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3 Types of Exterior Glass Walls Used in Commercial Buildings

Exterior glass wall

When designing your commercial building to include more glass, you have three types of walls from which to choose. All three types of walls increase the amount of light entering your building and enhance the exterior architecture. Here's a quick guide to the kinds of glass exterior walls commonly used in commercial buildings.

1. Storefront Wall

A storefront wall is generally only as tall as the first floor of a building. Heights from 10 to 11 feet are most common. Only rarely will a storefront wall be designed to rise up several stories. Taller storefront designs are mostly seen in larger buildings with two-story entrance ways or foyers.

A storefront wall is a non-load-bearing wall placed between the building's slab and the floor above the storefront. Because a storefront wall does not support the floor or wall above it, you can change out the storefront components without having to brace any part of the structure. However, storefront walls should always be designed to handle heavy traffic.

Storefront window systems are generally fabricated at the site where they'll be installed. A major concern when installing the storefront wall is waterproofing and drainage of the system. Sill flashing, weep holes and end dams are used to seal the storefront and limit any penetration of water into the structure.

2. Unitized Curtain Wall

There are two types of curtain walls you may have installed on your building. Of the two, unitized curtain walls are the smarter option. The second type of curtain wall - the stick-built type - is generally constructed on site. Dust and debris can affect the look and performance of the curtain wall fabricated on site.

The unitized curtain wall is assembled in a clean, dust-free factory. Infiltration of dust, rainwater and debris is not an issue with unitized curtain walls. Glazing is done at the factory as well to ensure even application. The unitized sections arrive at the work site in sections that are one lite (glass section) in width by one floor in height.

Like storefront walls, curtain walls are non-load-bearing. The curtain wall sections hang from the exterior of the floor slab above the wall. Unlike storefront walls, curtain walls often span several stories and are generally never less than 13 feet tall. Curtain walls are also much thicker than storefront walls and can be made hurricane and blast-resistant.

Curtain walls are installed one unit at a time. Crews put the panels in place around the building in a sequential manner. An approved fire-stopping barrier must be placed between floors as the curtain windows are installed.

To reduce the likelihood of water infiltration, unitized systems use rain screens, interlocking frames, gaskets and other methods of waterproofing. It's best to incorporate several lines of defense to keep wall leaks from happening in a curtain wall system.

3. Window Wall

A window wall may appear to be similar to a curtain wall. However, window walls require more labor and materials to install. The walls span from the underside of the floor above them to the top of the slab at their bases. They fit between the floors rather than hanging in front of them as curtain walls do.

Windows in walls must be installed in starters, which are sill and head receptors that help hold the windows to the wall. On-site, perimeter sealants and weather stripping are added as each window is set in place. The window wall may take much longer than a curtain wall to install because each window is handled individually.

There is generally no need for fire-stoppage construction at floor slabs in a window wall. Windows may be installed out of sequence without affecting the integrity of the wall system.

Contact Hoosier Glass Company today to learn more about commercial glass walls. We've been helping our customers enhance the looks of their Indiana buildings since 1956.