• Dear Santa,

    Before I ask for anything, let me at least be grateful for the good things from this last year.  I’m thankful to have a good job, that I’ve been able to make a contribution, and that my health is fairly good.  The kids are all doing well, the grandkids are doing great, we’re going to spend Christmas with them at my son’s place in Chicago.  Our sailor, after an eventful cruise through the Mediterranean in the spring (while Libya was the hot topic) and recently in the western Indian Ocean, reports his ship is headed back to the U.S.  Thank God some of the troops are able to come home this year (for good, at least on one battlefront) in time for the holidays.  May the New Year find that they all can come safely home to loved ones.  Lots to be grateful for, it’s been a good year for the Knickerbockers.

    Last year, I asked (and didn’t get, but I am NOT complaining) for the Eagles to win it all against the Cowboys in their home stadium.  Green Bay got the honors; thanks for that.  I couldn’t have stood the heat from my Cowboy-lovin’ relatives if the Blue and Silver had made it.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen.  And then the Phillies choked despite having arguably the best pitching in baseball.  I’m beginning to have my doubts about how much you, Santa, can really do.  Sometimes I feel like Linus, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.  Will the day ever come the Eagles win it all?  Can you just tell me yes or no?  I’m beginning to know what the Red Sox nation went through before 2004.

    This time last year, we were all coming to grips with the economy.  We’d been through two years, 2009 and 2010, trying to figure out if we were smart enough just to hang on.  This year it wasn’t great, but there was no second dip.  Many of us did hang on, and have come to the conclusion that most of the prognosticators appear to be right: it may be 2014 before this all gets sorted out.  Any relief you can bring would be greatly appreciated.  It’s not likely coming from D.C., as those folks inside the Beltway couldn’t add much to stoke the economy.

    The glass industry had some scares this year.  Business consolidations being what they are, it hasn’t been fun to see the sometimes adverse impacts on good people.  CRL taking over US Aluminum, now that was one of the good things, bringing back a lot of the people that showed up for work one Monday to find the doors locked, and finding out they were out of work with a note on the door that the locks might be permanent.  The Arch/Binswanger consolidation also has been interesting to watch.

    The solar energy end of the business took a hit when one company accepted government money then declared bankruptcy.  Unfortunately, all solar players may have taken a hit from that one instance.  Hopefully, that’s not the case.  Despite such problems, the Sages, the Soladigms and the Pleotints of the world keep showing that business can be conducted on the up and up.

    Geez, the storms we saw this year, most notably in Alabama and Missouri.  Want to talk about a way stimulus money could be put to good use?  After all the lessons learned in Florida and Louisiana over the last decade, can we update some older buildings with storm-resistant glazing?  One of the lasting pictures from Joplin was to see a hospital with its windows completely gone, not being able to provide the services to the community in a time of great need.  Can we upgrade these essential facilities before the storms hit, or is it that too much of a drain on the bottom line?  I know it has to be paid for, but…

    And for my blessings, I am grateful.  It simply amazes me that my wife and kids still love me, no matter what.  It’s one of the certainties in my life I’ve never questioned, or had reason to.  I’ve been blessed to be always able to put food on the table, a roof over their heads, and clothes on their backs.  Maybe not the high fashion they expected, but they never went without, either.  I’d sweep the streets to keep that from happening.  I’ve always enjoyed the people I get to work with, too.  They’ve all been a joy to be around. For that I am most grateful.

    Santa, I know your “to do” list is pretty big this time of year.  Thanks for all you do to bring joy and hope to the world, you and all your helpers, wherever they might be.  Please again, bring us all some cheer, that we can smile and laugh and enjoy the comfort of family and friends again this and in the coming years.  And bless us to have charity and a willing heart to help those not as blessed as we are.  Open our eyes and hearts to their plight, and let us be willing to chip in with our hands when necessary to help those in need.  Again, as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us every one.”  After you get back to the NP, hopefully you’ll enjoy time with the Mrs. and your family, too.

    PS:  Just once, can you leave me a note about whether or not you like the candy cane cookies?  They’ve always been my favorites, and I so love teaching the grandkids how to make them…  I’d have better luck getting them to help make them if I could tell them they’re Santa’s favorites, too.

