Monday, December 30, 2013

Glass Issues – An Employee Guide

We’ve all heard it before, window cleaning isn’t rocket science! While that is true it’s not as simple as it once was. We can run into issues like hard water stains, fabrication debris, tin etch haze, low-e coating reactions, and other things that require us to be educated on a variety of techniques and tools. To further complicate matters what if “we” happen to be an employee and “we” have to explain these potential issues to a client? Let’s discuss a few issues from the employee’s perspective.
Forewarned is forearmed
An old adage comes to mind – to be forewarned is to be forearmed. In other words if we are prepared for the potential problems we can be prepared to deal with them. This means that we need our employer to have procedures in place that we can start with so each issue is dealt with consistently.
But for simplicity here are some basics that will allow an employee to give a simple explanation about how to deal with them, depends upon your companies policies–
Fabrication Debris – annealed glass must go through a heating and cooling process to become “tempered”. It is cut to size before this process and if not cleaned properly it can become contaminated with glass fines (as well as other particulates from the factory) which can become fused to the surface during the heating process. When doing a standard cleaning using a razor, the defects can be moved across the glass surface causing scratches. The options here are – 1) a signed waiver explaining that identifying the defect isn’t possible and clean as usual, 2) not using a razor and trying to use white pads, 3) cleaning only the loose debris off the glass, or 4) using heavy chemicals to remove stubborn debris (this option can void the insulated glass unit warranty).
 Tin Etch Haze – architectural glass today is called float glass which means the liquid glass comes out of the oven, floating on a layer of molten tin. For the life of the glass it will have a thin layer of tin embedded in one side. When removing hard water stains from that side, if a hydrofluoric acid solution is used it will react with the tin and cause an odd colored haze. There are ways to test for the tin side but if the stain is on that side there are two options – replacement or mechanical removal of the stain with a scratch removal system.
Hard Water Stains – beyond regular debris on the glass, you can run into stains from different minerals on the glass. Each stain is different and takes different chemicals or techniques to remove and is no longer cleaning, but restoring the glass. Depending on the stain you can use 1) bronze (steel) wool, white pad and/or chemicals, 2) a polisher and chemicals, or 3) a scratch removal system for more severe stains.
Low-E coating reactions – in order to increase the energy efficiency of a window a metallic sputter coating (called low-e) is applied on one interior surface of an insulated glass unit. Sometimes the coating reacts in spots to different contaminants. It will show up as a rainbow colored haze that you can’t touch with your finger (because it’s in between the glass panes).  The only option here is replacement of the affected unit.
Blown IG seals – when you see fogging or white river like stains between the glass you have a blown seal in the insulated glass unit. If it’s just fogging you can, in some instances, have the moisture removed in a defogging process (usually you need to specialize in this service or know of a company in your area that does). If the fogging has turned into staining on the interior then replacement is the only option.
Preexisting Scratches – when doing a new job you can find yourself being blamed for scratching a window when it was done by someone else and usually at a different time. Here a waiver that covers preexisting scratches and/or a thorough walkthrough identifying and taking note of preexisting conditions are your only real protection.
Before discussing any of these situations with a client, make sure you are authorized to do so by your employer or direct the client to the person who is.

For more educational topics go to A New View Exterior Cleaning

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Safely Using Razors

One of the most dangerous tools we use as window cleaners would have to be the humble razor blade. While being an indispensable part of our tool kit they can inflict serious and potentially life threatening injuries. Being aware of the danger sometimes just isn't enough. What can we do to minimize the risk?
Slow Down!
Perhaps the best way to safely use razors is to make sure we take our time while using them. Often as window cleaners we are driven by an hourly goal. While that in itself is admirable there are times where we must put that mindset in check. Using blades is one of those times. Often we find ourselves almost in auto pilot – wet the glass, squeegee, detail, and repeat. Once the razor comes out the auto pilot should go off.
Don’t Forget the Cover
Every razor comes with a cover or other means for keeping the blade safely hidden. There are also a variety of holsters and holders that offer the same protection. A possible exception might be those 1 ½ “blades some window cleaners use for touch ups. In the old days a cleaner might use the Van Gough carrying method (small blade held behind the ear) or even holding those small blades in their mouth. There really is no reason ever to use these methods. Especially since there are many different styles of magnetic holders out there for these blades. Whatever blade we use make sure that when it’s not in use it is covered in some manner.
Changing Out Blades
When talking about the dangers involved we can’t forget the most dangerous time – changing the blades. This is the time when all the cutting edges of the blade are completely exposed. Never, never, never change the blade when up on a ladder! Always make sure you have your full attention on what you are doing and your feet securely on the ground when it’s time to change your razor blade. 

