Curtain Wall Conversations Episode 3 – Featuring Chad Howden
May 16, 2022
In Episode 3, Peter dives deep with Chad Howden!
Chad has been in the Glazing industry for 12 years. He has worked at Blackcomb Façade technologies since moving to Canada in 2014 and is now a Technical Director for the company. He found a love for technical drawing at an early age, winning a number of awards throughout his high school years that ultimately led to being acquired by Overdraught CAD Services (now known as Commercial CAD) as an apprentice. The profession followed him to Canada when he found Blackcomb President J-F Robert and the opportunity to grow with the company was one he couldn’t turn down. Blackcomb was a perfect fit for his perfectionist approach to design in their never-ending strive to go beyond the limit and create not only beautiful, but high performing façade systems. All the while making the experience seamless and enjoyable for all involved.
We had a great time chatting with Chad about energy codes, modeling vs. production, the challenge of integrating European components in North American projects, fire rating challenges, supply chains, and so much more. We hope you enjoy this wide-ranging conversation as much as we did!
Haven’t seen Episode 2 yet? We explored facade retrofit considerations, embodied carbon, supply chains, the challenges of flame-spread testing, and much more with Studio TJOA’s Alex Worden!
Still curious about fibreglass-framed curtain wall systems? Check out our other videos on our YouTube page. Previous topics include Passive House, Embodied Carbon, “Combustibility”, Installation Partner FAQ, and more!
- Intro [0:00]
- Meeting Increasingly Stringent Energy Codes [5:21]
- The B.C. Energy Step Code [8:09]
- From Modeling to Production: The Long and Winding Road to Commercialization [13:22]
- The Challenge of Integrating European Systems [16:31]
- Fire Rating Challenges [22:35]
- Bundling vs. Unbundling [28:29]
- Current Supply Chain and Market Challenges [34:45]
- Collaboration vs. Competition [41:05]
Hi there, I’m Peter, Managing Director of GlasCurtain. We’re a Canadian manufacturer of fibreglass-framed curtain wall systems for triple-glazed applications. And today we have Episode 3 in our Curtain Wall Conversations series where we talk to industry experts to explore new ideas of what’s possible with glazed facades. In this episode, we’re talking to Chad Howden. Chad is been in the glazing industry for over a decade and is now the Technical Director of Blackcomb Facade Technology, where he’s worked since 2014. Based in Whistler and Vancouver, BC, Blackcomb is a full-service glazing fabricator and installer that carries several leading European brands including MHB, Sky Frame and Raico. Chad and his team have more Passive House project experience than probably anyone else in the Canadian curtain wall industry. So this is a conversation you won’t want to miss. We had a great time chatting with Chad about modeling vs. production of cutting edge systems, the challenge of integrating European components into North American projects, fire-rating challenges, energy codes, supply chains, bundling vs unbundling, and so much more. We hope you enjoy this wide-ranging conversation as much as we did.
PETER: Chad, thanks very much for joining us for Curtain Wall Conversations Episode 3. This is going to be fun, I think we have a lot to talk about in the world of construction. So you were saying you just moved to Vancouver now, because you were in Whistler previously. Is that right?
CHAD: I was yeah, based out of Whistler for the last 7 years? Since 2014. When I moved over here from Australia. Made the move down here and Blackcomb also had a division down here so it was a pretty easy move as far as workwise. Personal life details, here I am!
PETER: Okay, and are you guys seeing a bigger proportion of your work going in the Vancouver area or are you still primarily up in the Whistler?
CHAD: It’s probably a 50/50 split. As far as the size of the company, we have about 40 employees. We have about 15 of them on the tools down here and about 10 on the tools, as far as the ground is concerned, in Whistler. We’re seeing a lot larger scale commercial projects down here and a lot more of the complex ground stuff. There is still definitely the high-end market down here for us but it’s not as big of a high-end market as we see in Whistler. So, it’s about equal in size between the two divisions for sure.
PETER: Interesting. But you guys are…you’re obviously supplying projects beyond…so what is your geographic coverage area?
CHAD: So the Pacific Northwest. So as far as Raico is concerned, we’re their exclusive partner within this area. We also do carry other lines outside of Raico as well. Being Sky Frame, MHB… Sky Frame being a high-end sliding door system, high performance, very high aesthetic value in it as well, MHB is a Dutch-made steel window system, family-owned business, like 400 years old, really, really cool system to look at. And then we have a couple of other timber suppliers and a couple of other partners that we use to complement our other systems, but Raico is the major one, we do a lot of supply only throughout the U.S. The core of what we’re really doing with that is the design engineering and that’s where we add a lot of value to a project. So we add in a lot of that design engineering and then we manufacture and ship out, in a way, a large IKEA kit to a project to be installed.
CHAD: Yeah so, Pacific Northwest but we’re open to a lot of different areas for sure.
