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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981

Change Blindness and Floors

Written by  Matt Morrison

Simple tricks of the trade you can start using today


Going back a good one hundred years, early filmmakers had a lot of trouble controlling lighting, largely because the movies were shot outside, so there would be times in the day, such as around noon, when it would be very bright outside. But then by three or four in the afternoon the sun would go down affecting the lighting of the film. While the filmmakers were aware of this problem and were concerned it would impact the quality of the film, they were actually quite surprised when those watching the film reported they did not notice any changes. This is an example of what we call today, change blindness. Things change, but sometimes, just like the film lighting, the change is so gradual people are not even aware the change.

For commercial janitorial service providers who are in charge of maintaining the appearance, cleanliness, and safety of their customers’ floors, change blindness as it applies to floors can be a real problem. Time and sunlight can erode the finish and appearance of a commercial flooring, but the transition is so gradual that it may go unnoticed. Add to the equation, the processes of soiling, mopping, scrubbing, and recoating the floor on a regular basis and we begin playing with fire when it comes to change blindness.

All of these factors can gradually and negatively impact how the commercial flooring looks. The problem arises when all of a sudden, like they just woke up, the office manager takes a good hard look at the floor and sees it does not look as clean and shiny as it did six months or a year ago. Worse, sometimes this manager is shaken awake by one of your competitors who, upon seeing the floor for the first time, can tell it is not up to par. Then change blindness can even cost you the account.

Putting some light on change
There are some steps—we’ll call them little tricks of the trade—that can help commercial janitorial service contractors stay on top of the appearance of their customers’ floors cleaning and maintenance. Here’s a very simple tip regarding maintaining a traditional vinyl tile floor: set aside two or three extra tiles of the floor, or very similar tiles, and keep them in the floor care supply closet.

Now, when it comes time to strip and refinish the floor, strip, and refinish your samples using the same cleaner and finish. If you apply four coats of finish to the floor, apply four coats of finish to the sample tiles. These sample tiles have now become your benchmark. They show exactly how the floor looked right after it was refinished. Store the tiles safely in the janitorial closet and bring them out every few months. Place them on the tile floor and compare the appearance and the shine. What you will see with time, even with the best care, is that the tile floor will begin to darken, yellow, and streak in different ways and show wear and tear when compared to the samples. This may take a couple of months or up to a year or more. The change will come, and as it does, your change blindness—at least as it applies to floors—will be eliminated. The condition of the floor should be very clear.

Checking the gloss without a gloss meter

A handy little tool all commercial janitorial service contractors should have is called a gloss meter. In the simplest of terms, a gloss meter works by shining a known amount of light at an angle onto the floor. Light is then reflected, and the reflection is measured. Using a gloss meter is about the most scientific way to measure the shine on a floor, however, it can get a little tricky. The type of commercial flooring, the amount of light naturally shining on the floor, or artificial lighting can all impact how accurately the floor’s shine is measured.

While contractors should have a gloss meter handy as part of their floor care arsenal, many do not. So one way to check a floor for cleanliness and gloss is to simply look at it within a two-foot range and then again at a ten-foot range. At two-feet the look of the floor should be clear enough to count how many overhead light bulbs or light fixtures you can see in the finish. If the reflection is virtually like a mirror, then the floor is clean and quite shiny. *

Now look at the floor about ten feet ahead of you. You likely will not be able to see the clarity of the individual tiles but instead a wet look. The wetter the floor looks at ten-feet out, the higher the level of cleanliness and shine on the floor. While this is not a scientific method of measuring gloss, it can give you a fairly good idea of how well the floor is holding up. It will also help to take our benchmark samples out of the closet. Place one sample in the two-foot range and the other—or more if you have them—in the ten-foot range. If the floor has lost its luster, yellowed, or darkened, it should become quite obvious when compared to the benchmark samples.

The burnish trick
As long as a high-speed floor finish has been applied a floor burnisher can be used to bring back the wet-look of a finished floor. However, we can also use the pads on the floor burnisher to help determine the soiling level of the floor. We know pads are different colors which indicate their different uses. Typically, a lighter colored pad is for polishing and buffing whereas a darker colored pad is for scrubbing and stripping. Well, the color of the burnisher’s pad after it has been used to polish the floor can tell us quite a bit about the cleanliness of the floor.

The color of debris on the floor burnisher pad will range from white to light gray, to dark gray. If there is dark gray buildup on the pad, essentially soil is now being burnished into the floor. This will give it a yellow appearance that will get worse over time. As soon as the pad passes the light gray stage, contractors should increase interim floor care cleaning methods. One of the most effective and least costly ways to do this is using what are referred to as auto-vac cleaning systems. Used similarly to a traditional automatic scrubber application, these systems apply a cleaning solution to floors and loosen soils which are then vacuumed up in the cleaning process. After auto-vacing, apply a thin coat of finish to the floor. This will help delay the soiling and the need to strip and refinish the floor.

Eliminating change blindness with dots
Finally, there is a very old but very effective way of determining how many coats of finish still remain on commercial flooring. After applying two coats of finish, which is considered the minimum number of coats necessary to protect the floor, mark a small dot on the floor using a magic marker or similar device. Do this in a traffic lane. Then after three coats, mark another dot in another area and finally, mark a dot after four coats.

As the dots begin to disappear, it indicates a coat of finish has been walked off the floor. It is best not to wait until the first dot—the one over two coats of finish— is the last one standing. Consider interim steps, as discussed earlier, or a complete strip and refinish of the floor long before that first dot has disappeared.

*Note: While many of these tricks will work on a variety of floors, because of variables such as the type of floor, the type of floor finish applied, the cleanliness of the floor, amount of lighting, and the type of lighting, how effective these methods are can vary.



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