Performance advantages for vacuum-insulated curtainwall construction from Dow Corning

Striving to provide better-performing building envelopes, a collaborative effort has led to the first successful testing of a vacuum-insulated high-performance thermal curtainwall system.

Working closely with Dow Corning Corporation and Guardian Industries Corp., BISEM-USA recently completed independent testing of the BISEM Vacuum Wall™ system. This is the first structurally glazed unitized curtainwall in North America using vacuum insulation technology to undergo industry-recognized and accepted independent performance testing for air and water resistance, and structural, seismic and thermal performance. The system was tested in accordance with AAMA 501, as published by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA). Completion of the commercial testing provides the proof necessary to ensure that architects can specify this solution with confidence.

The development, design and testing of the BISEM Vacuum Wall system is the result of extensive collaboration.

“It’s a changing environment,” said Nick Bagatelos, president of BISEM-USA and Bagatelos Architectural Glass Systems, noting that after 30 years in the curtainwall business – and a longer family history in the industry – the need for companies to work together has never been greater. “No single company can do everything alone. Collaboration is the key to success.”

The collaboration began when Dow Corning Sales Representative Chris Combs introduced the new Dow Corning® Architectural Insulation Module – featuring Dow Corning® Vacuum Insulation Panel (VIP) technology – to Bagatelos, an accomplished curtainwall assembler and integrator and longtime user of Dow Corning® brand products. Bagatelos immediately saw the potential.

“I love to find technology to integrate into my systems,” Bagatelos said. “I wanted to build a wall around the product.”

With the Dow Corning® insulation technology selected for the wall spandrel, Bagatelos looked to Guardian Industries for suitable complementary vision glass options.

Guardian Industries – one of the world’s largest manufacturers of float, coated and fabricated glass for the commercial, residential and automotive markets – developed a prototype for the system that combined its vacuum-insulated glass product with SunGuard SuperNeutral® 68 Low-E glass coating to meet the challenging requirements of commercial high-performance wall installations. While the vacuum-insulated glass product is currently under development, Guardian has plans to commercialize it in the future.

With the latest technologies from Dow Corning and Guardian, BISEM developed the new curtainwall with a system approach, providing outstanding thermal performance and also meeting industry established performance criteria for air and water resistance, and structural and seismic performance.

“Being able to collaborate with BISEM and test the Dow Corning Architectural Insulation Modules as part of a system is very significant for us,” said Paul Wisniewski, Americas New Business Market Development Leader, Dow Corning.

The BISEM Vacuum Wall system brings together the Dow Corning and Guardian products, along with frame, gasketing and thermal break. It features removable rigid components with good thermal properties. The test chamber walls also utilized Dow Corning® DefendAir 200 liquid-applied silicone air and weather barrier on wall substrates, along with the Dow Corning® Silicone Transition System to ensure a weathertight transition between the curtainwall and the surrounding chamber wall substrates, allowing the test specimen to be readily isolated.

BISEM contracted with an independent testing facility, Architectural Testing, Inc., to conduct performance testing on the BISEM Vacuum Wall system mockup. Actual structural tests and validated thermal modeling confirmed that the curtainwall would remain in place on the building for both specifically prescribed and overload conditions, without over deflecting, while also providing a complete envelope that defends against air and water infiltration and can meet stringent thermal performance goals.

“As with all new technologies, early adopters face the risk of the unknown – and construction specifiers can be a risk-averse group,” said Charlie Zimmer, Dow Corning’s global program manager for high performance insulation. “With a tested, proven solution, the risk is minimized.”

According to Chris Dolan, director of commercial glass marketing for Guardian Industries, collaboratively designing and testing with technologies backed by proven, warranted performance led to a fully integrated solution.

“Collaboration is what the industry needs,” Dolan said. “Working together helps mitigate risk.”

Having a range of high-performance spandrel and insulating glass options allows designers more flexibility for exterior wall designs. Spandrels featuring Dow Corning Architectural Insulation Modules provide the superior insulation capability that can enable designs with more vision area without sacrificing thermal performance.

Successful completion of this high-performance curtainwall is a testament to the potential for energy-efficient façades and glass systems – and the potential of collaborative projects.

“Six months ago, the BISEM Vacuum Wall was a new product and an idea,” Bagatelos said. “Now, it’s a ready-to-go product that’s been tested and vetted by an independent laboratory.”

To learn more about Dow Corning Architectural Insulation Modules, visit Information about Dow Corning’s full range of silicon-based materials for high-performance building is available at

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