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4/2/2017 Curtainwallproblems|GlassMagazine

Curtainwallproblems
Tipsonfabrication,constructionandtesting

ByDerekMcCowan,MarkBrownandMichaelLouis
June1,2007
COMMERCIAL:CURTAINWALL

Thirdinaseries

Glassandmetalcurtainwallscanprovideanattractive,durableandcosteffectivecladding
solution,butinmanybuildings,theyareplaguedwithproblemsrangingfromairandwater
leakagetofallingtrimcovers.ThefirsttwoarticlesinthisseriesonPage82ofAprilGlass
MagazineandPage60ofMaydiscussedsomeofthecommoncurtainwalldesign
problemsthatafflictowners,architectsanddevelopers.Thisarticlefocusesonfabricationand
construction,aswellasitemsrelatingtolaboratoryandfieldtesting.

Construction
Qualityconstructionteamandqualityassurance/qualitycontrol:Thebestdesignwillfailif
notproperlyimplemented.Experiencedprojectmanagers,foremen,factorypersonnel,
glaziers,ironworkers,craneoperatorsandsimilarprofessionalsareneededforasuccessful
project,regardlessofthetypeofcurtainwallandinstallationmethod.Evenwithhighly
qualifiedcontractorsandsubcontractors,factoryandfieldqualityassuranceandquality
controlareoftennotsufficientlyplannedorimplemented.

Assembleaqualifiedteam:Projectexecutivesshouldreviewthecredentialsofthepeople
whowillperformthework,includingthoseconstructingthemodulesinthefactoryandthose
erectingthewallatthesite.Experienceshowsthatthefactoryandfieldforemenaresomeof
themostcriticalmembersofthecontractorsworkforce,ifnotthesinglemostcritical
members.Thespeedofcurtainwallerectionmakesprompt,sounddecisionmakingbythe
contractorsandarchitectsfieldteamscrucialtotheperformanceofthebuilding.

TheprimeresponsibilityforQA/QCofcurtainwallslieswiththefabricatorsandcontractors.It
isimportantthatdesignersandownersrequiredemonstratedproofofQA/QCmeasures.
RequirethecurtainwallmanufacturerandinstallertoeachdevelopQA/QCmanualstohelp
standardizeandstreamlinethequalitycontrolprocess.Thesemanualsshouldinclude
checklistsofqualitycontrolandinspectionpointstobereviewedforeveryassembly
fabricatedandinstalled.

Tobeeffective,eachprefabricatedassemblyshouldbegivenanidentificationnumberandits
ownindividualQA/QCchecklist.Thesechecklistsshouldbereviewedbythearchitector
his/herrepresentativeduringfactoryvisitsanddiscussedwiththemanufacturersdesignated
QCmanager.CopiesoftheQA/QCchecklistsshouldbesubmittedaspartoftheproject
record.Inthefield,theQA/QCchecklistshouldincludesimilarpointsforreviewandshould
noteeachpanelsfinalrestingplace,oritsuniqueaddress,onthebuilding.Notonlywillthis
helpwiththeestablishmentofreviewableprocedures,butitwillforcethemanufacturerand
thepanelerectortoimplementandmaintainrigorousselfinspectionpractices.

Werecommendperiodicfactoryvisitsbyaqualifiedcurtainwallconsultantengagedbythe
ownerorarchitectforanymodularcurtainwallprojectandforstickbuiltprojectswhere
significantassemblyisperformedintheshop.Whilefieldvisitsbyarchitectsandengineers
arenotuncommonintheindustry,factoryvisitsarenotperformedonmanyprojects.Wefind
thatfactoryvisitsbyaqualifiedprofessionalcanhelpidentifyproblemsbeforesubstantial
areasofcurtainwallaremanufacturedandinstalled,beforeconsiderablereconstruction
becomestheonlyfeasiblefix.

