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A Manager’s Guide to Getting the Most Value from Your Parking Lot Sweeper

By Michelle Crawley

For property owners, maintaining an attractive building interior and exterior is a priority. It draws new tenants and customers, and keeps existing occupants happy. It shows that the office building, warehouse or retail center is a professional, premiere location.

While most building owners know that beautiful interiors and landscaping add to aesthetics of the property, some don’t even consider the condition of the parking lot. The parking lot usually covers more square footage than any other part of a property (including the building and landscaping), but is often the most neglected area of most real estate.

There are so many reasons to pay attention to the condition of the parking lot and it’s not only about picking up trash. Parking lot sweeping can preserve the assets of the property, reduce risk, preserve the environment and improve overall aesthetics. Well-maintained parking areas and sidewalks are keys to attracting customers.

Savvy property managers who understand this typically hire sweeping services to clean inside and outside of industrial warehouses, and sweep the parking lots outside office buildings and retail shopping centers.

“A sweeping service can be likened to vacuuming the carpet,” says Carl Barton, president of Aardvark Contracting Services. “You are paying the same attention as you would to the lobby of the building, or that the landscaping companies give to the green areas.”

Asset management

SWEEPING SAVES MONEY

Frequent sweeping can decrease the frequency of expensive resurfacing and repairs. While it’s not an exact science, especially due to regional variations, if a property manager can get another six months or skip a year between striping and sealing the lot because they have swept regularly, that can translate into real dollars. Or, they may be able to cut down on the frequency of waxing the entrance to the mall by sweeping the lot frequently. Then customers are not tracking as much grit and debris from the parking lot as they would have been had the lot not been swept regularly.

Scott Anderson is the vice president of property management for Colliers International Memphis|Asset Services, who, as a company leases and manages 28 million square feet of office, retail and industrial space in the Memphis area. Anderson has been contracting sweeping services for his clients for 22 years and notes that these days it is becoming standard, with sweeping being performed in 90 percent of the buildings he manages. He says this is because most property owners consider sweeping a form of asset preservation.

“Preventative maintenance is a huge part of everything that we do—whether its pumps, motors, HVAC systems or roofs,” he says. “From a sweeping standpoint, we are contracting this service to get the sand, dirt, gravel and loose debris off of our lot; this prolongs the life of the asphalt.”

The weight of vehicles driving across the sand, dirt and debris left in parking lots can act as an abrasive, shortening the life of pavement and increasing the frequency of seal coating and striping. When dirt collects on pavement, weeds can also grow, and their roots cause cracking of cement and asphalt. The abrasive debris is also carried into the building on the bottoms of shoes and shopping carts, damaging tile and carpet and increasing the need for floor care.

Replacement costs for pavement far exceed the routine expense of sweeping. Removal of sand, dirt and other trash can save property owners time and money in the long run.

Risk Management & Environmental Concerns

STORMWATER MANAGEMENT

In some parts of the country, newly constructed parking lots are required to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) for stormwater management. Some of these can include installing storm drain catch basins, sweeping paved surfaces frequently and adding additional landscaping. Sweeping, included in the BOMA 360 Performance Program, can prevent the larger debris from going down storm drains. It’s important to remember that whenever there is a rain event, anything left on the paved surface will be picked up by the stormwater runoff and flow untreated into local waterways. The main goal is to remove debris before this happens and to allow the easy flow of water to reduce algae and the liability of its slippery effects. Often, where there is a stormwater fee that is paid based on the square footage of the property, building owners can get a deduction based on the sweeping program. Regulators pay attention to the aesthetics of buildings and their lots. Keeping a neat property can keep your property off their radar.

Regular sweeping reduces the chances of slip and fall accidents caused by small objects. It also helps prevent rodents and other pests who may be drawn to any “goo” left on the lot surface. Removal of sand and loose pebbles also improves braking time for vehicles who may be trying to stop quickly.

“Building owners can limit liability for trip and fall hazards that can transpire in parking lots when they are not maintained,” says Anderson. “For example, pot holes and high heel shoes don’t go together very well; nor do leather flats with wet, dirty asphalt. Pallets, with their broken pieces and nails (oh those nails!) are relentless on tires. Keeping an area clean and debris free helps keep it safer, and there is a value in that.”

While sweeping cannot eliminate these hazards, a regular and frequent schedule does show due diligence and can reduce the chance of being charged with negligence. This is also handy when defending against a slip-and-fall lawsuit. If you have a sweeping contractor with records proving when they swept, you show that you have provided reasonable effort to provide a safe atmosphere, which goes a long way in defending this type of lawsuit.

It’s also important to note that sweeping is a best practice for managing storm water drain-off. Anything that is not swept up will make its way into the storm water after sitting on the surface of the lot. The dust on the lot can contain several different contaminants and toxins like vehicle lubricants, coolants and brake dust, petroleum products used in pavements as well as other contaminants that fall on the parking area surface.

“This can include oil and antifreeze which drop onto the lot’s dirt and debris,” says Barton. “Other pollutants come into the lot off tires from the road or wash onto pavement from the sprinkler systems.”

