floor care costs.

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