Você está na página 1de 13


Metal and glass curtain wall systems have

found growing favour in modern architecture. They are easily
distinguished from other types of claddings by their thin
mullions of horizontal and vertical metallic bars surrounding an
all glass or metal panel. The curtain wall system has evolved
rapidly over the last two decades, especially with respect to
weather control performance. The early systems presented
frequent rain penetration problems; large icicles would form on
the outside horizontal bars or condensation on the inside
mullion surfaces; glazing seals were sometimes pumped out of
the rabbet of sealed double glazing window units. However,
most of these difficulties were eventually overcome with
improved detail design of the system components. Today, most
curtain wall manufacturers offer a quality product line of
components which can be used to create one of the best overall
exterior wall systems.


A curtain wall system is a lightweight
exterior cladding which is hung on the building structure,
usually from floor to floor. It can provide a variety of exterior
appearances but is characterized by narrowly spaced vertical
and horizontal caps with glass or metal infill panels. These
systems provide a finished exterior appearance and most often a
semi-finished interior as well. They are also designed to
accommodate structural deflections, control wind-driven rain
and air leakage, minimize the effects of solar radiation and
provide for maintenance-free long term performance. Most of
today's metal curtain wall systems are constructed of
lightweight aluminum, although some may be of steel.

Since curtain wall systems are a good example of building

science principles applied to wall design, it may be useful to
review some basic principles through the details of a typical
curtain wall system.


The control of heat flow is generally achieved through the use
of insulation. Although it is not apparent from the exterior, the
curtain wall system uses considerable insulation usually behind
spandrel glass or any opaque panels. Because of the materials
used in the structure, i.e., glass and metal, which are highly
conductive, the system must also contend with potential
condensation on the interior surfaces. To curtail this effect, most
curtain wall systems incorporate two distinct features: first, a
sealed double glazed window or an insulated metal pan and
second, a thermally broken mullion, usually with a PVC plastic
insert and more recently, a foamed-in-place polyurethane
connection. A sealed double glazed window unit can
accommodate an indoor humidity up to about 35% at an outdoor
temperature of -25 C with little condensation appearing on the
glass. Similarly, the thermal break in the aluminum or steel
mullion ensures that the surface temperature of the structural

mullion will remain well above the dew point temperature of the
air for most building types, except for high humidity indoor
environments such as in swimming pools or computer centers.
The thermal break also ensures that the structural mullion is
thermally stable, that is, not subject to extremes of expansion
and contraction.


To control rain penetration through exterior walls the
conventional approach is to seal the exterior faade of the
building. However, experience has shown that it is unreasonable
to expect perfect sealing of a faade; most sealing strategies
require continuous attention and maintenance.
Studies of the rain penetration problem have revealed a better
solution than the faade sealing approach. If the air that leaks in
and through cracks and crevices of a faade during a rain storm
were limited or stopped, most of the water impinging on the
faade would migrate straight down the surface and little would
penetrate the wall. This is the essence of the "Rain Screen"
principle. If an airtight element is positioned behind a faade,
the cavity formed between the exterior cladding and the airtight
element may reach the same air pressure level as is exerted on
the cladding surface, thus removing the force which causes air
to flow through any faade opening. The "Rain Screen Wall" is
therefore characterized by a cavity behind the exterior surface
that is connected to the exterior but sealed tightly, or as tightly
as reasonably possible, to the interior. The inner surface of the
chamber is usually referred to as the air barrier of the wall.
In most curtain wall systems the joint between the infil panel
(i.e., window or spandrel panel) and the structural mullion is
usually designed to be part of a rain screen system .It comprises
a pressure-equalized cavity, connected to the exterior by the
drain holes in the exterior caps, and a pressure equalized rain
deflector seal between the outside surface of the glass and the

mullion cap. The chamber portion of the cavity is composed of

the air seals connecting the inside face of the window glass and
the spandrel panel metal pan, to the shoulder flanges of the
structural mullion and other parts of the structural section. Thus
the set of elements comprising the window glass, the air seals,
and the aluminum section and metal pan perform the air barrier
function for this wall assembly. This design configuration for
curtain wall sections has proven successful and has become
widely accepted


Solar radiation falling on building surfaces may have two
distinct effects: the first is to cause a significant change in
temperature of the faade elements and the second is the slow
but destructive effect of ultraviolet radiation impinging on all
materials, particularly organic. On curtain wall systems the most
important concerns with solar radiation have been the thermal
expansion and

contraction of curtain wall components, in particular those

forming the outside cladding, and the effects of solar radiation

on the glazing elements. A warping of glass occurs due to

differences in temperature between the inner and outer panes,
while pumping results from expansion and contraction of the air
in the cavity of the sealed units. Daily and seasonal temperature
differences can also cause this effect. The action of the window
(thermal pumping) is particularly stressing to the inner air seal;
however, serrated edges or recessed flanges keep the seals from
pumping out. Most of the ultraviolet-sensitive materials in
curtain wall systems are located in the pocket and cavity areas
of the joints and are partly shaded by metallic and glass


Water in its gaseous phase (water vapour or humidity) always
tries to migrate from a region of high water vapour pressure to a
region of lower pressure. The migration of water vapour through
a wall can be compared to heat flow; it moves through all
materials at a rate that is dependent on both the resistance of the
materials to water vapour flow and the difference in water
vapour pressure on both sides of the material.
The migration of water vapour through an assembly of materials
is not a serious problem in itself, provided it does not condense
to liquid form in the material or wall. If water vapour is likely to
condense in a wall, the principal defense is to restrain its
migration by using, a "vapour barrier" with a high water vapour
flow resistance, positioned on the warm side of the insulation
material or wall assembly.

