Many new commercial construction projects are designed with large, glass curtain walls that are attached to the outside structure of buildings. These glass walls allow filtered natural light to enter the building interior as well as create a beautiful outside appearance. Another benefit of these wall systems is to increase fire spread between floors and to keep out air and water. Typically, a curtain wall spans more than one story and is composed of metal framing with infill units of glass. Unfortunately, these glass walls are often damaged during construction activity at considerable cost.
Curtain walls can be damaged during shipment to the job site, during installation and after installation while the remaining construction work takes place. There are several methods that manufacturers’ can use to protect the aluminum windows and mullions from damage for shipment. Protecta-foam strips can quickly be adhered to the metal surface and act as a protective barrier between stacked wall units. Reinforced cardboard edge protectors from 2.5 to 4.0 inches can be taped to all edges of the units for shipment. Lastly, rolled cardboard can be used in some cases if the weight of the units is not enough to crush the cardboard. Wall glass can be protected from scratches during shipment by using adhesive window film.
Once curtain walls have been delivered to the job site, unpacked and properly installed, they are at the highest risk of damage. Various construction trades will work both outside and inside the construction project for months or years. Not only can the aluminum be dented or scratched, the glass is at high risk for scratching and breakage as well. Some glass may be very expensive if it provides seismic- or hurricane-impact resistance or ballistic proof glass specified on courthouse projects. Protecting both the glass and metal once the curtain wall has been installed is a smart move by any contractor.
Most damage to curtain walls occurs at the lowest 5 feet of the walls on each floor of the building. This is where the workers and equipment will be in the closest contact to the walls. The best protection provides a “wall” in front of the glass wall itself. This protection wall can be constructed of wood or plastic. While wood is the strongest wall protection available, it is also expensive and time-consuming to erect. Corrugated plastic sheets in 4 ft by 8 ft sections can be taped together in front of the curtain wall providing a light weight and easily constructed wall. Unlike wood, plastic can be cleaned to remove dust and dirt as needed. Since there is no electricity for lights during early construction, protection walls constructed of white or clear plastic allow natural light to enter the building.
As the demand for curtain walls continues to increase, the need to protect these walls during construction will prove a challenge. Forward-thinking architects and building owners are taking the next step with wall systems by moving from energy conservation to energy generation. These newer walls with photovoltaic modules will be even more expensive and harder to repair or replace. With proper foresight and the use of temporary curtain wall protection, the smart contractor will not have to worry about damage to his or her curtain wall systems getting damaged.