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Is Your Curtain Wall Leaking?

This is a Glass Curtain wall system
Picture of Greg Batista
President, G Batista & Associates

What is a Glass Wall?

What is a Glass Wall? Glass walls (or Curtain Walls) is a system of glass panels that cover a building.  The featured image on this post is an example of a Curtain Wall system.  Curtain walls differ from regular windows in that they fit to the outside of the building instead of fitting inside a concrete opening.  These glass systems are designed to be strong and to keep the weather out.  Most significantly, they are designed to keep the people inside safe and comfortable.    Many modern buildings have glass that are made of special materials that allow light in and at the same time keep the heat outside.  This way, energy savings are increased as costs are kept to a minimum.

Can Curtain Wall Leak?

Curtain walls have been around since the 1950’s. This means that there has been enough trial-and-error in order to develop this system to where it is today.  Glass systems these days are complicated mechanisms that are comprised of hundreds of different pieces.  These window systems now have built-in  waterproofing and water-diverting systems that keep these from leaking to the interior. However, these are man-made objects and it is a matter of time until there is a failure that will allow water to enter.  Therefore, the short answer to the question above is “yes”.

Main Reasons Why Curtain Walls Leak

In my experience, these are the main reasons why curtain walls can leak:

  • Curtain walls have sealants, plugs, and diverters that directs water along a vertical stem.  The stem then leads the water to the exterior of the system.  Sometimes these items break, loosen, or are installed incorrectly.  Consequently, leaks will occur.
  • Water can enter at the top of the glass and then find its way to a failed gasket.  Gaskets are the rubber parts of a glass system.  Rubber can crack and fail as time passes.
  • In addition to gaskets failing, these rubber parts can also dislodge.  In order for gaskets to work properly, they must be constantly compressed.  Parts of the system may loosen over time and cause for these gaskets to create a breach in the wall.
  • Finally, these glass wall systems are typically made many pieces of aluminum that are fastened together.  Many times these parts are glued or screwed together.  Leaks can occur when the spliced pieces are poorly sealed.

What Can You Do About a Leak?

It is often very difficult to find the source of a leak.  A water stain can appear on a ceiling tile on one area, but the water can actually be coming in from an entirely different area.  When water enters a break in the building “envelope”, it travels by gravity through the path of least resistance.  Many times, it takes a little investigative know-how to find the source of a leak.  Other times, it proves to be much more difficult especially when the suspect is a curtain wall system.  It is not the intent of this post to go over every leaking scenario, but to steer you in the right direction.  Many curtain wall experts may be available in your area for hire.  You should seek out an experienced professional to help you out with your issue.  You can:

  • Do a google search for  “curtain wall consultant” or “building envelope consultant”.
  • Click on the National Glass Association’s Website and click on the “Resources” tab.
  • Find a reputable and experienced glazing contractor to help you.

 

 

 

 

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