Commercial Curtain Walls – Exploring the Cost Savings and Sustainability Impact
Are you an architect, installer, or anyone involved in the envelope planning for a commercial building? You likely already know the importance of energy efficiency. With buildings accounting for 40% of global energy usage, many countries and states now have strict energy codes and sustainability mandates to curb waste. And for good reason – more efficient buildings are better for the environment and their occupants. But did you know that specifying high-efficiency curtain wall systems can yield outsized financial returns over standard models? In this blog, we’ll explore why commercial curtain walls represent one of the biggest opportunities to improve sustainability and efficiency meaningfully – as well as save significantly more money than you may think.
The Carbon and Cost Realities of Commercial Construction
In the United States, commercial buildings account for 35% of electricity consumption and 19% of greenhouse gas emissions. Global emissions need to be cut by at least 50% by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate change. Improving commercial building efficiency is now an ethical imperative for designers and builders alike.
Luckily, boosting energy performance also yields tremendous cost savings from lower energy bills. Buildings built to LEED certification standards generally demonstrate:
- 19% lower maintenance costs
- 9% lower electricity costs
- 11% higher occupancy
High-performance buildings can demonstrate payback periods as short as 5-10 years.
This is why recent building codes and sustainability goals globally are targeting significant performance improvements, generally between 10 to 30%. For example, Boston’s stretch code demands 10 to 20% higher efficiency versus ASHRAE standards. The popular Architecture 2030 Challenge sets progressive energy reduction targets of up to 80% versus baseline buildings by 2030 for new construction.
High-Efficiency Commercial Curtain Walls: The Key to Better Buildings
As the interface between indoor and outdoor environments, curtain wall systems significantly influence thermal performance, air tightness, and HVAC loads. These make them one of the highest impact areas to target for efficiency.
With their large surface areas, even small performance improvements in U-values or air infiltration can exponentially impact overall building energy use. Consider the example of a medium-sized 100,000 ft2 commercial building:
- Upgrading from standard 1″ insulated glass units (IGUs) with non-thermally broken aluminum framing (U-value: 0.45) to high-efficiency framing and glazing (assembled U-value: 0.29) reduces heat loss by 100 million BTUs/year.
- This saves $18,500 per year in heating and cooling costs in Boston’s climate.
- Over a 30-year lifecycle, the owner saves $550,000 in lower energy bills – all from a single envelope upgrade decision!
That’s before accounting for potential financial incentives, healthier and happier tenants from more comfortable spaces, and embodied carbon savings from downsized HVAC systems.
Unlocking Extreme Efficiency: Advances in Curtain Wall Technology
Thankfully for forward-thinking firms, next-generation curtain wall solutions can now deliver radically improved thermal performance that exceeds the most stringent emerging codes. All while maintaining pleasing aesthetics and performance.
For example, FreMarq’s Zero•Net™ framing systems and patented FortMax™ thermal barrier combined with 1″ double low-e glass achieve U-values as low as 0.24. This allows 50-65% higher efficiency versus industry norms. Taking it a step further, by utilizing VIG (vacuum insulated glazing) these systems can achieve U-values as low as 0.098.
The Promise of High-Performance Design
By embracing innovative technologies and holistic design principles, leading manufacturers can now deliver commercial curtain wall assemblies with exceptional thermal properties. Systems rated as low as U-0.098 are realities in today’s marketplace.
Several factors account for such best-in-class performance benchmarks:
- Optimized Framing – High-performance curtain wall frames feature thermally broken members that nearly eliminate conductive heat transfer improving edge-of-glass U-factors.
- Specialized Insulating Glass – Low-e coatings, argon-filling, thermally optimized spacers, and warm-edge technology all drive significant thermal enhancements over conventional glazing units.
- Holistic Simulation – Leading manufacturers lean on state-of-the-art modeling software to inform comprehensive thermal optimization across the entire curtain wall assembly.
The result is complete commercial facade solutions with U-values rivaling traditional wall assemblies. Further, specialized condensation and thermal stress analysis ensures durable, consistent on-site functionality.
Translating Performance into Economic Value
With this level of thermal enhancement, progressive commercial curtain walls carry the potential for dramatic reductions in annual energy costs from the moment a commercial development opens its doors. Over a 30-year asset lifespan, total savings can easily reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars depending on project scale and geometry.
These economic benefits manifest through:
- Lower HVAC Infrastructure Costs – More efficient building envelopes directly scale back investments in heating and cooling systems across a development.
- Reduced Energy Expenditures – Optimized U-values drive substantial cuts in annual electricity and gas costs required to maintain occupant comfort.
- Enhanced Asset Valuation – As sustainability features and credentials grow in importance, high-performance commercial curtain walls elevate property value at sale or recapitalization.
Further economic advantages accrue over decades of operation. Energy costs escalate against inflation and efficiency upgrades in other building systems open additional possibilities for load reduction.
The Future-Proof Decision More Firms Are Making
In summary, curtain wall decisions carry tremendous long-term consequences for visual appeal, tenant experience, operating expenses, and environmental impact. With energy codes and climate goals continuing to accelerate yearly, firms who design envelope systems at today’s bare minimum standards risk major performance gaps and headaches soon.
Luckily, solutions like FreMarq’s Zero•Net™ systems radically provide improved commercial envelope efficiency – all while maintaining costs comparative to standard offerings. Given the outsized financial and ethical paybacks, future-proofing your designs with ultra-high-performance commercial curtain walls is now clearly the wise option.
FreMarq Innovations combines cutting-edge commercial glazing technology with old-fashioned service expertise to deliver unprecedented thermal performance. Contact us today to evaluate ultra-high-efficiency curtain wall solutions for your next landmark project. With envelope performance having a tremendous impact, finding the right partner makes all the difference when investing in your building’s future. Get in touch with us to learn more.