My Thoughts on Green Cleaning with Propane by Whit Beverly

In commercial cleaning today, everybody wants the job done quicker and “greener.” Given the choice of which is more important, most stores would say, “Both – I want you to do both.” Given that reality, the contractor’s only choice is to maximize efficiency. Efficiency means the right tool for the right job – you do not kill a fly with a hammer.

For example, when choosing cleaning chemicals, choose one just strong enough to do the job quickly and completely. Too much or too strong, and chemical will leave dangerous residue or affect Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Similarly, an alternative chemical that is too weak might be “greener” but if much more needs to be used to do the job, or it takes twice as long to apply, too much is spent in material or labor, eliminating your green benefit.

Lastly, in evaluating greenness, one should consider the larger environmental impact of a cleaning method on a national or global scale. For example a Honda Prius seems totally green to the consumer who just plugs it in. However a little homework reveals that:

• The process for making the batteries the car uses is so environmentally dirty that only two companies in the world will do it.
• The batteries only last 6-8 years then need to be replaced, filling landfills with heavy metals.
• More than 50% of the electricity in the USA is generated from burning coal – 9 out of every 10 tons – and burning coal is a significantly dirtier process than burning gasoline.

Therefore, when one considers greenness, they should consider environmental impact at the point of work, the financial impact of the method of cleaning to the contractor or facility and the larger environmental impact / carbon footprint of that method on a national or global scale.

Aztec & Green Cleaning:
Aztec’s machines are made to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. They are extremely fast and very “green.” With the exceptions of our ProScrub Autoscrubber and Hot Spot carpet cleaner, they are all either manually powered or run on propane gas. Contrary to popular belief, we believe that propane powered equipment are the greenest machines on the market both based on emissions and based on the amount of labor and expense that it takes to get the job done with alternative methods.

Let’s start with the purpose of a burnisher. Its purpose is to shine the floor. According to The Official ISSA 447 Cleaning Times, a propane burnisher will shine a floor at 19,355sqft/hr. The production rate of a 2000 rpm corded electric machine is 8,333sqft/hr – or less than ½ the speed of the propane – assuming that you do not have to continually stop, unplug the machine and find another plug while you are working. Practically speaking, a propane burnisher is usually considered to be at least 3x the speed of a corded electric. A battery machine will do 9677sqft/hr – or exactly ½ the speed of the propane. Because there is no need to worry about cords, this work rate is accurate.

Based on the above, it would take two battery powered machines or three corded electric machines to do the same job. Battery burnishers run about $6,000 each, corded electrics $1500 and propanes $2000. So if you wanted to shine about 20,000sqft/hr, the machines would cost you $2000 with propane, $4500 with corded electric and $12,000 with battery burnishers. Ideally you would be able to stretch the life of the machine to 6 years with any of these machines, but a hidden charge where the battery machine is concerned is that over 6 years you should expect to go through 3 sets of acid lead batteries. They end up in land fills. They also cost about $300 each for a set of 6 batteries.

Let’s talk about labor. The propane burnisher takes one man to shine the floor at 20, For a 60,000sqft store, 3 man-hours at a $15/hr labor rate it costs you $45. The corded electric takes you 9 man-hours or $135. Battery burnishers take you 6 man-hours or $75.

When you look at stripping floors with propane versus these other methods the numbers are even more staggering. Buffing with propane versus these slower methods can be compared to the speed of traveling by car verses traveling by horse. Continuing this analogy, stripping floors with propane machines is like traveling by jet. You need to see it to believe it. Aztec has a DVD. Ask for it and we will send it to you.

Let’s talk about emissions. Obviously there are no emissions from corded electric machines. However, as previously mentioned, more than 50% of the electricity in the US is generated from very dirty coal burning plants. Burning coal for electricity is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses, global warming and acid rain. Using electricity is creating the demand to burn more.

Contrary to popular belief, there are emissions from battery powered machines, not when they are being used, but when they are charging. Lead acid batteries vent fumes when they charge and given what they are made of, you can guess what is in the fumes.

Propane machines also create emissions. In their case it is very low levels of carbon monoxide. The vast majority of propane burnishers made by responsible companies use catalytic converters to mitigate any chance of problems with carbon monoxide. Like in an automobile, these catalytic converters change carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) very carefully regulate the use of propane indoors. Each manufacturer of propane equipment is required to submit their propane engine to be tested and approved. Once it is approved the manufacturer is required to make every future engine the same way and to test the emissions on each new machine before it leaves the building. Aztec has occasionally done spot tests of its machines while they are working in grocery stores. We usually find that the bread machine in the store bakery has significantly higher emissions than the propane burnisher.

In addition to these standard features, Aztec offers some enhanced safety features as options. An overfill protection tank is an option to make sure that your propane tank does not get overfilled, resulting in liquid (rather than gaseous) propane entering the regulator and freezing the diaphragm. An emergency cut-off switch can be installed that works much like one on a jet ski – breaking the electric circuit if the operator loses contact with the machine. An electric clutch can be installed which does much the same thing, but cuts power to the pad (not electricity) when the user releases the handle. Last but not least, an O2 sensor can be installed to actively monitor emission levels and cut off power to the machine if something happens to the machine cause emissions to rise to unsafe levels.