Cleaning - preserving our heritage

7th of May 2014
Cleaning - preserving our heritage

Cleaning older and more architecturally intricate buildings can create issues for contract cleaning companies. Carl Robinson, marketing manager for cleaning and FM specialist Nviro, looks at how cleaning can help towards the maintenance and upkeep of environments that are in need of restoration and conservation.

Buildings across the world come in various shapes, sizes, and conditions – and each one will have a variety of different needs. The age of a building is also a prominent factor, depending on its physical location, and the economic state of the particular country it is in.

There is a stark contrast between new-builds rising phoenix-like from the ground and older buildings struggling to secure the restoration they require. Whether the location is an office, school, hospital, transport hub or shopping centre, a cleaning operative has got to be prepared to handle a myriad of different surroundings which all demand different cleaning methods and practices.

In an ideal world, every cleaning company would love all its contracts to be in relatively new or at least recently renovated buildings. When starting a contract on a modern building the cleaning regime itself is a lot more straightforward. For a start you can begin work on a clean surface, and if the cleaning of an environment has been considered during the design stage, contractors have fewer concerns when assessing the cleaning routine.

This most certainly is not always the case, but when architects have considered the cleaning of a building, the operative’s job is made much easier. This can consist of well placed electrical sockets, designated plumbing for cleaning operatives, janitorial rooms for storage, and controlled areas for the safe mixing of chemicals. In many circumstances the slightest alteration or addition to a building can make a huge difference to the task of cleaning.

With more mature buildings, the first task for a contractor is to try and work out a suitable regime that fits a particular space, and also works around the occupiers so that the cleaning process doesn’t disturb how the building functions each day. Experienced companies with many contracts under their belt will be fully aware of how to work around spaces that don’t allow for an easy clean.

The bigger problem within older buildings is how an operative works around environments that are in a state of disrepair and in need of refurbishment, without leading to further damage. Along with this, problems can also arise when measuring cleanliness and gaining the professional results that a client requires.

Retaining history

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about old buildings is history and heritage, and this is undoubtedly a big concern for companies when winning contracts within historical sites. The use of chemicals, abrasive techniques and a lack of care can quite literally wipe history off the face of buildings, which aside from causing harm, can also pose serious problems for contractors. For this reason an added level of care and attention is needed, which is something that many cleaning contractors may choose to specialise in, while others will opt to avoid it if they lack the framework and required expertise to perform the job to the highest standard.

To ensure professional standards are maintained from the start, a company should be briefed and made fully aware of any details about the age of the building and the additional skills that are needed in locations incorporating intricate architectural design and delicate antique materials. This enables contractors to place the right levels of importance and care on the cleaning regime, which can then be fed through to the cleaning operatives carrying out the job.

However, what about a building that is not historical, but is old, in a poor condition and in need of redevelopment? This is a completely different situation for a contractor, yet it calls for almost the same amount of awareness and care as an historical site would, with regard to the needs of the client.

Measuring cleanliness

Gauging cleanliness is very important for a client and is the visual marker of how well a contractor is performing in terms of service delivery. However, this can become increasingly difficult within old buildings. With the excess of marks, stains, blemishes and both structural and cosmetic damage that have built up over the years, it becomes harder to measure the job an operative is doing.

It’s an issue most people come across in everyday life; there’s that stain that won’t budge so you cover it with a rug, or that time you scraped the paint off the wall but just haven’t had the chance to paint over it. This is something that is seen in all of our homes, and more so in schools, hospitals and offices.

In this situation, the client and contractor have got to be fully aware of the current state of affairs from the outset. In a new build you have the luxury of starting the contract with a clean surface, so the foundation upon which the cleaning regime is measured is already set out quite clearly. For a more mature environment many more factors need to be considered. Even after an initial deep clean, most buildings will hold stains and marks of disrepair throughout.

For this reason an assessment should be carried out so that both parties are informed of the current state, a benchmark against which a level of cleanliness can then be measured. For anyone who has rented a property, there’s nothing worse than having money taken out of your deposit because of a stain on the wall that was there when you moved in.

The same scenario can occur when cleaning older buildings, so if a client isn’t up to date with the decorative state of their building then they may mistakenly question the quality of a contractor’s work, when the issues they are complaining about were there before the contract was won.

Managing preservation

As with Nviro’s work at the University of Portsmouth’s Park Building in the UK, certain locations can be a mix of the old and new in terms of design and building materials. The foyer of this building contains a lot of wood and a mosaic floor, which can’t be buffed in the same manner as flooring elsewhere in the location, which is made from more durable modern materials.

A sympathetic approach must be taken to maintain the integrity of the older parts of buildings, while ensuring the correct upkeep of newer areas. This is where the cleaning operative undertakes a further role, not just cleaning an area, but taking the care and consideration needed to preserve and safeguard its lifespan.

In many situations this doesn’t require science and specialist techniques, it’s more down to the attention and awareness shown by the cleaning contractor and its operatives. It may be a simple case of brushing a little lighter, using a more diluted chemical or selecting a less abrasive piece of equipment. Within any building you will find materials start to weather, corrode, fade or simply wear away over long periods of time.

This is something that can’t be avoided and the only real solution in most situations is to replace older materials. However, when budgets can’t stretch to restoration, it’s really down to the sensitivity both the occupiers and the cleaning operatives show when using and working within a building.

In the same way that communication between the client and contractor plays such a key role, the management and consultation between the contractor and its cleaning operatives has to be first-class, if contracts like these are to be carried out in the correct manner. It’s all well and good working out the best approach, but if the cleaning operatives themselves aren’t fully briefed on every detail, then the quality of work, and more importantly the level of care taken when carrying it out, will suffer.

Most of these factors and considerations don’t require hundreds of hours and a raft of new training regimes. It really comes down to common sense and showing buildings some respect. They may be small but these details could become crucial over a contract’s lifespan. If the required level of mindfulness drops it could result in a cleaning operative causing damage to the fabric of a building, rather than helping to contribute to its conservation.

Cleaning certainly has an important role to play in our everyday lives and is something we all require to function as a happy, healthy, cohesive society. Yet, when it is carried out in older buildings it can have a larger role to play in terms of preservation and lengthening the lifespan of some of our most interesting landmarks.


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