Asumag 2451 Stephen Ashkin 2013

Green Cleaning: Unplugging It

May 1, 2012
Training custodians to reduce energy.

Summers are often when education institutions provide training on how to strip and refinish floors, deep-clean carpets, adopt procedures that save time and labor, and bring in new products and equipment. However, other opportunities exist to train custodians to reduce energy consumption without compromising their cleaning duties.

Energy use can be reduced up to 10 percent if cleaning hours are moved from nights to daytime and weekend hours. Lights can be turned off, and the HVAC output reduced in a mostly unoccupied building.

Regardless of the time of day, schools can reduce energy use when cleaning floors, carpets and hard surfaces by simply switching to cold water. At one time, heat was essential for cleaning. But today, hot water is unnecessary; modern surfactants work well in cold water.

Energy also can be saved by efficiently operating laundry and warewashing operations to reduce the energy needed to heat water and dry clothes and dishware.

According to the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED), schools commonly use 60 percent of their electricity to operate lights and up to 20 percent from "plug loads," including computers and monitors, printers, scanners, projectors, copiers and televisions; as well as vocational equipment, vending machines and refrigerated drinking fountains; along with personal devices such as fans, window air conditioners, lamps, coffee makers, refrigerators and stoves.

Although some potential savings should be addressed only by facility management and skilled building engineers, there is plenty that custodians can do on a daily basis with the right training and system in place.

Many custodial departments use color-coding systems to make it easy for new custodians to identify which outlet to plug a vacuum’s 50-foot power cord to minimize plugging, unplugging and replugging while cleaning a long hallway. This often is done simply by identifying the specified outlet with a small adhesive label.

This identification concept can be expanded by using three different colored labels or "dots" to indicate which lights and electrical devices should be turned off, which should remain on, and which should be reported to facility management for action.

Because the dots are unobtrusive, anything can be labeled. But it is important to understand that not everything needs a label. And in all cases, the facility manager, principal or other responsible person should determine what is appropriate to include in the program.

Red Dot=Off. A red dot can indicate that the lights or electrical device should be turned off if the room is unoccupied. In this way, any custodian, teacher, student or passerby seeing a wall switch with the red dot in an unoccupied room can turn the lights off. Red dots also can be applied to electrical devices such as monitors, projectors and televisions as a reminder to turn these devices off when not in use, especially when the school day has been completed and on weekends.

Green Dot=On. A green dot can indicate that lights and electrical devices always should remain on.

Yellow Dot=Contact Management. When such a label is encountered and the device is on and the room or building is otherwise unoccupied, a designated person should be notified.

No Dot=Don’t Worry About It. Although the red, yellow and green dots all have very specific meanings, it is important to restate that not everything needs a label.

This color-coded labeling system is an easy tactic to help build a "culture of sustainability" in which everyone—from the president of a university or district superintendent to teacher and custodians to students and visitors—all may contribute. With the cost of electricity expected to continue to rise, this is another simple way to help save money.

Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization. 

Sponsored Recommendations

Schedule an AIA Course Presentation

Get closer to completing your annual AIA Continuing Education requirement.. Our continuing education courses will get you that much closer to completi…