The migration of water vapour through a curtain wall assembly

is checked by the vapour barrier qualities of the glass and
aluminum, as these materials have near perfect vapour flow

resistance for all practical purposes. Thus the inner pane of the
sealed double glazed unit and the aluminum or steel inside
surfaces of the mullion provides the necessary water vapour
diffusion control. Sealants also contribute to the continuity of
the vapour barrier.


Movements of the structural elements of a building must be
determined prior to the design of an exterior wall system.
Movements may be grouped into three types:
1. Live load deflections due to occupancy loads or peak wind
loads on the building faade, and dead load deflections of
the building structure,
2. Expansion and contraction of materials as a result of
temperature, radiation and sometimes hygroscopic
3. Slow but inexorable movements due to gradual
deformation, such as creep in concrete, foundation
settlement, etc.

When a curtain wall system is designed to extend upwards past
the roof line and thus to get cold, several potential problems
must be considered. Without proper termination at the head of
the curtain wall system, condensation and frost may form in the
tubes and eventually drain to the inside of the building, or icing
may force parts of the parapet cap off the building. Also, if
allowed to fluctuate with the outdoor temperature, the structural
part of the curtain wall system may expand and contract beyond
its design

limitations, thus straining all connections in and around the

parapet elements.
Because the structural tubes of the curtain wall system are also
miniature chimneys, particularly in high-rise buildings, they

conduct large volumes of (humid) air to the outside if left open

or unsealed at the top. As there are many joints in the structural
system of the curtain wall, it is preferable that the air barrier
component be connected from the top shoulder flange surface of
the horizontal mullion and that it be made to bridge the gap
from the curtain wall and parapet structure to the air barrier
component extending from the roof deck. This may be difficult
at times, particularly with a conventional built-up roof in which
the insulation is under the membrane and must cross over
somewhere in the interface detail. Also the air barrier between
the curtain wall and the parapet must be insulated on the outside
to prevent any condensation from forming on its inside surface.


Buildings using curtain wall systems are often required to form

an inside or outside corner. When two sections of curtain wall
meet, the interface detail must be designed to provide control
over all of the aforementioned requirements. Because corner
details vary considerably from project to project, suppliers do
not have stock sections to draw upon to construct this interface
detail. However, curtain wall suppliers will fabricate the
necessary interface components provided that their participation
is solicited early enough in the planning phase, preferably
before tenders are closed.
This interface detail will require an air barrier, some insulation
and an exterior cladding. The air barrier must be structurally
adequate to carry the air pressure loads on that corner. The
material to be used as an air barrier should be aluminum if the
curtain wall system is aluminum, or at least a sheet of metal,
and at the very least a rigid element. Galvanized sheet steel may
be used with aluminum; however, consideration must be given
to the corrosive potential of dissimilar metals. Bond breakers
such as paint or butyl tapes have proven satisfactory to many of
the curtain wall system manufacturers. If the outside cladding
down the corner of the

building is to appear as a continuous strip with no mullion

interruptions, then care must be taken to develop an air seal
joint at the ends of the air barrier sheets.

When dealing with an inside corner, the same requirements

apply. However, if the mullion caps are in near contact or
overlap slightly, it is not necessary to add a further "Rain
Screen" baffle over the insulation. The air barrier should be
rigid and sealed against the shoulder flanges of the vertical
mullions and held in place by suitable pressure blocks. The final
architectural solution may require a decorative finish inside to
follow the dotted line profile. This space should not be
insulated; otherwise the structural air barrier becomes a vapour
barrier on the wrong side of the insulation, inviting
condensation problems.


In the recent past there has been a trend in architectural practice
to devise new ways of obtaining the flush faade. Specifically,
window glass is often aligned or nearly aligned with the exterior
veneer or cladding to create a smooth unsculptured exterior
wall. Several general design weaknesses have been found in this
type of interface joint, between the masonry and the curtain wall
systems. Most often the detail shown in Figure 8 results in
condensation on the inside mullion surface and efflorescence on
the outside surface of the brick veneer. The reasons are twofold:
first, the wall insulation is out of line with the thermal break of
the curtain wall mullion. This results in a discontinuity of the
insulation plane and creates a thermal bridge that allows part of
the interior structural or metallic components to become cooler
than the inside dew point temperature. Condensation often
shows up on the inside surfaces of the sill mullions. The second
reason is a discontinuity of the air barrier, because there was no
provision for an air barrier element in

the masonry wall; if there is an air barrier; it may be attached to

the wrong part of the curtain wall mullion.


At times a curtain wall is used in a building faade system with
conventional precast panels. Vertical strips of precast panels are
interspaced with vertical strips of windows or horizontal strips
of precast panels can be interspaced with horizontal strips of
windows to create a layered effect of glazing, precast, and
In these combination systems several questions should arise
during the design phase: first, will the curtain wall system be
connected to a pressure-equalized wall or a precast panel wall
using the face seal approach and second, does the sequence of
construction allow for the successful assembly of the interface

Consider the following: a precast panel enclosure must be

connected to a curtain wall system assembly. The sequence of
construction might be as follows: the precast panel is erected
first on the building and aligned; then the structural elements
composing the curtain wall system or window system are
mounted and installed; finally, an inner wall is built behind the
conventional precast to complete the wall assembly. As simple
as it might appear, it is likely that the interface components
which connect the curtain wall system mullion to the precast
panel face will not be constructed as intended. This is because
the interface components which must be installed last, an air
barrier, insulation and a cladding detail, require that two
subcontractors, a drywall contractor and a curtain wall installer,
work on the interface joint at the same time. It invariably means
that a swing stage will have to be used again, and part of the
curtain wall will have to be dismantled.