Volume 39, Issue 6, June  2004


The Man Who Knew Too Much
We Don’t Always Know as Much as We Think We Do
by Dez Farnady

Knowledge is the secret of success. It provides the thrill of the “I told you so,” the satisfaction of seeing the right thing done the right way and the phony humility when accepting the compliments of the amateurs. They think you are so smart because you know all this strange and obscure stuff. They never consider the fact that it is your job and it’s stuff you are supposed to know. Knowledge is the secret of getting A’s in school because the exam does not seem difficult. Hey, it’s because you know your stuff. (A hundred years out of school before I discovered that one.)

Well, on the fringe of the glass business, because I am really in the skylight business, I am now the undisputed expert among the know-nothings. So, when I goof up I look twice as stupid as the next dumb guy. 

Unbreakable Glass
Here is the scenario: a new house is going up on a golf course along the Northern California coast and the contractor has some serious concerns. The house is so close to the golf course and the golfers are so bad that the owners are afraid the house will be bombarded with golf balls falling out of the sky. This will wreak havoc with the skylights and the owners are having visions of cullet raining from the ceiling. 

Along comes the skylight/glass expert to assure them of the perfect solution. We will glaze the skylights with 3/8-inch tempered glass and even Tiger Woods couldn’t break them. Of course, the reason Tiger Woods won’t break the glass is because he is driving straight down the fairway. It will be Fred the Duffer who will probably let his club go flying. Well, I am the glass guy who can assure you that even a golf club won’t break that 3/8-tempered. 

So, we solve the golf problems with the 3/8-tempered and deal with the energy problems by using Pilkington’s Solar-E lami with the coating on the number-three surface. Seven skylights and one nice big ridge skylight make this into what appears to be a very lucrative sale—even for a high-powered marketing person such as yours truly. After an appropriate amount of gloating, we put the money in the bank and go on to bigger and better things.

A couple of weeks later I get a phone call from the contractor. The glass in one of my unbreakable units had broken. We hem and haw about how that could not happen, but we order a replacement unit without much investigation. The job is only a few weeks old and we did say that stuff would not break. After all, this is premium customer service for a good customer and we did tell him we knew what we were doing.

In the Details
About the time the new insulating unit arrives the contractor is on the phone again. Now it’s about the other six units. Yeah, you guessed it. All of my unbreakable skylight units are broken and the house is not even occupied yet. These units are not big. They are like three-by-threes and three-by-fours. By now I am a little more curious to say the least. What is going on with my unbreakable glass? So the contractor begins to describe, in detail, what he saw on the roof. 

“Well,” he says, “the crack runs perpendicular from the edge of the glass and then it does some really strange curves and looks really weird, but they are all broken.” And then he tells me that they could not see them at first because the painters had masked off the glass on the inside while they were painting the interior. And by now I am not listening but am sitting quietly in the corner crying as I pull out what remains of my hair after more than a quarter of a century in this business.

I didn’t have to tell them anything. I should have sold them standard stuff and told them that no one in their right mind guarantees that glass will not break. But no, I had to be the bloody expert. So what do I tell them now? Do I tell them that I didn’t know what I was talking about? Do I go into a lengthy dissertation about the ins and outs of thermal stress breakage of performance glass under adverse conditions? Do I tell them to go pound sand? I will look stupid no matter what I say so it is better to bite the bullet. This time it will be a big bite because the replacement is 3/8-inch, clear, tempered over 5/16-inch, heat-strengthened, low-E laminated and it better not break or I am getting out of this business.


© Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.