Around Town

What it’s like to be a Charlotte window washer and hang off tall buildings all day

Like many other Charlotteans heading to work, 22-year-old Donald McVay walked into an uptown skyscraper last week and rode the elevator up to the proper floor. But unlike most, McVay started his day by stepping off the side of the building.

McVay spends his days as a window washer, cleaning some of the tallest buildings in Charlotte. This week, McVay — who’s employed by JOFFIE, a Charlotte window washing service — worked to clean The VUE, a 51-story luxury apartment building that will take around two weeks for the crew of about six people to clean.


Up, down. Up, down.

McVay says he and his fellow workers are each assigned one section to clean at a time.

Once one section is done – which usually takes about 1 1/2  to two hours – they get to the ground, ride the elevator back up to the top and then suspend again off the building, cleaning another section, he said.

That “up, down” cycle continues throughout the workers’ nine-hour day.

When he first started working for JOFFIE last December, several of the more experienced window washers gave him advice about how to clean the windows properly – and they also gave some advice about hanging off a building.

 “Don’t fall,” McVay joked.


Afraid of heights?

McVay says that he’s not afraid of heights but that he tries not to think too much while “hanging,” as he calls it.

“I normally play a little music, so I don’t think about the bad things,” he said. “I’ve been hanging the building (The VUE) for this week – a few days – so now I’m pretty used to it.”

While hanging, McVay and his fellow workers sit in a “chair” – an almost bench-like wooden slab with a cushion on it — which is connected to ropes that workers send over the building before they start cleaning, he said. Those ropes are anchored to the building’s roof.

coworkermug2One of McVay’s coworkers cleans a window at The VUE.

Just as the workers’ ropes are anchored to the building to ensure workers’ safety, the workers’ tools are attached to either the workers or their “chairs” with hooks and bungees to keep items from falling.

When McVay is cleaning tall buildings, the weather tends to be a bit more extreme up high than it is down below, he said. And on windy days, that’s not a pleasant experience.

“It’s a little scary when it’s too windy because it kind of blows your ropes a little bit,” he said.

While workers tend to clean the insides of buildings in the winter, they do sometimes brave the cold to clean windows outside.

During those times, they make sure to put antifreeze in their water bucket to keep it from freezing, “but it doesn’t always work,” McVay said.

On rainy days, the workers do not clean outside, he said – for obvious reasons.

Now that it’s hot outside, workers have to worry about two things: heat and hydration, McVay said.

To combat the hot summer sun, workers stay hydrated by drinking water and Gatorade throughout the day.

McVay said he also has recently starting using sunscreen to protect his skin from the sun.


A regular celebrity 

McVay says pretty much every time he cleans a building, people inside of it take note.

“They just come to the window and look,” he said. “I’ve had people take pictures of me while I’m hanging.”

Despite some friends and family thinking he’s crazy, McVay loves his job. (His brother, Taurice Stowe, now works there as well.)

“For me, it’s a rush, kind of,” he said. “I like the job that I do – I get happy when I’m hanging off a big building.”

Photos: Donald McVay