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Floors need to be maintained for many reasons: appearance, contractual requirements, deterioration, hygiene and safety (listed alphabetically rather than in order of importance). The frequency and extent of maintenance should be determined by the usage and design of the floors as mush as, if not more than, the cost of the maintenance. Here floor maintenance has been divided into surface care and longer term maintenance issues.
Regular cleaning is obviously necessary to keep the appearance and hygiene of the floor to an acceptable standard. There are many inputs into any cleaning regime; the flooring materials manufacture’s recommendations; the cleaning materials manufacturer’s recommendations; the cleaning contractor’s specified procedure (perhaps using yet another cleaning materials with still further recommendations); the actual cleaning procedure; and lastly the clients/floor owners requirements.
Between all of these there is a host of opportunities for misunderstandings and omissions that may result in ineffective or uneconomic cleaning, with a variety of consequences.
Dirt can damage floors in many ways depending on what it is. Most ‘dirt’ consists of grit particles of sand-like materials that derive from wind blown soils and building sites. These are hard and abrasive and will scratch and wear away most floor surfaces if left to be trodden underfoot for too long.
Hard floors like vitrified tiles will cope with this better than terracotta, but a vinyl will quickly be reduced to a mass of scratches which can not be brought back to a normal sheen.
Another component of dirt is organic matter, which may be decaying vegetable matter blown around with the soil, dropped food particles of all sorts, human skin flakes, hairs from humans and animals, and a variety of other things that we all try to avoid mentioning (let alone treading in). These provide food sources for bacteria which themselves excrete chemicals that can attack cement grouts, terrazzo tiles, plastics, rubber and flooring adhesives.
For example, saliva remaining in chewing gum contains enzymes designed to begin destroying a wide range of organic materials; if left on a sheet flooring material in warm conditions for some time, who is to say what damage will be done to the surface at that spot? Scuff marks from shoes contain complex man-made organic chemicals which generally do not decay by bacterial action and which may be partly fused to a surface due to the friction heating when the scuff occurred.
None of the preceding circumstances can really be avoided except in special situations and even then not always. It is therefore a sensible thing to ensure that the floor is designed to cope with the worst of the likely conditions rather than the average conditions. By definition on average half the conditions will be worse than the floor is intended to deal with.
Those responsible for floor maintenance need to define what is the minimum necessary to properly clean a floor. This itself begs the question what is ‘properly clean’ and what does ‘properly’ imply?
For example, is a floor properly cleaned if it has the accumulations of dirt frequently seen in corners: surely these locations would be dealt with routinely with special equipment if necessary? Such accumulations would be unacceptable in a hospital; why then are they apparently acceptable in shopping malls, train station concourses, offices or warehouses?
‘Properly’ clean implies that the floor is put back into the condition that it was designed to be in, assuming the designers got it right in the first place, ‘Condition’ might include surface appearance, slip resistance, surface texture, light reflectance, or colour. How or whether this is ever achieved is rarely known: follow-up procedures seem to be undertaken only in the event of problems or accidents.
Apart from cleaning, floors need to be maintained to prevent or to repair deterioration.
Prevention maintenance may be part of a specification, or it may come about through on-site observation. Ideally the former is a better method. The use of anti-dusting treatments on concrete floors or regrouting of tiling and terrazzo, and the use of strippable dressings on sheet flooring are procedures that, if carried out at the right time, will prolong the life of a floor. It could be argued that proper entrance matting is also preventative maintenance as it can prevent dirt and moisture from reaching and damaging the floor.
Changes from the original use of a building can put unexpected stress on a floor which manifests itself by an increased need for maintenance. Deterioration to the extent of requiring areas of floor to be closed off to allow remedial works is not only damaging to the image of a shopping mall, but can have cost implications if trade to the shops suffers. If they were not anticipated by the designer of the floor, heavily laded, hard wheeled delivery pallets can be very damaging both the vinyl in a shop and tiling or screeds in delivery areas.
This is a special case of floor maintenance and in these litigious days it is in everyone’s interest to keep floors safe. Some 35% of all accidents are slipping and tripping and enormous sums of money are paid out annually by insurers and property owners in compensation. Inspection of floors for tripping hazards should be carried out regularly and a diary kept as evidence. Slipping is easier to predict, in that moisture on a floor will almost always cause people and vehicles to slip.
Entrance matting and quick responses to spillage’s are standard ways of dealing with this in enclosed areas, but care is needed to guard against condensation on the floor when warming a cold building. People rushing into a mall first thing in the morning are unlikely to see a fine wet mist on a cold tiled floor.
All floor materials wear and some will polish and become smoother as time goes on. There is no data on the rate at which this occurs so there is a real risk that as most floors are only classified as marginally safe in the wet when new, they will deteriorate to become dangerously slippery. Tests can show the conditions of the floor and treatments are available as remedial procedures. Repeated treatments are often necessary.
In my experience defects arise through poor specification, poor workmanship, incorrect programming of work and only occasionally defective materials.
Price is often used to cut the specification to the bone and it is true that you get what you pay for. The consequences of using cheap wall tiles are considerably less than using cheap floor tiles – it also depends what aspect of them has been made cheaper. This should be thought about by clients as well as designers and contractors, in the context of replacement at some later date. Poor workmanship is often associated with incorrect spreading of the adhesives and late application of the flooring into it. This can also be exacerbated by commercial pressures and the shortage of craftsmen who really understand what they are doing.
Flooring is often one of the last processes in a construction project and gets squeezed when working to a deadline: this tends to result in rushing or corners being cut to get the job done. It is virtually impossible to prove that material was defective if the way it has been used would have inevitably caused it to fail anyway. Tile adhesives are a frequent example of this.
The Floors We Deserve
I am not suggesting that all floors should be designed to cope with the worst possible conditions. Floors are, however, one of the keys to proper functioning of a building and cause disproportionate amount of disruption whenever work is needed on them. It therefore makes sense to design them to the better end of a specification and allow sufficient time in the construction programme for correct installation.
The floors we deserve should be well designed and constructed with an understanding of the maintenance requirements as part of the design brief. Life cycle costings may show that the costs of ownership are less if a floor is built to higher initial specification, or highlight that significant maintenance is regularly needed. After hand-over, maintenance of floors should not be a side issue but a mainstream activity which is carried out by professionals, in a professional manner to recognised and justifiable standards.
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