PETER: Right yeah and that IKEA kit is very similar to what we’re doing as well. RIght? We’re selling fabricated, knock-down curtain wall framing kits and you can ship those anywhere. Right? They don’t take up a lot of space.
PETER: And you can kind of install them wherever they need to be installed. How far East have you guys supplied? Because we’re getting interest from projects in Ontario. Is there another, excuse me if I forget the answer, or if we’ve chatted about this before…
PETER: Is there another Raico supplier out East?
CHAD: There is one that does timber curtain walls exclusively. So they don’t do the whole team.
PETER: Wow. Okay.
CHAD: So their name is IC2 as well.
PETER: Oh right, I’ve heard of them.
CHAD: So they do a little bit of supply over there and stuff as well but they’re not as exclusive with their Raico manufacturing as we are. But they’re a great company, they do great work, they provide some great curtain walls, I’ve seen great work from them.
PETER: But they’re not doing doors, they’re not doing operables, they’re not doing those other things as well, so much at least?
CHAD: Not so much.
PETER: Yeah. CHAD: And as far as I know, not with the Raico system. Mind you this may have changed, I haven’t spoken to anyone other there in quite some time.
PETER: Right, right, right.
CHAD: That may all be different.
2. MEETING INCREASINGLY STRINGENT ENERGY CODES
PETER: Yeah and in terms of distribution, it’s great to see that there is a market, it’s great to see that there is a concentration for this kind of market in B.C. And to our lens and the rest of the country, and of course, we’re based in Alberta but we do lots of projects up in the Territories, lots of projects up in Ontario, across the country, and I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the country that has that kind of concentration of high-performance projects that…
CHAD: Not at all. Not at all. Especially with the way that the codes are going here, and you would have seen it in Alberta too. Your system lends itself so well to those northern projects with the cold climate certification, which is huge. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re the only one with that?
PETER: So far. It’s been almost 3 years and we’re still waiting, one day we’re going to check the component database on the Passive House website and they’ll be another.
PETER: And it’s funny actually we’re still the only ones, but we’re still seeing other manufacturers at least claiming that they can get there. You know? Which is funny. A little bit funny that they haven’t certified to it but there’s a Passive House project that we’re competing on in Manitoba. Cold Climate Passive House. It’s like you know, if you look at the Passive House map, it’s very clear that the whole province is in the cold climate zone. And there’s another European manufacturer, not Raico, (laughs) that’s claiming that they can get there, but it remains to be seen.
CHAD: Are they simply just dropping the UG? And putting quadruple glazed or something? (BOTH laugh)
PETER: Right? CHAD: I know. PETER: But I would think, Passive House, like the whole point of the Passive House standard is to protect against that, right? Because that’s sort of like the oldest trick in the book. When it comes to improving overall system performance, you just make the frames further apart.
PETER: And that’s kind of been the MO forever, right? Which made sense in a double-glazed world, certainly, where the glazing was the weakest link in the thermal envelope, and even in a triple-glazed world to a degree, where the framing becomes the weak link, but yeah, it’s like, the whole point of Passive House was that it was supposed to be about identifying every single tiny thermal bridge and eliminating it to the standards required for the climate zone. So that’s how we understood it. That was the challenge that we rose to in 2017/2018/2019 when we were doing the modeling.
3. THE B.C. ENERGY STEP CODE
PETER: But yeah, so much of it is being driven by energy step codes. So maybe coming back to that, how do you feel the…does it still feel like it’s still rationing up in B.C.? Does it still feel like there’s market adoption of every subsequent step? Or are we seeing like we’ve seen in other provinces, Ontario most recently, where there was actually a pretty severe watering down of energy codes. And I know the Passive House Canada CEO had written some public letters sort of like publically shaming some of the public officials (BOTH laugh) in Ontario at least, that have watered down energy codes. Does it still look like B.C. is on track to meet its energy targets?
CHAD: Yeah, as of the start of this year everything ramped up again. Everything going for permit has to have, for a window, a U-value of 1.0.
CHAD: And every building must meet, I forget the air change hour, 1.5 or 2, air change hours. And if it’s skylights, doors, sliding doors, all of the performance increased. To the point where double-glazing is now on the way out, for sure.
PETER: Yeah, and is that just for residential?
CHAD: I was just about to say that part, so yes (laughs)
PETER: Yes, okay, okay.
CHAD: So commercial we’re still seeing a bit of double-glazing and a bit of triple-glazing, kind of teetering between the two right now.
CHAD: But it’s definitely moving in that way. Honestly, I’m installing a lot more triple than I am any double realistically.
CHAD: I’m actually thinking of all my current projects right now (PETER laughs) and I think I have one double-glazed which is a hospital down in California, so that’s not even B.C. (laughs)
PETER: Oh wow. Sure. Fair enough. Fair enough. (BOTH laugh) So I was going to ask…
CHAD: So yeah I’m definitely seeing it on the ground here for sure.