Aesthetics

SWEEPING FREQUENCY

When choosing a provider, often property managers direct sweepers to how often they would like the site to be swept. There are several factors to consider when determining frequency:

  • What tenants are located at the property? If it’s a yogurt shop, fast food establishment or auto parts store, you may want to have the property swept more frequently because of food, cups and other debris being dropped or left on the ground. With a department store tenant, there is usually less debris, so the area can be swept less frequently.
  • What is the condition of the asphalt? There is usually not a grit issue if the pavement is new, so you can extend the times between sweeping. However, if the pavement is deteriorating, you may want to increase the sweeping frequency.
  • Are there trees near the lot that are dropping leaves or sap year round? If so, you should have the area swept more frequently. If there are evergreens, you may not need to sweep as often.
  • When does the area start to look like it needs to be swept? If the lot is swept every Saturday, and looks fine at the beginning of the week, but starts to fall off by Friday, you may need to increase the frequency of sweeping.
  • How dirty do the gutters get between sweeps?
  • What is your acceptable level of cleanliness?
  • How much can you afford?
  • What do regulations require?
  • How well can you control the landscape irrigation?

PRICING TIPS

  • When someone asks for a sweeping quote, sometimes it’s best to ask for a Request for Proposal (RFP), versus a Request for Quotation (RFQ). Sweeping is a subjective service. Asking for an RFP takes advantage of the creative, problem-solving nature of the contractor and can result in the best value for your company.
  • Flexibility can save big dollars. If possible, let the contractor pick which nights to sweep when you are setting up the service. If they are already sweeping a nearby property on the nights they come to your property, this can help lower your costs.
  • Sweeping companies are often small businesses working on small margins. If your property management company is able to pay quickly – in 15 days – ask for a discount.
  • If you want your sweeper to add spring cleaning to your quote, ask them to price it by the hour. Many businesses want to include spring cleaning in the annual pricing, so the provider will often quote a flat fee, often the ‘worst case scenario.’ If you pay by the hour, you are only paying for what you need, taking advantage of the vendor’s own efficiencies. This can provide savings.

Barton and Anderson agree that the overall appearance of your facility has a direct impact on the attitude of customers, visitors and employees. Parking lots are typically several times larger than the green way. Even the best landscaping cannot overcome a poorly swept lot.

“I would say that there is an intangible that many people don’t pay attention to,” says Anderson. “If you go onto a parking lot and it is clean, people who likely would throw trash or cigarette butts onto the lot may instead carry it to the trash can. By keeping the lot free of debris, you encourage others to do the same. This is also true inside industrial spaces. When someone is walking in a well-maintained warehouse, you see people picking things up that are out of place, and you see the ‘no lost work time’ accident boards in the hundreds of days since the last accident. The same is not true about the reverse.”

While there is no standard for sweeping, typically owners of office buildings have their lots swept once or twice a week, owners of warehouses have them swept once or twice a month, and mall owners sweep on either a daily basis or three to four times a week.

Hiring a Sweeper

When hiring a sweeper, Anderson looks at several factors in addition to price. He likes to keep company with sweepers that have a fleet of more than four or five sweepers, that have new and well-maintained equipment, screen their employees and that carry a certain level of insurance.

“I also like to work with companies who invest in technology and have GPS on their vehicles to show they have swept the entire lot. I also prefer organizations that are constantly trying to improve their business. It shows that these operators are putting money into their company instead of pulling it all out.”

Anderson says that he carries three professional designations of his own, so education is important to him; that means he prefers to work with businesses that have similar continuing education and certification requirements.

The North American Power Sweeping Association (NAPSA) has a rigorous formalized certification program for its members. Anderson says that when comparing companies who have bid on a sweeping job, all things being equal, he will go with a certified sweeping company over a non-certified company.

“I think that anytime a company will invest their resources to get that certification says that they care about their business, their industry, their equipment, their people and their reputation,” says Anderson.

For those property owners serious about maintaining a professional image, investing in sweeping can bring an added advantage.

“You can have the most gorgeous landscaping in the world, but if the parking lot is not clean, it’s distracting before you even enter the building,” says Barton.

For more information on the North American Power Sweeping Association and a nationwide member list, go to http://www.powersweeping.org. Or, when using Internet search engines to find a local sweeper, lookup: “Street sweeping” or “Parking Lot Sweeping.”

A PROPERTY MANAGER’S CHECKLIST FOR HIRING A SWEEPING CONTRACTOR

ASK THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS:

  • Are employees screened (drug tested and driving record) and I-9 compliant?
  • May I see references from other customers?
  • Does the company use GPS technology or video/digital cameras?
  • Is this company a NAPSA member or, even better, certified?
  • Does the company carry adequate insurance? – ask for copy of certificate.
  • Consider how often your lot needs to be swept.
  • Consider whether or not you have a limited sweeping time (evening, weekends).
  • How often is the company’s sweeping equipment replaced?
  • Where do the sweepings go? This is negotiable item. It can actually save you money by providing a bin.
  • Does the company perform other services such as portering, large item removal (where will these items be dumped?), maintenance, industrial floor care, landscaping?
  • Does the company own its vehicles or subcontract out the work? If using subs, do they have the same insurance, especially worker’s comp? Are they complying with all applicable laws and regulations? Knowing these things can protect you from defective service contracts and civil liability for the wrongful employment acts of vendors.