“They Call Me Lefty”

These may seem like simple tips that should be common sense but how many high school shop teachers do you know that are missing fingers and have the nick name “Lefty”?  Common sense may not be so common at times. When we rush common sense can become a casualty and so can we.

For more educational topics go to A New View Exterior Cleaning

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Working Safely with Chemicals that Prevent Frozen Solutions

Here in the Midwest we are getting ready to face another winter season and that means cold temperatures and window cleaning. No doubt many of you have come out to the vehicle one morning only to remember that you forgot to bring in the bucket and found a block of ice instead of a bucket of solution. Fortunately we have a variety of chemicals that will keep our solution liquid and flowing freely so we can do our job. Unfortunately they can cause other issues so this article will give you the options and precautions to keep you working safely this winter.

Our Chemical Options
When it comes to chemicals we have several to choose from but I’ve found a few that are the best when it comes to economy and performance. Some choose to go with windshield washer fluid (WWF) but I opted not to include it simply because one of the chemicals I use is the base component.
Methanol – this is the antifreeze chemical that is found in windshield washer fluid and the one I use the most of in my business. Around here I buy it from a local dirt track race team supplier as methanol is there fuel. It cost me about $3 -3.50 a gallon. Now you may say you can get a gallon of WWF cheaper but keep in mind about 75% of that gallon is water, cheap soap, and blue dye. That means you are getting (at best) 25% methanol per gallon. That actually makes it a far more expensive option and the blue dye looks horrible as it freezes up on the side of a home or storefront.
Ethanol – I’ve bought this as denatured alcohol at my local hardware store and it worked well. It was more expensive and the smell was closely akin to model airplane glue so ventilation is vital. I’d use it only if I had no other option.
Isopropyl – this is my second most used form of antifreeze. I add a few quarts of it to each 5 gallons of methanol to eliminate the smell of the fuel additive they use. I also include it in my pure water back pack when the temps will be below freezing for part of the day to keep me water fed poling as long as I can.
While there are other chemicals out there these are the most easily obtained and do the job efficiently.

There are several cautions to be aware of when dealing with these chemicals.
Colder temps – since we are trying to keep the water from freezing at 32F by adding a chemical, we are artificially reducing it freezing temperature and so if we were to expose our hands to the water the temp could be as low as -10F or more depending on our working conditions.
Chemical Exposure – while exposure to a small amount of any of these chemicals isn’t really dangerous we are working with them for hours every day. Make sure to completely limit skin exposure by wearing gloves (preferably chemically resistant) while mixing or working with these chemicals.
Flammability – all of these chemicals are flammable so you need to be aware of any ignition sources you may be working near. Remember the flame from alcohol burns a blue/white so the solution can be on fire and you won’t be able to see it.
Evaporation – while not necessarily a serious hazard one additional concern when working with these chemicals is that they will eventually evaporate from your solution. To reduce this I recommend that you buy and use a lid for your solution. There are several that can be purchased at any window cleaning supply house of your choice.
Final thoughts

As with any chemical you may use in your business, education and proper personal protective equipment (PPE) are the most important aspect. Make sure that whichever of these chemicals you are using you read and carry with you the MSDS sheet. This will make sure that if the worst happens you have the information needed to administer the proper first aid or other safety concerns.

For more educational topics go to Window Cleaning Institute

Competition or Cooperation? Which is Better for Your Business?

