What is the difference between storefront and curtain wall systems?
While both storefront and curtain wall systems provide striking glass exteriors of commercial retail spaces or office buildings, they have significant differences when it comes to their water management and wind load capabilities.
Aluminum storefront glass systems are designed primarily for low-rise applications. Generally speaking, storefronts are usually no higher than 10 feet tall. Because storefronts weep water from the bottom sill pan only, they are limited in their height. Going above 10 feet tall can allow more water to enter the system than it can evacuate. Also, going above 10 feet generally causes excessive wind-loading forces on the structure during severe weather, which can damage the storefront. This can be mitigated by replacing aluminum with steel, but it is generally not recommended as it is cost prohibitive and fails to address water management issues.
Curtain walls are designed with high-rise applications or large openings in mind. These systems are much more flexible than aluminum storefronts, having a wide array of back members to choose from to meet the wind loading requirements. Curtain walls are also superior in their ability to manage large amounts of water. In a curtain wall, water drains from the bottom of each lite of glass, eliminating worries that the system will be overwhelmed with water.