Askamanufacturerforitsqualitycontrolmanualforfabricationproceduresforaspecific

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curtainwallsystem,andyoumightbemetwithablankstare.Experienceshowsthatmany
manufacturersandsubcontractorshavepoorlymanagedandoftenineffectiveornonexistent
qualitycontrolprocedures.Rarelyhaveweencountereddesignatedqualitycontrolpersonnel
whosesoleresponsibilityistoensurethatallaspectsoftherequireddesignare
implemented.Flybyandhitormissqualitycontrolproceduresseemtobemorethenorm
thantheexception.

Carelesserectiontechniques
Totakecareduringerectionofthecurtainwallisthemostobviouscaution.Itisalsooneof
therulesmostoftenbroken.Wehaveinvestigatedcurtainwallswithdamagedstone,glass,
aluminum,metalpanels,gasketsandothermaterialscausedbyrecklesstransportationand
placementofframingandpanelsduringerection.Curtainwallmodulesareoftenlarge,
heavyandawkwardandrequirecarefulplanningandimplementationofprotectivecrating,
handling,transportationanderection.Itiscriticaltohaveexperiencedcurtainwallinstallers
performtheinstallation,notjustmembersoftherighttrade,forexampleglaziersoriron
workers.Requireinstallerswithatleastfiveyearsexperienceinsuccessfulcurtainwall
installationtocomprisethekeyorleadpositionsintheerectioncrew.

Attemptstomakeuplosttimefromconstructiondelayscan
resultindamagetocurtainwallcomponentsascrewsrushto
meetunrealisticproductiontargets.Aprudentownerand
architectshouldprovideadditionalfieldvisitstomonitor
installationwhentheprojectschedulegoessouth.Meeting
thetargetsubstantialcompletiondatemeanslittleiftheresult
isapunchlistofdamageditemsthatrequiresmonthsto
complete.

Misalignment
Misalignmentofadjacentcurtainwallelementscanhave
seriousconsequences.Suchmisalignmentisoftendueto
errorsinlayingoutthestructuralframingsystems,butmightalsoresultfromlackof
coordinationofbuildingstructuretolerancesandcurtainwalltolerances,orimproperlayoutof
imbedstoreceivecurtainwallanchors.Inthecaseofcoordinatingconstructiontolerances,if
theconstructiontoleranceforthestructuralframeis+/1inchovertheheightofthebuilding
andthetoleranceforthecurtainwallis+/inchoverthatsameheight,itisthecurtainwall
thatwillneedtobeadjustedtoconformtotheloosertoleranceofthestructuralframing.What
oftenresultsisacombinationofcuttingaluminum,rackingmodules,andotherfudging,or
techniquesthatcanresultinavarietyofproblems.Suchmisalignmentcanbeparticularly
disruptiveforunitizedsystemsthatarelikelytohaveimproperorineffectivegasket
engagementbetweenmodulesand/orbottomingoutofindividualmoduleframes,ratherthan
theintendedfloatingbetweenframes.Lossofengagementoftheblindgasketswithinthe
interlockinghorizontalandverticalmullionsattheperimeterofunitizedpanelscancreate
directpathsforairandwatertoinfiltratethebuilding.Repairofthesehiddengasket
conditionsisoftennotfeasibleastheyarenotaccessibleafterthesurroundingcurtainwall
modulesareinstalled(seefigureonpreviouspage).Misalignmentproblemsencountered
duringerectionofstickbuiltsystemscanresultinachangeintherequiredglasssize,or
worse,areductionintheglassbitetheoverlapthealuminumframinghasontheglass.

Misalignedcurtainwallelementscanresultinanunacceptableappearanceofthefaade
(seephotoright).Evenifmisalignmentsarenotvisiblefromtheground,theymightbevisible
fromterraceroofsorthebuildinginterioratinsidecorners.