Early training
We are told from an early age that sharing is a good thing. Later we are told that a little competition makes us better at what we do. These conflicting viewpoints are with us for the rest of our lives and for those of us that start our own businesses they are ever present. The real question though is which is better for our business? Will a competitive, crush all competition, spirit cause us to thrive in business or is there a better alternative?
The Wal-Mart Equation
Since its beginnings Wal-Mart has had the “lowest price wins” philosophy. It has seemed to be a successful way to build their empire and to a certain aspect many of us have benefitted from it in that we can get a variety of products at rock bottom prices. But let’s look below the surface – when Wal-Mart enters a new town the immediate reaction is that the small “Mom and Pop” type stores are affected for the worse. Many will go under and those that don’t merely scrape by. Now, in that community the only option is Wal-Mart. But even though the prices are rock bottom what are we getting? Much of the time we get sub standard quality products. Is that really what we wanted? The competition that Wal-Mart has introduced to the marketplace has in effect been a detriment to the consumer.
Business as usual?
Many window cleaning companies view others in their area as intruders at best, and enemies in some cases. Why? Perhaps the other company has engaged in targeted efforts to take your customers or employees. Sadly this happens. But most of the time it’s the early training or Wal-Mart equation that are present. They’ve been told the same thing we were – competition is good for your business. But is it really? And more importantly, is it good for you in general?
Ask yourself how much time and energy you devote to worrying about how to stay ahead of the competition. Sometimes it’s just a nagging thought in the back of our mind, but far too often it can be all consuming. Especially if the competitor is as successful or, and here’s a scary thought, more successful than us. We may even begin doing marketing based on what our competitor isn’t instead of what we can do for our customer. The good news is that there is an alternative.
Cooperation – the alternative
It may seem to go against the grain but why not look at your competitor as another resource for your business? Let’s face it – you can’t possibly handle all the glass in your area. So why try? In our area we have window cleaners that specialize in storefront, residential, hi-rise, you name it. I personally prefer to do residential and when I get calls for storefront work I have at least two cleaners in my area that I can refer those calls to. The best part of this is that they don’t look at me as a competitor and they refer business to me. I have now effectively increased my marketing presence by forming a cooperative spirit between myself and other local companies.
Add to this that when I see these guys in the area I don’t have to worry “are they trying to steal my customers?” because I know we are on good terms. It takes me back to when I was little. I – like many of you no doubt – was taught to share my toys with others. I couldn’t play with every toy I had at the same time and really didn’t want to. That has become my business philosophy – sharing. We can’t clean all the glass at the same time and probably don’t want to either. Cleaning glass is just something we do to make a living and it’s the same for other cleaners in our area.
There another great reason to cooperate instead of compete – price! Instead of competition driving price down a cooperative spirit allows us to get good prices for our work. I’m not advocating price fixing or anything like it, but let’s face it we all want to make a decent living for our family and the work we do can be dangerous. Add to that the fact that we are self-employed and must take care of our own health care and retirement concerns. Do we really think we can do this if prices for our work are constantly going down?
Some will say that it’s good for the consumer. Is it really? NO. Why do I say that? Again the Wal-Mart equation helps us. We pay low, low prices that’s true. Of course the quality is also low, low. If we are lowering our prices rest assured the quality is going down as well. In a marketplace where we share and cooperate the prices stay up and so does the quality! Our fellow cleaners will make sure of that.

So, the ball is in your court. What do you want? Do you want to work in an area dominated by aggression, bitterness, and fear? Or would you rather share your toys?

For more educational topics go to Window Cleaning Institute

Monday, December 2, 2013

New Window Cleaning Forum

I'm happy to say that the new window cleaning forum, Window Cleaning Institute, will be open soon. We are working on the finishing touches to what we hope will become the new home for the window cleaning industry.
Here's a brief synopsis of what you can expect there -
Positive and professional will be the buzzwords for the forum. We want to WCI to become a unifying force in the industry so we've done a few things differently than other boards.
For instance since we want new ones to feel at home, we have a spot called Newbie Corner where they can post any question they need answered without worrying about a old timer telling them to read more or use the search feature. We will also make it a place where you won't have to worry about being sold to. While all industry manufacturers, suppliers, and sales reps can be part of the forum they have there own area for sales. If you need anything you can do one stop shopping and get product answers from them all in that area. The rest of the forum is for education and while the manufacturers, suppliers, and sales reps are welcome to contribute they won't be able to sell in that area making it a safe haven for those wanting to keep those things separate. We also have an area on WCI for all the industry associations to participate in and a section for international cleaners to talk about problems specific to their regions.
Add it all up and you can see how Window Cleaning Institute will be a place where you can get everything you need to make your business a success.