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Cleaning London's building facades: the challenges and the solutions

23 June 2017

London is an amazing city filled with beautiful heritage buildings, and an increasing array of modern builds and iconic skyscrapers (The Gherkin, Walkie Talkie, Shard and Cheesegrater are to name but a few). As with any modern city, traffic fumes and pollution, along with graffiti and excessive bird droppings make the job of cleaning building façades a truly difficult one.

While modern architecture does incorporate cleaning solutions into the building design, heritage buildings require ever more care to protect the integrity of their often intricate façades. Modern technology, advanced cleaning methods and increasingly efficient and effective cleaning solutions are enabling cleaners to keep the façades of London's trickier buildings cleaner than ever before.

Here are some of the challenges faced by London cleaning companies, along with some of their solutions...

City pollution and grime

Dealing with London's pollution and grime is an on-going challenge. Exhaust fumes and everyday grime is evident on many of London's buildings, especially those that don't get the luxury of a regular clean. It's not just the façades that suffer. Guttering, rooftops, windows and sills all require continuing maintenance and cleaning.

With air pollution an ongoing problem in London (air pollution levels earlier this year surpassed that of Beijing according to a report in The Telegraph, London's building cleaners look set to continue to have plenty of work. 

Interesting developments were reported in The Evening Standard recently with news of a ground breaking building material that reverses the impact of air pollution by absorbing harmful airborne chemicals and releasing cleaner air.

Odd-shaped buildings

Modern architecture has definitely proved a challenge for cleaning companies. It may seem that façade access isn't a consideration taken seriously by the modern architects of London's odd-shaped buildings, but it does in fact have a great impact on the design. 

The Gherkin, formerly the Swiss Re Tower, was designed by Norman Foster. He consulted façade access company Reef during the development of the design. Its odd shape was a conundrum in terms of façade access. Architects don't like clumsy access equipment on show, because it messes with the sleek lines of their building design. Reef's solution was to create a device that slides out of a hole in the side of the building on rails that reaches both above and below for easy access cleaning.

Accessibility problems

Access is definitely a problem for many of London's cleaning companies working on the weird and wonderful shaped buildings across London's skyline. Abseilers, cherry pickers, cradles and hydraulic equipment are often required for hard-to-reach places.

And it's not just an issue with height. Awkwardly placed buildings can make access with cleaning equipment difficult.

Heritage buildings

Façade cleaning techniques have improved dramatically over the years. The DOFF and TORC cleaning systems are examples of technological advancement offering safe cleaning solutions for heritage buildings. Steam-based cleaning avoids the use of the heavy and potentially damaging abrasives used to clean building façades in the past. 

The DOFF and TORC methods can effectively remove moss, algae, fungi and any biological matter. There's no use of chemicals and 150°C temperatures of the DOFF system kills any spores, keeping buildings cleaner for longer. The TORC system uses a small amount of water, a fine substrate and low pressure to create a swirling vortex suitable for cleaning a wide range of different stone. It is effective in removing carbon sulphation, paint residues, lime scale, oil based paints, bitumen and lime or cement based paints. Cleaning heritage building façades has definitely moved on with protective cleaning solutions playing a part in building preservation.

High rise issues

Cleaning London's tallest buildings isn't for those without a head for heights. The only practical way to clean some buildings is by using abseilers dangling from ropes attached to the building. This requires specialist equipment and specialist training. Some more modern high-rise buildings have cleaning solutions built into their design, as in the aforementioned infamous Gherkin building. The high level cleaning London requires is increasing as more high-rise buildings make their way amongst London's skyline.

The future

New technologies are contributing to effective building façade cleaning solutions across the city, but with air pollution a continuing problem in inner cities, grime and pollution will continue to take their toll. As for the future… 

A recent report in The Independent showcased an envisioned three-mile-high skyscraper built from materials that are either in-development or have already been brought to market, including smog-eating surfaces and retractable balconies. The design was concocted by Arconics, a materials science company, working alongside futurists to imagine the technologies that will be most useful several decades from now. The future of the modern building façade looks bright, and very shiny! As for now, London's cleaning companies have their work cut out.

Written by Mike James, in conjunction with Cleaning Industrial Solutions.

 
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