Cleaning windows may sound like a simple and easy job with no risks involved apart from maybe soaking yourself with your own bucket of water! But window cleaners are more daredevil than people know, undertaking tough jobs with unexpected problems to solve, risking life and limb to get the perfect sheen on a window…well sort of!
1. Watch out for the strawberries!
Window cleaners embarking upon the cleaning of the many windows of the Empire State Building have more to contend with than just heights and wind. Tenants have a nasty habit of throwing things out of the window meaning that there is more than just bird muck to be scoured off the window – one occasion, a window cleaner had to deal with ten gallons of strawberries that had been tipped out then froze onto the windows!
2. The job will be done when it’s done
Some of the big skyscrapers really are a long term job. The Hearst Tower in New York takes around a month to clean from top to bottom while the Time Warner Centre needs a team of six window cleaners and takes four months to clean all eighty of its glass walls.
3. World’s tallest window cleaning job
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest skyscraper in the world and presents some unique problems when it comes to giving the windows the once-over. It has 1,292,500 square feet of glass and the company who are responsible for the job have £5 million worth of high tech equipment to complete the task. No mere buckets for this job!
4. Clear as glass
Glass itself has been around for a very long time and has been used to make decorative items going back thousands of years. But for a long time, it remains a luxury item. The roots of modern glass came about in the 1600’s when the idea of adding lead to the glass mix meant that the glass was easier to work with. And where there was glass, there was someone who had to clean it!
5. New York is the home of the window cleaning trade
With all those skyscrapers, it isn’t surprising that the window cleaning trade, as we know it today developed in New York. At its height, there were 3000 windows cleaners in the city as of 1931 but by 1995, this had fallen to only around 800
6. For my next act…
Before the advent of scaffolding to clean those hard to reach spots, window cleaners would balance on the window ledge to do the job. Leather safety belts were invented in the early 20th century, much to the relief of Mrs Window Clearers all over the world.
7. What goes up…
The scaffolding used to clean higher windows was first introduced in New York in 1952 by the Otis Elevator Company to use on Lever House. The original World Trade Centre was one of the first buildings to have machines cleaning its windows when it opened in 1973 but they were a bit temperamental, prone to breaking down and couldn’t manage the upper floors. As of 2013, there was still one of these machines in use in Manhattan.
8. The Squeegee
An essential part of any window cleaner’s kit is his squeegee but the invention of this useful little tool started out in Chicago in the early 20th century. They were a little different to the modern product – to change the rubber blade; first, one had to loosen 12 screws!
9. Dangers of the job
Working at such heights is very dangerous and even with safety equipment, there are deaths. In May 1962, four window cleaners were killed in New York when a scaffold fell from the Equitable Building. It took until 1993 for the New York window cleaners union to introduce a safety program to increase job safety. Window cleaning today is still seen as the most dangerous job in the UK.
10. Safely on the ground
Due to this danger, the Health and Safety regulations in the UK are gradually changing to eventually stop window cleaners climbing ladders and reduce their danger. Currently, it restricts the use of a ladder and is in favour of scaffold towers instead, even though there is an awareness than this isn’t practical in a lot of cases.
11. Sun power
One of the challenges facing the window cleaning industry involves a new technology that creates self-cleaning windows. The Pilkington Activ glass has an extremely thin coat of crystals that reacts with daylight to break down filth and prevent the need for detergents. Washing it with water will be all that is needed for a shining, clean window.
12. Water feeder poles
Another innovation is the water feeder pole – this allows the window cleaner to remain on the ground and clean three or four storeys up with some poles. They are also eco-friendly because they use filtered water without any detergents that leech back into the environment. No ladders and no nasty chemicals needed!
13. The robots are taking over!
As with many things in our digital life, there seems an inevitability that for some jobs, a window cleaning robot will soon be taking over. There are a few in development and some are even being used in buildings around the world based on a simple idea – the little droid will attach itself to the window pane and then clean up any muck it finds while there. it has the potential to be a bit creepy if it goes to work at night, when you are in bed you hear this tapping on the window…or is that just me?
14. Do we really need to clean our windows?
Some people aren’t too worried about the view from their living room or how the house looks but even so, there are solid reasons why windows should be cleaned. Firstly, they need to be cleaned or all the nastiness in the environment can degrade the glass, shortening its lifespan. Secondly, windows let light into the house – no light means less warmth means higher heating bills. So cleaning windows actually saves you money.
15. And the record goes to –
Terry Burrows is the current holder of the Guinness World Record for the quickest window cleaning for cleaning three 45-inch square windows and their sills in 9.24 seconds without a smear in sight.