Advances in the production capabilities of small to medium glass companies since around the year 2000 brought about an expansion of the number of uses for glass that never before had been seriously considered. While we may still only rarely see glass floors and staircases, one of the most visible in any housing estate is the almost ubiquitous glass fence.
The market for glass pool fences grew quickly despite the relatively high cost and this opened the way for the large-scale production of standard size panels which were highly effective in bringing the cost down.
This was quickly followed by the importation of glass panels and the fittings required for the installations. The ease of importation lent itself to a quick way for people with little glass experience to get into business and compete with the local manufacturers.
The obvious benefit for consumers was the lowering of prices and providing access to a product that had previously been the preserve of the wealthy.
Progress comes at a cost and the cost in this case was the lowering of quality that comes with the drive to forever lower prices. Like anything that is relatively easy to get into, the business of importing glass and fittings became crowded and the competitive market promoted the inexorable move to reduce the selling price by cutting back on the quality.
This produced some extraordinary examples of shortcuts in the name of cost cutting including panels that had more in common with a banana than a glass fence panel and “indelible” toughening safety marks that could be removed with a razor blade when the quality control was so bad the safety marks ended at the top of the panel instead of the bottom.
As the importers gradually retreated, many lumped with container loads of unsellable glass, the quality improved and eventually the minimum acceptable standard was established. It should not be assumed that by “acceptable standard” that means it is acceptable to consumers. In practice it means that the importers have found a balance where the number of consumers refusing to pay is relatively low and as they are almost certainly a single sale, there is no repeat business anyway.
By the middle of the decade, large hardware chain stores were booming and the glass fence panel became a consumer item. Now you can walk into any big name hardware outlet and buy a range of panel sizes to cobble together a fence. It is cheap, unnaturally cheap, less than half the cost of a fence built by a glass company using Australian quality glass, but of course the end result matches the price tag.
The main areas of concern are
glass pool gates, all a standard size that does not necessarily rose gold glasses frames suit the site
left over gaps that standard sizes won’t fill
“stainless” fittings that rust
the reluctance of glass companies to supply patch up glass for the gaps
the mis-match of glass appearance if you can get the “makeup” panels from the local glass company using Australian glass
the absence of a knowledgeable person to ensure that what is constructed meets the Pool Fence Regulations. (It only needs to be 1mm lower or a gap 1mm wider to fail)
cheap “gate slammer” hinges that close the gate alright, but only if the wind is not pushing back. Another “fail” when the inspector comes calling.
The drive for ever cheaper product means you will have to dig deep into most search engines to find an experienced Australian glass company to supply Australian glass. They actually know about the glass itself, the quality, the Australian Standards and the other parts of their business also depend on their reputation. If you buy on price as most consumers do, they will not be quoting on the same product.
Not that this means there is not a place for the importer’s panels or the hardware store fence, but exercise caution if you’re planning to save money at the end of the project by skimping on the final touches.