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USGNN Original StoryGlazing 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 the owners."

Roger Grant Jr., president of Atascadero Glass Inc. in Atascadero, Calif., agrees.

"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 magazine.

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