Maintenance Management: Mixed-up Floors

They are a custodial department's nightmare, and you're seeing more and more of them. They are mixed-up floors. Instead of having just one material that a maintenance crew must care for, these floors are composed of many materials that require varying kinds of maintenance.

Mixed-up floors come in many configurations. Most typically they are a combination of resilient flooring and ceramic tile in the same room or area.

But the combinations can become much more complicated than that: as many as four kinds of flooring material in the same area; natural stone mixed with carpet; ceramic tile mixed with natural stone; wood, resilient tile and carpet.

Imagine the combination, and it exists. Unfortunately, the originators of these combinations didn't consider how difficult it would be to care for them.

If all surfaces could be cared for the same way, combining varied surfaces would be a great idea. But the reality is that maintaining mixed-up floors efficiently is almost impossible. The processes and materials needed to care for one surface can damage adjacent surfaces.

For instance, some surfaces need to be stripped periodically, while others should never be stripped. Even more complicated is finishing the surfaces of these parcels, or at least finishing the ones that should be finished.

FIRST APPEARANCES Let's say that a new floor is laid in the hallway of a school building. For effect, the architect specifies small sections of marble, placed next to ceramic tiles, broken up by single lines of resilient tile every few feet. These square parcels are then enclosed by carpet, which creates a colorful effect throughout the passageway.

At first, it looks beautiful. But soon the costs of maintaining such a surface become apparent. You need to apply a special seal to the marble so the material can breathe, but that material cannot be splattered or put on the adjacent ceramic tile - it never should have any finish placed on it.

The resilient tile that borders both of those surfaces needs to be finished with a high-quality polymer finish, which should include plasticizers so that high-speed machines can be used to bring out the greatest gloss. However, none of this finish can be used or even splattered on the marble - it will seal out the atmosphere and keep the marble from breathing. In addition, the finish for the resilient tile cannot be used on the ceramic tile, which can never have any finished applied to it.

Because a high-speed machine must be used on the resilient tiles to make it look its best, crews will have to work meticulously. High-speed pads often get damaged as they pass over rough, uneven surfaces such as ceramic tile. And you still haven't dealt with the floor's carpeted enclosures, which need altogether different kind of care.

The result is a very labor-intensive maintenance operation, where workers must painstakingly care for each little section. They must strip them with the proper chemicals and finish them without bothering other surfaces. The costs to care for all these surfaces properly, without high-speed automated equipment, can be enormous.

The less than desirable alternative to this precise regimen is to treat all the surfaces except the carpet the same. The chemicals, finishes and techniques that clean one surface will damage others and shorten the life of a floor that was very costly to install.

FOLLOWING PROCEDURES What if a school decides to spend the money and time to maintain these floors correctly? That raises another problem. It's difficult to find workers who are willing to learn proper maintenance procedures and stick to those techniques as they become more comfortable with the job.

You might see mixed-up floors in commercial buildings and think they look great. That may be true right now, because most are only a few years old, but in time they will be abused and damaged by workers who have no idea how to care for multiple surfaces. They either will be replaced periodically or supplanted by more manageable surfaces in a few years.

The best decision school officials can make about choosing flooring surfaces is to keep it simple. Don't install multiple kinds of floor coverings in any area, except in areas where one surface borders another for purposeful change, such as the transition from a locker room to a general hallway.

Schools should resist the temptation to incorporate architectural designs that use mixed-up floors. Otherwise, they will pay the price - in additional maintenance costs or in floors that don't look their best.

At Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, environmentalism has become an integral part of the curriculum and the campus. Offering courses such as Environmental Issues and enacting campuswide recycling programs, the university embraces efforts to reduce the waste it produces. Facility management is no exception to these efforts. For Bud Ash, senior purchasing agent at Wright State, targeting the environmentally conscious disposal of used carpet is a priority.

Throughout the university, carpet is installed in classrooms, offices, residence halls, libraries - almost everywhere on campus. With more than 17,000 students and 40 campus buildings, the amount of traffic the floor coverings receive makes maintenance and replacement top priorities. The heavy volume of replacement leaves Ash with more than 6,000 yards of old carpet annually.

He would watch his old carpet be taken from his facilities and discarded in landfills or burned in incinerators.

Recently, Ash began searching for local vendors to recycle Wright State's used carpet. Becoming increasingly frustrated by a lack of reclamation services, Ash found what he was looking for through one of his primary flooring suppliers, Federal Commercial. Ash learned that all of Wright State's old carpet could be disposed of through the DuPont Carpet Reclamation Program in an environmentally sound manner.

Since its introduction in 1991, the program has been dedicated to reclaiming any type of used commercial carpet on a significant scale, regardless of manufacturer, fiber type or construction.

The program, which has more than 80 reclamation locations in the United States and Canada, recycles more than 1.5 million pounds of carpet every month. Since it began, it has recycled more than 55 million pounds of used carpet.

The carpet can be reprocessed for uses such as automobile parts, resilient flooring tiles, soundproofing materials, padding and sod reinforcement.

For Ash, the service allows him to keep his own environmental promise to Wright State University and future generations. He is assured that he is contributing to an ecological movement that finds environmentally sound uses for products his facility discards.

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