A general take on cleaning cycles for high-rise buildings

In one of earlier blogs we’ve talked about the different options of facade access systems compared to the costs. In this blog article we’d like to take a look at a different aspect of these systems, the duration of the cleaning process –also called the cleaning cycle.

Before going in-depth on this subject, let us briefly explain what the term cleaning cycle means. Basically a cleaning cycle is nothing more than a general calculation of how long it takes to clean all facades of a specific building. This calculation is performed by a (sales) engineer who is involved with the design of the proposed facade maintenance system. Some manufacturers even attach a detailed cleaning cycle to the quotation that they offer to the client.

What type of facade access systems are there?

In general we will talk you through three different options of facade access systems or methods:

Rope access

Rope access, also known as abseiling or rappelling, is a form of work positioning to allow workers to access hard-to-reach areas without the use of other facade access equipment. When it comes to window cleaning, these rope access duties are often performed in combination with a work seat called a bosun’s or boatswain’s chair.

Temporary systems

Temporary facade access systems come in many forms. The most used option are suspended platform or suspended scaffold systems. These systems can provide full access to certain parts of a building’s facade when a permanent solution is not at hand.

Permanent systems

Permanent facade access equipment, also known as a building maintenance unit (BMU), allows window cleaners and maintenance workers to safely reach all parts of the facade and fulfill their day to day tasks. When it comes to roof cars, this type of BMU is customized to the situation. From traversing units for sloping roofs to fixed roof cars for buildings with a high parapet.

Used for: quick facade maintenance or inspection on mid-low to high-rise buildings. Access to hard-to-reach areas which can’t be reached by a cradle or platform.

Used for: short-term (temporary) work on low to mid-low buildings (< 100 m/< 328 ft) with mainly straight facades.

Used for: regular facade maintenance or inspection on mid-low to high-rise buildings. With special equipment and materials for hard-to-reach areas such as protruding facade elements.

How does each option influence the cleaning time?

As you can imagine, each option has its own specifications for as well the technical aspect as in terms of use. Some systems need a longer time to set up, others are much quicker in actual use.

Rope Access work

Working with rope access (also called abseiling or rappelling) isn’t something that everybody is allowed to do. Becoming a rope access specialist requires extensive training and education before you are qualified to perform these duties on a daily bases.

The Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) is the world’s leading authority when it comes to training and supporting rope access technicians who are capable of fulfilling such work. This goes from window washers to oil platform mechanics.

Installing a rope access system is relatively cheap when you compare it to other solutions for facade maintenance. An anchorage system for rope access mainly exists out of a set of single anchor points which are installed directly onto the roof structure. Per drop the worker uses two of these anchor points to tie-off on; one for a working line and one for the (secondary) safety line.

    • Relatively cheap system – based on single anchor points
    • Ideal for quick maintenance jobs
    • Extensive training required; making rope access personnel is expensive
    • Small surface drops meaning a lower cleaning rate per hour
    • For larger areas (higher cleaning rate) more personnel must work at the same time = higher costs
    • After each drop, workers must go back to the roof (or upper level) so they can start a new drop. A time consuming job.

Temporary access system

When time is short and the placement of a permanent installation isn’t possible, building owners can make the decision to purchase a temporary access system for facade maintenance. For example a suspended platform or suspended scaffold system in combination with roof beams or davit arms.

Systems like mentioned above can be assembled on site and disassembled after the intended work is finished. Because the platform can be taken apart and divided in several pieces, it is also easy to store on the location for future use.

    • Ideal for short-term maintenance jobs
    • Easy to store and hidden out of sight when not in use
    • Time consuming installation method.
      • Assembly of platform
      • Installation of hoisting device / steel wire ropes
      • Attachment to of davit arms or roof beams
    • Limited mobility; system has to be disassembled and moved for next drop
    • Annual inspection and maintenance of a platform and hoist unit is required
    • Additional fall protection systems required – type of system can differ per country

In some countries it can be required to have a temporary access system re-inspected by a qualified person when it has been moved (disconnected and reconnected) to another location on the roof. For example when a suspended platform is moved to perform maintenance to another part of the building.

Permanent facade access system

Permanent facade access systems are the most chosen option when it comes to (glass) skyscraper maintenance. This option can vary from a permanently installed monorail combined with a self-hoisting gondola to a fully equipped fixed or traversing roof car.

Roof cars itself come in many shapes and sizes. From fixed to the roof on one place to a traversing unit which can be moved along a rail track of which the lay-out has been predetermined in the design phase of the building.

The main advantage of a permanent facade access installation is that it is custom fitted to the specific building where it is installed. Therefore it ensures the maintenance workers that every spot of the facades can be reached and cleaned.

    • Custom solution; a facade access system that perfectly fits the building
    • Easy accessible; always ready to use
    • Nearly no secondary actions necessary, so users can completely focus on cleaning job
    • Optimal use of time (for cleaning)
    • Long-term investment
    • Ideal for frequent and long-term maintenance
    • System can be equipped with a Glass hook Replacement Unit (GRU) for heavy facade maintenance
    • Expensive purchase
    • Annual inspection and maintenance of a BMU system is required


To present the different options to a client, such as a contractor or architect, we have created this free comparison leaflet. Download it now and always have a good advisory document present to show pros and cons of the various options when it comes to building maintenance and window cleaning.

Until next time…

In our next blog of this 2-part series we will take a more in-depth look at how a cleaning cycle is calculated and try to explain what factors have to be taken into account when deciding upon a fitting facade access solution.