PETER: So I was going to ask how you differentiate between the commercial market and the institutional market. Are you seeing much difference there say between the office space market vs hospitals, schools, rec centres?
CHAD: So, a lot of what Blackcomb glass do is very customized. We do a lot of the podium level sort of stuff we’re there for really custom solutions. A lot of the institutional stuff that we’re seeing is kind of, for the lack of a better word, cookie-cutter type window and curtain wall stuff. That’s not the core of our business that we’re chasing unless there’s some sort of requirement, like a… we’re looking at a couple of projects right now but because of the thermal performance of their curtain wall system we can offer double-glazed as opposed to triple-glazed, with any of the alternate solutions, so there’s a couple of those instances there, but realistically that custom high-end market is what we’re after. Even within the commercial world. So, right now, a couple of my projects, the Butterfly downtown on the corner of Nelson and Burrard, the most expensive building in Canada right now.
PETER: That’s the Westbank project?
CHAD: Correct. Yeah. So I’m doing the pool around there. So there’s quite a lot of podium level work there but the pool has benched mullions and curved glass, flyby glazing, has to be super high performance cause they don’t want the entire thing to be drenched in condensation every morning. Being inside of a pool, it’s basically a five-sided box, right? So that kind of area is where we’ve really excelled. And we can really offer the solutions and help out with areas there. So the institutional market is not something we’ve really explored outside of pushing towards… Of course, if they have something complex, you know the entryways, the… You know I’m thinking schools right now, there’s a lot of beautiful schools out there with a lot of beautiful entrances, canopies, and these sort of stuff now and I’m starting to think maybe I should be doing more of this sort of stuff. (BOTH laugh)
PETER: For sure.
CHAD: But it’s not something that we’ve chased after a lot at this stage.
PETER: Yeah, and I mean our systems could work well together on a lot of those kinds of projects. Because that’s mostly what we’re in the market of, or for, is institutional work. But of course, we don’t do skylights, we don’t do some of those other canopies and things like that, or curved facades. Our systems are always very geometric just because of one of the limitations of fibreglass. One of the limitations of fibreglass is that new dies, not only do they take time, but they’re very expensive. They’re about an order of magnitude more expensive than an aluminum die. So if you need something custom, it adds up very quickly. (laughs)
CHAD: For sure, for sure, for sure.
PETER: And the amount of engineering and testing and it’s a composite material, right? We have to do all the modeling and all the testing every time we do a new die. So it’s a big undertaking. But that’s what we did for our Passive House system, was a new die. But it means that we sort of have like two die. Two die shapes. (laughs)
PETER: It’s like we’ve got a 6-inch back section and a 10-inch back section. It’s like, how big do you want to go? But it always ends up being pretty geometric.
4. FROM MODELING TO PRODUCTION – THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO COMMERCIALIZATION)
PETER: It’s incredible how long it actually takes to bring these systems to production.
CHAD: Right, right.
PETER: It’s one thing to just model it.
CHAD: That’s the thing that I’ve known as well. I think…I know this was true about a year ago, and I may be incorrect now, but I know that the top 3 performing curtain wall systems in the mild climate that I’m in down here, none of them had ever been created before. The dies haven’t even been made.
CHAD: It’s just purely modeling on those systems. So you know, availability of product is a huge thing obviously (laughs) As I’m sure everyone’s aware.
PETER: And that’s even without a world of crazy supply chains.
PETER: Never mind the world of crazy supply chains. And that actually was a challenge for us too when we were getting our dies cut, our fibreglass dies cut. It took 2 or 3 times longer than it would have taken normally to get our dies cut.
PETER: Because fibreglass dies are a very specialized thing, it’s not like aluminum dies, they’re not as much of a commodity, there’s not as many people in the world who are doing it.
CHAD: I can imagine.
PETER: And so there’s only a handful of players who are doing it and instead of taking 4 months, it took a year or something.
PETER: Which was fine, because it was during the thick of COVID, right? And the whole world was slowed down anyways. I think it had more to do with shipping than it did with anything else.
PETER: I’m sure that time would be shorter now. But still, it takes a long time to go from the modeling and certification phase to production, and then to get even your basic standards of testing. You know? Because you have to test this new system to the air, wind…ASTM E238, ASTM E331 for curtain walls, which are the air and the water penetration…
PETER: …condensation, then for us we also have to do fire testing again! (laughs)
CHAD: No, we do a lot of custom projects…
CHAD:…so they even on the project-specific application, right?
CHAD: Like right now I’m doing the Museum of Anthropology out there…
CHAD: And even though we’re using a certified system, it’s a double-glazed, bent, skylight system. Which no one has their ASTM test on obviously because there’s not a huge market for something like that.
