Glass Industry Stays on Top of Building Enclosure Commissioning

Building enclosure commissioning seems to be moving swiftly along the growth curve, suggesting the glass industry should pay attention. According to John Runkle, vice president for building sciences at Architectural Testing Inc., his firm has now commissioned between 60 and 70 buildings.

The concept of building enclosure commissioning involves taking a holistic look at the building, including the glazing, beginning with design right through construction, to ensure that all components are working together toward the same energy goals. The practice, which has its origins in the residential sector, is becoming more common in the commercial arena as well. While contract glaziers and others in the glass industry as a whole are well positioned to operate in the emerging commissioning environment, the industry needs to be aware, say some experts.

What may be more indicative of the trend is the type of buildings being commissioned. One of the central elements of commissioning involves testing by using building mockups—that is, three-dimensional, life-sized, sections of buildings prior to their construction. Five years ago, says Runkle, projects budgeted at $40 million-$50 million and up would be candidates for such mockups.  Today, “We’re seeing that owners are accepting and paying for mockups for projects with budgets below $10 million,” he says.

The good news is, energy efficiency and testing for air and water tightness are concepts already familiar to the glass industry. “I think for the glaziers and the glass industry, there really won’t be much difference in terms of testing,” says Chuck Knickerbocker, curtainwall manager at Technical Glass Products. “The window guys have always been responsible for making sure their materials are air and water tight and also that the [window-to-wall] transition is air and water tight.”

Stanley Yee, facade design and construction specialist at Dow Corning, agrees, to an extent. Is the glass industry ahead of the curve? “I think an argument could be made, yes, when it comes to air and water infiltration resistance performance,” he says.

Yet, he’s quick to point out, the next frontier is inevitable, and it may well go beyond basic air and water considerations. With air and water addressed, the next step on the improvement continuum is to turn attention to, for example, thermal and other considerations.

“The fact that it’s being documented and that there is an ASTM standard for [commissioning] that continues to evolve just means that we as an industry should pay attention to it,” Yee says. “The day will come when other considerations will come into play.”

By definition, building enclosure commissioning “turns the corner,” as Yee says, and moves away from simply air and water to comprehensive performance. “I think there’s still a learning curve that we are currently traversing and their needs to be a general consensus on how to benchmark and validate and verify overall building enclosure performance,” he says.

What may be an issue for building enclosure commissioning in general, says Knickerbocker, is keeping costs down. Testing a 500,000 square-foot office building for water tightness, for instance, is very different than testing a 2,000 square-foot house, he notes.

“It comes down to a question of scale and statistics,” says Knickerbocker. “How much do you test, and how often do you test—and, more importantly, who’s going to pay for that?”

As for what the industry can be doing now, Runkle looks for continued technology improvement and, perhaps more importantly, the ability to bring cost down for those technologies (e.g., triple pane options).

“If you want to have a full pallet to work with, and part of that pallet is the window-to-wall ratio, as an industry we want to have as many options as possible,” says Runkle.

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