Throw-away Industry?

“Look at all those cranes out there. Are you seeing activity like this anywhere else?”

The question came toward me from the delightful Margaret Webb, the executive director of the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance , who was kind enough to share a welcome cup of coffee with me last Wednesday afternoon at the Win-Door show. The subject of her query was Toronto, the city hosting the show, and Marg was right. There seemed to be building going on everywhere. Big, tall buildings. “When was the last time you saw that many large cranes?” she asked. “Fairfax County, Virginia in the late ’90s” was the answer that immediately came to my mind.

But the growth is neither commercial nor institutional; it is multilevel residential. In a word, it’s condos. Scott, my cabdriver from Jamaica who has lived in Toronto for 30 years, explained this on one of the five rides I hitched with him. “There is a condo boom here,” he said. “Everyone wants a condo downtown on the water. It is the latest cool thing to own and that has fueled real growth in the area.” It was even a topic on the floor of the show. “All those condos are going up and every single buyer wants a view. They want floor-to-ceiling glass, and a balcony sides and railing they can see through,” said one of the attendees. “And it could eventually spell disaster.” Really? Consider this report that recently ran on Canadian television.

View report here.

Well, Mr. Hypothetical Condo Developer sir, I have a few questions for you. First, how quickly do you think those units—you know, the ones called “throwaway buildings” in the report –would sell if they had floor-to-ceiling brick or metal? Wouldn’t be quite the selling feature if that beautiful view of Lake Ontario was replaced by a brick wall, now would it?

Second, have you ever heard of doing mock-ups and weatherability studies? You can test the designs beforehand you know, and find out if there are any problems. You can correct them before they happen. You also can predict how long the units will last. Did you do that? The sad truth is, Mr. Developer, that all you need do is sell those units out and then, you are gone. You don’t really have to care whether the glass lasts 5 years or 15 years or forever because, in all those cases, you are out of there. Then, it’s the homeowner’s problem.

Third, you act surprised that the glass can “wear out.” Gee whiz, I am guessing that the bricks will wear out too if they aren’t maintained and properly re-pointed over time. Metal also needs to be refinished. Are you really surprised that an exterior wall, on the water, in a Northern climate needs maintenance? This would be true of any material, not just glass.

The report makes it look like you are using only argon-filled floor-to-ceiling insulating units. Are you really doing that? Really? Argon gas filled glass is a pretty expensive commodity, especially in those sizes. It would be much more profitable for you, wouldn’t it Mr. Developer, if you could replace that glass with something cheaper, maybe create some sort of backlash against it?

I am now going to bring up that dirty little secret that both you and I (SHH!) know, Mr. Developer. We know that most of the issues surrounding failures involve improper installation methods and practices. Now when you were choosing the glazing contractor for the job, did installation quality come into play? I didn’t think so. You were pretty focused on the lowest bidder, weren’t you? So what if you had no idea if they’d do a good job or not, they were 4 percent lower than anyone else. So you chose them. Who even knows if they’d be around to fulfill a warranty claim if there was one. After all, why should you care, because you’ll be out before trouble rolls in.

And finally to my beloved glass industry, I ask this: Are we going to take this lying down? How many times do we have to see glass scapegoat-ed as a material before we step up and strike back with facts. Once again there are forces at work here, including those promulgated by manufacturers of other exterior façade materials, that continue to give our industry a bad name. And we continue to under-educate our customers as to the need for proper installation and maintenance of glass over time. This needs to get fixed and fast.

I’ll leave a little Thanksgiving message Wednesday. Have a good week.