Volume 41, Issue 6 - June 2006

All that Glitters is Not Glass

Contract Glaziers Talk About Working with Products Other than Glass
by Peggy Georgi

The world of most contract glazing companies extends well beyond glass. As a matter of fact, glass is often just one component of a project that involves a wide range of non-silicone-based materials.

More than Just Glass
Juba Aluminum Products, a mid-sized commercial glass and glazing contractor in Concord, N.C., works with a family of products that comprise their custom wall systems. 

“About 25 percent of our work is glass and the remaining 75 percent consists of other products such as panels and stone,” explains John Juba, president. “The unique part of our business is that we make all components work in one system.” 

“We believe it is essential to look at the complete system you are installing for compatibility, function and performance,” adds Michele Juba King, who handles the company’s marketing and communication activities. “You simply can’t limit yourself to just one product when you are dealing with an entire system.” 

Other than glass, one product that Juba works with often is granite.

“We enjoy granite work and deal with suppliers from all over the world,” Juba points out. “When granite is involved, it brings a look of richness and permanency to the project.”

“I don’t know of anyone in the exterior contract glazing industry who does ‘just glass’ any more,” says Jay Argus, vice president of the contract division at Karas & Karas, a large contract glazing firm that has served the greater Boston area for more than 80 years. “Approximately 70 percent of our business is custom and the other 30 percent involves typical products such as standard exterior glazing and panel systems.”

“Essentially, anything involved from the entrances at the base of the building to the decorative work at the top we do. About the only materials we don’t install are precast concrete and traditional hand-set masonry products like brick and block,” Argus adds. 

SPS Corporation, headquartered in Fort Wayne, Ind., designs, fabricates and sells architectural foam and composite panels incorporated into curtainwall and storefront products. “We are a multi-faceted company that specializes in complex and unique projects throughout the Midwest and southeast,” says John Lynn, sales manager for the company’s curtainwall division. The company has also been a Centria dealer for more than 15 years. 

Located in Richmond, Va., East Coast Glass Systems is a large glazing contractor specializing in buildings’ exteriors and interiors. 

“In addition to the various types of glass products used in traditional applications, we also provide structural glass walls, glass floors, handrails, blast-resistant products, sunshades, translucent systems, metal wall panels, louvers and other materials that stand alone or are incorporated into the aluminum framing systems,” explains Marc Dixon, sales manager. “For example,” he says, “a single hospital project may include automatic door applications (i.e., swinging, sliding, folding and break-away glass doors) as part of the total project. The interior may also involve many types of glass products including typical clear tempered glass or specialty glass products such as leaded glass for X-ray rooms, ceramic fire-rated glass, decorative and security glass. A luxury condominium project can involve high-performance swing or sliding doors in balcony applications, louvers, glass canopies, glass flooring and a variety of security products as well. We recently provided aluminum-clad trellis’s for walkway canopies—that is an unusual application for our trade.” 

One relatively new product that East Coast has used is the TRESPA panel. 

“This decorative, flat based fiber panel can be used in a broad range of exterior applications. We used this decorative product at the United Network Organ Sharing in Richmond.” 

Change and Challenges
As the industry evolves so, too, have the glazing contractors’ size, scope, cost and involvement. Glazing contractors have begun taking a more integral role in the project, becoming a vital resource from beginning to end. 

“We are definitely challenged by the sheer size and scope of projects in our service area as are many contractors in our line of work,” says Dixon. “Designs are more complex and applications more unusual than they were just a decade ago. Glazing contractors are expected to provide more value-added items in our scope, which increases the amount of engineering, fabrication and installation expertise required to successfully execute the project ” 

“Projects are more complex and involved today,” says Argus. “To address the complexities in today’s glazing arena, one thing we have done to reduce problems is educate our clients on how to successfully complete custom projects. In this area, we feel most of the general contractors now understand that if we are awarded a custom project we need at least 12 to 14 months to deliver fabricated product to the site. On those occasions we find that there is not enough time to properly engineer, fabricate and install a complete project, we walk away from it. Big mistakes can and do happen when complex projects are rushed and have shorter than needed lead times.”

Juba King agrees. “Education is important, as is getting all parties (contractors, architects, owners, etc.) onboard in the beginning to review the resources and information they need to understand the intricacies involved and the timeframe to get the job done,” she says. “The key is to address and resolve as many possible problems on the front end of the project so there will be few to none on the back.” 

Like Argos, Dixon and Juba King believe there are times when you need to exclude certain items because you are unable to be competitive in pricing or you don’t have a good knowledge of the product. 

“Our primary objective is to create a system with a solid assortment of products to best meet the needs of the owners and tenants,” says Juba King.

Lynn says, however, that his company tries to encompass as much as they can into their bids, along with the attached value to each item, leaving it up to the general contractor to decide whether or not it remains in the bid package. 

