There was a time when a broom-swept jobsite and a few drop cloths snaking from entry to addition were about all that was expected of a remodeler. After all, his job was tearing down, breaking up, and building anew with dust-generating power tools and materials that had to be shaved, cut, and fabricated on site.

Not anymore. Today's remodeler must wield a vacuum and a Swiffer mop with more zeal than a cleaning service to keep up with customers' high expectations for jobsite cleanliness — and to provide a safe jobsite.

Shades of Clean

Fortunately, most remodelers have taken to heart recent studies showing a correlation between jobsite cleanliness and overall customer satisfaction and have allocated a few more rolls of 6-mil plastic and boot covers to each job, but that may not be enough, experts say.

Two 2006 surveys conducted by Kimberly-Clark Professional revealed a disconnect between what customers and contractors believe constitutes a clean jobsite in the first place: While 90% of contractors said they “clean up everything after finishing a job,” just 56% of customers said their contractor left the site immaculate, and 26% said their contractors usually “left a mess.”

“The issue is: What is clean?” says Jamie Britton, customer marketing manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional, referring to the survey results. “A contractor who picks up all his tools and walks away thinks his jobsite is clean, but clean to that homeowner is pristine.”

“Most carpenters see ‘clean' as a secondary issue. They believe that the quality of the product is what the client cares about most, so they tend to work hard and create a great product but don't pay as much attention to cleanliness,” says Tim Faller, owner of Field Training Services, in Westerly, R.I.

Ultimately, notes Brindley Byrd, president of housing industry consultancy Qx2, in Lansing, Mich., “the way we produce high-end remodeling jobs and the memory clients have about how clean jobsites are is important because that's all [clients] know. They don't know if a receptacle was wired properly or if they got a high-quality paint job. But they know if the workers have pride, the trucks are clean, and the workers are clean.”

Rules of Engagement

The only way to have a clean jobsite is to set up a plan that makes it so. Faller advises remodelers to simply think it through and establish parameters for cleanliness. Even better, make it a no-brainer with a visual approach: “Create a picture book that shows what ‘cleanup' means because no one has the same impression of a clean jobsite,” he says.

As part of his company's SUCCESS (System Using Checklists and Controls to Eliminate Stress and Surprises) program, Joe Censullo, president of J & J Construction of Illinois, provides documentation to ensure that his job-sites are pristine.

“Our site supervisor has a start-of-job checklist that details everything from shoe covers to 30-by-60 tarps, and lists who is responsible for what. Items are inventoried on our jobsites, and trade contractors know what to use when,” he says.

Censullo, who is based in Aurora, Ill., also requires his trade contractors to train with the company on its requirements and provides training manuals that detail the company's expectations. In the area of cleanliness, if they leave a mess, he hits them with a bill. “I give them one shot free. After that, if I have to clean, I charge them $75 an hour,” Censullo says.

Cory Hogan, CEO of Upscale Downstairs in Draper, Utah, fines his subcontractors $200 per day if the site isn't clean. “They understand their job, and it's in their contract that the site has to be broom clean,” Hogan says.

While many other companies charge for messy jobsites, they all agree that simply educating employees and trade contractors about expectations in the first place solves most of the problems. “Every company should determine policy for themselves,” says Faller. “Some companies will fall short because they don't think [clean jobsites] are important enough. They'll learn.”

On the Home Front

Getting subcontractors and employees in line with a cleanup process is just half the battle. Customers, too, must be educated and their expectations managed.

“In pre-construction, we try to address items homeowners haven't thought of. We find out where we should put the Dumpster and Porta-Toilet, which doors we can and can't use, where we can keep tools and store materials,” lists Chuck Rose, owner of Charles L. Rose General Carpentry in Cape Cod, Mass.

Rich Hobar, owner of DesignTech, in Rocky River, Ohio, goes through the ground rules at the beginning of every project. “We write everything [regarding cleanliness] into the contract,” he says. “We talk about the 20 most often asked questions, about dust and what we'll do about it, and spell it all out at the beginning” he says.

Greg Antonioli, president of Out of the Woods Construction and Cabinetry in Arlington, Mass., starts his remodels with a kick-off meeting. “We do a lap around the house with the client and talk about traffic areas,” he explains. “In these meetings we find out their peeves. For some it is about privacy, some it's cleanliness, others it's budget.”