  • Recent developments regarding balcony handrails (tempered vs. laminated, captured vs. point-supported, etc.) led to a news story by Toronto media about poor long-term performance of exterior walls in condos.   Deb Levy’s 11/20 blog post had some scathing critiques of the processes involved in executing condo projects — justifiably so, based on what I learned from working on five condo projects during my career.  A few lessons to share from that…

    First, RADAR UP!  If you ever relied on gut feel, intuition or whatever you call your business acumen, working on a condo project provides a perfect opportunity to bring it into play, to the fullest extent possible.  If there ever was a time that something that didn’t feel right then later actually turned out that way, use that past experience as a guide, especially with condos.

    Secondly, consideration should be given to who the owner, architect and general contractor are going to be, and what experience they’ve had in condo projects in the past.  If they have a history of delivering good, quality condo projects, that should be an indicator of what will be expected on this next project.  With a little digging, it’s not hard to find other glazing subs who may have worked for these entities on past condo projects.  A phone call or two will help put your mind at ease or raise flags, which can then be the basis for what you do next.

    The quality of the contract documents, drawings and specifications, should also be considered.  A tight spec can lead to a tight wall, literally and figuratively.  A loose spec can leave a lot to interpretation, resulting in loose construction.  For example, the specifications should require a performance mockup, especially on a brand new wall system.  In the case of an existing wall system, is there a history of a previous mockup, involving the same vendors and installers, that met or exceeded the performance criteria for the current project.  Is there a rigorous field testing requirement?

    Granted, these increase the cost of the job.  But in 10-15 years, if the mockup and field tests were successfully completed, would that not be an indicator of how well the quality of the overall installation was executed?  That might be useful in arguing about the quality of the installation if the need ever arose after the job is in the history books.

    Architects who hire reputable consultants are another good indicator of the level of quality the curtainwall is expected to meet for the project.  And if the GC is going to hire a consultant, the more eyes, the better. Who the consultants are and their reputations is also a harbinger of what to expect during the project.

    No doubt, everybody wants the best wall they can get.  But the reality in construction is that, “money talks, everybody else walks.”  However the budget is initially established, this may drive the initial selection of a wall system (or vendors or glazing subs) that may not lead to the best wall being built.  How many times is a job budgeted by architects or GCs on the low side?  On condo work, that’s dangerous territory. In the course of performing “value engineering,” reducing the wall cost has a tradeoff, and it might just be in the quality of the wall finally selected and installed.

    C’mon, everybody knows you get what you pay for.  When this occurs, “VE” should mean “value eradication,” as the quality is often what’s sacrificed on this altar.  I would argue that a budget, regardless of whoever might have established it, and for whatever reason, is not representative of what it really costs to do condo work.  If the owner can’t justify an increase of the curtainwall budget, what does that tell you?

    Bonding companies probably have some requirements about being notified before bidding a condo project.  The bonding company obviously will want to know the amount of the bid, where the work is, how much your contract is, etc.  They could be a good resource to share what they know about the players (owners, architects, etc.), and the due diligence they will require before they’ll sign on to provide a payment and performance bond.

    If you do go after this type of work, go in with good, quality vendors whose reputation is spotless, who stand behind their work, who’ve been doing it a long time, and in all likelihood will be around for as long a period of time as you want your company to be.  Good vendors may cost a little more, but their reputation, and hopefully your past successes with them on projects, is another confidence-builder going in.

    The decision ultimately to be made by the glazing sub is not an easy one. It should and does demand a lot of careful, prudent, and deliberate thought and consideration.  If boiled down into one question:  “is this project worth the risk?”  If they (the project decision makers) want a lesser quality, lower-performance wall, but given the litigious nature of condo work, is this project really worth that risk?  Granted, there will always be some glazing sub that will underbid the work.  But did you really want that job at that price?  And reputations are made, substantiated or broken over a lot of different projects, and condos are some of the most demanding our industry faces.

    Sometimes the best jobs are the ones you don’t get or take just to stay busy.   Tread carefully, and know when to dive in, and when not to even put the toe in the water.   I know of several vendors that won’t go near condo work.  Apparently, there are some architectural firms with the same fear and loathing of it.

    Anybody remember the closing line of the watch room from the TV show, Hill Street Blues:  “Let’s be careful out there….”  In relation to condo work, that’s certainly the case.

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