Not your everyday install
The UC Davis Medical Center Surgery and Emergency Pavilion features large expanses of fire-rated glass from Safti First, San Francisco, including SuperLite II-XL 60 and 120 in GPX framing for the one- and two-hour walls; and SuperLite II-XL 60 and 90 in GPX Framing for the 60- and 90-minute full vision doors. Photo by Safti First.
As an intermediary between the product manufacturer and architect, contract glaziers play a critical role in the fire-rated glazing market. Glaziers who are well versed in product options and related codes not only position themselves as an informational resource for architects, but give themselves the opportunity to win more business.
"Glazing contractors who know their stuff win jobs," says Rob Botman, general manager, Glassopolis, Toronto. On fthe flip side, companies that don't keep up with products and codes could lose bids, or worse yet, lose money on jobs where incorrect products are specified. "In this competitive environment, the fire-rated glass and framing portion of the project could be the difference between getting and losing an order—or the difference between getting a good order or a bad order," says Tim Nass, national sales manager, Safti First, San Francisco.
Today, glaziers need to be able to recommend the most cost-effective fire-rated solutions to architects and building owners. "Architects are depending on manufacturers and glazing contractors to interpret their designs and find the best materials that meet both their design needs and building code requirements in the most economical way," says Daniel Poling, sales manager, fire-rated glass, technical glass solutions, Schott North America Inc.-Home Tech, Louisville, Ky. "Architects should be able to depend on the glazing contractor to provide proper alternates or substitutions that meet these demands. The only way a glazing contractor will be able to be a true dependable source of information to the architect or designer is to have an understanding of the various features and benefits of the main fire-rated glazing materials."
"Contract glaziers are the middle man, between the manufacturer and architect, and, more often, the manufacturer and the general contractor," explains Andrew DeMotte, sales and estimating, Walters & Wolf, Fremont, Calif. "A main part of the contract glazier's role [in fire-rated projects] is product knowledge—what options are available."
Code knowledge is equally important, says Steve Hohenshil, owner of Glassco, Detroit. "Contract glaziers have an important responsibility," he says. "They need to know that the fire-rated product they're providing meets the code requirements."
Glassopolis, Toronto, supplied Pyran Platinum L fire-rated glass with standard hollow metal framing for a retrofit project at Godley (Texas) Middle School. Photo by Glassopolis.
Know the codes
A basic understanding of fire-rated codes and standards is critical—contract glaziers don't need to know everything, but they do need to know where to go for more information and what questions to ask, according to fire-rated glazing manufacturers.
"Part of an architect's job is to stay on top of the latest codes and standards in all areas of building design and construction. This is a daunting task," says Devin Bowman, national sales manager, Technical Glass Products, Snoqualmie, Wash. "Glaziers who can step in and simplify this process by providing clarity on the latest fire-rated glazing products and how they satisfy codes and standards can land more jobs, becoming reliable, go-to resources for design professionals."
In addition, glaziers should be able to recognize when specified products won't meet code. "An architect may be misinformed and spec a product at a certain location where it won't meet code," Hohenshil says. "Contract glaziers need to fully understand the fire-rated glazing code to ensure the correct products are installed."
Value engineering of fire-rated products often occurs when code regulations were not accurately reviewed, "resulting in an improper product being offered at a lower price than what the application actually requires," says Gerald Jackson, sales and marketing manager, Vetrotech Saint-Gobain, Auburn, Wash. "This is one more reason to question the specified product, and consult when in doubt, in order to provide a correct bid."
"For any fire-rated glazing application, contract glaziers carry the final responsibility for the use of the correct product. It's not enough to simply say, 'Well, that's what was specified.' That argument obviously doesn't go very far with building inspectors when they discover a code violation," says Jeff Griffiths, director of business development, Safti First.
Specifically, contract glaziers should be familiar with the International Building Code, Chapter 7, Section 715. "Understanding this section will enable the contract glazier to ask the right questions and select the proper products when working on a bid," Jackson says.
"Whether or not IBC 2009 has been adopted within their local jurisdiction, glaziers should obtain a copy of the updated table and keep it as a handy reference since the underlying application requirements have not significantly changed," Griffiths says.
Manufacturers recommend glaziers have a thorough understanding of the following:
Fire-protective versus fire-resistive systems. Fire-protective systems are designed to contain smoke and flames for a relatively short duration (45 minutes maximum), allowing occupants to quickly escape potential danger. Fire-resistive products contain flames and smoke, and protect against radiant heat for longer time periods (more than 45 minutes), Griffiths says.
Fire-rated glass labels. "Glaziers should also take time to learn the IBC fire-rated glass labeling system. Once they understand the system, glazing labels can serve as a reference guide, showing them where a product is suitable for use, whether it conforms with hose stream test requirements and temperature rise criteria, and its specific fire rating," Bowman says.
Alice Dickerson, director of sales and marketing for Vitro America, Memphis, adds, "The labels tell at a glance the fire-rating in minutes, the testing requirements it has passed and the applications for which the product is suited. By paying careful attention to the labels, the installer can be an important last line of defense in ensuring that the appropriate product is being used. This helps protect both people and property during fires."
Wired glass. "The last few editions of the IBC have tightened the rules concerning the use of wired glass," Botman says. "Most people know that traditional wired glass cannot be used like it was before. But not many people know that there are new versions of wired glass that are fully tested, filmed and individually UL labeled which can be used in many locations and at a decent price. It's an option again when sourced properly."
