Winterizing Your Facility: Research, Planning and Implementation Will Keep Emergencies at Bay

October 22, 2001
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Facility managers take note: Winterizing is best done in the warm days of fall when it is 50 degrees or warmer. Why? Because once the weather drops, it's too late avoid avoidable "emergencies," unnecessary expenses, and water extraction.

Commercial Floor Care went to experts for advice on how to winterize your facilities, and tips on how to make it through winter without a major loss. The experts agreed. Winterizing is all about five issues:

1. Reducing maintenances costs,
2. Eliminating replacement costs,
3. Avoiding lost landscaping expenses,
4. Improving safety, and,
5. Reducing liability.

Maintenance
"The maintenance program is generally dictated by the philosophy of management, not the weather," said Bob Hinderliter, president of Delco Cleaning Systems of Ft. Worth, "and reflects management's tolerance of dirt and its ignorance of long range results more than their management skills."

According to Bob Murrell, Restoration and Maintenance Product Manager of VIC International, Inc., "Maintenance professionals know the frequency of the cleaning schedule is going to be stepped up due to changes in the weather, including dust mopping, scrubbing along with damp mopping, and they incorporate that into the budget and schedule."

He says that maintenance professionals "take care of the plumbing problems, seal surfaces and do frequent cleaning to remove the salt, grit, sand, chlorides and keep them off the floor. Polishing frequency increase too."

Forgetting or delaying decisions until there is a catastrophe such as a blinding snowstorm closing everything down, creates panic, is a down payment on trouble, Hinderliter says. He counsels that adequate planning is the best advice and simple solutions, such as hoses attached to warm or hot water outlets, is an often overlooked solution to clear an outdoor patio, entrance or other area with a snow buildup, including roofs.

"In cities that don't use salt on streets and sidewalks," says Valspar Federal Flooring's Technical Lab Director Mark Milewski, "the alternative snow melting products can build residue when dry; residues that can be as hard or harder than the material they collected on. They can leave an ugly appearance that should be cleaned promptly by a degreaser or neutral cleaner. If the residue is allowed to dry and build up substantially, there is the potential for re-emulsification, which can become slippery, creating a safety and liability issue.

Kevin Wice, president of Xynyth Manufacturing, British Columbia, Canada, cautions, "Be concerned about which ice-melter is used outside the premises because that will be the problem on inside floors. Rock salt and rock salt blends are the most common because they are least expensive, but have a high impact on floor maintenance with the residue that tracks in and collects on floors forcing constant maintenance attention to avoid build up."

During the 15 years Wice's company has been in business, manufacturing a range of products including rock salts and calcium chloride, they have seen a dramatic market shift to their organic fertilizer based ice melter, which accounts for 85 percent of their business. The ice melter does not contain grit that would scar gym floors or marble, and there is not salt to threaten the ground water, which the public is now becoming aware of as an environmental issue.

While there is an initial higher cost associated with the switch to environmentally safe products, Wice says that savvy floor care professionals looking at the bottom line realize the reduction in labor, replacement of surfaces and landscaping, and safety concerns are greatly reduced.

Even if you use non-tracking, environmentally friendly products, consider using floor mats both inside and outside to further prevent maintenance and safety problems.

"When it comes to the entry mats, the main thing it needs to do is provide a scraping surface as well as an absorption of any kind of moisture," explains Boo Thellman, director of Marketing for Fiskrs Royal Floor Mats. "It has to protect the floor, and that may require changing worn floor matting during the winter season."

A highly absorbent mat in an unprotected area will absorb ice and snow and may not dry out for several days," Thellman warns. "To avoid that situation, place the scraping surface outside the door and the absorbent mat inside."

He also suggests that outside mats should have some level of drainage to allow moisture to flow from the mat and ground, which in turn avoids the saturation that freezes into a solid block of ice overnight.

"Don't allow anything with water in it to freeze," Hinderliter adds.

Replacement
Take the sun and atmospheric warming into consideration and don't clean an outside floor surface on cloudy or overcast days. And, depending on your area of the country, it is important to consider how long the temperature will remain at or below freezing.

Murrell encourages professionals to winterize hard surfaces, such as concrete, terrazzo and marble, by checking all entrances for the integrity of impregnators and sealers. A simple check: Toss water on it and if it balls up and rolls it is repelling; if it absorbs the water you need to reapply.

The veracity of impregnators and sealers is more dependent on traffic and maintenance than date and age of application. It is critical to avoid moisture infiltration into the materials, which could freeze and break the hard surface materials. It's also important to pay close attention to the damaging effect salts, dyes and various chlorides can have on grout.

While calcium chloride and magnesium may not contain grit, both leave an oily residue, which presents a "slip and fall" concern. Rock salt is an extra maintenance issue, but chemical residues can penetrate and stain carpets, causing added carpet cleaning and, sometimes, expensive carpet replacement in lobbies, stairs and/or elevators.

Even with good sealing and impregnating, salt and sand can lead to surface degradation. Murrell says, "Professionals should be prepared to repolish more than usual based on the intensified bombardment of the environment with sand, high heat grit, chemicals and other contamination. While floor professionals are accustomed to repolishing high traffic areas quarterly, the frequency will need to be stepped up during the winter months."

Because the dyes in ice melters can stain outdoor walkways, shoe leather and building floors, it's a serious maintenance issue. Experts agree that floor care professionals need written manufacturer assurances about possible dye damage when buying these products.

While there is a big trend in the U.S. to use "engineered hardwood" because it gives the same appearance, performance and benefits of traditional wood flooring at only one-third the thickness, Milewski cautions: Prefinished floors are extremely sensitive to water. These floors can be damaged in a single afternoon simply by allowing too much rain, snow or ice to accumulate on the floor, frequently near an entrance. These floors cannot be refinished, so a timely cleanup is required.

"Porous wood absorbs water," Milewski says, "and some seem to just suck water in."

Ice melters with firm sharp edges or grit-based granular/crystal formats can scratch and mar wood floors, eating away the surface varnish, resulting in higher maintenance and replacement costs if maintenance is not adequate.

Safety
"If you aren't paying attention to safety, you are heading for trouble. The best maintenance pros know to do a study before hand," Hinderliter says, "to see what sort of situations they will get into if the weather turns bad. They ask: Will the pipes freeze or break? How much heat tape will be needed to cover the critical areas? Do we need to bury the pipes in the ground? And they know to deice when the facility is shut down on an emergency basis."

Moisture being tracked in presents problems avoided by the use of mats. Pan type mats have strips that catch the dirt below, and while they are expensive, the cost does not compare to the cost of maintenance, refinishing, resurfacing and replacing the floor.

When the weather breaks, sand should be swept up or pressure washed because it causes slippage on slick surfaces. The operator of a pressure washer should pay attention to the pressure and reduce it to keep the debris and dirt from unnecessarily splashing the walls, products and other items.

With moisture on feet, there is a loss of safety as the surfaces become more slippery. Neutral cleaners such as Friction Stone, Lithofin and Stone Medic are safe for potentially slick surfaces and should be used year round, but especially in the winter with the increased moisture.

Liability
The most serious liability issue is "slip control" because of the presence of more moisture, sand and the inherent problem with magnesium chloride on hard surfaces.

Whether it is winter or spring showers that bring the moisture, liability is a year-round issue for the public, your maintenance staff and management, and professionals floor care teams are alert to the responsibility and consequences.

Winterizing protects the building, reduces long-term costs and provides additional job security.

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