Rocky Mountain News

Conquering Pane - Free Spirited Window Washer has best of both worlds

By Mark Wolf
Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

Boulder - Philip Bregstone spends his workdays climbing the corporate ladder. His career path is so transparent you can see right through it.

Oops. There's a spot. A little solution, a swipe of the squeegee and a dab with a surgi-towel and it's gone. Another window clean. The corporate ladder moves around the corner of the south Boulder house, and he climbs it again.

Bregstone is Dr. Glass, on call for homeowners who consider window washing a major pain in the glass.

"As homes have gotten bigger and with all the two-income couples, people don't have time to do their windows," Bregstone said. "Every house they put up, even the modest homes, have large windows. What happens a lot is that people get out their Windex and their towels, and the windows almost look worse than before they started.

"Six-panel windows are my bread and butter. Nobody wants to do those."

Bregstone, 38, started washing windows as a part-time job to supplement his income as a musician after graduating from high school in Maryland. He washed while earning a music degree from Syracuse and while doing graduate work at Maryland and American universities. His business in tony Washington, D.C., suburbs grew through word of mouth until he was making a tidy income while working less than six months a year. His political/sports/-media clients include New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing, former Rep. Jack Kemp, Knight Kiplinger, editor in chief of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, former boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard and former Democratic Sen. Howard Metzenbaum.

"The Metzenbaums got me into the celebrity circle," he said. Dr. Glass has about 800 clients in Washington and 100 in metropolitan Denver and works with two subcontractors in each city (he can be reached at 303-499-7759)

"It’s not immediately important that you wash windows well, but it is immediately important that you not mess up somebody’s house," he said. "That’s how my business grew in D.C. One of my clients back there made us wear surgical booties inside, but it’s worth it because it’s a huge house and they have it done three times a year. In some of those houses we take a Polaroid of a room to make sure we get everything back in order.

"I did a 19-year-old Saudi prince's house. He was in college and had three servants. At Sugar Ray Leonard's house they told me not to touch the glass in the trophy case. It was wired for an alarm system."

Bregstone and his wife, Roberta, a sign-language interpreter, moved to Colorado in 1992 to help create the Nyland co-housing community in Lafayette. They live there with their sons, Jonah, almost 4, and Julian, 3 months, except during April, May and June, when they live in Washington, D.C., and Bregstone works 6 am to 8 pm during peak window washing season.

"We get a little apartment next to the National Cathedral and leave everything behind," Bregstone said. "It’s a vacation except I have to work. I also fly back in the fall for 10 days to work for some special clients."

His rates in D.C. average about $300 but can more than double for very large houses. He charges less in Colorado and said his annual net income is about $75,000.

This wasn’t supposed to be his career. He used the window-washing money to pay for graduate school, but when Jonah was born he discovered what was important.

"When Jonah was born I realized how lucky I was," he said. "I get to be a very involved parent. My friends who went to law school hire someone to take care of their kids.

One of his subcontractors, Rolf Evenson, left his job with a Boulder architectural firm this summer to spend time with his children.

"Who would do architecture work when you can wash windows?" Evenson said.

At Nyland, Bregstone gives music lessons, conducts an a capella choir for which he composes music, plays guitar in the garage band Bubba and the Wannabes (Evenson plays bass), and raises chickens, goats and ducks. He also is taking music and business classes the University of Colorado and plans to get a master's in business administration.

He has not franchised Dr. Glass but is developing a "Biz-in-a-Box" concept that would include videos, training manuals and computer software. He also wants to share what he's learned about running a small business with disadvantaged entrepreneurs.

And how often do the windows at Dr. Glass' house get washed?

"Oh, once a year," he said. "Probably should do it more."

Tools and rules of the Trade

The key to good window washing is experience and equipment, Dr. Glass says.

Squeegees - "When you have exactly the right squeegee, it makes a big difference, "he said. He uses at least six different squeegees on each job and cuts hose own rubber with a hacksaw (It takes me hours in sizes ranging from 5 inches to 24 inches in quarter inch increments. He orders his rubber from Ettore in Oakland California "but they’re finally selling good ones at Home Depot"

Towels - Forget the rolls of paper towel or the old rags. Get your hands on surgical towels. "They are very low lint and absorbent. The ones from India are the best. The Russian ones are OK, but the ones from China are bad. I go through 20 a day and have to do laundry every night

Solution - He uses a professional product called Sancso, but you can use almost any solution in your bucket as long as you have a good squeegee on your belt.

Stay out of the sun - The window dry too fast and it’s hard to see

Special stuff- double -out steel wool for getting off little bug gunk is a real secret of the trade. "mostly it’s angels and techniques. If you hear a squeaking noise, the angle isn’t just right. People talk about ‘squeaky clean’but in window washing that’s not what you want