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Cleaning of historic buildings: a case of specialists

Culture | 2 comments

par Olivier Barrellier | 01.25.10


The conservation of our architectural heritage should require a regular maintenance of buildings. But most often, our old buildings are only allowed a thorough clean … every ten years. Augias, a franchise network specialized in cleaning, wants to remedy and offers innovative services of cleaning and maintenance specific to historical buildings.

With over 40 000 listed or inventoried buildings on the whole territory, there is neither lack of work, nor constraints. The feared ABF (Architecte des Bâtiments de France) must give its approval for certain operations. And in many cases, the cleaners have to deal with the presence of unmovable and fragile works of art.

To act regularly to limit the risks

The main constraint is not to damage the building during the maintenance of the inside. “Easy to say, but it requires some know-how” announces Gilles Boussert, Manager of network development at Augias. The first difficulty concerns the restoration of stone floors. “A first visit is necessary to analyze the nature of the stone and its condition. Then, we use the appropriate method. It is usually a chemical action combined with mechanical action, “says Gilles Boussert. To put it clearly, its means rub and rub again. Especially since the products used by Augias are essentially bio products, therefore less rich in surface active agents, and after all less powerful. “For difficult cases, such as lime concretions, we have to use classic chemical formulations” regrets Gilles Boussert.

corps_augiasnacelle_100121Ceilings and walls (in the jargon, we say ” high and vertical surfaces) are dusted by hand with micro-fiber cleaning rags. A long and meticulous work, particularly in religious buildings, full with moldings, sculptures and other corners that are difficult to reach. It may seem unnecessary to dust off a wall but it is also a precautionary measure. “A flow of water on a dusty wall causes a disaster by scaling dirt up. Cleaning it up regularly reduces the risk in the event of flood damage, “explains Gilles Boussert.

Cleaners are proud of their work

Especially indoors, another tricky operation is the washing of stained-glass-windows which requires special means of access, such as folding cradles, called “spiders.” “These cradles go through a standard door, are painless for the building, and especially stable for staff,” adds Mr. Boussert.

Apparently, Augias cleaners are not afraid of elbow grease and dizzy heights. And with good reason, sites of historical monuments are not only reserved for more experienced employees, but are also better paid. “Our know-how is a bit technical but also human. The result of experience. And the result is obvious! It’s very rewarding for our team, “concludes Gilles Boussert.

To get definitively rid of pigeons

Sympathetic when they just travel, our pigeon friends are carrying dozens of terrible diseases whose names end in “ose”.

As if this were not enough, the production of droppings is very plentiful (i.e. hundreds of kilos in a steeple). These acid excrements strongly attack wood floor and stones.

Augias methodology involves three steps:

  • Clean, disinfect, renovate.
  • Search and close all access for pigeons.
  • Protect the outside of the building: using picks against pigeons, removal methods (falconry); population control (contraceptive pigeon house to the bottom of which a needle pierces the eggs)

According to Augias, chemical repellents and scaring sound systems would be ineffective.

Augias in brief :

  • Date of creation: 1997
  • Head: Lionel Bieder
  • Activity: cleaning and cleanliness (industry, offices, shops, historical buildings…)
  • Employees: 300 cleaners, 7 franchises (high growth)
  • 2009 turnover: €5 M
  • Historical building references: a dozen churches in 2009
  • Other references: Mittal, Pechiney, Bouygues, Suez…

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