Gremlins and window damage at construction sites

By Joe Erb
September 12, 2008

Plastic films can effectively protect the window systems but are particularly vulnerable to high temperatures, wind and other environmental conditions.

The Family Circus comic strip might have represented it best. Whenever something went wrong in the busy household-a lamp was broken or milk was spilled-the parents would ask, "Who did it?" All of the children would point fingers and say, "Not me!" Meanwhile, an invisible gremlin with "Not me" written across its chest was running around causing all sorts of problems.

Construction debris can cause permanent damage to window systems but several preventative measures are available to keep them safe from concrete, paint and other materials.

I call it the "Not me" syndrome. While windows damaged at a new construction site are more expensive to replace than a broken lamp, the concept is the same. No one wants to accept responsibility and a lot of finger-pointing takes place. As human beings, we can justify and rationalize just about any situation and find a way to blame someone or something else.

To read the article "Scrapers and scratches" in the June issue of Glass, one would think glass protection in the construction process was hopeless, with no answers and no possible resolution. Window washers, builders, contractors and window manufacturers are doomed forever to disagree and the root causes of scratches and scrapes will forever be a mystery.

Despite the seemingly hopeless situation, I believe alternative solutions are available.

An ounce of prevention

The nature of a construction site will never change. Windows will always be exposed to all sorts of construction debris, such as splattered concrete, welding sparks, chemical residue and paint.

The preferred debris cleaning method by window washers is to use metal scrapers, much to the chagrin of pretty much everyone else involved. The debate over whether to use "potentially" damage-causing scrapers would be null and void if some preventative measures were taken to protect windows in the first place.

Through the years, a number of products and practices have emerged to prevent damage. As with most things discussed in my column, I encourage readers to weigh the issue of glass protection carefully and to ask the tough questions before making a decision:

Are the products easily removed and disposed?

When choosing a glass protection system, it is important to consider how the product is disposed and the effect it will have on the environment.

Are the products environmentally friendly?

What is the true cost of the protective product? Do not forget to factor in labor costs for application and removal.

How will environmental conditions- snow, wind, rain, extreme temperatures-affect how easily the product is applied/removed?

How long can the protective product remain attached to the window?

Available options

Below are some of the more common practices used for glass protection:

Plastic films: Usually transparent or semitransparent and pre-applied by window or IG manufacturers plastic films protect the glass during shipping, handling and construction. Many variations are available and most are designed to allow natural light through. They are effective in most cases, but have drawbacks. First, plastic films have a tendency to peel under extreme temperatures, leaving parts of the window exposed to construction debris; thus, defeating the purpose. Additionally, eco-conscious companies must consider how plastic films are disposed. They typically end up in landfills.

Paper and tape: Often used to protect the interior of windows from paints and other debris paper and tape are virtually ineffective for outdoor use because they deteriorate quickly when exposed to wind and rain.

Liquid coatings: Chemicals, oils and soaps were some of the first viable innovations in window protection. These provide a fair amount of protection but can cause problems with the insulating glass seal. They can be difficult to remove and harsh chemicals can be harmful to workers. They also might have an adverse effect on the environment.

Eco-friendly spray-on coatings: During the past few years, environmentally friendly coatings have captured much interest among window and IG manufacturers. They provide excellent protection and are easy to apply and remove. The coatings offer a transparent seal over the entire window system, including the frame and glass. When shopping for these coatings, be sure the product does not contain chemicals that will be harmful to the applicator or the environment. The right spray on coating will dissolve away and not wind up in landfills.

The cost of doing nothing
Of course, doing nothing is still an option, but definitely not recommended. Windows damaged during construction cause a lot of trouble from finger-pointing to the expense of replacing the damaged units. And it is not just a matter of hurting someone's check book, replacing units also can be costly to the environment, with energy wasted transporting damaged units to the landfill, building new units and transporting new units to the construction site.

So my advice to stop "Not me" from visiting your construction site is to do your homework. Ask the right questions and act responsibly by investing in a glass protection system that clears up the glass scratching issue without negatively impacting the environment.

The author is product manager for Edgetech I.G., Cambridge, Ohio,, 740/439-6412.