By Chris Lipp, LEED AP, Architectural Product Engineer

When considering new ideas, materials and configurations, few of us can get it exactly right the first time. Thomas Edison took over two years and 1,000 attempts to develop a working light bulb. Henry Ford spent 12 years between his first car design and the famous Model T. Everything from simple rubber bands to complex military aircraft requires testing different materials, components, alignments and processes to maximize the new innovation potential.

We at Kawneer spend a great deal of resources developing the next generation of new products for our customers. Even in this economic downturn, we have increased our drive to produce new products. Our new Trifab® 451UT (Ultra Thermal) framing system offers unbeatable thermal performance, while our new Clearwall™ curtain wall allows architects and glaziers the ability to achieve a desired monolithic look faster and at a lesser cost without compromising safety. These feats were not achieved overnight, but with constant “tweaking” of the designs. Many months were spent designing and testing different versions of the products until the right combination of form, function and practicality met in the middle.

The current line of products leaving the Kawneer drawing boards and entering the product-testing phase are both exciting and innovative. However, to maximize their potential, several rounds of testing must occur. For quality assurance, curtain wall products are field tested for structural performance, infiltration and water leakage. Among those, water testing is a common method, but one that often divides the industry. While architects, building owners, testing labs and consultants love water tests that shine a spotlight on any hidden defects that could pose future problems for a structure, contractors, glaziers and even some product designers find the day of water testing challenging and a bit trying. But why do people get all worked up over water testing? Simple — it is a critical-path item on most every project nowadays whose outcome can propel or hinder a project.

What we in the industry must realize is that water testing is necessary, but not necessarily bad. Unfortunately, water-testing procedures are sometimes misunderstood or flat-out not followed. Even when procedures are followed correctly and proper equipment is used, leaks in the field can, and do, still occur in fenestration products that have already been lab certified. How could this be? After all, field tests are supposed to be more generous, allowing more air/water penetration to account for field conditions. Construction oversights and deficiencies in construction adjacent to the fenestration account for much of the leaks observed. However, when true fenestration leaks do occur, having a good plan in place allows you to solve these issues quickly and correctly.

The following steps will make sure water testing is your friend:

1. Document early and often.

Even before a project takes flight a clear understanding among all parties involved can relieve conflict down the line. Documenting the Who, What, When, Where and How prior to the first lite of glass being installed is vital to avoiding conflict.

  1. Who will be present at the test and who will be performing the test?
  2. What type of test will be needed and what fenestration products will be tested?
  3. When will the testing be performed? It is recommended that all parties involved be present during test days.
  4. Where will the testing be performed?
  5. How many units will need to be tested to satisfy all parties?

2. Test early.

Detecting a leak before it can become a major problem will save you in the long run. Be sure to test a representative sample. After all you don’t want to test your Cadillac when you’ve got a whole line of Yugos to go with it. This will only create more opportunity for bigger problems in the future.

3. Know the test methods, procedures and purpose.

This one seems like a no brainer, but it is amazing the amount of confusion surrounding tests using water and air. This is another instance where the details are the difference. Will you use cyclic or static air? What is the rating of the product? When can you use AAMA 502 vs. AAMA 511?

4. Who has your back?

When fenestration leaks occur on lab certified products it is best to promptly involve the manufacturer for insight and help. Kawneer offers a vast array of customer service options from our interactive websites with installation instructions and details to our knowledgeable sales force to helpful regional project managers. Whatever the product question there is always someone in the Kawneer family ready, willing and able to assist you.

Keeping these steps in mind will ensure that testing runs smoothly and no detail is omitted.

We would love to hear from you about any of our current products. Feel free to send me questions about concepts not yet on the market. While I cannot divulge our top secret information I would be more than happy to answer engineering and testing questions.