BEC Attendees Take Home Best Practices for Curtainwall Installation
April 1, 2010

Attendees of the BEC Conference, which took place earlier this week in Las Vegas, heard tips for proper installation of curtainwall, among other topics.

Attendees of the Glass Association of North America's (GANA) Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference clearly were no strangers to curtainwall, but several presentations offered best practice tips to help those contractors further excel on their next job.

During a presentation on "Preventable Causes of Curtainwall Failures" Chris Fenwick of Kawneer Co. Inc. covered issues "that are exclusively within the control of a glazier out on the jobsite."

As Fenwick pointed out, the energy-efficient products so much the topic of conversation during Glass Week (CLICK HERE for related story) mean little in the field if they're not installed properly. "It doesn't matter what the components can do for you if they're not installed properly, you're not going to get the same level of performance," he said. He broke the most common problems down into two recurring categories: 1) critical perimeter and system seals; and 2) assembly and installation.

Regarding the topic of perimeter and system seals, Fenwick advised glaziers to "maintain proper caulk joint on all four sides of the system." He acknowledged, "This may seem elementary to someone who's an industry veteran but we go out in the field and see this time and time again." He reminded the glaziers to use enough material to absorb the movement of the glass and building, to create a cushion between aluminum and other materials that might damage the material or its finish and prevent the cold air on the outside from affecting the materials on the inside.

He also recommended cleaning the contact points with proper solvents. "Do an adhesion test to make sure your materials adhere the way you want them to," Fenwick said.

He added, "Make sure you've got glaziers taking the instructions from the manufacturer and applying them in the appropriate places."

When it comes to assembly and installation, Fenwick said that the first thing to address "is something as simple as the shims." He explained, "They have to be in the proper location; need to be load-bearing, non-compression and highly durable; a good rule of thumb is to put your shims under the setting blocks on the horizontal."

Like shims, Fenwick continued, setting blocks need to be of the proper composition for the glass and system, and they need to be put in the right location. Using the wrong materials can put undue stress on either the lites or the spacer. A photo of a spacer bar pushed into an IGU air space demonstrated the problems that can occur with improper care to placement. He advised putting setting blocks at quarter points and reminded his audience not to block weep holes, inadvertently trapping water, with those blocks.

Fenwick also advised his audience to locate and torque pressure plate screws properly to prevent water and air infiltration.

BEC attendees also were treated to some tips for installation on retrofit projects. Dave Hewitt of EFCO Corp. presented "Tips to Work on Window Replacement Jobs." According to Hewitt, "It's an emerging, growing market" (CLICK HERE for related story). "When you look at the economy we're in right now, it's very challenging … so look for opportunities to get into businesses you're not doing right now is very critical," he added.

There are several reasons why an owner might wish to replace a building's windows. Improving energy performance or meeting LEED requirements is a common motivator today (CLICK HERE for related story), but Hewitt said that hurricane impact and blast windows are also a growing category for replacement windows. "We're seeing windows in barracks all across the country being replaced," he said. In addition, Hewitt noted that there are a number of sources for obtaining federal funding for replacement windows in historic buildings.

Next Hewitt provided a checklist of items to consider before bidding on a retrofit job. Obviously when you're dealing with retrofit you want to go out to the jobsite first, began. The best thing to do, Hewitt continued, "Is have the window removed to see the interior of the wall cavity and see what you're dealing with."

He pointed out that when bidding a retrofit job it's important to factor in whether or not the framing materials will need to be removed. Hewitt also emphasized being aware of perimeter anchorage. "It's very important because often the surrounding structure isn't capable of supporting the load of the window," he said.

In addition, Hewitt reminded glaziers to consider whether installation certification requirements might be involved, such as the lead paint certification requirements for buildings constructed prior to 1978 (CLICK HERE for related article).

"Understanding how you're going to access the opening or the location," Hewitt said, is another important consideration. Will you be able to store your materials onsite? Will you have to work after hours because the building is occupied?

But with these suggestions in mind, Hewitt encouraged the listening glaziers to learn more about this potential market for glass installation. "The opportunities for historic renovation are huge right now," he said.

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