Curtain walls can be an excellent way to add exterior design elements to a building while also preventing damages to the main structure due to wind and other weather effects. However, there are also times when curtain walls need to be demolished, either as part of aesthetic renovations to the building or due to structural issues.
At MILBURN, we have the experience and expertise necessary to demo curtain walls without affecting the remaining structure, thanks to our ability to perform a wide variety of selective demolition techniques. In this guide, we’ll discuss what curtain walls are and why MILBURN is the right choice for your next curtain wall demo project.
Curtain walls are quite popular for high-rise buildings, and you can see dozens of different curtain walls just by scanning your eyes across the Chicago skyline. On a basic level, a curtain wall is a thin non-load-bearing external wall, usually set in an aluminum frame with glass panels. The frame is attached to the floor line of the building and provides some structural support. The exact nature of this support depends on what style of curtain wall system is used, so let’s quickly discuss the two main types of curtain walls before we get into the three different systems.
If you see a curtain wall on a tall building, there’s a good chance you’re looking at a unitized curtain wall. These walls come previously assembled, so they don’t need to be installed piece by piece. Unitized curtain walls can be constructed efficiently and often don’t require any heavy equipment to install, as a small crane can typically handle the installation.
As opposed to unitized curtain walls, stick curtain walls are installed one piece at a time, which is why you will usually see them on shorter buildings, or perhaps just on one specific part of a building. If stick curtain walls are installed on a tall building, large cranes or scaffolding systems are often required to install the upper portions.
There are also three different systems of curtain walls, and all three can be installed as either unitized or stick curtain walls.
A pressure-equalized curtain wall system blocks both wind and rain from the actual structure of the building, entirely shielding it from the elements. This type of curtain wall includes a series of gaskets on the side facing the building to keep the curtain wall airtight, while the side facing away from the structure acts as a rain screen. In between these two features, you’ll find a pressure equalization layer that keeps the interior of the building dry and wind-free.
The other two styles of curtain wall systems — face-sealed and water-managed — only block water from reaching the building, while the effects of wind are mitigated by the building’s structural elements. With a face-sealed curtain wall, the installers seal each portion of the curtain wall to the building frame. On the other hand, water-managed curtain walls mitigate water flows by integrating drains to keep moisture away from the building structure.
Unitized curtain walls tend to run the full length of a building and they’re attached to each floor of the structure, from one floor line to the next. Stick curtain walls are attached in separate sections and often do not run the entire length of the structure.
With either type, the general technique to attach a curtain wall involves attaching the top and bottom of each section to the outer portion of the building’s floor slabs. This is actually where the term “curtain” wall comes from — each section of the wall hangs off of the side of the building, much like a curtain over an interior window.
We often hear people asking whether curtain walls and storefronts are actually the same things. The answer? While there are quite a few similarities between the two, there is one significant difference as well. Whereas each portion of a curtain wall attaches to the top and bottom of the structure’s floor slabs, a storefront extends all the way down to the sill of the building.
As a result, any moisture in a storefront is channeled downward to the sill, which can easily result in too much water weighing down the storefront. This is why storefronts are usually rather short — typically no more than a few stories tall — while a curtain wall can extend the entire length of a high-rise building.
As you’ve probably assumed by now, the variety in types and styles of curtain walls means that we need to specifically tailor our curtain wall demolition tactics to each specific curtain wall we encounter. Curtain wall demo falls under the general heading of “specialty demolition,” which means we very carefully remove each portion of the curtain wall so as not to damage the rest of the building.
There aren’t many companies that specialize in curtain wall demo, as you can see if you do a simple Google search for “curtain wall demolition” — if you find a result other than this page, we would be surprised! That only serves to heighten the importance of finding an expert crew like those at MILBURN to demo your curtain wall. There is typically very little space between a curtain wall and the structure of the building, so these jobs require the utmost care to ensure no damages to the remaining structure.
We have experience removing both stick and unitized curtain walls, and we’re also entirely comfortable demoing pressure-equalized, face-sealed, and water-managed curtain wall styles. If you have any questions about the specifics of how we could demolish your specific curtain wall, contact us today. We can take a look at your curtain wall and figure out a customized plan to safely and efficiently remove it from your building’s structure.