Designing Buildings for Easy Cleaning
While the green building community has begun to take notice of green cleaning products and strategies, fewer people are aware that environmentally responsible maintenance begins well before the building owner selects a line of cleaning products. Designing a building with cleanability in mind can reduce the amount of cleaning products needed in the first place, limiting the potential for occupants or the environment to be harmed by exposure to chemicals. “The ultimate pollution-prevention strategy is to eliminate the material entirely,” says Stephen Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group, in Bloomington, Indiana. Design for cleanability carries another bonus: it saves money that would otherwise go to products and staff time.
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Design decisions involving a building’s flooring are among the most significant in determining its cleanability. Hard-surface or resilient flooring—such as poured concrete, terrazzo, stone, rubber, or natural linoleum—is easier to clean than carpeting. Avoiding flooring materials that have to be stripped and rewaxed periodically—such as vinyl composition tile—also carries maintenance benefits. “If we install floors that don’t require removable coatings,” explains Ashkin, “not only do we eliminate the floor finish itself, but we eliminate the floor stripping solution and all the impacts from the manufacturing of those products, their use, and their disposal.”
The building’s entrances represent another cleanability consideration. Ashkin recommends designing all entryways to reduce the amount of pollutants tracked into the building. “This includes exterior entryways and landscaping materials, exterior walk-off grates and mats, vestibules designed to save energy and capture soils, and interior matting systems,” he says.
Simple design decisions can also greatly improve the cleanability of restrooms. Where tiled surfaces are desired, specifying larger tiles reduces the need for grout, which is notoriously difficult to keep clean; selecting darker shades of grout hides stains; and using rounded corner tiles avoids hard-to-clean corners. Other strategies include selecting toilet and urinal partitions that stop at least a foot above the floor, enclosing pipes inside walls, installing splash plates behind sinks, and ensuring that floors slope gently to drains. Ashkin also recommends avoiding multifold paper-towel dispensers in favor of touch-free dispensers that can hold large rolls. “This will reduce the use of paper by 10 to 30 percent and protect health at the same time,” he says.
As these examples show, simple modifications during the design phase can enhance a building’s cleanability throughout its life, reducing the time and money spent on cleaning while enhancing the life of building materials and finishes. At the same time, attention to cleanability can protect the health and productivity of janitorial staff and other occupants. Even the most careful design process can’t eliminate the need for cleaning, of course, but it can dramatically simplify the cleaning process. As a final touch, Ashkin recommends providing the building owner and facility manager with a concise cleaning manual to ensure that design intentions live up to their potential.
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