Remodelers should use early meetings with clients to establish work times and to clearly spell out how the jobsite will look at the end of each day, each week, and at the project's completion. It's also the right time to present your company's expectations for the clients, such as your rules for clients walking the jobsite or whether they can put personal trash in the Dumpster.

Censullo keeps rules top of mind for everyone: He posts a billboard on all jobsites listing the rules, which not only educates trade contractors and employees but also spells out to clients what the company considers to be its purview.

Recoup the Cost

On today's jobsite, a lot of effort is expended to set up and maintain a clean workspace. A smart remodeler will make sure he is compensated for it.

“I budget 20 hours and about $150 to $200 for cleanup per job,” Hobar says. This time and money includes the hours spent prepping the site for the trade contractors, the protective products used on site, and the final cleanup.

Antonioli budgets about $250 per project. “One of the big hurdles for cleanliness is knowing how much to budget,” he says. “I think out of eight people on a jobsite, one is [dedicated] to setup and cleanup,” he estimates. “We have a mobilization a day in advance of all jobs. We have plastic up and everything done before the first tradesman shows up.”

Leon Noel, owner and president of Your Kitchen and Bath Design/Remodel in Roseburg, Ore., makes sure his budget line items start with tear out and house prep. “And we end with a cleanup line item,” he explains. Noel presents the client with one line item for cleaning costs but doesn't break out what the costs cover (labor and protective products) because he feels that doing so invites scrutiny. “We don't like to fragment [our contracts] that way. If they aren't OK with that then we know the journey won't be a good one.”

Better Safe Than Sorry

Perhaps more important than a good journey is a safe journey. Job-site cleanliness plays a big role in that regard. Maintaining a spotless jobsite keeps customers happy to be sure, but Faller notes that it also allows workers to be more efficient (less time spent stepping around things or looking for tools) and safer.

“The most cited OSHA safety infraction is called ‘housekeeping,'” he says. “It's a very common safety infraction because people who tend to leave a mess have a higher chance of tripping or slipping. [Messy job-sites] are clearly one of the things that will cause accidents, especially with jobs that start early in the morning when it's dark,” he says.

Many remodels are conducted with the homeowners remaining in residence. For this reason, remodelers, like Hogan, erect plywood barriers (versus plastic walls) to keep clients out as well as to block dust and noise.

Antonioli has policies that all tools be unplugged and extension cords be coiled. He also spells out the danger of jobsites to the homeowners in the kick-off meeting. “The curtain wall defines the space where children will not go,” he says. “It seems stupid to have to say it, but you can't have children in the workspace.”

And although experts and remodelers alike say you should make your site safe enough for a toddler, even better, say others, is to keep toddlers off the site altogether.

In terms of safety, Byrd claims the two biggest safety mistakes made in the industry today are that remodelers don't take dust seriously, and they don't train their people. “Within 20 miles of you there are five guys doing something stupid because they weren't told that when they remove drywall and they see mold they should stop.”

Calling Card

Keeping a jobsite clean pays dividends when it comes to referrals, remodelers say. “We keep the cleanest jobsite in the area,” Censullo claims. And he pays for it. “Every job is covered in protective products. I'm not happy with the price, but I'm happy with the results.”

But it's worth it every time he opens an end-of-job survey and sees the high customer ratings. “We hear two things: One, how wonderful the staff is, and, two, how amazed they are at how clean the jobsite was. We put a lot of money and effort into getting that result.”

This bodes well for referrals. As the Kimberly-Clark survey revealed, 64% of home improvement customers cited a personal recommendation as the key reason they picked a contractor.

What better way to leave a lasting good impression than to leave the home in better shape than customers expect. A trend in this regard is to underpromise and over-deliver: Remodelers usually include in their contract that they will have a professional service clean the addition or affected areas at the job's completion.

But companies such as Griffith Construction & Design in Alpharetta, Ga., often have the housecleaning service clean the whole house. “We don't talk about it beforehand,” company vice president Thomas Griffith says. “We like them to see it as an above-and-beyond service.”

Although that touch no doubt impresses homeowners, it will result in referrals only if the jobsite has been well-kept throughout the entire process. It's best to have a plan in place to keep the jobsite in order from day one, warns Censullo: “Whether it's the customer, a neighbor, or a building inspector, you just never know who will drive by when and see what.”

Cati O'Keefe is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati.