• Happy New Year! Trying to get back into the work groove after the holidays is always tough. One could get used to working only three or four days a week, if only the boss would allow it at the full-time pay rate, right? With all that time off, I caught up on reading industry trade magazines that I had only briefly paged through when they arrived. Some interesting events have occurred.

    One: When many of us are in Vegas for the GANA Annual Conference and BEC in March, look for that building across the street from the Paris Hotel that, last year, was an unoccupied billboard. Although it’s new construction, it’s being demolished. That’s the Harmon, which has been the subject of one of the most interesting construction defect cases to come down the pike in a while. During construction of a 49-story hotel, a defect in the concrete reinforcing was discovered that called into question the building’s ability to resist earthquakes. Construction was halted, capped at about 20 floors, and the project has remained vacant for the better part of four years. Everyone associated with the project sued everyone else, right up to the City of Las Vegas inspectors, who were accused of not catching the defect during construction. In mid-December, MGM (the owner), Tudor Perini (the general contractor) and all but one of the litigants settled the case right before the trial began.

    With a confidentiality agreement in place, it’s likely we’re not going to find out the settlement details. That’s too bad, as it won’t permit a review of what led to the problems, thus allowing the experience to teach the building industry which problems to avoid next time. Tudor Perini has a check coming their way totaling about $153 million. Hopefully, any of the subcontractors and their suppliers who were still owed money are getting whatever they are due. After having to wait this long after the project was closed, that couldn’t have been a pleasant experience.

    Two: Canada’s about to release their new CSA A550 Building Guards standard. No news on what exactly that’s going to entail, but the Top Glass Conference in April will feature Paul Gulletson, a project manager in the Built Environment Group at CSA, who will preview some of the technical aspects of the glass handrail standard. Given the rash of handrail breakage the industry has experienced, this might be the first standard issued as a result. Hopefully, the consensus will be that it sets a worthwhile precedent for both sides of the border.

    Three: From last July, steel that bends like bamboo? As TGP markets steel curtainwalls, obviously that drew me to the article. But, how might something like that impact the industry as a whole? The researchers increased in steel’s ability to stretch before failure by 300 percent by rearranging the molecular structure to more closely emulate bamboo. While framing systems made with such steel aren’t likely to be incorporated into curtainwall systems anytime soon, the idea of modifying materials to work differently than how we currently understand them opens up a lot of possibilities for the future. If applicable to steel, think of how changing the how the physical properties of glass and aluminum perform might change our industry. 20 years from now, anybody want to take a stab at the allowables for any of the materials we use on an everyday basis? A36 steel has a modulus of elasticity of roughly 29 million psi, aluminum 10 million psi. What if, given these research methods and the associated changes to manufacturing techniques that could follow, a three-fold increase in physical strength resulted? It’s possible a mullion could be one half or one third the size it is now. Think the architects would go for that? That might be one way of reducing the need for raw materials, and also impact the life cycle costs of wall systems and energy performance.

    Four: You think you’re busy? I love reading ENR and pick up a lot of interesting tidbits that happen outside the glazing world, but give an indication of how the rest of the world gets along. One such highlighted project caught my attention. How would you like a schedule with 13,500 activities spread around 4,500 work centers, involving a construction staff of 8,000 people? Think big, really big; think Panama Canal. The original canal, back in the early 1900s, involved removing 200 million cu m of soil vs. the 150 million cu m for the current expansion, which is needed to handle larger container ships. They’re setting 4.4 million cu m of concrete vs. 3.6 cu m for the original. Just in case that number’s not mind boggling, that 4.4 million cu m represents 640,000 concrete trucks (at 9 cu yards per truck – perhaps where the expression the “whole 9 yards” came from).

    The expectations for the building industry in the coming year will hopefully continue to look up, and not be as daunting as the canal. Almost 300,000 jobs were added to the U.S. construction industry last year, and predictions are for the same growth in 2015. That’s got to be good for all of us.

    Good luck, and continued success to each and all of you in the coming year!

