After a few pints of porter one night and some back and forth on the remodeling industry, an older Irish carpenter I met in the pub one evening told me, “the first two tools brought to any jobsite and the last two to leave should be a broom and a dustpan.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Though a 10 dollar broom might be a tad less exhilarating than your brand new compound miter saw or 80 lb demolition hammer, keeping things clean is critical to your success as a remodeling or general contractor.
This edict is even more true in the remodeling context where we contractors invade our customers homes, kitchens, and bathrooms. If we don’t work hard to minimize our impact we will quickly turn into the Enemy rather than the Hero.
Keep a Clean Site
A customer who has just surrendered their kitchen to you for two to three months is not interested in having you creep into the rest of their house as well. The best way for you to remain in a positive light, is to start clean, keep it clean and finish clean. Make it a mantra.
Many people on the outside think of construction as a loud and dirty business, but it doesn’t have to be all that. Sell your service as an unobtrusive and clean process. Don’t allow spitting, smoking, or swearing on the jobsite, keep the radios to a respectable volume, and maintain cleanliness as a priority and a requirement.
On our first day at a new project, we leave most of the tools in the truck. We focus on isolating the work area with plastic sheeting barriers and zipper entry ways. The Zip Wall system is excellent for this. We protect the floors with Ram Board, but we will occasionally use free cardboard salvaged from a previous job (especially cabinet installs which produce a lot of cardboard waste). With our work area isolated, we rarely have to spend anytime cleaning outside of it.
We strategize on where to store our waste, and maintain a single entry/exit point for all the workers, such as a rear or side door. We minimize our impact and make it easier to keep the isolated areas clean. We leave empty trash barrels, brooms, dustpans, and vacuums on site for all of our workers and subs to easily access.
Your attention to detail in setting up your clean jobsite also serve as a big, flashing, neon advertisement to your customers, subcontractors, and prospective clients: This is a Professional Jobsite. We Keep it Clean. Your customers will be impressed to see you’ve hermetically sealed the jobsite and happy not to have to dust off their dining room table before supper.
Your subcontractors will find it much easier to maintain your standards of cleanliness if you provide them the resources to do so. Leaving a broom, a vacuum, and empty barrel within easy reach makes a huge difference.
Your super clean jobsite is also a great advertisement for future customers who you may invite to visit the site, or who might see pictures you post on social media. Photos of a sparkling clean work in progress are certain to help separate you from your competition.
Cut Your Costs
As with anything we do as small business owners, we want to make sure it will help our overall bottom line, and maintaining a clean jobsite definitely saves you money in many ways. A cleaner jobsite is a more efficient jobsite; people work faster and happier in a more pleasant environment when they aren’t tripping over mounds of construction waste. Your subcontractors might even give you more favorable pricing if they prefer working at your superior site to another contractor’s.
In working cleaner, we can also reduce our waste disposal costs by sorting recyclables, municipal solid waste, and construction and demolition debris, which all have different associated costs.
Recyclables can quickly fill up a small 15 yard dumpster, and you’ll pay hefty minimum tonnage charges for light-but-bulky cardboard and plastic. As I mentioned before, cardboard is fairly useful on future jobs as floor protection, but it can also be used to wrap around easily damaged casework like door openings, balusters, and handrails, or provide a disposable dust mat for your entryways. Any other recycling from the jobsite can be put on the curb with the regular recycling.
Municipal solid waste, such as food waste from lunch should not be thrown in with your regular construction debris. A dumpster or a few bags of trash may sit for a week or two before they are disposed of, not good if it’s full of food waste. You do not want your customer looking out at their driveway to see a host of horseflies and birds picking at an already unsightly dumpster.
A tip I learned from youtuber Matt Risinger, is to keep a dedicated trash can on site for food and non-C&D waste only. My jobs are fairly small, so I will just dispose of these bags with my municipal waste at home, but your customer may be happy to put it out with theirs. Another tip: since your clients are not often home when the garbage truck comes and goes you won’t hurt your reputation by having your crew take their empty cans off the street for them.
In the end, it’s a dirty business; there’s going to be dust and debris, but you can get out in front of it, contain it, and control it, or wait for it to become a mess. We prefer the former, that is, the easy way. No one likes working in a dirty environment, not to mention living in one. So for the sake of your customers, workers, subs, and your wallet: Keep It Clean.