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“Tricks” of the Trade Think Unethical Glaziers
Can’t Outsmart Architects?
by Penny Stacey
Shortcuts—they happen in every industry and trade. The disreputable
try to save a buck and skip a step, or substitute a product, betting that
no one finds out.
“I think in today’s economy probably 50 to 70 percent of what I see has
been short-cutted—or maybe a better word is short-changed,” says one contract
glazier who preferred not to be identified in print due to the sensitive
nature of the issue. “It just comes with the competitive nature of the
world today. Everybody’s looking for an edge and the definition of an
edge is a competitive edge. How do they get a few more dollars out of
the job to make them get more out of the job or put themselves in a position
to be the low bidder?”
Sometimes, whether or not shortcuts are taken depends on how the job was
obtained, according a team of experts with whom USGlass consulted for
this article. “The negotiated job typically doesn’t see as many shortcuts
or deletions as the hard-bid job will,” says one. “That’s not to say that
the glazing contractor who has negotiated a job won’t end up taking shortcuts—but
it’s probably not as common.”
"You’re playing with fire.
You only have to get caught once or twice."
Though industry experts say shortcuts can occur in a myriad of ways, following
are a few of the most common ones and most egregious ones:
A non-specified product is substituted for a spec-ed one. This
can occur with glass, components and more. Sometimes this might lead to
a code violation, but often not. For example, a job might be specified
with a given aluminum manufacturer’s doors yet nonspecified doors substituted.
Decals have even been known to be used on a nonspecified door to give
the impression that the specified door was used, according to experts.
Undersized glass. This shortcut is quite common, according to
our experts. In some cases, a thinner glass product might be used than
what is called for, or perhaps lighter and easier to handle. “It’s common
because it’s hard to catch,” said one of our team members.
Misapplication of materials. An example of this might be using
storefront materials in an application where a bigger section of curtainwall
should have been used, because it’s cheaper and easier to fabricate. Even
though a system failure can result, this happens with more frequency than
you might expect, according to experts.
Material substitution. This can include caulking,
sealants, specified backer rods, undersized fasteners, or even not using
enough or proper fasteners, according to experts. These can be very expensive
on a large-sized jobs. For example, a glazier may place a fastener every
24 inches instead of 12, saving a great deal in expense, but at what cost
to the final product?
Unreinforced mullions. One expert recalled a situation in which
he inspected a building that was only about 10 years old and having a
repeated problem with broken glass. “There was a piece of steel that was
supposed to be running through the vertical mullions,” recalls the expert.
“I was able to pry it open and there was no steel in there. I started
doing some calculations with the engineer and found that the glass that
had been installed less than 10 years prior was not to code and nor were
This particular shortcut led to a major repercussion. Since the aluminum
mullions hadn’t been reinforced, they blew in and broke all this glass.
“For sure the steel mullions would not have deflected and caused this
unbelievable amount of breakage,” he said.
Who’s the Culprit?
If shortcuts are happening this commonly, who is taking them?
Experts suggest it likely occurs among a small group of unethical glazing
contractors, though sometimes those who are struggling are more prone
to take shortcuts than others. Similarly, on smaller jobs, there are fewer
parties double-checking one another than on a large-sized job.
“It’s a lot tougher on a large, sophisticated project to get away with
anything,” says one expert. “It’s the small, quick-turn, no-consultant,
no-representatives-involved jobs where these things often occur.”
"Why does anyone cheat? Usually
it’s for financial gain."
The Bottom Line
Despite possible repercussions, why do these things occur? One is a feeling
among some glaziers that today’s codes are excessive and such shortcuts
only right a wrong. Experts suggest that some glazing contractors might
think, “We’ve never done it that way before and we’ve never had a problem,”
leading them to take shortcuts.
Some have attributed the desire to take shortcuts to pressures from general
contractors and architects.
One Puerto Rico-based contract glazier says if he is asked by a general
contractor to take a shortcut, he makes a request of his own. “We tell
the general contractor that we will do whatever he wants (sometimes),
if he gets the changes approved by a licensed professional in the Commonwealth
of Puerto Rico,” he says. “We always state that we are not architects
nor engineers, and that this must be done by an independent party.”
But ultimately, one expert suggests plain-and-simple shortcuts usually
are undertaken by the glazing contractors themselves.
“There’s a pressure to be more competitive, but I don’t think the architects
and general contractors are saying, ‘take shortcuts and do something inappropriate,’”
One expert offered a warning to those who succumb to the shortcut temptation:
“Your sins are going to find you out,” he says. “You’re playing with fire.
You only have to get caught once or twice.”
Penny Stacey is the editor of USGlass magazine. She
can be reached at email@example.com.
Read her blog at http://penny.usglassmag.com,
follow her on Twitter @USGlass, and like USGlass Magazine on Facebook
to receive the latest updates.
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