Volume 42, Issue 6 - June 2007

Jack of All Products  
Contract Glaziers are Multi-Talented, 
Taking on an Assortment of Glass and Metal Projects 

by David Jenkins

Most contract glaziers would probably agree that glass is an ideal building product. Shiny and translucent, it can supply a construction project with a striking visual look. Contract glaziers have found opportunities with several alternative products in addition to their standard glass and curtainwall offerings. 

Though some of these products originated in Europe and have been popular there for years, it’s only been recently that they’ve made their way to the United States. 

Contract glaziers say these products often demand a high level of skill and craftsmanship, and that can occasionally leave them wary of using them. But many do, thriving on the opportunity and relishing in a job well done.Here are three glazing alternatives that contract glaziers can use to increase the originality and visual appeal of their projects. 

Composite Paneling
If anything, it’s versatile. Paneling products, which have European roots, can be used in an assortment of applications including exterior cladding, decorative facades and interior surfaces. For example, Trespa, made by the company of the same name in Poway, Calif., was developed in Belgium, and has been used extensively in Europe for years. Trespa is a wood fiber and polymer mix composit material.

Bruce Costner, a contract glazier with Harmon Inc. in Richmond, Va., first used the product five years ago while working with an architect who had discovered the product in Europe.

“It fabricates easy, it installs easy and it’s just a newer product that a lot of architects aren’t familiar with,” says Costner. 

Costner says he has seen architects hesitate to specify the product because they don’t understand its rain screen system. This unique feature allows air and water to circulate within the system. 

“The key to using Trespa is to have an air and water barrier already applied to the surface of the building, whether it’s a fabric material or a coating of some type or some kind of rubber membrane,” Costner says. “Once you get the layout of the building established, it is an easy product to install.” 

Trespa also works well in applications that do not require curves. If there is a curved situation, things get trickier. “[It’s] not quite as flexible as some other products are. It can curve, but not very easily, so it doesn’t work as well in curved situations,” Costner says. “You also have to make sure that the substrate you’re attaching it to is air and water tight. Since you’re covering the air and water barrier, if it gets breached, it could be difficult to find the source of the leak.”

But the advantages outweigh these issues. Costner says he likes the product’s durability and versatility, as well as the arresting design in which it often results.

“The neat thing about it is that the fasteners that attach the panel to the building are exposed, so you see the head of your fastener,” Costner says. “In other words, the visual look of your fastener is incorporated into the design of the panel.” 

He also says another plus is that the product is available in multiple colors, which means a near endless number of design possibilities.

Channel Glass
Like Trespa, channel glass originated in Europe, where it was first used in industrial applications in the 1950s. However, while it was originally intended for utilitarian use, its sleek look has made it an increasingly popular architectural glazing material, especially overseas. It’s now quickly establishing a strong presence within the U.S. architectural community, too.

“Channel glass is very different looking; it’s just a unique product,” says Craig Hall of WL Hall Company in Hopkins, Minn. Hall, who first worked with the material 12 years ago, has since used it on more than 20 projects. “Channel glass works very well in areas where you’d like to backlight. It’s a material that can be used vertically or horizontally.” 

Channel glass, such as the Profilit system from Pilkington, typically consists of self-supporting glass channels and an extruded metal perimeter frame. It can be used in interior or exterior applications and has an overall span of up to 23 feet. The products are designed to obscure vision but still allow light to pass through. The U-shaped product is typically 10-inches wide and easy to curve, allowing it to achieve tight radiuses and making it ideal for serpentine applications. While channel glass can be used in intricate and innovative designs, it isn’t easy to get those kinds of results.

“Compared to other glass products, channel glass is more difficult to cut, which can result in occasional onsite breakage,” Hall says. “Also, if the glass is stressed, it won’t cut properly. The best way to cut it is with a .99 cent glass cutter and a lot of experience,” Hall says, adding that it usually needs to be cut onsite. The shear size and nature of channel glass can also pose challenges.

“With channel glass, you’re often working with large, long planks of glass, which can be awkward,” Hall says. “My men are used to working with 3- by 5-feet lites of glass, while with channel glass, you might get a 1- by 18-foot size.”

Channel glass may have unique visual qualities, but that will not always guarantee it a spot in architectural specifications. Its relatively high cost compared to other glazing products can deter architects from using it, Hall says.

Glass Handrails
Over the past few years, glass handrails have also increased in popularity, with many more builders choosing the product for the clear, unobstructed views and attractive accents it provides. Dean Larson, who has been with Goldfinch Brothers in Everett, Wash., for 22 years, says, “When I first got here, we probably installed one or two glass handrails every couple of years. In the last few months alone, we’ve already installed two or three.” 

Larson, who’s currently working on a project involving a 160-foot glass rail sky-bridge between two buildings, says installing glass handrails doesn’t present any greater difficulties than installing similar glazing products. “It’s like dealing with storefronts or curtainwalls; you just need to be familiar with how it works and what its particular quirks are,” says Larson. One consideration is how the railing fits into the total design. 

“Installing the glass handrail can be difficult depending on the complexity of the layout,” Larson says. “Is a stairway involved? Are there segmented runs or slopes? The key is making sure you get everything in line to begin with.”

Since contract glaziers typically order glass handrails drilled every 12 inches, design calculations are critical. “You have to know whether you’re going to clad it or if you’re going to let the handrail free stand at each end,” Larson says. “You also have to take into consideration the glass pockets, both in the rails and in the shoes, and know where you need to compensate.” 

Replacement issues can also be a concern.

“If the glass handrail splinters or cracks, it can be a difficult process replacing it,” Larson says. “Since the glass is cemented into a shoe, you have to take the handrail off, clean out the shoe, reset the shoe in the concrete and put the rail back on, which can be time-consuming and hard.”

Larson says he often purchases his glass handrails from Morse Industries in Kent, Wash., which manufactures bump-formed glass railings for residential and commercial applications. 

To Find Out More …
To learn more about the products featured here, check out these websites:
Trespa www.trespa.com
Profilit www.technicalglassproducts.com, www.pilkington.com
Morse Industries www.morseindustries.com

the author: David Jenkins is a contributing writer to USGlass magazine.

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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.