Volume 49, Issue 5 - May 2014


Smooth Operators
Installing Operable Walls With Ease
by Jenna Reed

Whatever the name the product goes by, whether operable, moveable, open wall systems or even large sliding glass doors, a lot of skill goes into installing these architectural glass gems and the end result is usually a spectacular view. They are growing in popularity in both commercial and residential sectors.

These applications are so unique and complex, the architect/engineer, manufacturer and installation company must work closely together from start to finish ensuring that these large glass panels move effortlessly at the touch of a button.

“The indoor/outdoor living trend is huge right now, especially in the residential market,” says Scott Gates, vice president and general manager of Western Window Systems in Phoenix. “Architects, builders and developers are doing some amazing things to inspire homeowners. They’re opening up walls, creating spaces that expand living areas, making the most of views and focusing on the outdoor patio as an extension of the home. We’re always seeing something new.”

“Consumers are wanting to open up their living space to incorporate more of the outside view,” adds Carole Reams, senior marketing manager for PGT Industries located in Venice, Fla.

Tad Shurtleff, director of architectural information for Panda Windows & Doors in Las Vegas, says his company also manufactures custom glass wall system solutions for both commercial and residential industries. These solutions could be presented with sliding or folding functionality, and use different materials such as aluminum, wood cladding and solid wood. Sliding and folding door systems with superior capacity and heavy duty hardware are perfect for use in commercial spaces where a higher traffic [of] people is expected. These systems could also be used in interior spaces for dividing rooms, making them highly functional.”

"New build projects are sometimes easier than renovations in that the openings are designed specifically for the new wall system. Renovation projects require more strategic planning because wall openings may need to be completely redesigned and rebuilt." —John O’Brien, C.R. Laurence Co.

Training: A Crucial Necessity
Given the complex nature of these systems, manufacturers offer specialized training and phone support to help installers in the field. Installers, including general contractors and glaziers, are often also invited to the factories to train on the installation of a particular operable wall for a project to ensure they are comfortable with the installation process.

“It’s a fairly new process,” says Shurtleff. “We’ve been working with a bunch of different installers to help them. Most have installed bi-folding and liftable systems, but these are newer. We offer factory training for experienced glazier or general contractors. We offer certification and a factory tour, as well as two-day training. With one specific system you can have 100 different configurations so we walk them through the process so they can problem solve in the field.”

Shurtleff says in order to help the installation process go as smoothly as possible, before sending a system out into the field, it is installed right in the factory.

“We install every system and factory test it here. This ensures our installers have everything they need to be successful. Most of our systems are huge, from five to 20 panels, and if you’re off in installing, it’s not good. This is why we try to do everything with installation before it goes out. We find the need to factory test these custom systems,” he says.

There are plenty of strong installers in the field with experience and even some of the best ones get “stumped” he adds, so the company also offers phone support.

Officials at C.R. Laurence Co. Inc. (CRL) based in Los Angeles are also big believers in ensuring the lines of communication are open to help with installations of these complex glass structures.

“[Our] products come with comprehensive installation instructions and access to technical support that makes the process as simple as possible,” explains John O’Brien, architectural hardware products manager for CRL. “However, every project and installation will depend on many factors, including whether the project is a new build or renovation. Our SPS Stacking System, for example, requires a more in-depth installation process due to its additional features; while our Monterey System’s less invasive bi-folding panels are effortlessly guided by a top and bottom track.”

Further explaining the difference between new construction and renovation, O’Brien says, “You should always take weight limitations, structural issues and whether the project is a new build or a renovation into account when selecting and installing a movable wall system. New build projects are sometimes easier than renovations in that the openings are designed specifically for the new wall system. Renovation projects require more strategic planning because wall openings may need to be completely redesigned and rebuilt.”

At Western Window Systems, the company sells its products through dealers and distributors who have installers on staff or ensure customers have hired one.

“Generally, the process of putting in moving glass walls is more involved than average door systems,” says Gates. “If you want them to perform properly, you need a high-quality installation. It’s that simple.”

He continues, “Our door systems are massive: huge panels—think over 60 square feet—that are heavy and difficult to manage. But like any kind of complex glazing, the proper tools (suction cups, six-foot levels, etc.) and quality installation play a key roll in getting these kinds of doors level, plump and gliding open at the push of a finger.”

Debi Dimitriou, Weiland Sliding Doors and Windows’ customer service manager located in Oceanside, Calif., says her company gets involved early in the construction or renovation project, even before ground is broken.

“We have worked with installers over the years. Most are general contractors and they are experts in the installation of doors and windows. They are familiar with the different challenges that can come up,” says Dimitriou. “We also deal with contractors who may not be as familiar, but they know doors and windows in general. It’s important to work with someone who is qualified to install doors. For those who may not be as experienced, we offer training at our facilities which is free of charge. They can actually test the project and install it before they take it out into the field.”

Commercial Versus Residential
What are the key differences in open wall systems that can be found between the residential and commercial market? Size appears to be the biggest differentiator, but even some company officials disagree with this.

“Instead of segmenting the market by commercial or residential, we segment it by how the customer plans to use the system or the challenge that is being solved,” says Shurtleff. “Do they plan to expand their interior space into their exterior?

“It’s pretty much the same product. We just might do a different finish, such as anodized that lends itself more to a commercial look. Some of the biggest doors I’ve seen have gone into houses,” he adds.

