by Frank Fulton
Originally published in Glass Canada Magazine, February 2016 Issue
The early days of insulating glass in Canada were like the wild west. There were no standards, very limited technical knowledge, and upstart companies were beginning to spring up mindlessly slapping pieces of glass together and selling them to an unwitting public. The 30-storey B.C. Hydro Electric building in Vancouver was one of the first large scale projects to use sealed units and every unit failed within a year, giving the industry a black eye and raising questions about the future of this highly touted new product.
During the 1950’s Canada Mortgage and Housing (CMHC) was financing most mortgages and also writing and enforcing the standards for building materials. To get financing for a project the materials you used in its construction had to be CMHC compliant. Partly in response to the Vancouver disaster, insulating glass units were added as a component under its jurisdiction, setting the benchmark for production systems, quality, and reliability. Fulton recalls, “As this developed, I became more interested in trying to become a producer for the huge market that I saw was developing.”
Fred was selling to a number of large and small businessmen for Pilkington Glass and talked a lot about the great potential for the growth of the insulating glass business. “One of my customers, Al Weiss who worked with W & H Aluminum, liked the idea of making sealed units and asked me to come with him as a full partner to form a company. The name we chose for the company was Sealite Glass Limited.”
“Al introduced me to his business friend who he believed would make a good partner for me. His name was Joe Shapiro and we were partners for 12 great years and remain friends to this day.” The team opened their doors on Bridgeland Ave. in 1959, not far from the Yorkdale Shopping Mall. “I spent almost all of my time calling on customers and architects trying to drum up business and Joe did a remarkable job of running the operation and the plant. Together we made a great team, worked hard and had a lot of fun doing it. It was an exciting time.”
Fred had learned a great deal about the manufacture of insulating glass and had developed strong relationships with many glaziers and window manufacturers during his tenure at Pilkington and this experience had a great deal to do with the successful start of Sealite. Pilkington, PPG and the other major sealed unit manufacturers all sold insulating glass to contractors and builders, but Fred determined that the best way to grow Sealite was by only selling to and supporting the clients he knew best: glass shops and window manufacturers. As a result, coupled with much better pricing than the majors and a seal failure warranty backed by Lloyd’s of London, Sealite was able to establish itself as the major supplier of insulating glass to the glass trade at the time.
In addition to being a trailblazer Fred was a natural leader and was a founder and first president of the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Association of Canada (IGMAC). Although CMHC had established standards for insulating glass, Fred believed the industry would do better by setting its own benchmarks and policing the industry with people who understood the business. He put in many hours working with a hard-nosed competitor, Paul Butler from Armalux, to establish the details to make this work. “It was a fine association where eventually every producer joined and we developed our own standards, relieving CMHC of their responsibility. Thanks to the standards developed by IGMAC, sealed units made in Canada were the best and most reliable in the world. I actually consider the starting of IGMAC as one of my biggest accomplishments in business.”
If you’re like me, you probably check out the glass and windows in old buildings, and on a number of occasions I’ve come across Sealite units that have been in service for over fifty years with their seals intact and as clear as the day they were made.
Frank Fulton is president of Fultech Fenestration Consulting. He has been in the industry for 30 years and can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Categories: You Bet Your Glass