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Fenestration Forum: December 2011

Let’s counter bad press with better quality


December 15, 2011
By Brian Burton

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I read with great interest the comments by readers on the CBC website
regarding what industry insiders called the “slow-motion failure” of
Toronto’s glass condo

I read with great interest the comments by readers on the CBC website regarding what industry insiders called the “slow-motion failure” of Toronto’s glass condos where several of the experts interviewed referred to glass condo towers as “throw-away buildings.” [“Throw-away buildings: Toronto’s glass condos,” CBC News, Nov. 14]

Even casual readers of the article complained in writing about the news item’s inaccuracies and chastised the CBC itself for failing to do its homework prior to publishing material about the issues involved. One reader pointed out that the editorial failed to mention the role of the condominium’s board of directors and property management firms in controlling costs and avoiding deficiencies that can lead to premature failure. The reader warned that owners of condominium units could quite easily wind up “living in a ghetto” in short order if either of these stakeholders failed to pay attention to ongoing maintenance. Another reader who took the time to respond to the CBC pointed out that if each person or family who lived in the downtown condo owned a house in the suburbs instead, the increase in energy and financial costs would be astronomical.

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Although I do not intend to add to the controversy I would like our readers to consider a few simple facts. These buildings were designed by licensed architects and engineers who were most likely also responsible for on-site quality control. I assume the building designs and plans were reviewed by the building departments of the municipalities having authority and were granted a building permit prior to construction.

The sources quoted in the news feature often seemed to be engaging in speculation without producing any actual performance data – a practice that does not qualify as what we would normally consider building science. Nor does the article mention any of the ongoing efforts by the industry to improve quality, durability, energy efficiency and/or sustainability. The suggestion that the glass structures will require major maintenance much earlier in their life cycle than traditional structures made of pre-cast or brick was not supported by any scientific data nor were any comparisons offered regarding the performance characteristics of any alternative materials. The CBC must think the average man or woman on the street is asleep at the wheel when it suggests that stone and concrete buildings that were constructed 40 or 50 years ago are more energy efficient than the glass towers we are constructing today. I’m also interested in what they term “slow-motion failure.” A building system is either performing in accordance with expectations or it is failing to perform as intended. One or the other!

To return for moment to what is actually occurring in this instance the reader should consider some of the scientific research that has been completed in the construction sector with regard to long-term durability and sustainability. We know quite well why the construction industry does not really compare favourably with other industries when it comes to quality control or encouraging innovation. For example, it’s been proven that most improvements and innovations are incremental and most come directly from product and material manufacturers.

There are actually five main reasons why the construction sector has had a hard time keeping pace with other industries, First, most buildings are one-of-a-kind prototypes and even though many have experimented with assembly-line construction, no one has succeeded as of yet. Constructing buildings is much more complicated and complex than building cars, appliances or even aircraft. We have attempted to change our approach to construction, but because of the complexity and number of players involved, the cost has proved to be prohibitive. Change is difficult in this industry because there are so many health, safety and building code issues involved. And lastly, the industry is highly regulated. In spite of these challenges it is still within the realm of possibility to improve performance in the industry. We would have to spend a great deal more on research and development and take a much more co-ordinated approach.


Brian Burton is the author of Building Science Forum and is serving on CSA’s Fenestration Installation Technician Certification Committee. Brian is a research and development specialist for Exp (The new identity of Trow Associates). He can be reached at brian.burton@exp.com or through www.exp.com.


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