Field Notes

Could We Be Better Than That? Should We? Why Not?

By Chuck Knickerbocker

When Hurricane Michael went through Mexico Beach, Fla., one house withstood its ravages. Maybe you saw the pictures—the one three-story house still vertical when its surroundings were laid waste. Anyone want to take a bet as to which homes were built to “code minimum” and which ones were built above and beyond the standard?

Recently, someone in the industry commented on building curtainwalls to “code minimum,” and how if we’re ever going to improve the craft of building design and construction, we should be pushing what we do to be better than the minimum the code may require. Then, a City of Seattle Building Code official made similar remarks. I couldn’t agree with them more. Better yet, why not raise the level of the code so that the minimum becomes more like, “why weren’t we doing this all along?”

I think you’ll agree—most of the code is in place so that public welfare and safety is maintained. Sprinklers, fire-rated walls (and glass, of course), all came into being in the codes because of some pretty nasty events. That’s as it should be. If we’re to honor those who perish in such disasters, we cannot continue to repeat the same mistakes. Fire escapes, stair widths and tempered glass with “T” stickers for firemen to break—all of that’s been necessary and, more importantly, money well spent.

What brought this up again was some of the comments making the rounds that global climate change is more serious than we may have been taking it. We’re making inroads it seems, but will they be fast enough? And all of a sudden, I found some of what I thought were unrelated dots that started to connect.

It starts with owners willing to do more than code minimums. But it doesn’t end there, either. I’ll bet architects fight it all the time, too. Firm A offers a proposal to design, spec and detail a better performing building. But Firm B does “code minimum.” It will not be until the code level rises that everyone will bid to the code minimum. In the bidding wars, all the elements beating minimums get left on the value eradication (VE) alter too, right? So, it’s equally important for the architects to convince owners and key project players that if they write specs that are above code minimum, they must stick with it during and through the procurement and bidding process.

Those of us in the glazing trade bear some responsibility, too. How many times have we offered a curtainwall or window system that beats the U-value in the spec or code? When a higher-performing system was specified and pro-posed, the competition might have gone in with a lesser-performing option. Because their bid was cheaper, they got the job. I can just imagine some owners (not all, but some owners) as they open the bids and see A vs. B, and say, “Why do I want to pay for that higher performing wall?”

We’re going to have to find more economical arguments to make the case for raising energy standards, and not letting them get VE’d out on bid day. And to the building code official’s point, think how much more competitive we’d all be, each within our own spheres of influence, if we had to push our designs, our products and each other to higher levels than the code requires, and we had owners willing to pay for it? Sooner rather than later, the changes that global warming will bring will have to be paid for. Why not start now? Or is that too altruistic or unrealistic?

Chuck Knickerbocker is the curtainwall manager for Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, along with specialty architectural glazing products. With more than 35 years of curtainwall experience, he has worked successfully with numerous architects, building owners and subcontractors from development of schematic design through installation. He can be contacted via email at

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