• Field Notes 03.04.2013 2 Comments

    The Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference has come and gone, with some good ground covered. A high point was when Guardian’s Scott Thomsen gave a strong call to action for our industry in his presentation the “Battle for the Wall.”  The key takeaway was if we don’t fight for the role of glass in energy-efficient construction (thermal performance and daylighting), then ASHRAE will force us to the sidelines. Do you want to go to work for the stud wall, stucco and masonry contractors, because ASHRAE’s current emphasis is to greatly downsize the percentage of glass in exterior walls?

    We as a glazing industry should be showing architects  there are many glazing products that WILL increase thermal performance.  Architects will help us win this war, but only if we get smarter about educating them on the newest, most innovative glass and framing products now available.

    We should also be assertive with noting the other construction types have as many problems, as well, that are now coming to light in this energy-conscious age.  As ATI’s John Runkle noted in his presentation on building commissioning, these are things the glazing industry has dealt with for years.

    Notably, when the surrounding wall systems – cavity walls behind masonry or panels, precast panels, or whatever construction –  have to start meeting the same water and air penetration requirements as windows and curtainwall presently do on a regular basis, then that bodes well for the exterior skin, as a whole.

    But there are some down-sides, too.  For example, testing the weatherproofing/air barrier to the AAMA and ASTM standards for water penetration  aren’t  realistic since it never sees that amount of rain in the finished condition if a brick or panel wall is placed over it.  Air test it, yes. But a full-blown, 5-gallon/hour/square-foot water test ON THAT SURFACE isn’t real-world.  Some of this is still in the developmental stage, but I expect it will catch on in one form or another.

    Does commissioning make sense for a total glass curtainwall? Probably not with the current regimen of pre-construction and in-field testing required in curtainwall and window specifications.  There are some that would argue the call for increased testing is an effort by the labs to create more work for themselves.  Yes, I can see that, but what good is it having an air- and water-tight window or curtainwall if the wall around it doesn’t perform equally as well?

    Another high point at BEC was the presentation on Chinese tariffs. Some of the USGNN.com newsfeed had comments from the Chinese manufacturers’ side of the fence that felt the presentation didn’t accurately present both sides of the argument.  That wasn’t likely to occur given the fact the person making the presentation was the plaintiff’s attorney.  When’s the last time a lawyer led a fair, objective and balanced viewpoint on something his clients were paying him to have just the opposite opinion on in order to properly argue their case?  But, the tariff issue is going to be in the news quite a bit going forward.

    One last note:  Having turned the odometer over on my age this year, my brother bought me opening day tickets in Philly next Friday.  And, my no. 1 son bought us Final Four tickets.  Only one drawback to the venue:  basketball was not meant to be played in a football arena, unless they put the court in the end zone.  When watching the game, the Philly Phanatic sitting down the right field line in the KU garb, or in the corner of the end zone in Atlanta with the biggest pair of binoculars known to man will be yours truly.  This is one thing I’ll be able to cross off the ol’ bucket list.  As I review this blog post one last time Monday morning, I hope Wichita can shock the world.

    Here’s hoping the Easter season, with the accompanying onset of spring weather, brings renewal of faith, hope and charity to you and yours.

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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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  • In past blogs I’ve reflected on the use of glass in some very strange conditions:  the Willis (Sears) Tower observation booths, the bottom of a gondola on hot-air balloons, and the walkway over the Grand Canyon that allows a one-mile straight-down view. This amazing material our industry works with is remarkably adaptable to changing human needs.

    I’ve always been amazed at what architects ask us in the industry to do with glass, and our ability to innovate and deliver is remarkable. We now use glass in combination with other materials to protect people from fire, bomb blasts and hurricanes. All this from something that’s been around since the Mesopotamians came up with it (credited in 3500 BC). No other building material I can think of, except wood or stone, has been around as long. Artists also have used glass in everything from medieval rose windows in cathedrals to glass bowls that are almost 40 inches in diameter, according to Guinness.

    Glass can be tinted, filmed and used in a myriad of constructions:

    • By itself as “clear” glass (even that definition has changed, now a.k.a. low-iron glass);
    • Laminated with other lites;
    • Made into double- and triple-glazed units to provide wind, water and thermal protection; and
    • As a shading device (with frits and patterns).

    I could go on ad infinitum: it’s used as handrails, keeping occupants safely on balconies or overhangs; as a touch medium on smart phones and pads, etc.

    Adding to the wonders, glass keeps getting thinner, stronger and is asked to do more and more in the evolving tech world.

    I’m no engineer, but one of its fascinating characteristics is that regardless what you do to strengthen it, it deflects the same under load.  Annealed to heat-strengthened to tempered, the relative strength ratio is 1:2:4.  But under a uniform load and a constant thickness, the glass deflects the same. I don’t know of any other material that behaves that way. With any other material, if you strengthen it, it deflects less.

    Glass is heat-treated (heat-strengthened or tempered) for strength to meet several loading criteria. For thermal needs, primarily to be able to absorb direct sunlight, or because of other things done to the glass, such as tinting or filming. Thermal loading can come from adjacent, reflected loads, as well.  When reflective films are added to glass, and then placed on inside corners where direct and reflected sunlight can result in high loads, treating the glass to resist that load requires that it be strengthened.

    Its ability to absorb wind or impact loads also requires it to be heat–treated.  It serves double-duty in these instances: when tempered and used in doors, tempering can provide safety to users. And even here, there’s an alternative, but still that alternative involves glass: it can be laminated, instead.

    Bending, warping and forming glass into three-dimensional configurations is coming into vogue.

    So, amid all the concern about how people use glass in handrails, all the glass geeks out there looking at the glass, not through it, and the limits being put upon the architects to cut down on it, let’s not lose sight of the fact that, like wood and stone, glass has been successfully modified to do other things for us.

    I hope the public realizes, as the folks at the GANA’s Annual Conference recently learned, that glass is essential for human wellness. Namely, basking in sunlight directly affects our well being, yet since most of us are often indoors, we rely on glazing for access to full-spectrum light. We can’t all sit in the sun every day with one of those drinks with the tiny umbrellas in them, but instead have to work in what we tell our kids is the “real world.”

    In both our personal and professional lives, we obviously have a vested interest in making sure we do all we can to get smarter about how glass can and should be used. Hopefully, the storm clouds surrounding glass will motivate us all to do more with glass, not less.  I think we have a friend in the architects, as I don’t see them willingly accepting the efforts of those who would limit the use of glass.

    As the song says: “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.”  The clouds may not be entirely gone, but here’s to more light and vision using glass. I’m betting on something that’s already been around for 5,500 years hanging on a lot longer.

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