Environmental Cleaning of Parking Garages
By Scott Stone
In the current scope of garage cleaning, there are varying methods of enforcement and differing expectations of what a garage cleaning contractor, or owner, is expected to do when performing this important task.
In many locations throughout the country, there is an absolute rule of nothing down the storm drain. Storm drains often go straight to the waterways, and thus anything hazardous will also end up in these public waters. Just looking at the floor of a typical parking garage, you know that you do not want to be drinking any of the material and debris that are coming off that floor.
That being the case, we would not want anyone put in harm’s way by being subjected to those same oils, chemicals and metals that are dripping off the engines of your customers’ vehicles. In addition, the federal clean water act is being more and more strictly enforced throughout the country.
The fines that go along with cleaning a garage improperly can be huge. Some municipalities will fine a contractor, the garage owner and the management company up to $25,000 per day of violation. These fines can be daunting, and can quickly deplete the financial reserves of any business owner.
Worse yet, it appears local and federal authorities are getting more aggressive in their enforcement of these regulations, with many jurisdictions requiring a permit from the municipality, stating when the garage is going to be cleaned, so that electronic monitors can be set up to verify there is nothing but rainwater going down the storm drain.
There are many ways of accomplishing a thorough garage cleaning while remaining in compliance with the local regulations.
All of the methods described here are going to require a filtration system that is used by the contractor to remove sediment, debris, oils or other chemicals from the water to prepare it for disposal down a sanitary sewer or through a wastewater interceptor.
The first method is a vacuum recovery system. This involves a surface cleaner similar to a lawn mower that is hooked up to a pressure washer and a vacuum motor. Different types of vacuum motors are commonly used by contractors.
Some are mechanical roots-type blowers driven by a gasoline engine. These provide the most suction, thus reducing the possibility of leaving any dirt or debris on the floor or walls of your garage. Others are electric, which are much quieter but do not have the same mechanical suction ability, so that it requires moving the vacuum more frequently, because of shorter vacuum hoses, so that it will achieve the maximum effectiveness.
Other contractors will block off drains using specifically designed drain balloons. The drain cover is removed, and the balloon is inflated to prevent any contaminated water from going into the storm sewer system. All the water is then pumped to the contractor’s trailer, and processed as above.
Another option is a combination of these methods. The contractor will block the drains. He also will use a vacuum unit to recover the wastewater; anything recovered will be processed and disposed of in compliance with local regulations.
There is also the possibility that a garage, especially if it is fairly new construction, might have a wastewater interceptor built into it. This is really advantageous, because you will not need to worry about the liability of disposal. You also will not need to worry about what type of recovery equipment that your contractor uses.
If you are not certain whether your garage is equipped in this way, you just need to go down to the lowest level of your garage and look for manhole covers. There usually are three of them, and they usually will be labeled as an interceptor. The disadvantage is that they do have to be pumped and maintained before and after each cleaning to make sure they continue to work properly.
There are always responsibilities for all parties with any project. The contractor will need to know the local regulations and whether any permits are required. He also should be thoroughly familiar with his equipment, and how it operates, and be able to explain it to you.
If the contractor is not certain how his equipment operates, there is a very good possibility that he does not currently have the equipment, and you might be his first garage cleaning project. You also might want to check and see what your contractor will do in case of equipment breakdowns.
You also need to inquire about safety considerations. Is the contractor going to use personal protective equipment? What does this equipment include for his employees? Finally, he should also be willing to provide certificates of insurance, for both liability and workers’ compensation.
The management company will need to be familiar with what their expectations are of the contractor. Are they going to want to have chewing gum removed? How about the walls, ceilings and mechanical gear? Will water be provided for the contractor, or will he be expected to get a hydrant permit?
You also will need to make sure that the garage is cleared of vehicles, if you are expecting every parking space to be cleaned, or if you want the contractor to work over multiple days, make sure that the area for each day is cleared for the contractor.
Garage cleaning, in many cases, is a necessary evil.
There are a liabilities involved, and a properly equipped contractor can help significantly in making sure that your garage is cleaned in compliance with all local and federal regulations. He also can help improve customer satisfaction with your facility, and make sure that it is one of the preferred garages in your area.
Scott Stone is Operations Manager of A Mind for Detail in Mesa, AZ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from December, 2009