Volume 47, Issue 5 - May 2012


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“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.

“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 print due to the sensitive nature of the issue. “It just comes with the competitive nature of the world today. Everybody’s looking for an edge and the definition of an edge is 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, according a team of experts with whom USGlass 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.”

"You’re playing with fire. You only have to get caught once or twice."

The Shortcuts
Though industry experts say shortcuts can occur in a myriad of ways, following are a few of the most common ones and most egregious ones:

A non-specified product is substituted for a spec-ed one. This can occur with glass, components and more. Sometimes this might lead to a code violation, but often not. For example, a job might be specified with a given aluminum manufacturer’s doors yet nonspecified doors substituted. Decals have even been known to be used on a nonspecified door to give the impression that the specified door was used, according to experts.

Undersized glass. This shortcut is quite common, according to our experts. In some cases, a thinner glass product might be used than what is called for, or perhaps lighter and easier to handle. “It’s common because it’s hard to catch,” said one of our team members.

Misapplication of materials. An example of this might be using storefront materials in an application where a bigger section of curtainwall should have been used, because it’s cheaper and easier to fabricate. Even though a system failure can result, this happens with more frequency than you might expect, according to experts.

Material substitution. This can include caulking, sealants, specified backer rods, undersized fasteners, or even not using enough or proper fasteners, according to experts. These can be very expensive on a large-sized jobs. For example, a glazier may place a fastener every 24 inches instead of 12, saving a great deal in expense, but at what cost to the final product?

Unreinforced mullions. 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 a major repercussion. 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.

Who’s the Culprit?
If shortcuts are happening this commonly, who is taking them?

Experts suggest it likely occurs among a small group of unethical glazing contractors, though sometimes those who are struggling are more prone to take shortcuts than others. Similarly, on smaller jobs, there are fewer parties double-checking one another than on a large-sized job.

“It’s a lot tougher on a large, sophisticated project to get away with anything,” says one expert. “It’s the small, quick-turn, no-consultant, no-representatives-involved jobs where these things often occur.”

"Why does anyone cheat? Usually it’s for financial gain."

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 shortcuts.

Some have attributed the desire to take shortcuts to pressures from general contractors and architects.

One Puerto Rico-based contract glazier says if he is asked by a general contractor to take a shortcut, he makes a request of his own. “We tell the general contractor that we will do whatever he wants (sometimes), if he gets the changes approved by a licensed professional in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” he says. “We always state that we are not architects nor engineers, and that this must be done by an independent party.”

But ultimately, one expert suggests plain-and-simple shortcuts usually are undertaken by the glazing contractors themselves.

“There’s a pressure to be more competitive, but I don’t think the architects and general contractors are saying, ‘take shortcuts and do something inappropriate,’” he says.

One expert offered a warning to those who succumb to the shortcut temptation: “Your sins are going to find you out,” he says. “You’re playing with fire. You only have to get caught once or twice.”

Penny Stacey is the editor of USGlass magazine. She can be reached at pstacey@glass.com. Read her blog at http://penny.usglassmag.com, follow her on Twitter @USGlass, and like USGlass Magazine on Facebook to receive the latest updates.

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