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Add Water-fed Poles And Window Cleaning Robots To The Arsenal
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Window-cleaning tools have advanced in the last few years and it is time for BSCs to take note of the new innovations.
The changes started in the United Kingdom about 15 years ago, when safety laws made it nearly impossible to put workers on ladders. These restrictions forced manufacturers to devise safer ways to clean windows.
Slowly, the United States seems to be following suit. This year, OSHA updated its fall protection regulations (Rule 1910) to include stringent safety requirements for ladders, which become effective by the end of 2018.
Window cleaners adapted to ladder-free laws by using water-fed pole systems. The worker stands on the ground and guides a telescopic pole up the side of the building, as high as six stories. Water is pumped up through the pole and an attached cleaning brush or squeegee scrubs away dirt. Windows are left to dry naturally.
Water-fed systems range in size from quite small to large truck-mounted versions, and some clean only one to two stories while others can reach up to six stories.
Working from the ground was important from a safety standpoint, but these systems had another benefit. They made window cleaning more accessible to BSCs without years of training and experience.
“The amount of time needed for training to use these systems is nominal, as is the skill level required to use them,” says Newman. “The learning curve is negligible.”
Early poles were made of aluminum, which were too flexible to be easily controlled and caused problems in inclement weather (frozen hands, electrocution risks). Manufacturers addressed these issues and now make poles from lightweight carbon fiber.
Also in the early years, the systems used ordinary tap water, which is filled with impurities that left spots on dried windows. Manufacturers solved this problem by switching to deionized, or “pure,” water. Users plug a regular water source into the chamber and a resin purifies the water to remove the solids.
“The nice thing about utilizing pure water is you leave no residue on the glass,” says Marsh. “Without residue there’s nothing to attract soil, so the glass stays cleaner longer.”
Early water-fed pole systems were quite expensive, with a 30-foot pole easily topping $8,000. Today, BSCs can find a system that size for $1,000 or less.
“There’s more competition the marketplace and that’s driven prices down,” says Draper. “The lower barrier to entry allows more BSCs to venture into window cleaning.”
Payback on a water-fed pole system, says Marsh, is typically just a few months.
Cleaning interior windows has also historically presented problems for BSCs. Lugging water buckets and squeegees around workstations or customers is not only intrusive, it’s typically not allowed by building management. Likewise, having workers climbing ladders to get to windows above building occupants is unsafe and unwanted.
“Cleaning interior windows seems fairly simple, but when there’s a desk or hospital bed you have to move out of the way, that takes time,” says Lombardo.
Manufacturers now offer interior window-cleaning tools similar to those designed for exterior use. These cleaning systems typically include extension poles that give janitors up to a 36-foot reach. Coupled with microfiber pads and pure water, these systems allow for quick, safe window and glass cleaning.
“The tools allow a BSC to take employees who are already dusting to clean windows, too,” says Draper. “It gets rid of the learning curve of the squeegee technique, plus you don’t have to worry about getting water everywhere.”
Interior-cleaning systems were about $700 when they were first introduced. Thanks to increased demand, however, that price has been cut by about half.
These types of interior and exterior systems allow BSCs to take on most window-cleaning contracts. But they are no help when it comes to buildings higher than six stories. In those cases, BSCs would still need to subcontract the work to a specialist with all the necessary rigs and safety devices.
Unless, that is, the BSC invests in the latest innovation in window-cleaning technology. That tool is a remote-controlled machine that quickly climbs the sides of buildings — spraying, brushing and rinsing the windows as it goes. Available in 7-foot- to 17-foot-wide sizes, this high-rise device can clean buildings of 70 stories or more.
“For a BSC that’s not in the window cleaning business, this puts them into the business right away,” says Marsh. “If they’re already cleaning windows, it allows them to clean windows faster.”
While it has its upsides, this high-tech equipment likely isn’t for everyone.
“The technology is still expensive,” says Draper. “There’s also more of a learning curve. It has to be rigged and there are OSHA requirements. It’s probably best for BSCs who’ve been doing windows for a while.”
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