Fired Up: Let’s be Clear on Glazing Substitutions

As famed author Kurt Vonnegut and many others have noted, “In this world, you get what you pay for.” This holds as true for building materials such as glazing, as it does for vehicles, restaurant meals, electronics and other goods we enjoy every day.

When faced with a choice between apparently similar items, it is tempting to choose the lower cost one in order to help your budget, whether it’s your household budget or the budget for a client’s project. But, fixating on the bottom line can distract you from crucial long-term considerations.

So, how do you balance budget and project demands with quality, in the glass industry? While there isn’t a one-size fits all answer (if you find one, let me know), following are a few practical things I’ve found helpful.

Look at the total package. It’s important to assess a product’s full range of design and performance benefits, and determine any complementary cost savings they can provide. For example, glass with increased clarity, high impact ratings and the ability to meet energy codes can help save money in the long-term by preventing retrofits and costly replacements. In many instances, when architects present a product to their client as a multi-faceted solution, its widespread functional value can outweigh price concerns.

Demonstrate product quality. If there isn’t a generic product alternative that accomplishes what the building team wants without compromising on quality, let the glass speak for itself. For example, while there are many clear, fire-rated glazing products, clarity varies among them. If a crystal-clear viewing surface is central to project goals, a large-size glass sample of a top-notch fire-rated ceramic, or low-iron multi-layered laminate, for example, could provide the building team with an accurate representation of the surface quality and why it would benefit their design, more so than trying to make a choice from a pocket-sized sample.

Give them what the architect asked for. To be blunt, stop wasting your time trying to get substitute products accepted, and give the architect and building owner enough credit by following the spec and providing them what they asked for. Properly prepared glazing specs account for numerous performance and aesthetic demands that might not be readily apparent to others working on the project. Since even slight product alterations can affect performance— particularly related to fire and life safety, energy performance and high-performance coatings— misapplication can put the building and occupants at risk or substantially weaken the building’s benefits. Additionally, higher-priced products typically are more aesthetically pleasing, and what the architect wanted in the first place.  If the completed project looks better, then the architect and sub look better and the owner ends up happier.   

Put cost in perspective. Think beyond your upfront material cost. There's more to a successful project and your long term business than simply winning work with the cheapest material. I'd argue the most successful business often does the exact opposite of trying to squeeze out the lowest cost, and instead selects value-added products that cost more upfront, but save money and gain satisfied customers in the end. What about the installation costs, customer service and warranty support, if needed, that will make your customer happy and return to you for the next job? In my experience, the cheapest product will fall short on some or all of these issues. Whether it's investing in your company, people or serving your customers by recommending products, being the 'low bid' rarely pays off in the long run.

Jeff Razwick is the president of Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. 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 (GANA) Fire-Rated Glazing Council (FRGC). 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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