Glass has long been recognized as a flexible design material, enabling architects and construction companies to create looks from high-tech modern to low-tech natural with a single material. New options in energy efficiency make glass more economical than ever. Indeed, glass is being used at record levels to create dramatic, sun-drenched entranceways, cafeterias and recreation rooms at educational institutions across the country.

But selecting the right firm for a large-scale commercial project can be a daunting task, especially for the particular needs of education institutions. Here are seven tips for finding and working with a top-notch firm.

1. First and foremost, consider the company’s reputation and longevity of service. Your goal should be to select a“partner” in the project. This is especially true if you have multiple facilities in different parts of the country. Experienced companies can lend guidance, advice and expertise. More importantly, an established company is more likely to offer the strongest product and installation warranties — a guarantee is only as stable as the company that writes it.

2. Investigate whether the company is up to speed with regard to the latest code requirements and conditions for glass structures. Some companies have actually been involved in the writing of national building codes for glass structures. These firms are certain to have re-invented their products through the years to meet or surpass these complex requirements.

3. Be sure that the company selected to build your glass structure is highly knowledgeable about geographic regions and the different challenges weather conditions create when it comes to both codes and comfort. For example, glazing bars that support glass structures come in many sizes to meet different code requirements. CSP, The Commercial Sunroom Products Division of Patio Enclosures, Inc., which builds glass structures for commercial businesses across the country, uses 3.2, 4.2 and 5.2 glazing bars. The manufacturer should make a recommendation based on the city (and state) snow-load and wind-load requirements. Also, they should advise on the best glass not only for the weather conditions but also for the sun exposure. Glass options include clear, bonze, low-E and argon-filled, for example.

4. In combination with the type of glass, the manufacturer should be experienced enough to offer recommendations regarding heating and cooling the structure. Indeed, the type of glass selected should be paired with the heating/cooling system that creates the most energy-efficient structure. For example, a glass structure could have its own self-sufficient, independent heating and cooling system or use conventional forced-air HVAC with ductwork into the room. Your decision will depend on room size, use of the room and the capacity of the current HVAC system.

5. Most importantly, a good commercial sunroom manufacturer will have turnkey services (design, engineering, installation) if you need them. Whether you require all of these services or not, it says something about the company if they have this capability. It says that they are established enough to make the investment of in-house engineering capabilities.

6. A glass contractor with in-house engineering capabilities also has a better understanding of how different glass options blend with new and existing structures. The last thing any developer or architect wants is a glass structure that looks like an addition. The manufacturer is an ancillary professional to the architect and the finished product should blend seamlessly with the existing building. For example, the manufacturer may recommend straight-eave or curved glass. Straight-eave glass offers more room, so it’s important that the manufacturer understand the use for the room.

7. Finally, employee installers are another benefit. If the manufacturer has to contract with another firm to install the glass, this could mean third-party trouble down the road. It’s best to work with one firm on these large-scale projects