Volume 38, Issue 7, July 2003
The It Thing
Five Trends That Can Spell Relief for Glazing Contractors
by Paul Trainor
In today’s tight economy and sluggish retail environment, installers providing contract glazing for storefronts and entrances are often squeezed between keeping costs down, meeting new customer needs and increasing installation speed. Five trends are emerging from these glazing challenges, and
savvy installers can gain a competitive advantage by recognizing the benefits that each can bring.
Curtainwalls and Storefront
Systems for New Construction
Historically, renovated construction needed to match the exterior look of the existing building. This meant the installer had to create the old window sash’s appearance using aluminum instead of wood or steel. This making-something-new-look-old technique was time consuming and expensive.
Today, owners and architects are realizing that they can combine the historical with the new by using curtainwall and storefront systems for the new construction while renovating the existing with a historical look. This trend reduces costs because the effort to meet the historical look is eliminated. Curtainwall and storefront systems also provide a high degree of design flexibility, even allowing for multi-floor configurations. In addition, they minimize the amount of trim needed on the exterior, providing a cleaner look that has the added benefit of being less labor- and material-intensive.
For installers, use of curtainwall and storefronts provides significant fabrication ease and reduced installation time. These systems also make it easy to maintain schedules, and they don’t limit installers in terms of what product offerings they can present as options to a customer.
As more people head to college instead of a trade school, a major concern for the glass industry is the shrinking pool of skilled workers who are capable of ensuring a safe and effective glazing system is fabricated and installed on time and within budget. This concern is magnified by constantly tightening schedules and ongoing customer demand for increased
One trend that is combating this issue is the use of unitized systems, also known as pre-glazed systems. In a unitized system, the glass is installed in the aluminum framing prior to leaving the shop. The conventional stick-built system has both the framing and glass installed on the job site.
Because the glazing leaves the shop as a single unit in a unitized system, a contractor can control quality, workmanship and schedules more easily. In addition, the resulting smaller installation crews and faster project turnaround times allow a contractor to take on more work.
As the economy tightens, standard storefront (2 by 4˝ inches) is gaining recognition as the most cost-effective product. With the development of the front-glazed storefront system, where the glass is set outside and most metal framing is inside, many architects are taking advantage of the system’s price advantage, clean look and decreased site line. Front-glazed also adds square footage—and a bottom-line boost for the building owner—since the building is leased out to the glass line.
There are, however, a few disadvantages to the standard storefront. In terms of performance, it doesn’t stack up against a ribbon window or can-type system. In addition, the storefront is not able to hold water like the can systems.
For the installer, standard storefront means fast fabrication that is also cost-effective. Because of the system’s simplicity, with its fewer parts and a screw-spline design, installation is also quick and easy.
Doors are the entry to any building, and they have always been a focal point for design. Because of the increased emphasis on building security since September 11, doors are no longer the standard push/pull, maximum-security lock and surface-mounted closer system. Doors today are customized increasingly to include complicated security systems that have the potential to impact an installer’s budget and schedule negatively.
Today, most door configurations tend to have electronic-type hardware for locking and closing. There are many different kinds of hardware to meet specific security requirements, such as electronic locks for card reader systems, and technology is changing rapidly. Doors also must meet fire code exit requirements, such as inclusion of panic devices. It can get very confusing very quickly.
The challenge for glazing contractors is to know, early in the bid process, what security measures the architect is planning to include so the specified hardware can be checked for compatibility. For example, an overhead concealed closer and an overhead door holder can’t be used together since they are installed in the same place. Likewise, an electromagnetic lock and a panic device typically don’t mesh since the lock doesn’t open without a card swipe.
Installers who take time upfront to ensure the security systems are compatible will avoid running into problems further downstream in the project.
Shrinking profit margins for installers can get a boost from two products that are gaining in popularity—photovoltaic glass and laminated glass.
Photovoltaic glass saves energy by acting as a solar panel that can capture the energy from the sun and transform it into usable energy. The photovoltaic panels are laminated between two lites of glass with connectors protruding from the edge of the glass. This technology has been available in Europe for years and is moving into North America now.
Another trend in the glass segment is trying to increase the light transmittance and keep the ultraviolet (UV) transmission to a minimum. Laminated glass is becoming increasingly practical for meeting these goals for a variety of reasons.
First, it allows virtually no UV transmission, which prevents discoloration on interior shades and window trim. Laminated glass also reduces sound transmission to a minimum of 12 percent and increases a building’s security from incidents such as smash-and-grab theft or flying debris in a storm.
Most coatings can be used in conjunction with the laminated glass to offer higher performance. The customer gains a feeling of comfort and security while the installer has the opportunity to sell a greater value.
While today’s economy continues to be challenging for contract glazing in the storefront and entrances sectors, these five trends are starting to provide budgeting and scheduling relief while meeting the increasingly complex needs of architects and owners.
Paul Trainor is the product manager for storefront, curtainwall and entrances at TRACO, headquartered in Cranberry, Pa.
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