• Field Notes 13.05.2015 2 Comments

    Have you seen the new acronym “BECx” – building envelope commissioning? No, it has nothing to do with GANA’s BEC. I’m still trying to get straight in my head why this is needed. After talking to a former colleague, it seems like this is NFRC all over again, with another set of players trying to get their noses under the building envelope tent. Just last week, I saw the first set of specs that required a Building Envelope Commissioning Agent (BECxA – funny how the acronyms all run closely to and with each other, isn’t it?).

    Basically, building envelope commissioning includes another player on the design team – during design development or schematic design – whose primary role is to confirm that the specifications adequately address the building envelope’s various performance requirements. That means everything, not just glass and glazing, but also brick, panel, precast and other wall assemblies, will all have to meet the same performance standards we in the glass/glazing biz have come to know and love, such as ASTM E283, E330, E331, AAMA 501.1 thru .6, etc. The building commissioning standard, ASTM E2813, is meant to address energy, environment, safety, security, durability, sustainability, and operation (Section 1.6) issues, but as of this writing it doesn’t include verification or checks for structural issues, such as seismic, deflections. Why not? I couldn’t get an answer.

    The building envelop commissioning agent frequently weighs in on the design, checking envelope wall submittals, helping spec correct materials/wall systems/constructions, and then testing either with pre-construction mockup testing and/or post-construction field testing. The people making the argument for commissioning say the commissioning protocol confirms that the architect’s specs actually get delivered. Really? Doesn’t the architect or their consultant already do field checks?

    I’ve yet to see a project in which there’s a wholesale change to different materials (system, glass, etc.) after field testing is completed, or after shop drawings are approved, have you? The proponents seem to think that a major switch-out for cost savings by the GC or glazing sub is “done all the time.” I certainly don’t know any architect or owner who would approve a pay request IF that were done.

    For smaller scale projects where the schedule and cost of conducting a performance mockup is not justified, the frame and glass manufacturers, along with NFRC certification, provide validation for the system as a whole in previously conducted air, water, and performance testing. Field testing for air/water integrity isn’t increased or lessened over typical specifications. Unless the building commissioning agent makes them test all over again to confirm the same performance before approval of the product for a given project, the validation comes in field testing of that existing product line. Doing thermal testing in the lab is hard enough; doing it on-site is much more difficult. Isn’t NRFC certification enough to confirm thermal performance? Why go through the trouble of conducting another thermal test if it’s not?

    So, the unanswered questions for me are:

    1. Who is advocating this?
    2. What value does it add to the project that justifies the additional costs over what’s now typically required?
    3. Is the owner willing to pay the costs of another consultant on the design team or added costs to install the walls?

    Plus, the standard covering the commissioning agent certification (E2813), calls for competencies that in practice will limit the qualified people to those with more than 20+ years in the business, and who have worked for a GC or exterior wall subcontractor delivering these goods. Naturally, the more experienced the person is, the more expensive the cost of providing commissioning services will be.

    For large projects, we all know mockups can prove structural, air and water performance, as well as some thermal validation. Field testing does the same, with or without a pre-construction mockup. Thermal can be proved prior to construction, notably if an NFRC-certified set of products (glass, spacer, and framing) is furnished. Does the owner really want to pay to do air, water, thermal and structural testing in the field on an installed wall if a pre-construction mockup wasn’t done? And, do we really need another player whose hand needs to be held to prove what we’re doing is what we said we’d do? Or, is it that the other wall systems (not glass and glazing) need to be validated?

    Maybe the other wall systems haven’t been held to the same standard as we in the glass and glazing biz have been, and that this is the way to catch them up to our world? I’m not sure; no one’s ever explained it to me. This scenario opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms I’ll hold for a future blog.

    Please, I’m slow on the pickup: just why is another player required? And what value do they add to the project? I’m not seeing the need – not yet, anyway. I’d love to hear from the advocates for building envelop commissioning.

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  • 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,



    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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  • The Glass Association of North America’s Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) division wwill meet March 17-19 in Las Vegas. There’s a lot more that will come out of this event than just the annual meet and greet. For one, the Technical Committee is writing a “Curtainwall Fenestration Systems Manual” that’s meant to be a primer for new architects and industry newcomers on exterior glazing. We hope to have the first three sections published later this year. If you’ve been looking for a way to contribute to the industry, this is only one of many opportunities. Please contact Urmilla Sowell (usowell@glasswebsite.com) or Sara Neiswanger (sara@glasswebsite.com) if you’d like to contribute — even if you’re not going to Vegas.

    And, now for some random thoughts …

    BIM and Communication 

    According to one blog, BIM usage today is three times greater than what it was in 2010 – that’s a big change in only three years.

    And, the lawsuits are already starting to hit the courthouses. Check out this interesting post about a suit involving BIM and communication.  As good as BIM can be, the architect in this instance allegedly made an assumption about the construction sequencing and didn’t pass that on to the general contractor (GC). The GC sequenced the HVAC work differently than the architect envisioned, and the HVAC contractor couldn’t complete his work. Now, I don’t begin to understand how that scenario is possible, but it must have been pretty serious if it ended up at the courthouse. You can have the latest gizmos, whiz-bangers and ultimate software, but if communication doesn’t occur, it’s all a waste.

    As my boss frequently points out, “it’s like talking to your wife: nothing’s ever communicated by osmosis.” Give it another couple of millennia, and maybe our species will evolve to a higher level of communication where, “Forget what I did or didn’t say, you know what I was thinking” will work. For now, that response doesn’t cut it with spouses or the architecture industry.

    A similar point comes to mind when wrestling with the Third Rule of Customer Relationships:

    First Law:  The customer is always right.

    Second Law:  When the customer is wrong, see Rule 1.

    Third Law:  What do you do when the customer is wrong, punt?  Lord knows, telling them they’re wrong isn’t the easiest thing to do. What if they ask for something that really is not in your company’s best interest?

    My bet is most of us would try, to the best of our ability, to give the customer what they are asking for, within reason. But on occasion, a line is drawn that cannot be crossed when it goes against company standard operating procedure. In a case related to me by another project manager, the customer thought they knew the cause of a glass stain, but had made incorrect assumptions. Their claim was not even remotely possible.

    Again, the key here is communicating the situation to the customer in what I can only describe as “the most polite manner possible.”  Not that I’m the one to give lessons on this, but I’ve been fortunate to have worked for project managers or sales guys who are really good at doing this, and they’ve helped smooth the way through difficult situations.  Take advantage of those resources; they are priceless.

    So, too, are your suppliers, if they can lend credibility to the discussion regarding the matter in question.  Don’t squander their technical expertise; they are most willing to help.

    One past employer had the quintessential in-house communication form; they called it an “AVO” for Avoid Verbal Orders. You may have talked to everyone about a problem and the resolution, or given clear and concise verbal direction, BUT if it wasn’t put in writing, it never happened. Copies of the AVO went to all concerned/involved in the matter. It was great documentation; it never resulted in one of those, “he said/she said” conflicts.

    Quoted in a previous blog is the classic line said by the warden in Paul Newman’s movie, Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here …” Our spouses will hopefully forgive an occasional “failure to communicate,” but it is an essential problem to avoid in the glazing/construction industry.  Don’t let a lack of communication lead to disaster.

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