Facility managers encounter challenges when they attempt to protect floors against harsh winter realities. This article discusses problems and solutions.
As autumn grows stale and the winter begins to loom, the weather grows colder and rain turns to snow and ice. For facility managers and others who manage large commercial, industrial or retail spaces, this snow and ice — and the associated countermeasures such as salt and sand — can wreak havoc on floors. How do you protect floors under these conditions?
According to the University of Virginia’s Facilities Management division, sand and salt tear “up the floors like sandpaper” and grinds all floors that have a finish. More porous flooring can experience gaping and warping from the salt, sand, ice and snow. All flooring, including tile, concrete, linoleum and carpet, are subject to staining, etching, and other damage from snow removal chemicals. At industrial facilities, these chemicals can interact with industrial chemicals and cause even more damage to flooring. All of this can lead to extensive repair and renovation costs in the best case, and significant replacement costs in the worst.
How to Protect Floors in Winter
The first preventative step is to consider an appropriate flooring product that best resists the salt, sand and other chemicals your flooring will be subjected to in the winter. Flooring that is resistant to stains, chemicals, moisture and foot traffic wear and tear is critical. You may want to also consider utilizing protective coats and finishes that seal the floor and offer strong protection from winter-related damage. Before the first expected snow fall, applying additional multiple layers of the protective finish may offer added protection.
Soil and moisture are always a concern for flooring. However, in the winter, this concern is exacerbated because of the frequent exposure to melting snow and ice, and to the chemicals that are laid atop the snow and ice to promote traction and melting. According to the University of West Florida, the vast majority of the dirt that enters a building originate from employee and visitors’ footwear.
One major way to inhibit this dirt and moisture is to use a highly effective building entrance system comprised of mat wells and mats. According to ISSA, an entrance system needs to allow an average person to take up to six steps into the building to capture the majority of the moisture and debris. Such a system of mats can help reduce the amount of soil, mud, debris, snow, ice, salt and other chemicals that actually enter the building and contact the floor and may make removal of all of these contaminants easier.
These mats should be non-staining and comprised of materials that help protect your floors’ surfaces. Furthermore, these mats should be regularly cleaned and maintained. According to Indiana University, you should utilize a vacuum with a beater bar at least twice per day to extract the elements and prevent tracking from the mats to the floor.
Too Much of a Good Thing
To protect your floors once they’re exposed to the elements, consider implementing regular cleaning and finishing. When there’s snow on the ground, your facility maintenance personnel may need to damp mop wet areas with a neutral cleaner, then rinse. Care should be taken to refrain from mixing the two solutions. Although a neutral cleaner can help preserve most flooring, keeping a thin coat on your flooring can degrade the finish and the flooring. Rinsing the floor with clean water may help prevent this issue from arising.
Floor sealers and finishes are helpful in preventing stains. To prevent stains, remove the finish before the chemical soaks through to the actual flooring material. Then, replace the floor finish with additional new coats. Finally, make sure your facility personnel keep all equipment clean and well-maintained. All cleaning and rinsing mops, applicators and brushes should be cleaned after each use. Also, it’s better to use a mop that is dedicated to each particular procedure, such as cleaning, rinsing and applying the finish.
Beware, however, of overly frequent treatment and inadequate rinsing. Over-cleaning with harsh chemicals may require you to more frequently apply protective finishes and coatings to your floors. To do this, you typically use heavier scrubbing, stripping and buffing equipment, which can cause floors to shrink, crack or discolor when used excessively. Take note: The use of high pH chemicals in cleaning and stripping solutions can cause serious, permanent damage to many flooring types.
Being aware of the issues and preparing in advance by increasing the use of mats and applying appropriate protective finishes may help you protect floors and minimize damage from winter’s vagaries. Utilizing proper mat and flooring cleaning and maintenance solutions and techniques can provide added floor protection.