CHAD: So that’s my current problem right now is testing.
CHAD: Not a problem (laughs).
PETER: No, it’s a thing to do but it’s another certification. Right? And it’s kind of crazy, how many…And it’s sort of like a blessing and a curse, right? The amount of certifications that are needed for all these things. Because, if you get the certifications, you made this huge investment, great, you have this moat, right? You have this moat around your business where if anyone else wanted to come and try and do that, has to do those tests first, and that takes time and energy and a lot of those things you can’t fast-track. You can’t fast-track testing. It just takes a certain amount of time. (laughs)
CHAD: It does, yeah. To a certain degree, a lot of what I’m seeing around the world right now is it’s limiting product availability.
5. THE CHALLENGE OF INTEGRATING EUROPEAN SYSTEMS
CHAD: Right so there’s all these high-performance products, we know they’re available in Europe, and a lot of things I’m seeing, for very specific specification reasons, the product alternatives from Europe being thrown out. And basically leaving installers and fabricators with no one to go to because there’s nothing there. Something as simple as a different anodizing class between Europe and here. Right?
CHAD: There’s some consultants that are able to look at the tests between two and use their judgement to say, “Yes, these are an equal.” Or, “there is a slight variance here” and, fair enough, there are variances between the two testing systems, but you know coating is a big one, coating I see a lot of. Especially providing warranty, no one wants to be that sort of pilot person to… But then you turn to how do you get pre-manufactured product over from Europe? Especially like a pre-glazed window or something like that that’s going to go into a multi-family residential home, it has to be coded in Europe. So that means they’re coding to those standards over there. So how do we get that product over here? So you know the codes are pushing forward but the specifications need to be able to catch up and the alternatives need to be available. And it’s really up to the consultants to know what those alternatives are. And I know a lot of them myself now…
CHAD: Just because I’ve had to read into them to help explain, to multiple consultants, the differences in all of these. You know? Coding, fire-rating, there’s time and time over again, there’s hundreds of these so.
PETER: Yeah, and that’s what we’re seeing as well on, you know, I would say mostly on Passive House projects, where we’re seeing that. That’s the space where it’s creating the most demand around European products. Right? And we’re sort of like world leaders in Passive House performance so we’re obviously pro Passive House goals, as it were, we’re pro-Passive House. At the same time, it’s very odd, and very strange, and it’s kind of like strangely sexy and seductive to bring this European standard over to Canada and then the rubber hits the road and then we’re like, “wait a minute, we don’t have…” as we’ve talked before about, you know, the panic hardware on the doors.
PETER: It’s like, “what do we do?”, it’s like it only meets this DIN standard and we need it to meet this UL standard and you know, never the twain shall meet and someone has to figure out who’s going to pay for this $50,000, $100,000 test, for like 3 doors or something like that. And it’s like who’s gonna do that for any kind of project?
CHAD: No, exactly, and it’s… that one’s a perfect example of something that can get very misconstrued. So the difference between the North American and the European testing on those panic bars themselves is the North American has an elevated temperature requirement to the test.
CHAD: The European doesn’t. So, when you’re talking about putting these doors into an application where there is no fire rating on the door, there is no reason for an elevated temperature on that door… You need to take things with a grain of common sense here. And say, “Yes, this is applicable here”, or not. And that’s not for me to decide, that’s for the jurisdiction and ownership to decide themselves, right? As a manufacturer, all I can do is say “here’s what’s available to you.”
PETER: Yeah. (laughs)
CHAD: You know what I mean?
PETER: And you’re lucky when you get forward-thinking jurisdictions. I shouldn’t say lucky, I should say, the situation resolves itself the most quickly and the most easily when you have a forward-thinking jurisdiction, like you had at the Clayton community, there for example.
PETER: Where they know they need ultra-high-performance, yes, and this door meets this slightly different standard vs this slightly different standard, okay, you know no one’s life is at risk in doing this, obviously this is used, it’s far from it. (laughs) Right? Far from it.
CHAD: That’s the thing, these things have been installed for years and years and years, these standards have been applicable in Europe for as long as the panic bars have been around and have been a thing, right? It’s not like we’re trying to put anything that’s terrible out there. I would be the last person that wouldn’t do my own due diligence in putting something into a tall building like that. It takes a moment of common sense and you know it’s… going through this transition… Especially in Vancouver right now, with the way the codes are starting to catch up to the Passive House performance levels. You know what I mean? They’re actually kind of close now. (BOTH laugh). So it’s going to take this grain of common sense and you know, from an owner standpoint, selecting an envelope consultant, or a hardware consultant, that has that grain of common sense, can mean the difference between their project being a success or a failure at the end of the day. And whether they’re going to get that Passive House certification or not. It’s really about being able to put in the work upfront and figuring out these issues upfront, make sure everyone’s clear, put the options on the table, and “this is what we’re doing, is this acceptable to everybody?”