“We do a lot of residential,” says Sue Weiland, business services manager for Weiland Sliding Doors and Windows. “We do a good amount of commercial as well. Some of our residential projects are bigger than our commercial projects, but basically they are the same. They must, however, meet different performance codes and building codes depending on whether it’s a residential or commercial project.” It really depends on the client’s needs as to what system will work in either residential or commercial, notes O’Brien.
“Building traffic, performance and cost are the main factors that differentiate the two markets,” he says. “Commercial environments require movable wall systems that are both heavy duty and versatile, while residential settings are best paired with a system that is weatherized to operate year-round in indoor/outdoor spaces.

“Regardless of size, when planning to utilize a movable wall system you must keep in mind the limitations of the building and the glass wall system itself,” O’Brien continues.

Given the complexity of these systems, manufacturers have no problem going out of their way to lend a hand and keep communication lines open to ensure the product will stand the test of time.

Jenna Reed is a contributing editor for USGlass magazine. She can be reached at jreed@glass.com.

Installer Insights

Installing complex operable wall systems takes experience and knowledge of building codes to get the job done right.

“Windows, sliding glass doors and storefront is a high liability/exposure area of business and our installation personnel undergo extensive training—with ongoing supervision—to ensure compliance to local building code, manufacturer’s installation recommendations and engineering specifications. We only allow experienced personnel to perform this work,” says Nate Yoder of Mullet’s Aluminum.

Robin Buckley of Buckley Window Corp. agrees, saying, “There are many variables to consider when we’re installing oversized sliding glass doors or storefront systems. An important factor is the type of substrate, which can determine the type of installation required, i.e. wood, concrete block or steel substrate could require a fin, flange or most commonly used, equal leg frame.”

“If the work is to be done on the third floor, you must have a glazing contractor or general contractor perform the work,” adds Scott Brigham of Sarasota Glass & Mirror.

And keeping up with building codes is of vast importance, according to installers.

“Installing operable wall systems is a much more involved process because of building codes and engineering,” points out Brigham.

Some areas of the country have specific requirements.

“Florida is unique compared to the rest of the country because of the energy code enforcements which have been implemented over the years due to the severe weather and hurricanes we’re known for. For example, Broward County where Ft. Lauderdale is located is known as an HVHZ—High Velocity Hurricane Zone and requires impact laminated glass, which can be very heavy in large applications, which may require machinery or a team of installers to handle,” says Buckley.

A successful installation is a partnership between the manufacturer and installer.

“Every project is 50 percent product and 50 percent contractor. Both have to be perfect to ensure a successful installation,” says Yoder.

At Amba Products, hardware supplier for sliding door systems, the company offers a planning guide and an installation guide—the latter plays off installations instructions by furniture giant Ikea. Think lots of photos which helps break down language barriers, says Fred Salati, director, Amba Products.

Hardware Hints

Each manufacturer offers its own customized glass wall systems, and hardware is an important part of these systems.

“Precision hardware is a critical component in moving glass wall systems working effectively,” says Scott Gates, vice president and general manager of Western Window Systems in Phoenix. “Essentially, if you’re sliding or hinging glass door panels that can weigh up to 600 pounds, you better have hardware that can handle the load.”

Most operable wall systems are either top hung or bottom running. Some companies offer both types and some just specialize in one.
“The hardware changes depending on the type of system,” says Tad Shurtleff, director of architectural information for Panda Windows & Doors in Las Vegas. “Top hung systems will need to be supported by 8 to 10 pounds per square foot. The designer/engineer will make these calculations to support the weight.”

Bottom running systems, on the other hand, have the weight centered directly over the tracks, which makes them easier to install, he explains.

“Recessing the track is much easier than it looks with our patented recessed drainage track. Once recessed all you see is the 3/16-inch revel with the beautiful flooring of the space between the tracks, making it barefoot-friendly desirable for the user,” Shurtleff says.

But ultimately, the installation process is similar for both top hung and bottom running systems.

“Glass wall systems for commercial applications are a bit heavier because they use stronger, larger hardware to compensate for their use in high traffic areas,” Shurtleff notes.

Fred Salati, director, Amba Products, supplier of sliding door hardware, says companies should take a variety of items into consideration when selecting hardware. Amba uses products made in Germany from Andreas Beyerle.

The item of upmost importance is testing, he says. Amba’s products are tested by Intertek through a series of 175,000 movements back and forth, and are also tested to be ADA compliant.

“So the systems are very smooth and a homeowner can open a door with a pinky,” he says.

One thing he warns companies to watch out for is some hardware that uses a clamp system.

“In our case we make a hole in the track and then you fix it in a way that it is held directly to these bolts, etc.—not a clamp,” he says. “This may be nice for the installer but then the end user may have problems after a while.

Another piece of advice relates to those selling in commercial applications.

“When you are selling to a hotel, for example, what is important is the fact that the door is quiet,” says Salati. “You don’t want this thing rumbling.
How to tell the difference comes down to the manufacturer doing his homework.

“It’s just like a car. Similar models may look the same but then you get in it, you drive it, and you see that it’s different,” he says.

“So with sliding doors, when you slam the door you don’t want it to make a noise. You won’t notice this by looking at a photo.” —Jenna Reed and Tara Taffera



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