Think Big

Five practices that can help make the largest multi-panel door job a little easier
Laura Hahnefeld
June 28, 2014
FEATURE ARTICLE | Strategies & Practices

Todd Hayhurst is no stranger to big glass projects.

 
As service manager for Western Window Systems, Hayhurst has to think big on a wide range of residential and commercial jobs. But it’s the various positions he’s held during his nearly 20-year career with the company—designer, manufacturer, installer and salesman—that give him a more intimate look into each stage of the project.
 
Ask Hayhurst to name the big job that stands out as one of the greatest challenges of his career, and he’ll most likely ask if you’ve got time for a beer or two. Then, he’ll take you to Malibu in the summer of 2012.
 
“That was a job that really pushed us,” says Hayhurst. “Wanting a huge, custom-designed door system is one thing. Wanting it installed on top of a cliff in Malibu, where the wind never stopped blowing, well, that was a little unexpected.”
 
What got Hayhurst up the mountain and back down again? Here, he shares five practices that can help make the biggest multi-panel door job a little easier.
 
Series 600 Multi-Slide Doors from Western Window Systems, installed by Westoaks Glass and Mirror. Photo by Western Window Systems.

Push the Envelope, but Don't Say Yes to Everything

 
“Architects dream big. They challenge you to stretch your limitations,” Hayhurst says. “Your job is to take their vision and make it work, but not at the cost of a poor product.” For the large-scale multi-panel project in Malibu, Hayhurst and his dealer partner—Rich Mattieu from California-based Associated Building Supply—met regularly with the architect. The goal: to push creativity in a real-world way.
 
“He wanted natural-looking, frameless floor-to-ceiling glass. We wanted sill tracks,” he says. “The end result was a mammoth window wall that included 20 panels of glass (14 of which were 10 feet tall), reduced sight lines, containment for each panel, fixed panels of butt-glazed glass for corners and two custom-made extrusions.”
 

Let Everyone Know What the Customer Expects

 
On custom jobs, especially big custom jobs, the thinking can be so outside the box that a typical order form won’t work as a means of communication. Hayhurst suggests a more hands-on approach, especially when sharing a big project’s most crucial component: customer expectations.
 
“If you can’t deliver on what you and the customer have agreed upon—if you don’t keep that the focus throughout the process—you’re in for a world of problems and a client that doesn’t trust you anymore,” he says.
 
On the Malibu job, Hayhurst met with team members both inside and outside the company. By the time he was done, everyone—from engineers and designers to craftsmen, installers and shipping staff—knew what was expected of them as well as the end goal.
 
“When people understand the why of what they’re doing, the project becomes more personal. You make them part of a team,” he says.
 
Knowing the door system needed to feature as much glass as possible, Glen Froehlich, a product design manager at Western Window Systems, and Hayhurst created a custom-mulled piece that minimized the sight line at mulled conditions to match the interlock condition. On the manufacturing side, Hayhurst walked the production team through every part of the process. The job flowed through correctly and on schedule.
 

Stick to It, Even When There are Hiccups--or a Windy Cliff

 
Even the best-planned projects hit snags. The bigger the job, the bigger—and often costlier— the snag. Do all that you can to avoid them. Perform a site walk to make sure slabs are level, jambs are plumb and openings are framed to the correct size. And double-check parts and measurements. But know that no amount of preparation can get you ready for the inevitable hiccups that will arise.
 
“For the Malibu job, we knew the size of the panels would take four men to move them, not two,” Hayhurst says. “But because the house was on a cliff, those four men had to move them twice: from the truck on the street to one that could get up the road to the house. At some point, you’re too far into a job to say, ‘Well, I guess 
 
it’s not going to work.’ Stick to it. Make it work.”
 

Installation: You Get What You Pay For

 

Multi-panel doors are not just any door. Their size, multiple components, and array of configurations and building options mean they need to be sold by knowledgeable dealers and placed by competent installers.
 
“It’s not their size as much as knowing things like how to put a frame together and how to seal it so you don’t have problems later,” Hayhurst
says. “On our panels, at least 80 percent of the problems are installation-related: the two biggest are sills not being level and sills incorrectly sealed to the floor.”
 
On the Malibu project, given the precise measurements, custom parts and large-scale material investment, there was little room for error. And
although the job demanded an experienced installer, Hayhurst says, qualified installers should be used for all multi-panel door projects — regardless of size.
 
“These things aren’t kits. They have to be put together on site. Find and pay for a good installer, preferably one with AAMA certification,” Hayhurst says. “Window waterproofing has changed the installation industry. Sealants have come a long way and so have materials. The expertise of a good installer can make all the difference in protecting a home from water damage.”
 

Celebrate Later, Follow Through Always

 
Big projects take a lot of time. You need to be dedicated and focused throughout each step of the process, even after the job is complete. And that means follow-through.
 
“It really resonates with the customer. It gives them a sense of comfort,” Hayhurst says. “Plus, it gives you the chance to troubleshoot and share what you’ve learned with your team.”
 
For the Malibu job, which took a total of two years from concept to final installation, Hayhurst returned on several occasions to check on his door
system. But on that last trip down the mountain, celebrating a job well done was the last thing on his mind.
 
“It consumed so much of my life. All I could think about was moving on after it was finished,” Hayhurst says. “It wasn’t until a few months later that I started to really feel good about what the team and I had accomplished. We faced some big challenges, but in the end, we made it through every one of them. Plus, the two extrusions I helped to make have been used in other homes. It was a big project, a challenging project, but it had a happy ending.”

 

The author is communications manager for Western Window Systems, the designer and manufacturer of custom door and window systems in Phoenix.