United Facade

Curtain Wall System Cost and Comparison with Other Wall Systems

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Curtain Wall System Cost and Comparison with Other Wall Systems

Construction costs can vary significantly, and one practical example of this is evident in the comparison between window walls and unitized curtain walls. Typically, installing a window wall can cost almost half as much as a unitized curtain wall. For instance, the average cost of a unitized curtain wall is around $104.9 per square foot, while a double-glazed window wall with insulated slab bypass and interior foam insulation costs approximately $54.6 per square foot.

There are several factors contributing to the cost difference. One of the main reasons is that installing a window wall requires fewer major hoisting equipment during the installation process. Additionally, window walls have simpler components, making them more cost-effective to manufacture. Unlike curtain walls, window walls do not need to be structurally engineered for self-support, which further reduces their overall cost.

Despite the lower cost, window walls can be a viable alternative to the more expensive curtain walls, especially for certain applications. Curtain walls not only come with a higher price tag but also require specialized crew and equipment for installation, leading to longer installation times.

However, it is essential to consider various factors when choosing between these two systems. Curtain walls, although more expensive, offer advantages in terms of water penetration and air leakage due to their less exposed parts and simpler connections to the structure. Buildings with curtain walls also typically have fewer enclosure penetrations, reducing the risk of leaks.

On the other hand, window walls possess unique characteristics that make them well-suited for residential applications. They provide better compartmentalization within the building since they are installed between floors without leaving a gap between the slab edge and the cladding. This feature reduces noise, smoke, and odor transmission between floors, which is particularly desirable for multi-unit residential buildings.

The performance of both systems heavily relies on proper design and installation. Older iterations of window walls may have been associated with perceived faults, such as the lack of slab covers, but modern window wall designs have addressed these issues. It is crucial to dismiss any false perception that window walls are inferior to glazed cladding; in fact, they can outperform typical curtain wall systems in certain scenarios.

To fully compare the two systems, further analysis should be conducted, including mockups of both systems to corroborate modeling results. While they share some similarities, window walls and curtain walls are not always interchangeable, as they serve different structural roles within the building.

Metrics used to evaluate the overall performance of each system include thermal performance, water penetration, air leakage, and moisture control, along with constructability, cost, and maintainability. Curtain walls tend to have a higher R-value at the clear wall and slab intersection, giving them an advantage in thermal performance. However, improved window wall designs, featuring continuous thermal barriers through spandrel bypass and thermal breaks in balcony slabs, enhance their thermal performance.

In conclusion, the choice between curtain walls and window walls depends on the specific needs of the construction project. Curtain walls are sleeker but come at a higher cost and are more commonly used in commercial buildings. On the other hand, window walls are frequently employed in residential buildings due to their lower cost, installation from the building interior, and high customization potential, especially for accommodating mechanical penetrations. Both systems can achieve strong performance when properly designed and installed, making them viable options for tall residential and commercial buildings.”

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