What to remember when focusing on windows
T he window-cleaning industry hasn’t had a windfall of new developments in recent years, but there are a few new trends that might warrant a closer look if building service contractors already aren’t familiar with these issues.

New tools
Long-time standards such as T-bars, scrapers, squeegees and hogs-hair brushes are still the mainstay of the window cleaner’s arsenal, but there is a newcomer on the market making work easier. The system makes it possible to clean windows up to four or five stories off the ground through the use of fiberglass poles connected to a brush and sprayer assembly. The system also contains a water-purification system that produces de-ionized water, allowing the user to clean windows without having to squeegee the glass dry.

Third-party prevalence
One trend window-cleaning contractors say they are facing more and more, is the presence of third-party intermediaries who do the hiring for building services in many facilities.

“The intermediaries do the bidding for several buildings at one time,” says Bill Thomas, owner of Northern Illinois Windows Inc., McHenry, Ill. “They try to dictate the price for all jobs without really knowing what it takes to do this kind of work or without knowing how different each building can be.

"The intermediaries call several window cleaners until they find one that is willing to do it for their price. These contractors often don’t have insurance, and this can open the building owners up to lawsuits if something goes wrong.”

To secure a chance at such contracts, window cleaners will need to network with these consultants to ensure they are on their preferred vendor lists come bidding time. Another way to work within this new system is to have a thorough specification database from which to retrieve useful workloading data. That way, a third-party consultant who isn’t as familiar with window cleaning work can rely on the contractor’s time-tested figures when putting together specifications.

Glass scratching
For window cleaners who specialize in the removal of glass scratches and graffiti, there are grinding systems that aid in this type of work.

“We remove graffiti from glass and fix scratches in aquariums and in zoo cages where animals have scratched the glass,” says David Grady, vice president of Tri-State High Rise Services, Wappingers Falls, N.Y. “We polish the scratches out of glass using a special scratch removal system.”

The system Grady uses employs a vacuum process to hold a grinder onto the glass, while providing a continuous flow of slurry to the grinding surface. The flow of slurry provides a continual source of new abrasives and keeps the glass cool allowing polishing speeds of 6,000 rpm.

It’s important to note that the type of scratches that Grady removes are not those produced as a result of surface scratching caused by glass fines.

When the edges of a piece of glass are ground before being fired for tempering, some fine, powder-like pieces of glass often remain on the surface and become baked in during the tempering process. When cleaners use a scraper to remove labels and construction debris from new windows, sometimes these fines snap off and scratch the surface of the glass.

“Fifteen years ago you could lay a razor on glass and there would be no problems,” says Ken Blair, co-owner of Crown Window Cleaning & Building Services, Inc., Fresno, Calif. “Nowadays, glass is becoming more cosmetic and along with that comes safety concerns and more need for tempered glass.”

The most likely place to run into problems with glass fines is during new construction cleaning. This type of cleaning tends to be the most challenging not only because of fines, but also due to all the debris left behind by other contractors.

“We try to encourage other contractors to tape off windows before plastering or painting,” says Thomas. “At one job a painter almost completely spray-painted the windows in a house that had $70,000 worth of new Pella windows.”

In order to avoid being held responsible for scratching damage caused by glass fines and construction debris, experienced window cleaners make sure that the contractor is aware of the condition of the windows before they begin work on the project.

“When we get to the site and the windows are covered in materials like paint, stucco or plaster, we go to the general contractor and let him know that there are other materials that need to be removed,” says Blair.

Removing construction debris is often time consuming and requires additional charges that have to be established and accepted by the contractor before work begins. A contractor’s response relies on how close to deadline the project is.

“If there is time, then the contractor will either look for cheaper bids or go to the subcontractors who made the mess and try to get them to clean it up,” says Blair. “Someone has to pay for the additional cleanup.”

Back to the basics
Construction cleanup probably is the most difficult type of window cleaning, due to the variety of substances that windows are exposed to during the building process. But for contractors who don't handle construction jobs, high-traffic areas will require the most attention in their accounts.

“Where there is human contact, you will have problems,” says Blair. “The higher up a building you go, all you’ll find are airborne pollutants. Close to the ground you can find calcium deposits from sprinkler over spray and graffiti, which is most easily removed with a high-speed buffer and a powdered chemical.”

For normal window dirt, basic detergents work the best. “I usually just use a surfactant and ammonia for airborne pollutants,” says Thomas.

When window-tint films are present however, it is important to be careful of the type of tools and cleaning agents used.

“On some films you can’t even use a squeegee,” says Blair. For the most part, contaminants will scratch and damage window films. But some films are sensitive to cleaning agents, and contractors could damage, rather than improve windows if cleaning with the wrong solutions. For example, ammonia will soften film window tints .