Another challenge faced involves the interpretation of the bidding documents. 

“We must be very careful to include all items in our scope of work and carefully qualify each bid,” notes Dixon. “With so many components and products within a single bid, if we are not 100-percent accurate, it could result in a financial loss. The bidding process is typically long and drawn out and accurately interpreting and bidding our scope of work is essential. If successful, we must ensure that all members of the project team, owner, architect, engineer, contractor and the other trades, clearly understand their scope of work and the responsibilities associated with it.” 

“The dramatic changes in our industry over the years have certainly changed the way we work and conduct our business,” adds Lynn. “Increased involvement in a project and diversifying the materials that we work with are just a couple of the changes impacting our industry and individual businesses. We must also know a lot more about product lines, warranties, location and building codes with each new project. Building codes are not unified across the country so we must be cognizant of the local and state codes in the area in which we are working.” 

“I tend to believe that it’s not so much the products that make our work challenging but more how the architects are using the products,” says Argus. “Today, we are seeing products used in a lot of non-standard ways, and that is where our challenge lies. To use the right product to result in the durability, function and aesthetic effect that is being sought.”

Advantages and Disadvantages
Working with more products and materials, along with taking on an expanded role in any given project brings with it benefits and some potential hazards. 

“The trend has been for the general contractor to serve in the role of a project administrator and the glazing contractor in the role of project coordinator,” Dixon points out. “Contractors have become smart buyers, shopping out the various components of a project, forcing us to be savvy managers capable of accessing a variety of resources to provide the highest quality product at the most competitive price …” 

“We find that being the single source of responsibility (furnishing the entire exterior system) is a plus and many of our projects were awarded because we are the single source of responsibility,” adds Juba. “We tie all system requirements of what we use into one custom design system and that enables us to take all components and install them into one system. Considerations such as thermal expansion, water and air infiltration and differential live load movement all have to be considered, as well as materials in order to make it work as one.”

“Architects are calling upon the glazing contractor to take on a greater role in the design phase of the project,” notes Lynn.

“This involvement early on is crucial in understanding and resolving issues with the products and materials (new and familiar) involved and sets the tone for the project.”

“While we are categorized as a large glazing contractor, we are a construction company,” explains Argus. “As a true subcontractor, we buy from various vendors throughout the world then supply, engineer and install specified products.

Approximately 20 percent of our products involve glass. The remaining 80 percent involve a diverse array of products found in the exterior of a structure.” 

“In terms of our work scope, glass is about 25 percent, aluminum grid is about 50 percent, metal panels represent 15 percent and stone is about 10 percent at this time,” Juba says.

“Our services are performed with in-house project management and field installation,” Juba King points out. “Anything we bid we are qualified to do the work ourselves. We apply best practices with each product beginning with having a good relationship with our suppliers. We perform research and are knowledgeable about the products we use. Through experience, education and training we assure our customers a professional and proper installation. Failure to be knowledgeable with various install products can be costly in terms of scheduling and labor.”

“You increase the probability of profit as well as your risk factor by increasing the value of your scope of work,” adds Dixon.

“That is, we have an equal opportunity for both profit and loss. For example, glass flooring can add significant value to a contract, however this type of work is extremely complex. Cost overruns related to any phase of the process—engineering, material procurement or installation—can quickly erode any potential profit dollars.” 

East Coast also uses highly trained and knowledgeable in-house staff. “We do not subcontract any critical elements of our work,” Dixon says. “However, some publicly-funded projects require a certain percentage of minority participation by local businesses. We feel strongly about using our own staff to do the majority of our work because we are putting our reputation on the line. Ultimately, we are responsible for ensuring the safety of our work force, proper installation of the products and the warranty. When the project is under our control, we know it will be done right the first time.”

“We feel strongly about utilizing our in-house staff for project engineering, management and installation services as well,” Argus adds. “We provide all the necessary training, education and resources to cultivate a highly trained team of professionals to handle the projects we bid.” 

“There are many benefits for our company,” notes Argus. “One, it keeps the client satisfied; two, it increases our contract size, which corresponds into revenue and profit; three, we control and coordinate most, if not all, of the materials on the exterior envelope; and four, we do not have to wait for other subcontractors to get their work done.” 

He continues, “of course, along with the benefits of this arrangement, comes a flip side. “We take on a lot more risk, involvement with more products, more variables, vendors, warranties and costs. There’s a lot that can go wrong every step of the way and we need to be sure everything we do is done right—the first time.”

By all accounts, diversifying materials and expertise well beyond glass can provide glazing subcontractors more opportunity to compete in an increasingly competitive and ever-changing industry. 

Peggy Georgi is a contributing writer to USGlass magazine.

Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.