High demand

The number of tall buildings in London has shot up over the past few years. And all those windows need washing

Photo: Trent Burke of Altitude Window Cleaning (photo courtesy of Trent Burke)

GAZING UP AT the glistening buildings of the Forest City in the early 2001, a young Trent Burke could see his future: “I always said, ‘I’m going to clean all these buildings one day.’”

Some set their sights on the C-suite, occupying the ­penthouse corner office, but for Burke, the owner of Altitude Window Cleaning, it was hanging off the side of the building that captured his attention.

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Right out of high school, he was doing “a little bit of ­freelance” window cleaning when another cleaner spotted him on the street. They got to talking. “He offered me a job and asked if I was afraid of heights,” Burke recalls. “I told him I liked heights, and the next week he had me hanging off a 15-storey building.”

Three years later, Burke proposed to his now-wife, Nicole. “I said to her, ‘I think there’s a pretty good chance I’m never going to aspire to do anything but hang off buildings — is that okay with you?” (She said yes and is now Altitude’s
general manager.)

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For a few years in the early 2010s, Burke worked on a ­variety of crews and spent time in Toronto, staying in Airbnbs and hanging off buildings during the week and coming home to London on the weekends. “At that point, I had just hung off London buildings,” he says. “I remember pulling up to a 34-storey high-rise at Yonge and Bloor. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”

In 2015, while he was subcontracting in Toronto, he and Nicole incorporated Altitude Window Cleaning and spent the winter “quoting like crazy,” working to get the business off the ground in London and build a name for themselves.

The company that Altitude is today was forged early on, and Burke says they haven’t really had to deviate much from their original vision: a small, dedicated, talented crew providing a high level of service and safety for the clients they take on.

“My business mentors all told me to keep it small, keep it tight, find a sweet spot and ride that groove” —Trent Burke

“We just set out to be the safest in the area in terms of meeting and exceeding regulations,” Burke says. “When I went out to Toronto, I saw some pretty crazy stuff, but I also saw some guys doing things really, really proper, and I thought, ‘I need to focus on that.’”

Safety, in fact, is such a priority for the business that when taking on new clients, gauging how much they care about safety regulations is a key question for Burke. “The more information clients ask us for, the better. If they put us through a huge vetting process, that’s a great sign,” he says.
In terms of size and growth, Altitude has stayed small — Burke, three crew members and Nicole handling the administrative end of things — and that’s largely by design. “My business mentors all told me to keep it small, keep it tight, find a sweet spot and ride that groove,” Burke says.

“The last five years, we’ve been in the sweet spot. We know what area of the market we’re focusing on — hospitals, institutions,” he says.
On any given week, they’ve got between one and three jobs lined up, though for some of their bigger clients (Western University, for example) they will have a crew on site for weeks or months.

High demand windows Commercial Services

“Our market share in London is probably between 25 and 30 per cent,” Burke estimates, adding that for the last handful of years they haven’t had to chase out-of-town jobs and have worked exclusively in the London market.

And when he gazes upwards at all the cranes on the London skyline, he sees steady work and opportunity, just as he did when he was 18. “Post-pandemic, they’re just building us buildings,” he laughs. “We made the right choice, at the right time.

“I feel really lucky, really fortunate and really grateful to have found something like this,” Burke continues, pausing only to make mention of the 53-storey building York Developments has proposed for the Forks of the Thames. “Man, I’m so excited to hang off that thing.” High demand windows Commercial Services Kieran Delamont

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