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CURTAIN WALL VS. WINDOW WALL: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

2019-12-30

With the allure of urban life only growing, designers and developers must find a way to accommodate an increasing population within the limits of existing cities. Space restrictions mean building up, not out, while still providing inviting and well-built condos, offices and commercial spaces.

 

Curtain and window wall systems are a popular choice as they add design interest to architecture, as well as allow for maximum light within a building’s space. Here’s a breakdown of the difference between the two wall systems, plus the positives and drawbacks of both.

 

What Is A Curtain Wall?

 

A curtain wall is a glazed wall system hung off a concrete slab using anchors. Curtain walls are self-supporting and give a building’s exterior the look of top to bottom glass. Most often used on commercial buildings, curtain walls are typically installed from the outside of a building using cranes or rigs. Curtain wall installation is a complex process and can be more expensive than other systems.

 

What Is A Window Wall?

 

A window wall is achieved by placing glazing between a building’s concrete slabs, using the slabs as structural support. Window walls have a break between the glass, with slab covers used to conceal the concrete. Window walls are often used in residential applications as they allow for more customizable sections such as windows and balcony doors. They are most commonly installed from the inside of a building, which is a safer, more efficient and more cost effective.

 

Curtain Wall Advantages

 

If installed correctly, curtain wall systems provide excellent structural integrity, as there are fewer mullions and joints required when compared to most window wall systems. Acting as a single unit, curtain walls are highly resistant to moisture, wind, heat and earthquakes. They require little maintenance.

 

Window Wall Advantages

Aside from advantages such as customizability, ease of installation and cost savings, window walls also require less engineering and safety considerations as the exterior wall is broken up by each floors’ concrete slab, providing built-in fire stopping. Also, because the separation of each window wall unit creates a sealed space there is less noise transfer and energy loss. Further, if a unit becomes damaged and needs repair that specific unit can be removed and replaced without affecting the adjoining units.

 

Backpans And Window Walls

 

When used in conjunction with curtain wall systems, insulated back pans are placed behind sections of the wall that do not require vision glass. In a curtain wall, the variances and design choices of the full assembly affect the backpan sections just as they will the glazing and other components. Because the backpans sit outside the floors, there is often variation in required height, leading to a more costly and variable manufacturing and installation process. However, in a window wall application this variation is eliminated. Pre-manufactured backpans rest between a building’s floors and are simply shimmed during installation to address any irregularities. Since most buildings are similar floor to floor, part repeatability is improved.

 

A Cost Comparison

 

For the comparable amount of glazing, window walls can be installed for half the cost – or even less – of curtain walls. Window walls are easier to install, which reduces the need for extra equipment, lifts, and handling time. Because the installation process is safer, fewer special precautions need to be taken, which further reduces cost as well as shortens the timeline of a project. Window walls also involve more repeatable components, improving efficiency during the manufacturing process. Further, a more rigid scope means most components can be assembled in shop rather than on site, resulting in fewer errors, less site disruptions and a higher quality product.

 

 

Learn More Knowledge about Curtain Wall

 

A curtain wall system is an outer covering of a building in which the outer walls are non-structural, utilized only to keep the weather out and the occupants in. Since the curtain wall is non-structural, it can be made of lightweight materials, thereby reducing construction costs. When glass is used as the curtain wall, an advantage is that natural light can penetrate deeper within the building. The curtain wall façade does not carry any structural load from the building other than its own dead load weight. The wall transfers lateral wind loads that are incident upon it to the main building structure through connections at floors or columns of the building. A curtain wall is designed to resist air and water infiltration, absorb sway induced by wind and seismic forces acting on the building, withstand wind loads, and support its own dead load weight forces.

 

Some curtain wall systems utilize "pressure bars" (also referred to as "pressure plates") that are fastened to the outside of the mullions to retain the glass. These systems frequently include gaskets that are placed between the pressure bar and mullions and function as thermal breaks and help with acoustic isolation. These systems require special care in design and construction to ensure continuity of the gaskets at horizontal and vertical transitions. Gaskets are also used to cushion the glass on the interior and exterior faces of the glass. The problem with gaskets is that they tend to be stretched during installation and will shrink back to their original length in a short time; they will also shrink with age and exposure to ultraviolet radiation. There is usually a gap in the gasket at the corners after shrinkage occurs. With a properly designed system the water that enters the system at the gasket corners will weep out through the snap cover weep holes. To mitigate shrinkage of gaskets back from the corners the use of vulcanized corners and diagonally cut splices are recommended.

 

 

FAQ

 

What is a curtain wall?

 

A curtain wall is usually composed of glass panels divided by grids into many panels and are separated by mullions and transoms. Mullions are the vertical separations and transoms are the horizontal separations. However there are many combinations of curtain walls. Sometimes a single panel is considered a curtain wall. This is usually supported with spider system or with cables. Other times the panels are separated by grids without mullions and transoms.
Note that some or all panels may be replaced with solid panels (wood, aluminum, stone, empty, ...). This is still a curtain wall. Basically it's a wall but composed of thin elements as opposed to thick block walls, gypsum walls, etc ...



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