Impact safety. The IBC requires that fire-rated glazing in all hazardous locations pass an impact safety test, Bowman says. "Since not all fire-rated glazing offers fire and impact protection, glaziers need to be able to identify which products meet impact safety ratings for the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Safety Standard for Architectural Glazing Materials," he says. "Depending on the application's location, glazing must meet either CPSC 16CFR 1201 (Category I or II) impact classification. Also, advising architects to install impact-safety glass in high activity areas where it isn't required by code—like some school commons—can help prevent replacement costs or potential injuries from abuse over the long-term."
Sprinklers. Glaziers should be tuned into an ongoing debate in the building industry about whether sprinklers alone provide sufficient fire protection. "Sprinklers are highly effective when properly installed and maintained," Bowman says. "But, according to the National Fire Protection Association, one in 10 sprinklers fail, largely due to human error. Because human error is hard to account for, both sprinklers and passive materials are critical components of a well-rounded fire protection plan. Glaziers tuned into this dilemma can help educate other members of the design and building team on the ways code tradeoffs can shortchange life safety."
Fire-rated codes are constantly changing and evolving, and glaziers need to keep up to date. "An application that may have been acceptable a year or two ago may no longer be allowed," Dickerson says.
Brooklyn, N.Y.'s newly renovated Engine Company 239 fire station features Pilkington Pyrostop glass from Technical Glass Products, Snoqualmie, Wash. Photo by TGP.
Meet the budget
The biggest competitor to fire-rated glazing is budget, and glaziers need to work closely with their fire-rated product suppliers to ensure architects and building owners don't "run for the drywall," Botman says, and value engineer fire-rated glass out of the building.
"Glazing contractors are being asked more and more to recommend affordable fire-rated solutions," he says. "While architects may once in a while specify a particular expensive fire-rated assembly for a featured location in a luxury building, most of the time fire-rated glazing is used only because it is required by the building code. In other words, for most projects, the lowest cost product that meets minimum compliance will be accepted as a substitute."
Glaziers who familiarize themselves with code requirements and available products can provide the most cost-effective solutions to architects and building owners, Poling says. "The glazing contractor should understand what the minimum code requirements are and match those requirements with the best fitting product available," he explains. "As an example, it may be determined that a window needs only a 45-minute rating in a one-hour wall. This would allow the use of glass-ceramics and hollow metal framing versus a thick intumescent glazing product and European framing systems."
Bowman agrees. "Fire-rated glass suppliers frequently offer a range of materials with various price and performance options. A high-performance material like ultra-clear ceramic or transparent wall panels may be necessary in highly visible locations, while lower cost wired glass or specialty tempered products may be fine for limited applications where size and aesthetics are less important."
Manufacturers can serve as educational resources for contract glaziers. "If in doubt about which products are suited for a given application, suppliers and manufacturers provide a wealth of information that glaziers can access," Dickerson says.
Jackson agrees. "Manufacturers' product selectors provide ready-reference solutions based on the information at hand," he says. "Vetrotech has noticed a growing trend of glazing contractors taking advantage of these tools."
Safti First, for example, offers free educational Webinars for architects, specifiers and contract glaziers. "We feel this is critical to getting the job done correctly from the bidding process through the project close-out," Griffiths says.
Vetrotech Saint-Gobain, Auburn, Wash., supplied fire-rated interior wall assemblies featuring Contraflam 60 insulating glass units with Organics Asian Grass Pattern Glass for the front entry, reception area, waiting room and conference room of the Southwest Washington Medical Center Kearney Breast Center, Vancouver, Wash. Photo by Vetrotech Saint-Gobain.
Current applications and future trends
Doorlites and sidelites in schools, hospitals and other public projects remain the main applications for fire-rated glass, according to Diana San Diego, director of marketing, Safti First. However, design trends, including demand for more daylighting, are pushing for larger expanses of fire-rated glass in various project types and applications. "In the coming years, we anticipate that architects will be specifying larger expanses of glass that require a fire rating," Dickerson says. "This may be in floor-to-ceiling applications in corridors or in curtain walls."
Manufacturers say fire-rated products are increasingly being used in museums, retail stores, hotels and multifamily applications as well. "We are seeing fire-rated glazing applications growing in all sectors of the construction industry, from commercial to institutional to manufacturing. Even residential applications are growing," Poling says.
One specific area of growth is property-line applications, Botman says. "As urban developers have to be more innovative in what they build, they are designing more mixed-use buildings (e.g condos on top of a hotel, on top of street-level retail) and these mixed-use buildings have more fire separations and more fire-rated glazing. Also, these developers are building closer to the property line where normally they'd have to put in a concrete wall but now they don't want to give up the views and daylighting. So, they are happy to spend more on fire-rated insulated units to open up these property line walls."
Contract glaziers should also be prepared to see fire-rated glass in specialty applications, such as fire-rated decorative glass and fire-rated glass floors. "Glaziers will also see architects start to break away from the traditional fire-rated mold, with unconventional applications like fire-rated glass floors," Bowman says. "Such systems can provide fire protection while doubling as a floor and skylight. As architects realize they can push the design envelope with fire-rated glazing, glaziers in turn will need to get involved in out-of-the-box projects and learn what type of glazing will support such demands."