Glazier Bulletin: Surface Protection Offers Profit Potential for Contract Glaziers

Stephen Byers
March 25, 2013

Architects are talking about buildings looking old before their time. Building owners are talking about renovation versus replacement. And the time is right for contract glaziers to talk about glass protection and restoration.

Surface-protection products capable of restoring the original appearance of “problem glass” or protecting new glass against future degradation offer contract glaziers profit opportunities in the form of renovation projects and value-added services for new construction projects.

Problem Glass

Problem glass is any glass that has lost—or is at risk of losing—its original light transmission, clarity and cleanability properties. This is caused by three of glass’ biggest enemies: moisture, alkalinity and dirt. These enemies can attack the surface of any glass lite: new or old, exterior or interior. Surface damage can occur during glass fabrication, transport, storage, installation or use, causing “good glass” to become “problem glass.”

Figure 1
Fig. 1. Surface protection products can be applied at any time during the lifecycle of a building, unless the glass has reached a “point of no return,” when the only option is costly replacement. Figure 1 illustrates the effects of renovation, protection and maintenance depending on whether durable glass surface protection is applied to new glass in a factory or to existing glass that has been renovated on-site.

Like bare metal surfaces, unprotected glass is raw and chemically reactive. These and other properties make the glass surface susceptible to degradation by moisture, alkalinity and dirt. Unfortunately, glass is sometimes viewed as a finished product, when in reality, it is lacking surface protection. Moisture and alkalinity cause corrosion, etching and staining/ discoloration. Together or individually, they can etch or dissolve the surface of glass, making it appear dull and sometimes white in appearance.

Moisture can do so in its liquid form (rainfall) or as a vapor in high humidity areas. Alkalinity comes from hard tap water, sea spray, and construction materials such as cement dust and building runoff from concrete, bricks or mortar.

Dirt can damage the surface of glass in some cases, but the most harm is done when harsh and aggressive cleaning methods are used to remove it. There are two general categories of dirt:

  • Organic dirt does not normally attack glass, but it can attach firmly to the glass surface and become difficult to remove. For exterior glass, this type of dirt includes traffic film, bird droppings and tree sap. For interior glass, organic dirt includes fingermarks and cooking oil vapors.
  • Inorganic dirt bonds chemically to glass and is difficult, if not impossible, to remove using conventional cleaning methods. For exterior glass, this type of dirt includes sea spray, industrial emissions, metal oxides from railways, and construction materials such as cement dust and building runoff. For interior glass, inorganic dirt includes limescale from hard tap water.

Problem glass is all around us, in any location or installation where the enemies of glass are present. The most likely places are:

  • containers used for shipping glass long distances, especially in wet or humid climates
  • construction sites
  • sloped glazing such as conservatory roofs
  • buildings with difficult access for routine washing
  • glazing exposed to runoff from concrete, bricks, mortar, stonework, lead flashing or silicone sealants
  • glazing in polluted areas such as city centers or industrial estates; or coastal areas
  • interior glass such as that used in shower enclosures or kitchen backsplashes.
To protect the exterior glazing of the Shanghai World Financial Center—one of the tallest buildings in the world—the contract glazier for the project applied Ritec ClearShield surface protection to the glass prior to installation.

The Consequences of Problem Glass

Problem glass causes delays in construction, spoils the building appearance, and reduces daylighting and visibility. It is a high-maintenance material that requires frequent washing—and sometimes intensive cleaning—potentially generating high levels of CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases.

Problem glass costs architects, contractors, and building owners and occupants substantial amounts of time, effort and money. Glass that fails to live up to expectations can result in callbacks or construction delays, increasing costs for the glazing contractor, general contractor and owner/developer.

As a further consequence, the loss in cleanability of glass is attracting more attention as green building becomes increasingly important. Problem glass is not “green” because it requires regular, but often ineffective, washing. And washing of glass in buildings, both exterior and interior, requires a lot of mechanical, electrical and chemical energy.

Profit Opportunities

Solutions for problem glass create real added value and can apply at any time in the lifecycle of a building; however, prevention is better than cure. Clearly, the best time to apply surface-protection products to glass is when the glass is new, before it’s attacked by its enemies and becomes “old” in appearance or performance. Labor costs are much lower when surface protection is applied to new glass, and there is no need for access equipment such as that potentially required in restoration projects.

The glass in the Al Salam Tower in Abu Dhabi (UAE) became stained and discolored after concrete slurry was spilled on the lites during building construction. The glass also suffered physical damage due to moisture and alkalinity exposure. The solution was on-site application of Ritec ClearShield for glass surface protection, and glass polishing using Ritec RitePolish.

Protecting glass when it’s new adds the highest value because it reduces or eliminates the probability the glass will become a problem. Surface protection helps glass maintain its original light transmission; protects the original, sparkling appearance; and cuts the frequency of routine glass washing, reducing energy requirements and lowering maintenance costs.Durable surfaceprotection solutions have high levels of resistance to moisture and alkalinity, and offer “non-stick”, easy-to-clean performance to resist the adhesion of all types of organic or inorganic dirt.

By offering durable glass surface protection as a value-added service, contract glaziers can take advantage of a new profit opportunity.

And that opportunity is not limited to new construction projects. Surface protection solutions exist that can also renovate problem glass surfaces, restoring their appearance and condition, and protecting the glass against future degradation. For glazing contractors, providing on-site services for glass surface renovation offers additional profit potential.

The author is co-founder and chairman of Ritec International Ltd. He is also president and CEO of Ritec’s subsidiary in North America, ClearShield Technologies.