Properalignmentrequiresfieldmeasurementsbythecurtainwallsubcontractor,careful
placementofcurtainwallanchorassemblies,andcoordinationbetweenthegeneral
contractor,curtainwallsubcontractorandtheironworkersinstallingthestructuralsteel.
Layoutofembedsinstructuralslabs,particularlyposttensionedslabs,mightrequirethe
developmentofspecialanchorconditionstoavoidinterferencewiththeslabpullpointsand
tendons.Thiscoordinationmusttakeplaceintheearlyplanningstagesofconstructionand
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shouldnotbelefttothefieldtechnician.A
laserlevelsurveyofthebuildingstructure
beforethestartofcurtainwallerectionwill
helptodeterminewhatalignmentproblems
arelikelytooccurandmighthelpthedesign
teamtodevelopcorrectiveactionbeforethe
curtainwallissetonthebuilding.Similarly,a
levelsurveyofthecurtainwallcomponents
duringerectioncanhelptoensureproper
alignment,thoughthisisnotstandard
practice.

Performancetesting
Curtainwallmockupsarecriticalforidentifyingsystemicproblemsrelatedtobothdesignand
construction.Thesetestshelpfocuseveryonesattentionontheweakpointsofthesystem.A
preconstructionmockupinatestingfacility,followedbyafieldmockupduringtheearly
stagesofconstruction,oftenhelptoidentifyfitupanderectionproblems,aswellasother
unforeseenproblems.

Allfailedmockups
shouldresultinstoppage
ofwork,redesignif
needed,andsuccessful
retesting.Though
applicationofadhoc
sealantsisthequickest
andeasiestrepair,such
repairsarerarelyreliable
overthelongterm.The
Photobelowshowsan
exampleoftheentire
backsideofhorizontal
mullionthatwascovered
insealantafterafailed
watertest.Notonlyissuchahaphazardrepairunreliable,itisnotreasonabletoexpectthat
theworkerswilltakethetimetocarefullyapplylargevolumesofcaulkingtoeachmullionto
replicatesucharepairateachandeverysimilarwallcondition.Thefewthousanddollars
spenttorework/redesignaproblematicconditionduringpreconstructionwillpayforitself
manytimesoverifitpreventsproblemsthathavetobeaddressedaftertheworkiscomplete
andthebuildingisoccupied.

Whilemockupsarenecessarytoworkoutconstructibilityandperformanceissues,theyare
notsufficientbythemselvestoensurereliablelongtermperformanceofacurtainwall
system.Carefuldesign,factoryandfieldqualitycontrol,andperiodicfieldtestingduring
constructionalsoarerequiredtohelpensurecurtainwallperformance.Considermockupsa
tooltoaidintheunderstandingofthepotentialproblemsthatmightbeencounteredwitha
systemthatisbasedongoodengineeringprinciples.Failuresduringmockuptestscandraw
attentiontoworkmanshipconcernsandinadequatequalitycontrolprocedureswhilemock
upfailuresdonotnecessarilyrequireredesignofcurtainwalldetails,theyalwaysprovide
somesortofimportantinformationthatcanbeusedtoimprovetheoverallproject.Wehave
neverparticipatedinamockuptestingprocedurethathasnotprovedusefulforthedesign
andconstructionteams.

Summary
Withallofthepotentialproblemsthatdesignersfindonmostprojects,itsbecoming
increasinglynecessarytogetcurtainwallconsultantstohelpidentifyperformanceissuesand
assesstherisksthatunusualdesignsmightpresent.Whilemanycurtainwallconsultantsare
activeinindustryandremainontheforefrontoftechnologyinthiseverchangingfield,most
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donothaveahistoryofforensicexperience.Curtainwallconsultantsactivelyengagedinthe
businessofperformingforensicevaluationsofagingandfailedcurtainwallsarebetter
equippedtoconsultonthemeritsofpastsuccessesandfailures,whilehelpingtomanage
ownerexpectationsforthemoreunusualcurtainwalldesigns.

Sharethisarticle:

McCowanisaseniorengineerattheWaltham,Mass.,officeofSimpsonGumpertz&Heger
Inc.,781/9079000,dbmccowan@sgh.comBrownisaseniorprojectmanagerintheNew
Yorkoffice,212/2712000,mabrown@sgh.comandLouisisaprincipalintheWaltham
office,781/9079000,mjlouis@sgh.com

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