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New Research Aims to Close Standards Gap for Spandrel

Glass facade

Thermal performance is becoming incredibly important for structural glazing to achieve performance levels defined by tightening codes and standards, but one part of the system has been left out of the process: spandrel glass.

The Charles Pankow Foundation is funding research, separated into four phases, that is intended to produce a Design Guidance document to provide best practices for testing and analytical modeling of spandrel assemblies, in order to recommend procedures for rating thermal performance of spandrel and suggest assembly configurations and details for improved thermal performance.

Phase 1 of the research project will 

  • conduct a literature search of available information on the topic,
  • complete a survey of stakeholders to understand the scope and prevalence of different spandrel systems,
  • perform an energy study,
  • and a Computational Fluids Dynamics analysis to explore cavity airflow impacts as well
  • as the specification of the test program to be conducted in subsequent phases. 

The Foundation is seeking support for the research, in the form of material, knowledge and/or co-funding matched by the Foundation. This research is conducted by the team of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Morrison Hershfield, and RDH Building Science Inc.

About the Foundation

The Charles Pankow Foundation is an Independent, private grant-making foundation delivering better ways to design and build, say officials. All work product is publicly shared for collective use and industry change. Founded in 2005, it has provided $15 million in funding, awarded 94 research grants and financed research for 37 organizations.

What’s the problem with spandrel?

The organization’s current research aims to address several issues in spandrel assemblies, specifically the combination of:

  1. thermal-bridging aluminum framing in spandrel assemblies,
  2. differences in construction of opaque wall areas versus transparent areas, and
  3. both two-and-three-dimensional heat transfer paths, and how they complicate thermal modeling and represent sources of considerable heat loss and condensation.

This research also investigates difficulties in assessing the state of practice in measuring the thermal performance of spandrel assemblies; currently, there is no consensus on how to perform thermal modeling for spandrel assemblies.

The assessing of these assemblies is further challenged by variable design execution on different projects. What’s more, codes and standards still do not adequately address spandrel areas, and disagreements over modeling and code compliance can even delay projects.

The incentives to change this state of affairs are many, including tightening energy codes and the enactment of benchmark ordinances, which are bringing more scrutiny to spandrels. Overall, there’s a need for better detailing guidelines to improve thermal performance in these systems.

Short-term and longer-term goals of the research

Researchers are currently working towards creating a Design Guidance for Thermal Performance of Spandrel Assemblies in Glazing Systems. The goals of this document are to:

1. provide shorter-term guidance to improve existing practice

2. inform codes and standards changes over a 10-year time horizon

With these major overarching goals, researchers hope to provide best practices for testing and analytical modeling of spandrel assemblies in glazing systems, and recommend procedures for rating thermal performance of spandrel assemblies. These objectives will also allow researchers to suggest assembly configurations and details for improved thermal performance, and ultimately, and to publish the Design Guidance document.

A longer-term goal is standards adoption.

Email Amber Johnson to get involved Learn more about the research