The Increasing Importance of Mock-up Testing

Not long ago I wrote about the importance of long-term performance once commercial glass products have been installed in a new building. Major investments are being made in new technologies, and in order for those products to meet their potential (and to protect our industry’s reputation), validating performance and sound installation practices are increasingly important.

I found this to be true during some of my recent travels over the past few weeks. In March, I and one of my technical services colleagues spent time at a test lab for project-specific mock-up performance testing on a commercial vinyl window system that is to be installed in a large mid-rise development project. The testing was necessitated by the project architect—some of the largest multi-lite openings needed to hit a certain criteria to keep the project moving. Windows were installed in a full-size representation of the proposed exterior wall system. Structural integrity, air tightness and water performance were all validated through the process, helping to grant confidence that the systems will deliver long-term performance.

While this is not standard procedure for every project, I think we’ll begin seeing an increase in required mock-up testing in large new commercial jobs. More evidence: The Building Envelope Contractors Conference (BEC) returned to Nashville for the first time in two years in March. There was plenty of chatter about how the industry has navigated the past few years, but a particular panel discussion on field and laboratory performance mock-ups caught my attention, correlating with my experience a week or so earlier. Presented by Jose Colon, regional sales director, Intertek; Szymon Zienkiewicz, president, Larsen Zienkiewicz; and Vic McConnell, Smith Cashion & Orr, PLC, the panel served to highlight the importance of performing physical mock-up testing to validate that the system as designed will be fit for use following sound installation.

Why an increasing emphasis on mock-up testing? I think there are a few drivers here:

Risk mitigation. First and foremost, testing helps validate performance—and that’s important for building owners in today’s environment. For many, making the investment in mock-up testing is a worthwhile venture to be more certain of long-term performance. System failures following completion of construction can be major liabilities. Especially as the construction space continues to face labor and skills challenges, a robust testing protocol can help reveal any weaknesses before the job is fully complete, allowing rework if necessary.

Quality assurance for new technologies. Building owners are further looking to new building and fenestration technologies for higher energy performance (more on that in a second). And as these new technologies are deployed, owners want assurance their selection can provide those benefits without sacrificing any of the reliability of legacy technologies. That testing I mentioned earlier was for Quanex’s commercial-grade vinyl window system, and structural performance was a critical part of the evaluation. I’ve noted before how commercial vinyl technologies can offer a wide range of benefits in punched opening and multi lite applications, and I believe that successful testing to commercial performance criteria like this will help broaden the acceptance of these types of options and further validate their place in the commercial market.

Efficiency and sustainability. Building codes and other measures will continue to drive the need for more thermally efficient glass and window systems, a trend that I don’t think we’ll see go in reverse any time soon. For example, last month I wrote about the burgeoning growth of passive house-certified buildings, which seek to drive energy consumption to the lowest possible point. Mock-up testing can help validate that the chosen window systems will provide the kind of air tightness required by passive house standards, for instance. As emphasis increases on making buildings more sustainable, I think it’s reasonable to expect testing will help contribute to those goals.

All in all, I think this kind of mock-up testing is a good thing for our industry. It’s an effective way that we can help grow trust and acceptance of new and emerging commercial glass and glazing technologies that can help make better buildings.