Unfortunately, sometimes mistakes come with costly consequences. That’s why Bill Friske, CBSE, president, Friske Building Maintenance Co. (FBMC), Livonia, Mich., does not hesitate to tell this story. He wants to keep others from making the same expensive error.

In the early 1990s, FBMC was hired to clean a manufacturing plant’s ceramic-tiled lobby floor. While the tile itself cleaned up fine, the grout was especially dirty and still required more attention.

“As most contractors know, grout is one of the toughest cleaning challenges we face. We used every cleaning product and tool we had, but could not clean the grout,” says Friske. “That’s when the customer suggested we use muradic acid on the grout. [The customer] had recently used it on the grout around his tiled swimming pool with great success.”

Friske followed the client’s advice, and purchased the muradic acid. After taking safety precautions such as using personal protective equipment and allowing for proper ventilation, the crew went to work. The grout cleaned up well; so, the crew packed up the equipment and locked down the facility for the weekend.

“The following Monday we received a call from the customer that the elevator door was now ‘bronzed’. The same was true for picture frames, window-blind hardware and door hinges. A number of computers were destroyed. Seems that their internal components had corroded,” says Friske. “It turns out that the muradic acid vapors had gone airborne and were drawn into the building’s air handling system. We failed to account for that!”

The chemical misuse caused $80,000 in damages. But Friske’s troubles were just beginning. The insurance company would not cover the damage because airborne vapors from cleaning products are considered air pollution. Most policies exclude air pollution coverage unless specifically requested at an additional premium, says Friske.

“Many months and a few court dates later, we settled with the insurance company, but it wasn’t a happy ending,” he adds.

It didn’t take FBMC long after that experience to get the necessary training to deal with difficult grout in a safe and non-destructive manner, says Friske.

And, at least in the end, the expensive mistake did leave Friske a bit wiser.

“If you don’t have the necessary knowledge or proper training to provide a difficult or dangerous service — get the training first or sub-contract the job to a contractor that does,”

Friske advises.

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