PETER: It really has to be that meeting of the top-down regulatory framework, and the bottom-up market demand for these kinds of buildings.
PETER: You know, we’re talking to folks out in Ontario on some Passive House projects, they want to do, you know, decently large,..what are they? 6-story, 10-story multi-family residential to Passive House standard. And they’re going to need the kind of exit doors with panic bars and when we sort of mentioned in passing that they might want to talk to the authority having jurisdiction about having this accommodated, they’re like “there’s no way…Hell will freeze over” before these authorities having jurisdiction will make that common sense, as you called it, accommodation. Because so many jurisdictions are just being black and white. Trying to marry these old school rules (laughs)…
PETER: with these new school frameworks for energy. And the solutions for so much of this new school energy framework are coming with their own set of rules. And they don’t always perfectly link up.
CHAD: No I think that they’re right to be cautious of it, in that we are talking about, in this particular instance, a panic bar in a life safety situation. So, it’s not something to be taken lightly, that this is an alternative, but for someone to throw it out without even a thought, is going to become a bigger and bigger issue the longer and longer this goes on. I guess, all we can ask for as a fabricator is that it will do. Look at things in an overall sense of what it is.
6. FIRE RATING CHALLENGES
CHAD: And I mean even fire-rating…
PETER: Mm-hm. Sure.
CHAD: Fire-rating is another big one as well. I’m looking at another project right now that’s…it got it’s permit out this year and there’s an entire wall of the facade that needs to be a fire-rated facade, simply because it’s so close to the building next door.
CHAD: Which means a full fire-rated, I think a 1-hour fire-rated curtain wall there. But, there’s nothing that can be done in anything larger than a double-glazed system. As far as I’m aware. (laughs)
CHAD: But anything larger than that double-glazed system is never going to get a performance value that’s going to be equal and going to satisfy the new codes that came out at the start of this year. That in itself has its own complications and whether they need to change the architecture and move it away, you know there’s some large-scale moves to simply…to satisfy these fire-rating codes. And you know, I don’t know much about the fire rating on your curtain wall but I know you have been through it
CHAD: So you can probably enlighten me as to how much the fire-rating tests are. But I know Raico recently went through it in the European certification of their steel systems for their fire-rated systems and doors over there, and it is no small fee, to go through a fire-rated system like that. So, these kind of accommodations between which of the two is going to take precedence.
CHAD: Unless you’re going to tell me you have a solution. (BOTH laugh)
PETER: Yeah, I mean the ratings are a funny thing, because you mentioned 1-hour fire ratings, we get that question come up as well, it’s like, “so how long is the time? What is the time rating? Is it a 45-minute, is it a 60-minute, is it a 90-minute?” People will hear that we’ve passed a fire test, or flames spread test but the test that is most applicable for fibreglass-framed curtain wall is the exterior flames spread test, that’s a pass/fail test. In Canada, it’s CAN-ULC S134 and the idea is that you have this 3-story assembly and at the bottom of it you have fire coming out and going on the outside of the building. The fire’s not really designed to go in behind, so much. As much as it’s designed to go on the outside. We’re now about to test to the NFPA 285, which is the American equivalent. Which is a little bit different. And there is an opportunity for fire to come…fire has to punch through the window first. So you actually have to glaze. And there’s ASTM E2307, which is, again, somewhat related. And is apparently now actually being incorporated into the National Building Code of Canada for 2020, which will then get adopted in however many years it takes to get adopted at the provincial level. As far as I understand, those are all pass/fail tests. So I don’t know that…as far as I understand…fibreglass curtain wall wouldn’t replace a system that requires a 1-hour rating or something like that. But, my understanding is also that it has to do with proximity and height of buildings as well.
CHAD: So it’s really about protecting occupant inside of the building
PETER: On subsequent floors. Yes, so, that’s right.
PETER: So it’s about protecting the floors above so on multi-story buildings, and about protecting neighbouring buildings. CHAD: Correct. Yeah. PETER: So my understanding is that those tests, at least in Canada, the ESTM E2307 and CAN-ULC S134, are applicable to those type of scenarios. Certainly the CAN-ULC, I’m still learning more about the ASTM one. But the NFPA is the American equivalent of that as well, which we don’t use in Canada, but, as we are seeing more interest for ultra-high-performance in various parts of… you know, the codes are pushing hard in the States too. Right? Massachusetts is talking about Net-Zero. Certainly the Cascadia region, you know, the Pacific Northwest is talking about Net-Zero buildings and zero-energy buildings. And so, there’s definitely pockets of the United States that are pushing hard and they also need solutions, and they’re like, “Okay, what’s on this continent?” Right? “What doesn’t have to come from overseas?”
