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.
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.