  • Dear Santa, here it is the week before Christmas. Where does a year go? We’ve been pretty busy in the glazing biz, trying to figure out if the construction market is on the road to recovery. Everyone’s hoping, obviously, that it is, but it might be too soon to tell. Or, maybe we’ve been down so long it’s tough to see much beyond the fog that we’re currently in, trying to keep up with everyday work.

    One sign of action is that everyone’s lead times, from suppliers to glazing subs, seems to have jumped in the last few months. Extruders, glass manufacturers and others are trying to decide whether to open the flood gates to full production, or is recovery in a slow and steady rate really the way to go. Some closed plants seem to be reopening, but will we ever get back some or most of the float glass capacity here in the States we seem to have lost when things went south when the downturn hit?

    So, the extended lead times currently passing down from some suppliers are putting the glazing subs in a position with their customers to either pass on the “delay(?)” to their customers or find new vendors to work with. That’s not at all fun. Can you make that go away, please?

    Another challenge the glass biz faced this year, Santa, is the energy issues that keep rising to the fore, but we all dodged a HUGE bullet when the ASHRAE folks backed off their requirements to lessen the net square footage of glazing. Can it really be that was back in February? We’re still finding other issues the industry needs to combat, such as the Product Category Rules, or the health benefits associated with products in building. Give us a dose of what the future portends, please.

    Thankfully, the architects are still designing with glass, despite these scares. The reflected energy in homes (or any building for that matter) using low-E glass is out there, but no one knows how that will sort itself out, especially if it ends up in the courts.

    We’re learning, too, about a lot of new things. Bird-friendly glass is gaining credence – note the new Vikings Stadium in Minneapolis. The bird-lovers are focusing on getting glass the birds can see and avoid, to save them injuries from collisions. This likely will be a huge technical issue for the industry to learn to address in the coming years. For someone like you, Santa, who’s been known to work closely with animals (say hi to Rudolph and the gang, please), any quick-study tips you can give us would be much appreciated, please.

    Also gaining traction are the silica regulations OSHA wants to hand down. This impacts everything associated with buildings, not just the glass or glazing. If something has silica in it, such as bricks, concrete or other products, it’s almost as if anyone on site or in the plant will have to wear a hazmat suit or go home while the situation is remediated. That’s not practical, and we need to work something out with OSHA so that the cost of labor doesn’t go exponential on us to deal with this. Can you give us and OSHA a dose of reality here, so we can both understand what the other is trying to accomplish? Please, and thank you.

    And, Santa, as you know, the success of the glass industry depends on quality people. The ability to hire staff – whether office or trained field personnel – is likely to be a serious threat to the biz, as there aren’t enough quality people to fill the needs, in many cases. Our industry might have to hire people who’ve never worked in the biz before, and train them. Any insight you can give us here would be helpful.

    We’ve lost some good people this year, too. Some retired, such as Ted Krantz at PPG and Lou Niles at Benson. They’re good people, and it’s tough to see them go, but we wish them well. We are also saddened by those who passed on, such as Jerry Wright, Mr. Fenzi and Lou McCumber, to name a few, but too many make this list any year. We are grateful to all for their contributions, and hopefully, we won’t forget the lessons they taught us.

    The bottom line, Santa, is we’re in pretty good shape. A lot of work is coming down the pike, and that makes for less difficult but all the more equally pressing problems to solve in running our respective businesses. Someone once said there are no problems, just challenges and opportunities. We are grateful to have such a life when you weigh it all in the scales.

    Any room in the bag for any gifts you see fit for any of us is much appreciated. We are grateful in retrospect; just thankful to be able to support our families, help others in their times of need, and enjoy our friends in the biz.

    And Lord, we do know all these blessings really come from You. I think we often don’t thank You enough, but we are grateful for the time of year, and the reason for the season. Thank You, for everything we know we have, and for all that we tend to overlook, but enjoy. Please make us aware of, and grateful for, all Your bounteous blessings.

    Love to all, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays,

    Chuck

     

    PS: Santa, the candy cane cookies will be left by the tree, along with the glass of milk. I hope you enjoy them as much as I love making them with my grandkids. Somewhere, my Mom’s got a smile on her face when she sees us making these.