PETER: And our name shows up on a database. But the fire codes considerations are definitely one that can be a challenge, depending on the actual design of the building.
7. BUNDLING VS. UNBUNDLING
PETER: Coming back to doors, and other components and things, the conversations that we’ve been having recently is also bringing to light how interconnected all of these components are. I mean we made a strategic choice, a decade-plus ago to just focus on curtain wall. And when we look out there at the current landscape, there’s not really a lot of other companies that are just doing curtain wall, right? They always have those door packages, they always have those window packages, or the operables. And we’re finding for the Passive House projects, that we’re consulting on, that we’re bidding, we’re having to include those in our packages. The specialized glass, they might be your doors, you know, the Raico doors,
PETER: it might be operables from Cascadia. And we’re having to bundle everything together because a small glazer in Northern Ontario or in Prince George, BC, or what have you, doesn’t have the network. Right? To source everything in a 2-week tender. (laughs)
CHAD: No, no, exactly, completing that glazing package…
PETER: That’s it. Yeah.
CHAD: …it’s a huge component of this, you know? And it again can be a limiting factor with everything going so far forward. I’m lucky enough to be working with Raico where we have timber, steel, aluminum, skylights, operable vents, operable skylights, sliding doors
CHAD: and all of these Passive House certified. Right? PETER: Right. Yeah! CHAD: We can complete the package pretty easily with those. But we were working with Raico for a very long time and even so we found that we needed alternate suppliers, like Sky Frame, MHB, to help complete these glazing packages and be able to put everything together. It’s not an easy thing to do, to put all of this stuff into a single package, and then especially when you’re going for your Passive House – Your PHPP putting every single UF value, every single UG,
CHAD: thermally modeling, every single thermal bridge, ever single PSI-installed value, it adds up a lot, very fast.
PETER: Yeah, and it’s the difference between getting a bid together and not getting a bid together in time. Right? Because if you’re a glazer in an area where you might see a Passive House project once every couple of years maybe, one Passive House opportunity, the chance that you’re going to even know who to call, and be able to get all the numbers and all the information you need, and come up to speed on the language,
PETER: and all of the vocabulary of all the stuff, is limited. And it’s a shame when you have project opportunities and then no one to bid these things. (laughs)
CHAD: No, yeah.
PETER: And so we’re finding that, just as a service, not that we set out to be a fully-integrated manufacturer, we’re not about to start manufacturing doors, we’re not about to start manufacturing operables, but, it is kind of a funny twist of fate, that it ends up being that we ned up needing to supply these things just to make sure that the project stays on track and stays competitive.
CHAD: Well, yeah. And even coming down to the schedule component of a lot of these as well. Right? Us manufacting here in North America as well, has that huge advantage that we don’t need to know the exact sizes, tender size, we can adjust here slightly. You’re not ordering a window package from Europe and it comes here. Same as what we do with all of our projects where we order our stock lengths and we order large scale materials to our shop here, and then we hold them in stock until such a tie that we have either site measurements, or confirmed sizing from the GC and then it runs through the saw and it’s very quick to get it’s way out to site. So, eliminating that schedule implication, and those general conditions that a GC is going to see, and incur on any project simply because they’re waiting for a European system, it’s a huge component making sure that this movement towards the higher performance is going to continue and not cost an owner an arm and a leg to do. Because it can have huge financial implications
CHAD: to not have your material ready to go and get installed when you need it. Having to pre-confirm things earlier and then for whatever reason, there was some miscommunication and now we’re redoing all of the openings for our windows.
PETER: And you and I, or Raico and GlasCurtain at least, we’re already at the premium end of the market. Right? It’s already a challenge on most projects for us to be incorporated, for the most part. There’s more demand than there is, oftentimes, budget. Right? Not every project has the budget to do their performance.
CHAD: To some degree. I’ve found when we’re talking equals to say a Conair system or something like that, the Raico curtain wall that we have can be competitive with Conair. I’ve won bids against Conair before, and it won’t be the last time. So, at the end of the day, it’s a bunch of aluminum sticks that go together and where we do see the increase is in the operable units, you know, the doors the vents. But they have really steep implications, so my doors, you can do a water test on the door, you can do a smoke test on the doors. I would challenge you to go downtown and do that on any other storefront door that’s sitting there.
PETER: No. (laughs)
CHAD: Where it’s basically a mohair that’s holding this thing together, right? And that was fine and it worked and it kept the doors dry, you’re not seeing wind or rain go through and everything like that, but now we’re talking about the air change hours having an impact. And it’s not only in the Passive House world, it’s now a code requirement of the City of Vancouver. And it’s going to grow outside of Vancouver as well. There’s a reason for the upgrade in cost that you see here.
