By Diane M. Calabrese / Published January 2022
Space for religious services, contemplation, and social interaction is provided by houses of worship. Joy, mourning, friendship, and community all come together within the walls of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.
Houses of worship are special places. Are special requirements in play when cleaning them? The answer is both no and yes.
Here, three contractors tell us about their experiences.
“Houses of worship typically have lower budgets than traditional facilities of similar sizes, so they negotiate prices nearly every time,” says Jeremy Jessup, owner of Jessup Powerwashing LLC in Bowling Green, KY. “Negotiations aren’t limited to just prices, but also constantly adding or removing services to make the price work while still getting the most bang for their buck.”
Primary contact is also unlike that in the residential, commercial, or industrial setting, explains Jessup. “There is rarely a situation where one person has purchasing authority. Typically, you meet with the person who was elected to vet contractors, give them a demo, wait for them to go back to the committee, and then talk with at least one other person, maybe even showing them a demo.”
The steps to a job may go slowly, says Jessup. “The process, even for simple jobs, can take a long time before you get the final commitment.”
The funding source at houses of worship is often a factor. “Because they are nonprofit and rely on donations, their revenue isn’t always predictable, so even after you get a commitment, you have to wait until their funds become available,” explains Jessup.
Exteriors may encompass more than flat surfaces. A cleaning job Jessup’s firm completed at a 4000-square-foot Baptist church included exterior gutters, soffits, fascia, and some vinyl sections around the eaves, as well as the steeple.
How did Jessup add houses of worship to his company’s repertoire? “Our first job was a referral,” he explains. “We are friends with several people who go to that church, so when they needed cleaning, they were referred to us.”
As for profitability, there’s an interesting balance. Indirectly, cleaning houses of worship adds nicely, explains Jessup. “You typically make significantly less cleaning a church compared to similar-sized buildings, and you’re going to have to work harder to earn the business. You make up for this with the free marketing you get with the congregation.”
Keys to success in the sector are patience and proper equipment. “Churches and other places of worship—we cleaned a synagogue once—are great customers for us,” says Jason Murphy, president of HydroClean Pressure Washing in Hickory, NC.
“Most churches are like large homes and are easy to clean,” says Murphy. “Some historic buildings provide unique challenges, however.”
The ability to build in a long wait time for a response to an estimate is a must. “Sometimes you have to wait until the board decides on a course of action,” says Murphy. “We waited three years from the first estimate for a church in Charlotte that we finally went out and cleaned a few weeks ago.”
Response to estimates may take time. Nevertheless, be prepared to clean houses of worship before giving estimates. “Contractors need the proper equipment—a softwash system, a pressure washer, and harness and lift training are essential to success,” says Murphy.
“The hardest part of cleaning is if the church has a steeple,” says Murphy. “Equipment must be rented—a 60- to 80-foot boom lift—but with the lift and proper equipment, steeples are easy to clean.”
Of course, there are some taller spires. A contractor must decide whether to tackle them.
“Occasionally we run into problems with not being able to reach a 100-foot steeple,” says Murphy. “Lifts go straight up close to their height rating, but if you extend out, it cuts down the overall height that can be reached. We have had to turn down a few steeples for this reason as we didn’t want to go the route of using a crane.”
Being equipped to do steeples is important. “We have done many churches over the years, and cleaning steeples is by far the most requested item,” says Murphy. “At one point we were doing 10 to 15 Latter-day Saints churches a year, cleaning roofs, buildings, sidewalks, pads, and windows.”
Not only does Doug Rucker, owner of Clean and Green Solutions in Porter, TX, have decades of experience in cleaning houses of worship, but he also has a familial tie to a church leader. “I’ve been involved in church life since the day I was born into the family of a Baptist minister,” he explains.
“I also served on staff as facility manager for a large downtown church,” says Rucker. “This helps me when planning and working with facility managers of churches and schools. I have a feel for what they go through and can communicate with them effectively and efficiently, in addition to the faith connection we share.”
When did Rucker log his first cleaning job for a house of worship? “Wow…it’s hard to remember that far back, but I think it was a church I attended in Florida in the mid-1990s. It’s the same church I later worked at as the facility manager for a few years. The church administrator knew I owned a pressure washing company and asked for a quote to clean sidewalks and other areas on various buildings.”
Every job is interesting in its own way. Rucker recalls one, a large downtown church, that required layers of coordination.
“The building was three stories and was an older historical brick building,” says Rucker. “While we were cleaning, the church was also undergoing major renovations to the interior and exterior. Working with the general contractor to schedule our work around the other subcontractors was a daily task.”
The historic church job required a lift. It also required that heavy organic stains be removed from the brick and concrete window borders. “The use of a dual-lance adjustable wand became our best friend for this particular job,” says Rucker.
Thinking about the historic church, Rucker recalls what a “rewarding” project it was and the “stunning visual results” obtained. “Our quote was three times higher than any other quote, but I was the only one that offered a guarantee that we could remove the various stains and restore the building back to ‘like-new’ condition.”
Ideal working hours and water supplies are two issues that contractors must incorporate in planning. “We work with the church to provide the cleaning during the times they will have the least amount of traffic,” says Rucker. “Most often, this will be on Friday or Saturday, as most church offices are closed.”
Rucker notes that many houses of worship have school facilities tied to them. Not only must a contractor schedule around worshipers but also around students.
“Even after scheduling is confirmed, if a funeral is added at the last minute, this always takes priority and our cleaning would be rescheduled,” says Rucker. “It’s just one of those things we have to be ready for, and we are always ready to make adjustments as needed for those types of extenuating circumstances.”
Best industry practices apply when cleaning houses of worship as they do with any project. “As is the case with all of our jobs, ensuring there are adequately functioning water supply locations is very important,” says Rucker. “This aids strategically planning the flow of cleaning, hose lengths, equipment placement, and much more.”
The aggregate number of houses of worship in the United States is in the vicinity of 380,000. The number is not firm because many congregants meet in facilities that would not be classified strictly as a house of worship (i.e., not a stand-alone structure). Even so, the estimated number is sufficiently large to encourage contractors to consider reaching out to churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples in their region.
For contractors who would like to become better acquainted with the different kinds of congregations across the United States, the National Congregation Study (NCS) is a good resource. (See https://sites.duke.edu/ncsweb/about-the-study.) Based at Duke University, the NCS has been studying U.S. congregations since 1998.
Because the NCS talks with ministers, rabbis, priests, and other leaders, it obtains insight into congregations that may be useful to contractors. For example, if a contractor has not yet had experience in a synagogue, reading some about the religious venue prior to meeting with a rabbi would offer valuable context.
Moreover, because the extensive compilations of data at the NCS site (all open access) include information about the community engagement of congregations, a contractor can get a better idea of how the houses of worship in his or her area reach into the community. For instance, some may operate schools or day-care centers where the contractor has already worked cleaning parking lots or sidewalks. Tying together many buildings belonging to a congregation can be a way to streamline work and boost profit.
As the contractors who spoke with us for this article indicate, a good place to begin is close to home—one’s own house of worship—when offering cleaning services.