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Façade Cleaning: Begin With The End in Mind

Cleaning and maintaining the external envelope of any building effectively can be quite a precise science. It becomes more difficult if the design has not been carefully considered with the end in mind.

In the past cherry pickers and water-fed poles were used to clean windows and façades. This is a very effective way of cleaning the external envelope up to 70 feet. However, if you have a taller building or one with a more complex façade, abseiling is the answer. It became very popular in 2015/16, not only for window cleaning but also for façades and atrium cleaning. Still, there are some issues that are created in the design stage that make cleaning and maintenance difficult.

Make things simple with an access strategy

What makes cleaning and maintaining the external envelope of a building effective, cost-efficient and straightforward is a clear and concise access strategy. This needs to be drawn up right at the start of the construction phase, in consultation with the construction company and access consultants. It’s important for designers to understand the implications of their products on the upkeep of a building, so an early relationship with facilities management companies will gain their insights and enable them to do their job well after completion.

Everyone is aware of deadlines and cost management when it comes to construction but how the access strategy will be tested needs equal attention, as it will ensure the building is cost-effective to clean and maintain.

An example of this is Embassy Gardens in London’s South Bank. The design included a building maintenance unit (BMU) but consultation saved them £100,000 by advising a monorail and abseiling anchors instead. Abseiling is a lot cheaper than a £1,000,000 BMU compared to 100 anchor points for abseiling at £22 each. It is also much easier to negotiate balconies by abseiling.

An access strategy needs to be relevant to the whole of the building. A building with a stack of balconies will often have fixed repel points that can be used to continue the abseiling descent all the way down the building.

From the very beginning it’s important for designers to include an access strategy, not just for cleaning and maintenance but for testing the assets, like monorails and anchor points.

Begin with the end in mind

The testing of an access strategy should be done at the earliest possible point in the construction phase. Usually there is a model on site so the strategy can be tested and better solutions suggested before the site is handed over to facilities management.

The most effective way to get the best strategy is to begin with the end in mind. Consider how the building is going to be cleaned and maintained once it is occupied. There are two main reasons for doing that.

Firstly, when you have satisfied customers your reputation will improve – a really sound new building is one thing, but having it remain so is another. Having an easy to maintain building will make this easier and less costly.

Secondly, if a strategy is done at the beginning, there might only need to be small changes, to keep the building looking and performing well. If, five years after handover, your building isn’t in the best of states, making changes to improve maintenance can be costly and hard to implement.

The building that is clean and well maintained is going to be more appealing to new residents and is more pleasant for existing residents. It shows that owners are investing in the longevity of the building.

Key Bridge in Vauxhall was one project where early engagement paid off. Because maintenance companies were consulted on what was needed at the end user stage, all the cleaning and maintenance can be done easily and workers can get to every single window and façade.

Sticking to the plan

Diverting from any plan can have its repercussions and this is certainly true if an access plan is changed after consultation.

One such example is a building on a canal in London. The developer decided to put in brise soleil to deflect sunlight away from the penthouses. Now, cleaning and maintenance has been rendered more difficult and a third of the façade is almost unreachable – the brise soleil are welded on and can’t be removed. Juliet balconies have also been an added feature, with a railing or glass panel that covers half the window unit. An added complication is that one side of the window is sliding, the other a fixed panel, so as the window opens you are only able to clean the fixed panel from the inside and only half of both from the outside.

Balconies are most often left for the residents to clean but as only one windowpane is accessible, they are almost impossible to maintain. The brise soleil and the Juliet balcony combined mean a water-fed pole has to be used, which can’t reach the window behind the Juliet balcony feature.

These additions weren’t on the strategy and have since posed a huge challenge.

Difficult materials

Materials that are difficult to maintain tend to be porous in nature. An unsealed limestone façade, for instance, soaks up rain and dirt and creates a build-up of limescale over time. Keeping it clean is labour-intensive and involves a more in-depth cleaning strategy, which adds cost to the maintenance company. Non-porous sealed facades are easier to clean and maintain. Aluminium cladding is a good example and glass of course, is the best, as it always looks sparkling clean and requires few chemicals.

A periodic façade inspection is always recommended to keep any building in good condition. Consider an audit by a reputable company that can then be passed on to the relevant companies to do the maintenance.

This article is based on an interview with Brad Staines, Owner and Managing Director, Aquamark Cleaning Limited

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