• I have a list of words on my desk I got from a previous employer. I don’t know what made me hang on to it, but the sheet has a big, red header at the top: “NO-NO Words.” These were the words (in the context of the company’s primary business) the staff was never to use in written (probably verbal, too) communication. And no, they weren’t the obvious ones all well-mannered adults know to avoid…

    The reason we weren’t allowed to use them is each one has a definition that would legally obligate the company and/or the writer to a level of performance the company didn’t want to guarantee. Not that their performance was anything less than what it should be, but those words were put together based on their years of experience, and I think with input from their bonding company. In all likelihood, some lawyers probably contributed, too. Or maybe it was just based on the best teacher of all: sad experience.

    Some of the words, I hope you will agree, shouldn’t have much room in correspondence, be it letters, proposals, bids, etc.: “ALL,” “ALWAYS,” “EQUAL,” “GUARANTEE.” The reasons for avoiding them should be pretty self-explanatory.

    One such instance where the words have changed is the way architects used to describe the action of a submittal they’ve received and are expected to comment on. When I started in this biz, submittals came back with one of the following boxes checked: “Approved,” “Approved As Noted,” “Revise” or “Rejected.” Many architects’ stamps have changed. They typically no longer approve the submittals, but mark them “Reviewed,” “Reviewed as Noted,” “Not Reviewed” or “Revise/Resubmit.”

    My guess is that “Approved” was too broad a stroke. Architects, within the confines of their own professional liability, saying the submittal was “Approved” meant that everything on the drawing had their approval. If something on the drawing was wrong (a bolt undersized for a structural connection, for example), and then if the wall were to fall off, some lawyer’s going to ask the architect on the witness stand, “Well, you reviewed and approved this drawing, didn’t you? What does your ‘approval’ mean?” I could see where that could lead to some “hemmin’ and hawin” on the part of anybody on that hot seat.

    This “Reviewed” comment might be a good thing. We ought to be responsible for the technical accuracy of our own work. After all, not many architects are structural engineers – you wouldn’t expect them to know the specific load performance of a ½”-diameter bolt compared to a smaller or larger bolt in a certain application.

    It appears the architects now largely review submittals for the accuracy of the aesthetics: the drawings showed a 5’-0” mullion spacing, they can check and verify that’s what the shop drawing elevations show. The system’s 2 ½” wide, that’s correct (or not), that everything’s lined up with the adjacent work as it should be (or isn’t). Those types of corrections are what many of us in the glazing industry get back with the “Reviewed” box check. That’s about it, I guess. A consultant might weigh in on the technical issues, but that’s a different matter. In all likelihood, the consultant’s trying to assure compliance with the specification requirements, and to verify the contractor (or manufacturer, or both) are doing what’s required by the contract documents.

    Bottom Line: There’s probably a vocabulary unique to each of our businesses that if you haven’t written it down yet, if you thought about it you probably could. If it’s not individual words, it’s at least expressions.

    And in recognition of the campaign season, which by most signs is already upon us:  I APPROVED REVIEWED this blog.  I almost used one of the no-no-words….

     

  • Hurricane Irene roared up the East Coast, an earthquake struck Virginia, and it’s the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 – all within two weeks! One thing you can say about natural and man-made disasters is they teach us how to make buildings safer. The glass industry has certainly been one to get smarter from when things go wrong.

    In ’83, Hurricane Alicia struck Houston. A couple of curtainwall pioneers, Jack Stevens and Bob Johnston, waited out the storm in some of the city’s recently completed 70-story towers. They wanted to see if code changes made over the years really made the walls better.

    After the storm blew through, there was a lot of broken glass in the mid-20th to mid-40th floor areas of the curtainwalls, but little damage above that, where one would think the highest wind loads would be. But lower down, there was a lot more damage than expected. It turns out much glass was broken by pea gravel used on the roofs of lower buildings. The wind picked it up and made it into buckshot. Lesson learned, and the code changed. We got smarter about how to build buildings.

    Likewise, codes in NYC changed after 9/11. Due to exiting difficulties from the Towers, stairs are now made wider, and reinforced concrete (materials other than sheetrock and studs) is now used for fire stair walls. This offers a greater degree of protection for occupants going down and firefighters going up – both of which may be happening at the same time. Again, we got smarter.

    And earthquakes have taught us a lesson or two. Ask a structural engineer in Southern California how much seismic codes have changed in the last 20-30 years. Are buildings safer? You bet. Is something being overlooked? Possibly. We’re human, we’re not perfect. But I like our chances because we learn from past disasters.

    Man-made mistakes also can – or should – lead to improvements. For example, there have been a lot of write-ups lately about broken glass in tempered glass handrails in condominiums. Some of the causes might be nickel-sulfide inclusions, which is small debris trapped in the glass that doesn’t melt in the furnace. Small cracks can develop around the inclusions due to thermal expansion/contraction differences between them and the pure glass. Once the cracks reach the tension zone of the glass, the entire lite can shatter.

    In the U.S., the primary glass manufacturers have made a great deal of improvement to weed out nickel sulfide inclusions. Glass can be heat soaked, exposing it to extreme temperatures over a short time so that any nickel sulfide inclusions present cause the glass to break before leaving the tempering facility. It’s thought that heat soaking catches 90% of inclusions. We got smarter about how to catch most of this problem sooner rather than later.

    Then we got dumb again. A lot of glass companies no longer are including heat soaking in the price of tempered glass. Specifications may require heat soaking, but the supplier or subs put it out there as an “Add” or “Deduct” in a quote, which is another way of saying, “we really don’t want to do this, and we can show you how much it costs, and let you, Mr. Owner, decide if it’s really needed.” When the owner sees how much it is, the heat soaking often gets left on the “value engineering” table because they figure they’ll just replace it during the warranty period if it breaks.

    A suggestion here for a possible change in the codes for exterior hand rail applications: eliminate tempered monolithic glass that evacuates the opening when it breaks and replace it with laminated glass that stays in place, but doesn’t fall onto the pedestrians below. You get the transparency of the glass without losing the lite or fragments if it breaks. It may cost a little more, but wouldn’t it be worth it?

    Let’s keep getting smarter. We owe it to those whose lives may have been sacrificed on the alter of “we didn’t think or know that could happen.” That’s not to say more problems won’t arise. But as humans, the reason we reason is hopefully to make it better the next time.

    As has been said many times before, “Those who do not study the past are condemned to live it.” Sage advice, especially for us in the construction and glazing industry.

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