Glass has long been recognized as a flexible design material, enabling architects and construction companies to create “looks” from high-tech modern to low-tech naturalwith a single material. New options in energy efficiency make glass more economical than ever. Indeed, glass is being used at record levels to create dramatic, sun-drenched entranceways, cafeterias, and recreation rooms at healthcare facilities across the country.

But selecting the right glass-contracting firm for a large-scale commercial project can be a daunting task, especially for the particular needs of healthcare facilities. Here are seven tips for finding and working with a top-notch firm:

1. Consider the company's reputation and longevity of service. Your goal should be to select a “partner” in the project. This is especially true if you have multiple facilities in different parts of the country. Experienced companies can lend guidance, advice, and expertise. More importantly, an established company is more likely to offer the strongest product and installation warrantiesafter all, a guarantee is only as stable as the company that writes it.

2. Investigate whether the company is up to speed with regard to the latest code requirements and conditions for glass structures. Some companies have even been involved in the writing of national building codes for glass structures. These firms are certain to have reinvented their products over the years to meet or surpass these complex requirements.

3. Be sure that the company selected to construct your glass structure is highly knowledgeable about geographic regions and the different challenges that weather conditions create when it comes to both codes and comfort. For example, glazing bars that support glass structures come in many sizes to meet different code requirements.

Our firm, which constructs glass structures for commercial businesses across the country, uses 3.2, 4.2, and 5.2 glazing bars, with the size dictated by the manufacturer, based on city and state snow-load and wind-load requirements.

You can do several things to make sure your contractor is up to speed on local building codes. First, check with your in-house design and engineering department; they have first-hand knowledge of building requirements locally. If you don't have an in-house department, be prepared to do your own research, i.e.:

  • Contact your local building department.

  • Become familiar with local building codes and have an understanding of what the requirements are for glass structures.

  • Ask questions, such as: How involved is the contractor in the healthcare industry? How many structures has the contractor built? Can you get a list of references?

  • Document all answers and other information.

Also, the glass contractor should be able to advise on the best glass to select, not only for weather conditions, but also for sun exposure. Glass is manufactured with different performing characteristics. Depending on the structure and the direction in which it faces, different types of glass apply. Clear, bronze, Low-E, and Argon-filled are several glass options, each with its own advantages. Bronze, for example, is tinted to filter out sun and adds to the heating and cooling efficiency of the structure.

4. The manufacturer should be experienced enough to offer recommendations regarding heating and cooling the structure, in combination with the type of glass selected. Indeed, the type of glass should be paired with the heating/cooling system that creates the most energy- efficient combination. A glass structure could have its own self-sufficient, independent heating and cooling system, or it could use conventional forced-air HVAC with ductwork opening into the room. Your decision will depend on room size, use of the room, and the capacity of the current HVAC system.

5. A good commercial sunroom manufacturer will have turnkey services (i.e., design, engineering, and installation), if you need them. Whether you require all of these services or not, it says something about the company when it has this capabilityit says the company is well enough established to make an investment in in-house engineering capabilities.

6. A glass contractor with in-house engineering capabilities will have a better understanding than one without them regarding how different glass options blend with new and existing structures. The last thing any developer or architect wants is a glass structure that looks like an addition. The manufacturer is an ancillary professional to the architect, and the finished product should blend seamlessly with the existing building. It's important that the manufacturer understands the use for which the room is intendedfor example, the manufacturer may recommend straight-eave glass instead of curved glass because straight-eave glass offers more room.

It's important, too, that the glass contractor be involved in the planning phase of the project. This means working directly with facility designers and architects to ensure that the structure conforms to local building requirements, meets the needs of the health-care facility, and saves on energy costs.

7. Finally, having installers as employees is another benefit a glass contractor can offer. If the manufacturer has to contract with another firm or firms to install the glass selected, this could mean third-party trouble down the road. To explain:

You hire Company A to supply the materials for your project and Company B to handle installation of the glass structure. Company C is the overall contractor who brought Companies A and B onto the job. You encounter a problem. You confront Company A, which says the problem is with the installation. You call Company B, which replies that you need to talk to manufacturing (Company A). So next you call Company C, the overall contractor, and find out it's not that company's fault or problem, either.

It is not uncommon, unfortunately, when you confront a problem while working with multiple vendors, to have everyone pointing fingers and ducking any real attempts at a solution. In the end, it's best to work with one firm on large-scale projects. If you have a problem, you make one phone call, and the chances are good that the problem will be solved. HD

Jerry DeLiberato is vice-president of CSP, the Commercial Sunroom Products Division of Patio Enclosures, Inc., the nation's largest manufacturer and installer of custom glass structures for homes and commercial businesses.