8. CURRENT SUPPLY CHAIN AND MARKET CHALLENGES
PETER: You mentioned supply, like bringing in sticks from Europe is obviously much easier than bringing in sampled units, how are you finding the current supply chain environment compared to 6 months ago? Compared to 6 years ago?
CHAD: Yeah so, compared to pre-COVID, there’s definitely some alternative challenges that we’re seeing right now. Mostly just on the pricing front. Material availability hasn’t been a huge issue for us. It’s always been available from Europe, it’s just a matter of getting it here, and it’s just the delays that we have to deal with. You know, putting stuff on a boat right now is an absolute crapshoot as to when it’ll get here. Right? We’re starting to see it settle down a little bit now, but especially in the height of COVID, things took a lot longer and they cost a lot more to ship across the ocean. But I think a lot of this is due to the fact that we do manufacture here locally. So, we try to get involved very early on, I think it’s incredibly important that we do get involved very early on, so that we can start to look at the schedule ahead and say, “hey guys, this is the time to make these decisions”. And then we’re gonna put this on a boat. We may be 2 weeks ahead of time where we need to be, but if there’s a delay on the water, you know those boats usually have to stop at multiple ports sometimes those ports are busy,
CHAD: and it has to stay there for a few weeks, right? So, sorry, I lost where I was going there. (laughs)
PETER: Just supply chains today compared to the last 6 months or a couple years ago.
CHAD: Yeah, so getting that aluminum and that sort of stuff over here, is definitely one challenge. The biggest thing is the price increases. And these ones are definitely are hard one because none of my suppliers are realistically holding prices on anything for longer than 30 days. So, for me to send in a bid where I had to get a quote the week before I send in the bid, and then they’re asking me to hold my price for 60 days, and then when I win the project and I go back to the manufacturer and then “oops, it’s 20% higher now”. Well (BOTH laugh) I’m not going into the project where I’m now losing money to begin with. Right? That’s probably been the hardest part that we’ve seen. Trying to confirm and hold pricing for longer than 30 days. And I’ve seen some of my competitors are holding for no longer than 10-15 days.
PETER: And the steel guys are holding it for one day
CHAD: Yeah! Steel is… (PETER laughs) The Museum of Anthropology, the skylights that we’re doing there are all steel. Like, pre-manufactured skylights. PETER: Okay. CHAD: That one’s definitely been a challenge in itself. You know, and even coating, I forget which component it was, but it was a specific component in the powder resin, that basically just went missing. It couldn’t be found anywhere. So any custom powder was basically 4-5 months away. So, it’s very small things that we’re seeing here and there and generally, we’re able to negotiate them, with very minimal cost impact to our client. Or very minimal impact at all to the clients, to be honest. The one thing we’ve tried to hold through all this is to hold true to what we’ve given, and to our customers and try to lay out what our challenges are and what those challenges are. We’re finding, because the entire world is in disarray right now, if we outline these early enough and well enough to our clients, they do seem to understand. And get where it is and what the risks are. And that’s pretty much it. Ultimately, it’s come down to communication. As long as you can communicate the constraints well enough, that both you and the client, or the builder, or whoever it may be that you’re working with, understand where things can potentially change, and that it’s not always the manufacturer’s fault, and that no one’s trying to cash grab in all of this, everyone’s just trying to make their way through it all.
PETER: That’s right, at the end of the day we all want to build. Right?
PETER: Plus or minus a couple bucks, you know, here and there, the money will come and go. But, we all want to build something. And that’s what’s still happening, but projects are just taking a little bit longer, it feels like, to construct as well. Because there’s just all this disruption that’s not affecting, necessarily, your scope or my scope, but initial schedules, whether it’s challenges with permitting, or challenges with other 0materials and the supply chain, and the structure’s not ready. So it’s like, instead of being on-site in March of this year, all of a sudden it’s December.
PETER: And so we’re seeing bigger pushes in schedules, but things are still happening. Things are still getting built. And you’re so right about the importance of communicating some of the risks of this as soon as possible. So that there are no surprises, you know? (laughs) And you’re having to be on-site 6 months later than you thought you were.
CHAD: Exactly, you can’t cross your fingers behind your back and hope everything’s gonna go right. You have to put it down on the table and as much as GCs sometimes just want to hear the short answer of “yes, it’s on order”, you have to keep communicating, “Yes, it’s on order, but that 8-10 week lead time is now 8-12 and it’s actually a guesstimate between any of those dates. It’s not like I’m getting 8 weeks and I’m telling you 12.
CHAD: There really is a variable in all of this stuff for sure.
PETER: Very much so.
