Fired Up: Are We Looking at the Big Picture?

A statistic from the National Fire Protection Association recently caught my eye. In 2014 (the latest year available), 1,298,000 fires were reported in the in the U.S. They caused 3,275 civilian fire deaths, 15,775 civilian fire injuries and $11.5 billion in property damage. While the numbers alone are staggering, what stood out to me most is the total number of fires increased 4.7 percent from 2013. Our country’s fire problem isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it may be growing. This gave me reason to pause – how many of us are aware of this trend? 

Of course, not many of us have the capacity to stay diligently up-to-date on the behind-the-scenes numbers for our country’s fire problem—or any major building and design issue—as we juggle multiple projects with tight deadlines. But, as I was reminded, looking at the big picture when using glazing products in building design and construction is extremely important. 

Architects specify glazing products for very explicit reasons, whether it’s achieving a certain level of fire and life safety, improving occupant comfort or enhancing energy performance. Although these factors may not be readily apparent to us or others working on the project, we have a responsibility to make sure the products we are providing don’t jeopardize project goals, or more importantly, the safety of others. Because this can prove challenging in a busy world, here are three practical things I’ve found helpful. 

  1. Develop trusted relationships: Although we work in the building design and construction industry, it’s really a people business. Developing a solid foundation of mutual respect with the architect is key to gaining access to the project vision and goals. The more clearly you understand what the firm is trying to accomplish, the more you will be able to support and meet these needs. Likewise, it’s important to have a reliable level of trust with your supplier. You have to feel comfortable that they are interested in more than profits and will consider the safety and welfare of your customers as you evaluate products that meet project goals. 
  2. Look for suppliers that do more than take and fill orders: When you have questions about how a product fits into a given project, it’s imperative you are able to call your supplier and talk to a knowledgeable expert who is familiar with code requirements and product details. Suppliers with a broad range of expertise can remain more objective in helping you determine the best solution for your project. Instead of pushing you toward an individual brand, they can present you with options that make the most sense for your project goals. And, if you run into roadblocks, ideally, they will approach the situation with your best interests in mind, working with you to find a solution. This can include shouldering the weight of developing custom solutions, or actually meeting with the architect to help problem solve. 
  3. Remember price is only part of the equation: With some non-crucial building systems, using lower cost, “equivalent” products rather than sticking with the specification can help save upfront costs with little impact on design and overall big picture project goals. However, when it comes to high-performance, life safety or building performance materials, product substitutions are complex and an inadequate choice has the potential to distract from long term goals or even compromise building performance. As author Chuck Palahniuk said, “The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” Make sure you don’t focus solely on price and lose sight of what really matters.  

Jeff Razwick is the president of Technical Glass Products. He writes frequently about the design and specification of glazing for institutional and commercial buildings, and is a past chair of the Glass Association of North America’s Fire-Rated Glazing Council. Contact him at 800/426-0279.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors. 

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