Often, when you take over an account, the floors are in poor condition. Inheriting neglected or poorly maintained floors can sometimes challenge your professionalism as well as your patience. It’s usually these types of facilities that create the horror stories shared around the campfire. However, these experiences add to your personal arsenal of possible solutions for a myriad of potential hard floor maintenance problems you may encounter throughout your career.
One of the most common situations is stripping “Vinyl Composition Tile” (VCT) with severe floor finish build-up. Because of its characteristics, VCT is a prime candidate for applications of excessive layers of floor finish. Part 1 of this series deals with preparation for the service, which can have a significant impact on the job. The second-part of this series will be a detailed step-by-step description of the process itself.
The objective is to strip and refinish an area for a new customer or account. Then, define the objective of the customer. This will give you the basis for calculating equipment, supplies and labor for completing the job.
Be a detective and determine the types of problems you may encounter and prepare a defense for them. Look at the floor very closely and you will find clues that help plan a successful operation.
Note: Be sure to measure the account for accurate square footage, having this information will help control costly mistakes. This is not a time that you want to run out of chemicals, have broken equipment or inadequate labor to perform the task. Having accurate figures will establish actual numbers to compute.
Establish when you can be there and how much time you will have to complete the job. This will aid in estimating the number of technicians required. How far you have to move your equipment to get to the work area, how long you have to wait for security? Examine the area closely. Is it well ventilated? Do you have to wait for an elevator? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself to be prepared for hard floor maintenance.
The more objects you can remove from the area the easier the job will be. Sometimes, if you ask, the customer can have a majority of the items taken out before you even get there. Also look at what you will need to move the remaining objects—hand trucks, dollies, carts and desk movers—can all make moving items easier and reduce your time.
Caution: When removing objects, take the time to take a picture, make a map or label items to help you remember where the items go when you’re done.
In excessive build-up situations, the edges, corners and baseboards will generally be in bad shape. Look closely at these areas and evaluate how severe the build-up is and make plans for eliminating it. Aerosol baseboard foam helps in these situations because it clings a little better to the baseboard. Be aware that some baseboards can have a chemical reaction to stripping chemicals (discoloring). If this is the case, then you need to make the customer aware. Test some of the stripper on the baseboards in an inconspicuous area for bleeding or discoloration. With excessive build-up on the baseboards, you’ll need to have extra aerosol stripper.
Low spots enable pooling of the floor finish. This causes heavier build-up in places, requiring additional time and chemicals.
Know where your water source is and where you’ll be dumping your soiled solution. You may need to bring special attachments or tools that will make these tasks easier. Make sure you have decent water pressure and a cleared drain or toilet for dumping.
Even though this may be difficult, try to estimate the level of build-up, this will have a direct effect on the amount of chemical you’ll need for stripping the floor and the type and amount of abrasive brushes or pads you’ll need. When you’re dealing with a heavy build-up situation you’ll most likely strip the floor at least twice and in some extreme cases more.
If you can determine the type of coating chemicals currently on the floor, it may help in stripping it off. Most chemicals are made to work in systems, so if you know the coating you can determine what floor stripper will work best on it.
A big problem for excessive strip jobs is estimating the amount of chemical required. The amount of stripping chemicals and the amount of floor seal and/or finish represent a large part of the supplies used. Generally, on a severe build-up situation, you’ll be stripping the floor at least twice, so your stripper usage will double. Sometimes you’ll have to increase the concentration of the stripper; instead of using a dilution ratio of one part chemical to four parts water (1:4) you may go one part chemical to three (1:3) or even two parts water (1:2). Never use stripper straight, it requires water to make it work correctly.
To determine the amount of stripper chemical required for a job determine the total square footage and the dilution ratio of the stripper. Most strippers are 1:4 ratio this means that one gallon of concentrate will yield five gallons of solution. If one gallon of solution will cover approximately 200 square feet, then five gallons of solution will cover about 1,000 square feet. So one gallon of concentrate at this ratio will cover 1,000 square feet. If you have to strip it more than once then multiply that figure by the number of times you anticipate going over the area. I find that it is better to have more than you need rather than not enough; there is nothing worse than running out of stripper in the middle of the job.
Most coatings apply at approximately 2,500 square foot per gallon, this figure does fluctuate depending on how you apply floor finish, but it’s a good figure for estimating. Determine the number of gallons of coating chemical required by dividing the total square footage of the area by 2,500. This will give you the amount needed for one coat; multiply that number by the number of coats you will be applying. Additional calculations for aerosol baseboard foams and neutralizer can be done separately and added to the supply list.
Once you’ve established what is on the floor, you can begin to figure out what type of pads or brushes necessary to remove it. In the case of a heavy build-up new account, I will throw everything in the truck just in case. I like using a stripping brush in conjunction with stripping pads; the brush breaks down the heavy material and the pads smooth the surface. This is also a good time to remember to bring razor and putty knives for detailing as well as pads and edging tools.
Don’t forget the wet vacuum, preferably one with a floor squeegee mount and a window squeegee on a handle to pull solution away from hard-to-reach areas. Make sure you have ample mops, mop buckets and wringers for rinsing the floor. Also, bring lots of towels for absorbing solution and wiping doors and baseboards etc. Always take plenty of wet floor signs for safety.
Preparing for the new account by stripping and refinishing VCT can be time consuming up front, but it can save you hours in the field. Take your time to evaluate what you’re going to do and you’ll have a successful strip job.
In the July issue of ICS, I will address more on this topic.