ICS Magazine

New-Construction Cleanup

August 20, 2009


With the economy in the doldrums, some cleaning contractors are looking to specialty services to find new niches and lucrative revenue streams. However, some services are not for everyone.

One example, crime scene cleaning, was recently the topic of a Hollywood movie, one of the few ever made dealing specifically with the professional cleaning industry.

Although the movie portrays crime scene cleaning as profitable, it also makes it clear that the job is not for everyone. The blood, gore, and difficult situations encountered by those who provide this type of service are made vivid.

Another service not as stomach-wrenching but difficult nonetheless is new-construction cleanup. One estimate indicates that about 20 percent of all contract cleaning companies offer new-construction cleanup services on a regular basis, and a small number of contractors do only this type of cleaning work.

Many inexperienced contractors jump into new-construction cleanup totally unaware of the hurdles and surprises they may encounter.

“It’s certainly not for everyone, and it can be difficult work,” said Richard Sanchez, owner of AJ Janitorial in Santa Rosa, Calif. “But with training, perseverance, and flexibility it can be a profitable add-on service.”

According to Sanchez, new-construction cleanup has been in great demand in his area of the country for more than a decade. However, the downturn in the economy has significantly reduced the demand.

“We are not getting as many calls to clean up new homes or offices,” he said, “but there is a lot of remodeling going on, especially in the healthcare industry, and that’s where we get most of our calls now. We expect [new-construction] business to pick up considerably next year.”

Types of New-Construction Cleanup

Often, contractors of commercial and residential properties, as well as remodels and retrofits, will line up the construction cleanup contractor before or soon after construction has begun on a project.

This reflects the importance of new-construction cleanup-the polish on a new building-as well as the fact that there are actually three types of new-construction cleanup:
  • The “rough” cleanup, performed once the exterior walls and framing of the project are complete.
  • The “drywall” cleanup, performed once all the drywall in the facility has been installed.
  • The “final” cleanup, performed once all construction has ended and the building is completed.
The goal with the first two types is to remove and haul away as much debris as possible during the construction process; vacuum surface areas; remove materials no longer being used, and eliminate as much dust as possible from the work area.

This not only keeps the facility in relatively clean condition while under construction but helps protect the health and safety of the construction workers.

The final cleanup is much more involved. “This is the detail work, the finishing touch to make the building move-in ready,” Sanchez said. “And if it’s done correctly, this also makes the contractor look good, and typically, [the contractor is] the one paying for your services.”

Some of the cleaning tasks performed during the final cleanup include:
  • Windows are scrubbed; all decals and manufacturer’ stickers are removed.
  • Walls are wiped down as needed; ledges are cleaned.
  • All floors are dust mopped/vacuumed and cleaned.
  • Carpets are vacuumed (occasionally they may need to be extracted if they have been soiled during the construction process).
  • Light fixtures, counters, ceiling fans, vents, hardware, and cabinetry are cleaned.
  • Appliances are cleaned inside and out; stickers and decals are removed.
In some cases, there is a fourth construction cleanup job: the touch-up. As with most professional cleaning services, the entire cleanup project will likely have a schedule of services, sometimes referred to as a “punch list,” detailing all the work to be performed.

The cleaning contractor may go through the facility with the punch list just to make sure all tasks have been completed as stipulated. At this point, any touching up that is required will be performed.

Additionally, the hard-surface floors may need some extra attention. Some floors, such as VCT, may have a film on the surface, installed by the manufacturer to help protect it during transport.

This film typically needs to be removed, which calls for the floors to be scrubbed or stripped and then refinished.

Pricing Problems

“One of the problems with new [and building remodel] construction cleanup is pricing,” Sanchez said. “Invariably, the customer or the building contractor will want some kind of set figure, but there can be all kinds of variables that make this hard to provide. Each cleanup job is a little different.”

Proposals for new-construction cleanup jobs are often figured on either a time or price-per-square-foot basis, and the pricing structure can vary depending on which cleanup (rough, drywall, or final) is being performed. Remodeling cleanup jobs tend to be less involved. Sanchez said many cleaning contractors in his area charge between $0.70 and $1.30 per square foot for new-construction cleanup work and sometimes less for remodel cleanup.

Another variable is how much work the building contractor provides. “If a developer is building many homes, he or she may expect some price negotiating due to the size of the project,” Sanchez said. “As to time and costs, often this works well for the cleaning crew as well because most of the houses will need about the same amount of work; there are few surprises or special cleanup projects.”

That said, the cleaning contractor should always expect the unexpected. If carpets need to be extracted due to the construction work, that typically is an extra charge.

Further, if the new floors need to be refinished, the time and supplies to perform this work are also usually treated as an additional charge.

Other Considerations

At first glance, new-construction cleanup seems like just a lot of heavy cleaning work, but it is much more. New-construction cleanup is a service that requires specialized training; however, except for a couple of books on the subject, there are few sources for this training.

This places a lot of the burden for success of the service on the shoulders of the cleaning contractor. It requires that the contractor have such things as:
  • Familiarity with different types of cleaning tools, equipment, and chemicals available for a variety of cleaning duties.
  • A good working understanding of how to use all kinds of cleaning tools, equipment, and chemicals.
  • Organizational skills-mandatory if the job is to be completed in a timely manner.
  • A knowledgeable distributor.
Invariably, the contractor will encounter a new and possibly an unusual cleaning problem or situation on a new-construction cleanup job. Sanchez recalls one project in which a white film covered most of the hardwood floors in a new home. Apparently, one of the construction workers had mopped the floors, but no one was sure what had caused the white film on the floor.

Because time is of the essence in any new-construction cleanup, and “trial and error” can be costly, Sanchez called in a janitorial distributor to evaluate the problem.

“He tested various chemicals trying to determine what the film was and how to remove it,” Sanchez said. “The distributor discovered it was some sort of gloss the contractor had used, thinking it was a cleaner. Our distributor suggested how it could be removed without requiring the floors to be refinished.”

In many cases, a jansan distributor may be the contractor’s only source of help or information in new-construction cleanup projects or similar specialty services. This was even borne out in the aforementioned crime-scene cleaning movie. As often happens in real life, the jansan distributor became adviser, guide, and educator.

Construction clean-up is not something a contractor would want to “try.” Learn as much about this special niche as possible before taking the plunge.