Building Envelope Critical to Nation’s Infrastructure
October 4, 2011

By Sahely Mukerji,

The glass and glazing industry needs to do a better job of organizing within its ranks --manufacturers, glazing contractors, specialty engineers -- in order to raise awareness of how critical the building envelope is to the nation's infrastructure, says Rick De La Guardia, president of DLGE Engineering in South Miami, Fla. “The glass and glazing industry needs to convince the design professionals of this fact and insist on being brought to the table in the discussions regarding how to mitigate damage to our structures from a natural hazard.  This is especially true since the glass and glazing systems, in most cases, are the first line of defense during a hazard event.”

De La Guardia cites a recent Mitigating Disaster through Design and Construction Conference as not include including a single recognizable name representing the glass and glazing industry.

Based on that conference panel’s insights and strategic recommendations, McGraw-Hill Construction, recently issued an industry white paper, Recommendations to Congress, the Administration and the Private Sector to Mitigate Impacts of Disasters by Planning and Building for Resiliency, detailing how the private and public sectors can significantly mitigate the impact of these and other natural disasters.

De La Guardia aims to foster involvement, so the industry has a say in such recommendations. With respect to the white paper, in the Priority Focus Area III, “it is important for the glazing industry to address the lack of uniformity in how building codes are enforced,” De La Guardia says. “I agree with the recommendation in the whitepaper that we need federal involvement in order to uniformly implement code changes to help with hazard mitigation of glazing systems. When left to individual states the end result may be what happened in Florida after hurricane Andrew where a comprehensive code was recommended but due to political pressure from private groups, a watered down version of the code was what was ultimately adopted.”

In terms of code-compliant hurricane-resistant products, the industry has a lot to offer, says Jeff Robinson, CEO of Hurricane Protection Industries in Miramar, Fla. “A broad variety of systems manufacturers have hurricane-resistant systems [meeting] Florida Building Code, International Residential Code, International Building Code, International Code Council Evaluation Service, and/or Texas Department of Insurance Certifications,” he says. “Additionally, a select number of manufacturers have systems compliant with the ICC Standard 500 and FEMA 361 Shelter Requirements, as well as systems resistant to man-made events such as blast resistance. Some of the available systems meet Energy Star Requirements and ASHRE and Green Building Council guidelines for energy performance for commercial properties.”

“Depending on the geographical region, buildings' window systems may need to meet requirements for seismic- or hurricane-impact resistance.” Says Steve Fronek, vice president of technical services at Wausau Window and Wall Systems in Wausau, Wis. “Regardless of where a property may be located, energy efficiency and thermal performance also are key concerns,” he says. “In addition, some properties have the added complexity of meeting ballistic or blast mitigation requirements in high-security settings, and/or human-impact requirements in psychiatric and correctional facilities.”

With advances in glazing technology, owners, architects and designers have a blank palette in terms of architectural options and appearances to use to their fullest advantage when considering glass options for disaster mitigation, according to Robinson. “Many 30-50-year-old buildings have been hurricane hardened and visually updated as a result of utilizing the broad scale advantages of today's available technology,” he says.

However, changes to the code and offering code-compliant products are not sufficient in fool-proof disaster mitigation.

“It is up to the glass and glazing industry to educate the building officials on enforcement. Even when the enforcement of the code is thorough, there needs to be better training of our building inspectors with respect to installation of glass and glazing systems,” De La Guardia says. “A proper design of a glass and glazing project is like a chain, and is only as good as its weakest link. What good is it if there are new technologies, proper codes, thorough review, but poor installation?”

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