Contractors See Curtainwall Popping Up in Residential Neighborhoods
by Ellen Giard Rogers
The use of curtainwall, storefront or other traditionally-commercial
glazing products in single-family residences may not be mainstream
design, but it's not uncommon. Contract glaziers taking on these
jobs say it's a trend that requires a certain skill level to see
the project through to a successful completion.
Though it's not something specified everyday, the design concept
has been around for decades. "At least in this part of the country,
I've seen it used the past 25-30 years," says Lyle Hill, president
of the Chicago-based contract glazing firm MTH Industries.
Beth Trainor-Hockett, who works in business development for Trainor
Glass Co.'s Denver branch, says in their experience this type of
application is mainly driven by the architect.
"Homeowners are going on board with these high-end, commercial
architects and they [architects] are used to what they can achieve
with curtainwall," says Trainor-Hockett. "The spans they can get,
the size of glass they can use and the views they can achieve. Architects
want to be able to do something with a certain product that they
aren't able to achieve with traditional residential products."
Curtainwall is curtainwall, but a house is not a high-rise condo.
Even though the systems are typically the same, glazing contractors
are finding that a different set of rules is required when it comes
to someone's home versus a high-rise. For starters, homeowners tend
to be much more particular than commercial building owners.
"The owners of large, expensive homes want to be involved with
not only their design but, in many cases, their actual construction,"
says Hill. "Often times, meetings that are typically attended by
subcontractors, architects and general contractors will also include
Roger Grant Jr., president of Atascadero Glass Inc. in Atascadero,
"Homeowners have standards above what we typically see in a commercial
setting," says Grant. "What is perfectly acceptable in a mall or
shopping center [is not for homeowners]."
Bill Trainor, division manager for Trainor Glass, has a slightly
different take. In his experience, residential owners are not always
more demanding or involved than commercial owners.
"On one job I might see the owner every three days, but on another
I might not even know the owner's name," Trainor says.
Another difference is that general contractors and architects are
not always familiar with commercial products. This brings another
level of coordination challenges.
"Most contractors are not as familiar with commercial products
and they are not familiar with shop drawings, project management
and the high level of coordination that is required to get the system
in properly," says Jim Stevens, vice president of Atascadero Glass.
"They are also not as familiar with lead times. So, for us, there
is a huge amount of coordination involved, especially when you throw
the homeowner's [unique expectations] into the mix. That is their
castle that they are building."
Steve Green, director of sales and marketing for Tubelite Inc.
in Walker, Mich., says sometimes, if a homeowner doesn't like the
end result, they won't pay for it, "and they tell you to rip it
out," he says. "The systems perform wonderfully, but the owners
just don't like the way it looks." Green adds that whenever they
have the opportunity to be involved early on they try to share this
information with the homeowner to give them a better idea of what
they will be getting.
With so much involved, making sure the right project management
team is on the job is also important.
"Because of the nature of many of these projects and the fact that
the owners are often intimately involved, the skill set of the project
manager has to be such that not only are the technical needs of
the job properly addressed, but often the social and political needs
as well," Hill says
To read more tips for taking on residential curtainwall, look for
the January issue of USGlass magazine.
Ellen Giard Rogers is a contributing editor for USGlass
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