The Inside Job: Planning and Timing in Interior Glass Projects are Key

By Ellen Rogers

Few building materials are as eye-catching as glass, so when interior architects and designers want to make a good first impression, they often turn to specialty and decorative glass products. Backpainted glass, feature walls, railings and stair-well balustrades are some of the most popular applications. Working inside a building, however, brings unique challenges for installers, particularly when the building is already occupied.

Laura Little works in architectural sales for Goldray in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She says that for interior glass suppliers, scheduling is a critical component.

“There can be a lot of pressure on the glazier because they’re often the last ones on site. As a supplier, sometimes we have to be creative and versatile in how we’re producing the glass.” For example, she says if the glazier can only be on a certain floor one week, then customers won’t want to receive the glass they need for a different floor at that time. “So we may have to stagger our production and delivery rather than just shipping it all out at once. No one wants to receive glass they’re not installing right away. They want only what they’re installing at that time.”

She adds scheduling is of paramount importance.

“That goes back to being able to control production, and it gives us a strong sense of being able to hit the schedule,” she says. “Being specified is important, but executing on the backend is critical.”

Tim Matthews, vice president and director of sales at McGrory Glass in Paulsboro, N.J., agrees that scheduling is the biggest issue on the supplier side.

“We’ve got to hit the timelines. We’ve got to make sure we’re communicating with the glazier [about] site requirements and we’re tying down those elements to make sure we’re executing it well,” he says. “Decorative glass tends to be one of the last elements to come. So hitting those lead times is critical—particularly when the building is occupied, because time on the site is more restrictive.”

Greg Rutherford is an estimator at Bennett Glass Ltd., also in Calgary, and says interior glass is his company’s niche. He says most of the challenges he’s experienced involve access and availability of being able to work in the space.

“Getting the glass in is tough because we have to start early before the morning rush, for example. If there’s a freight elevator we can use all day then there’s not a huge issue, but if not, coordination is a big hurdle,” he says.

Given the current push for bigger and bigger spans of glass, Rutherford says one of the first things designers ask is “How big can you make this glass?” Bringing the glass inside for installation warrants unique considerations compared to exterior applications.

“My answer is ‘what size glass can you get into the building safely?’” He explains cost and safety can be issues when bringing large sizes of glass inside. For example, even if you can get the glass inside, “how do we lift it into the opening if we can’t get a crane or a lift inside?” he asks. “After that it’s communication, coordination and ensuring everyone is on the same page and being upfront and honest about what they can do.”

Rutherford also agrees that scheduling is a major consideration. For example, what happens if other trades are running past schedule, ultimately affecting the interior glass installation? He says it’s a matter of knowing the drop-dead date and working from that—even if he can’t get on site to measure. He says he calls his suppliers and explains how much glass and the approximate sizes he’ll need within seven to eight days, for example. Working with the supplier, they come up with the lead time to turn the glass out.

“I then can communicate back to the contractor and say ‘this is what we need to be able to do that work,’” he says. “We have to work it backwards to see if we can do it or not, before the move-in.”

Maintaining that communication is critical.

“If you’re not communicating with contractors, the project managers, etc. … if you don’t know what’s going on with the job internally and externally, then you won’t really achieve anything,” he says. “If you’re not proactive, you’re just reactive.”

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