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The Engineer: Last words

The great ocean of truth lies undiscovered before us.

December 8, 2022  By David Heska, P.Eng.

Money can’t buy life” were the last words musician Bob Marley said to his son in 1981. Last words matter. We treasure them. We repeat them. We hold them in our memories. I still remember at WinDoor 2017 when Patrick Flannery first asked if I’d be interested in contributing articles to this magazine. Five years and thirty articles later, it’s now time for me to pass the pen to someone else [That someone is going to be Claudio Sacilotto of Sunview Patio Doors – ed.]. With my final column I want to look forward to some opportunities and some threats I see on the horizon for our industry. 

First the threats. One outside factor that will influence our curtainwall and glass market in the coming decade is a labour shortage. Employees are retiring. The Canadian birth rate is falling. Immigration is helping to offset this challenge, however the upcoming wave of Baby Boomer retirements will hit our industry. Knowledge and experience will be lost. It’s up to us to act now to ensure that as much as possible gets passed along to the next generation.

A second threat that continues are local and foreign government decisions. We have little control over these choices and they can throw our plans spinning. The U.S. could make a decision on tariffs, China a decision on exporting, Canada a decision on taxation and we have to quickly pivot to respond.

But enough talk about the threats. What opportunities are on the horizon? I join the chorus encouraging our steady march towards a low-carbon future. Practically, that means triple-glazed designs; elimination of thermal bridges; and consideration of the entire building envelope rather than just centre-of-glass numbers. It is time to think about what you and your business can do to take advantage of the huge opportunity before us. Building owners have promised to dramatically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade or two. This will require billions in investment in retrofits that will be additional to the repair and service work that would have happened anyway. Add to that the increase in demand for higher-performing fenestration and facades in new construction. All this is occurring in an environment where there are already not enough Canadian fabricators and contractors to meet the demand for commercial glazing in this country. A glazier who can demonstrate capability to meet high quality and environmental standards will be positioned for as much growth as they want. But you will have to be able to meet the standards. Soon you’ll be asked for environmental product declarations on the components you manufacture and/or install. Will you be able to provide them? Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. 


I also believe there is a huge opportunity for greater connection between consultants and contractors and between design engineers and fabricators. Changing traditional practices where one company is brought to the table for the first year and then a different party is brought in after the design has been completed without the two collaborating should end. Large public procurement projects have begun to shift in this direction but many of the small- and medium-size development and renewal projects are still operating like we are living in the 1970s. 

With that I will bid you a fond farewell. Obviously I’m no Isaac Newton, but his last words are similar to how I feel: “I don’t know what I may seem to the world. But as to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

The great ocean of truth lies undiscovered before us. Let us explore, innovate, engineer and construct within it.

David Heska, P.Eng. is a director with WSP’s building sciences team in southwestern Ontario.

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