Options for Improving Your Facade

11/01/2011 | By Jennie Morton

Improve your facade with refurbishing or recladding options

Don't let a leaky facade drive up your utility bill. Refurbish or reclad your exterior to improve performance and aesthetics.

When you look at your facade, do you find you have:

  • Dissatisfaction with the aesthetics?
  • Evidence of enclosure failures?
  • Concerns about energy efficiency?
  • Interest in rebranding your property?

If so, it’s time to give your facade a facelift.

Unless your facade’s appearance is so poor that it interferes with business or leasing potential, focus on halting air and water leakage.

“A leaky building is an inefficient building. You have to start with energy efficiency,” recommends David Wolff, a building enclosure consultant with The Facade Group.

First Steps
First identify problem spots in your facade. Enclosure failures often result from moisture and air leakage, material failure from age, and outdated systems.

“As much as 38% of energy loss from a building can be linked to air leakage through the enclosure,” Wolff says.

Use infrared thermal imaging or air infiltration testing to pinpoint areas requiring attention. Anecdotal evidence from employees about their thermal comfort can also direct you to problem spots.

Next determine whether you will refurbish or reclad your building.

A refurbish includes deep cleaning, window replacement, minor repairs, and resealing. View this as restoration work that improves upon the current structure. While the need for new materials is low, costs are tied up in labor.

A recladding project removes the existing exterior to upgrade with a new facade. The cost of new materials and labor can add up quickly, but this option provides the most dramatic improvements.

The suitability of each option is highly dependent on your end goal, budget, and timeframe, as well as climate, exposure, age, material composition, and square footage.

Masonry Exteriors
For load-bearing masonry buildings, particularly a historical one, a refurbish is usually the ideal option because it allows you to keep the exterior appearance while adding improvements, says Wolff.

To avoid interfering with the facade itself, you can seal or replace windows, add insulation, and tighten the building against leakage.

Windows are often the biggest culprit of energy waste. Glass panes may be only 0.25 inches thick, whereas today’s standards are 1 inch thick. There are several options for upgrading your windows:

  • Install vacuum-insulated glass, which allows you to replace just the panel and not the frames.
  • Opt for suspended film technology, which uses a clear panel to create two insulated cavities.
  • Select electrochromic glass, which adjusts tint levels with a low voltage.

Another option is to seek out air infiltrations, which are easy to find and address. Check for leakage around any penetrations, cladding, roof-to-wall connections, and parapets.

Cladding and Curtain Walls
Regardless of which material your cladding is, this facade structure offers more flexibility when modernizing. As with older buildings, focus on windows and air leakage. But if you have the opportunity to pull off the cladding, you have a huge opportunity to dramatically improve energy and weather performance.

There are a number of materials that will increase R-value, such as water and air barriers that can be applied by air or peel-and-stick. Other options include spray foam insulation, rigid polystyrene, and mineral wool.

Curtain walls offer the greatest flexibility for upgrades. They can be changed out with minimal disruption to the building structure and provide a very air- and watertight system. The downsides are that expenses are greater and more waste is generated with this option.

Confirm End Results
“No matter which improvement option you select, you want to prove your hard-earned dollars are doing what they’re supposed to be,” recommends Wolff.

Use building enclosure commissioning once the project is completed to prove the system works as designed, guarantee durability for the materials, and confirm the validity of energy efficiency claims.

“Remember that any energy that goes in or out of your building goes through the facade,” Wolff says. “Focusing on the type of energy efficiency and aesthetics you need are vitally important to keeping the value of the building up."

For more information on restoring your facade, watch the webinar Solutions for a Facade Facelift and Restoration by David Wolff .


Jennie Morton (jennie.morton@buildings.com) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.


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