Topic to Watch: Mock-Up Testing is Not Just for Big Jobs Anymore

The concept of building enclosure commissioning involves taking a holistic look at the building, including the glazing, from design 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 are well-positioned to operate in the emerging commissioning environment, the industry needs to be aware of a coming trend, 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 through building mock-ups—that is, three-dimensional, life-sized, sections of buildings prior to their construction. John Runkle, vice president for building sciences at Architectural Testing Inc., says that projects budgeted at $40 million-$50 million and up would be candidates for such mockups five years ago, but that today, “We’re seeing that owners are accepting and paying for mock-ups for projects with budgets below $10 million,” he says.

The good news is that energy efficiency and testing for air and water tightness are concepts with which the glass industry is already familiar. “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 is quick to point out that the next frontier may well go beyond basic air and water considerations and turn attention to thermal and other considerations.

“ … 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, validate and verify overall building enclosure performance,” he says.

Keeping costs down may be an issue for building enclosure commissioning in general, says Knickerbocker. 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). —Carl Levesque

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