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  • Field Notes 20.11.2014 5 Comments

    One of the tasks underway within the GANA BEC Tech Committee is an update of the “Blueprint Reading and Estimating” course. Obviously, it’s been a long time since any one of us rolled out a set of blueprints. Thus, the contest: Come up with a new name for the course, and if the committee selects your proposed name, you’ll win one of these “Knickerblogger” T-Shirts. I’d offer a second place one that’s autographed, but there weren’t that many made.

    Knickerbloggers_united_tshirt

    In reading a variety of architectural magazines, I’m reminded of the importance of becoming knowledgeable about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and how it impacts what we do with doors and windows on an everyday basis.

    Given that my time in a wheelchair may be closer than how long I’ve been out of college (nothing on the horizon, just the odometer keeps on turning), ease of access is a paramount concern. And, rightfully so, as everyone should be able to use the products we push in this industry.

    But, some ADA requirements conflict with a product’s performance. For example, ADA says that door thresholds shouldn’t exceed ¾ inches in height. This is especially difficult to do on sliding doors and obtain the positive resistance to water penetration that many specifications require. Most sliding products utilize taller sill tracks to get better water resistance, given the water pressure build-up due to wind. While a taller track of 1 to 2 inches might help with water penetration resistance, that obviously conflicts with ADA. Someone once suggested that the threshold could be recessed in the floor, to get around the height restrictions of ADA. Yes, it could, but how does the water drain from a recessed track?

    And, if you think 1 to 2 inches is tall, try this: I once was involved in a project in which my company tried talking the architect into setting the ribbon curtain wall on a 6-to-8-inch tall curb, thinking that the height of the sill from the low, accessible roof and balcony would provide greater water resistance. The owner thought we were crazy, said no one ever did that, then went on a multi-week vacation and reported back that every hotel he had been in had a balcony, and that all of the windows, including the sliders and operable vents had been set on curbs which had to be stepped over to get to the balcony. Convert one owner, you can convert the world. Maybe. Some day.

    I’m not sure that all products ought to be easy for kids to use. Should a child be able to unlatch and open that sliding glass door? At what age do we gauge that a child is smart enough to open the slider and not endanger themselves if given unattended access to the balcony? And, how do we make a swing door that won’t fling a little old lady over the balcony when she doesn’t let go of the door latch when a gust of wind comes up? Making the closer stiffer makes it harder for the door to get caught in the wind, but it also makes the door harder for Grand mom to close. So, where’s the balance? Not put any doors into the wall? So does that mean balconies can be eliminated? Good luck with that!

    On a different topic, code officials – who up until now have had to deal primarily with making sure buildings are safe – now are being asked to enforce something that has nothing to do with life safety: energy efficiency. I can understand this mindset, but shouldn’t the glazing industry be partially responsible, along with the architects, for energy efficiency? As much as I can’t stand the NFRC certification process, we’ve brought some of the NFRC and other energy-related constraints upon ourselves, by not ensuring we were meeting basic efficiency standards. Most specs, written with U-values for the center of the glass, were seldom ever verified or enforced by the architect or their consultant. Instead, everything was driven by a lower cost, and now we’re paying the price for not more closely complying with the thermal-related performance requirements, as specified.

    Hopefully, our industry is now checking energy performance before proposing cheaper alternate products in our proposals. If we aren’t, that has to change. We ought to be pro-active in showing beyond doubt the products we’re supplying meet energy criteria, and show the code officials how we’re doing that at the start of the job.

    It doesn’t take long to come to some conclusions about where this could lead, though it won’t win many friends on that side of the issue: when will architects start enforcing the design, and ensure the energy related specs are held, regardless of the alternate products put on the table during bidding? Why shouldn’t part of an architect’s fiduciary responsibility to the public extend to energy? Now there’s a paradigm shift!

    What about green building certifications: does LEED Gold / Silver / Platinum really ensure the LEED credits taken actually perform as designed? And, if the building doesn’t measure up in that audit, will the LEED rating be pulled? Or should the LEED certification only be given after performance is measured?

    Send those Blueprint Reading Course name suggestions in. There’s a T-shirt’s here with your name on it.

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