Volume 26, Issue 3 - May/June 2012


“Tricks” of the Trade
Think Unethical Glaziers Can’t Outsmart Architects? Think Again
by Penny Stacey


Shortcuts—they happen in every industry and trade. The disreputable try to save a buck and skip a step, or substitute a product, betting that no one finds out—not even you, the architect.

“I think in today’s economy probably 50 to 70 percent of what I see has been short-cutted—or maybe a better word is short-changed,” says one contract glazier who preferred not to be identified in part due to the sensitive nature of the issue. “It just kind of comes with the competitive nature of the world today. Everybody’s looking for a competitive edge. How do they get a few more dollars out of the job to make them get more out of the job or put themselves in a position to be the low bidder?”

Sometimes, whether or not shortcuts are taken depends on how the job was obtained and the quality of the glazing contractor that won the job, according to a team of experts with whom Architects’ Guide to Glass and Metal consulted for this article. “The negotiated job typically doesn’t see as many shortcuts or deletions as the hard-bid job will,” says one. “That’s not to say that the glazing contractor who has negotiated a job won’t end up taking shortcuts—but it’s probably not as common.”

The Shortcuts
Though industry experts say shortcuts can occur in a myriad of ways, following are a few of the most common and egregious ones:
• A non-specified product is substituted for a spec-ed one. You spent time with manufacturers’ reps, you reviewed technical data sheets and you selected products that you thought to be the best fit for the job. Still, a different glass product was used—and you don’t even know it. Sometimes this might lead to a code violation, but often not.
• Undersized glass. Even though you selected a certain-weighted glass it may not be what you get. This shortcut is quite common, according to our experts. In some cases a thinner glass product is used than what is called for. “It’s common because it’s hard to catch,” says one of our team members.
• Misapplication of materials. You designed an impressive storefront to feature long spans of curtainwall; but in the end it didn’t make the job. An example of this might be using storefront materials in applications where bigger sections of curtainwall should have been used, because it’s cheaper and easier to fabricate. Even though a system failure can result, this happens more frequently than you might expect, according to experts.
• Material substitution. The specification you wrote called for a sealant to meet a given set of performance requirements. In the end, though, someone chose to go with something else. It happens—whether you know it or not. This can include caulking, sealants, specified baker rods, undersized fasteners, or even not using enough or proper fasteners, according to experts.
• Unreinforced mullions. And even after you’ve drawn the project in a manner to be structurally sound, sometimes even those critical enforcement steps can be skipped. One expert recalled a situation in which he inspected a building that was only about 10 years old and having a repeated problem with broken glass. “There was a piece of steel that was supposed to be running through the vertical mullions,” recalls the expert. “I was able to pry it open and there was no steel in there. I started doing some calculations with the engineer and found that the glass that had been installed less than 10 years prior was not to code and nor were the frames.”

This particular shortcut led to major repercussions. Since the aluminum mullions hadn’t been reinforced, they blew in and broke all this glass. “For sure the steel mullions would not have deflected and caused this unbelievable amount of breakage,” he said.

The Bottom Line
Despite possible repercussions, why do these things occur? One is a feeling among some glaziers that today’s codes are excessive and such shortcuts only right a wrong. Experts suggest that some glazing contractors might think, “We’ve never done it that way before and we’ve never had a problem,” leading them to take a shortcut. As with so many other situations, communication and solid supplier relationships can help. As architect Chris Rose with Chris Rose Architects in Johns Island, S.C., says, “Knowing and having a relationship with your supplier is key in assuring a certain specified product is installed properly.”

Penny Stacey is a contributing editor for Architects’ Guide to Glass and Metal magazine and editor of USGlass magazine. She can be reached at Read her blog at, follow her on Twitter @USGlass, and like USGlass Magazine on Facebook to receive the latest updates.

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
© 2012 Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. 
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.