9. COLLABORATION VS. COMPETITION
PETER: Collaboration vs competition in the industry. To what extent is Raico competing with GlasCurtain? To what extent are we collaborating with one another? To what extent are we competing…well maybe we’re all competing with Conair (BOTH laugh) I tease because like we’ll use Conair doors on lots for our projects too
CHAD: I mean if any of us want to buy Conair, I’m pretty sure they’re not gonna say, “No” to us, right? (laughs)
PETER: Of course. No, no, no, they’re here to sell products too. But I think sometimes there’s an impression in this industry that everything’s so super cut-throat. And everyone’s out to get each other. And once in a while, there’s definitely less than wonderful behaviour, but I would say generally my experience in this industry in the last almost decade now has been really positive. In terms of people looking to work with each other. I’m curious on your impression as well in the time you’ve been here.
CHAD: What I’m finding is a lot of the new age construction here is a lot more collaborative with it. A lot more manufacturers these days are trying not to be everything to everybody. Understand where your strengths are
CHAD: as long as you stick to those everything is going to happen. There’s a lot of constraints out there, especially with COVID, and we all know what we’re good at.
CHAD: We all know how to do it and we all do what we do very well. There’s a reason we’re still in business. I think everyone wanting to stick to they’re core foundation is what’s really pulling us through a lot of this at the end of the day.
PETER: Right, and that’s so true. That’s room for optimism in the space ahead as we move to higher and higher performance buildings. We’re definitely going to need more collaboration together. We’re all trying to figure out so much for the first time. You might only have to figure out for the first time once in one jurisdiction but then you can apply those lessons learned to other jurisdictions and slowly we can get this whole country, over the course of our career certainly, we have a few years ahead of us. (laughs)
PETER: But, you know, one project at a time and we can build something.
CHAD: No, exactly, and I think it all starts with the movement towards the growth, like BC’s energy Step Code completely mind blanking, but New York has a very similar
CHAD: adaption of the system down there. So we’re seeing a lot of that down there. And it realistically starts with the movement of that. There is incremental cost to this at the end of the day. And I think the industry has been in this cut-throat market or going at each other and everyone chasing everyone to the bottom dollar and until the codes change, I can’t see that changing and that mentality changing. here as well. One thing that increasing these codes does is it makes everybody in this industry accountable for what they do. And realistically that’s the perfect reason for these collaborations You need to know what you’re doing before you get into the market, for sure.
PETER: Yeah, and I think another thing the codes do, building off that, is open minds. Right? Like we’re seeing in the design community a lot more openness to new products and new ideas. And then a lot of that collaboration is happening earlier because instead of us being viewed as, and I mean us as product manufacturers broadly, or fabricators broadly, instead of us being a commodity product, where we’re all racing to the bottom, we have knowledge, we have experience, we have value, we have a certain quality that helps achieve architectural ambitions or aesthetic ideals, or what have you. And I think it’s great to be part of the design process instead of just throwing numbers at the wall all the time we get to actually be much more engaged.
CHAD: I can’t tell you the amount of times and you can tell day by day that there’s been no involvement early on from the trades because there’s all sorts of conflicts and all sorts of things that don’t work and that’s the kind of project I’m gonna stay away from, right?
CHAD: You know that early collaboration and the confidence in what there is at the end of the day, when we do these early designs and early collaborations I feel safer going in at a lower number. I don’t have the unknowns on the project anymore. So, realistically, the ownership and the client at the end of the day is probably getting a better product at a cheaper price than they would have if they just put this out for bid. So it’s a funny way of looking at the front-loading of this whole system and the way that it actually saves you at the end of the day. It does take someone in the industry to see the value in it for sure, but I think with what we’re seeing and some of the projects I’ve brought to realization it’s more than true, it’s more than true. And it’s repeating itself over and over and over again.
PETER: Yeah there’s opportunity to have our cake and eat it too, right?
PETER: It’s not just that we get a better performing product it’s that we get one in a more competitive way I guess as well.
CHAD: No, exactly.
PETER: It’s been a pleasure having you on you know just to chat, right? I mean just to sort of open up these conversations to the world. There’s a lot here, right? There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes in our world. And I think as guys like you and I become subject matter experts hopefully this opens up the doors for other people to see what’s going on and see what it’s like at the leading edge, right? Because we’re trying things before a lot of architects or clients and trying things in other parts of the country, or the continent even. and hopefully, we can use this platform to spread even further.
CHAD: Yeah no 100% I love the idea and I’m a bit jealous that you came up with it before me. (BOTH laugh)
PETER: Well, I appreciate that very much, and we’ll sign off there. Thanks very much.
So, there you have it. Our third episode of Curtain Wall Conversations featuring Chad Howden. We hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as we did. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @glascurtain with one ‘s’ in “glas” to stay up to date on new episodes of this great series. Also, be sure to check out our YouTube account where this episode and others are now available. If you have any questions about our conversation today or fibreglass-framed curtain wall in general, feel free to reach out to us by email at email@example.com You can also subscribe to our blog for all the latest updates, which we’ll link to in the description below. Thanks very much. We’ll see you next time.