29. May 2013

Using structural thermal breaks in the Southwest

from Victor Yakin

Even though structural thermal breaks were developed for cold weather conditions, design firms in Texas and the Southwest have been eager to learn about this technology. During the first five months of 2013, APCS (independent representative of Schöck) has presented the course on Structural Thermal Breaks 9 times, for medium and large architectural and engineering firms in Texas and Arizona. Many of these firms design commercial and institutional projects nation-wide, as well as for international. These firms have opened their doors to APCS and Schöck to learn more about the causes and effects of thermal bridges, and how to minimize these effects.  Architects, Civil, Structural, and Mechanical engineers have been interested in the scope of thermal bridge consequences such as excessive energy losses, cold slabs, condensation, and even mold occurrences.


The fact that Schöck has been designing, manufacturing, and improving thermal break technology for over 25 years has been very well received, since an innovative solution for American buildings has been proven by thousands of successful applications in Europe, and others in North America and elsewhere.

The “building physics” section of the CE course examines what happens to energy flows and overall R-values of a simplified façade when different elements of it are improved in an incremental way. It has been surprising to some attendees that, once windows and walls are improved, an un-improved balcony connection can cause over 40% of heat losses, under certain conditions.

Smaller groups have been more engaged than larger ones, as it tends to happen with most presentations. Yet, regardless of size, participants have made interesting comments and asked meaningful questions, such as:

  •  What type of projection is possible for cantilevered balconies while using structural thermal breaks?
  • Do structural thermal breaks fall under the scope of the architect or of the structural engineer?
  • Under what division of MasterFormat do the CSI specifications fall?
  • How early in the design process should structural thermal breaks be addressed or introduced into the project?
  • Do new “continuous insulation” requirements under IECC 2009 and other building codes have an impact on specification and use of structural thermal breaks?
  • What about hot climate conditions? What are the benefits of installing structural thermal breaks in places such as Houston, Dallas, or Phoenix, where outside temperatures over 100° Fahrenheit are not unusual?


While some of these questions have pretty straightforward answers, others such as the benefits of structural thermal breaks under hot climate conditions require extensive studies to be better understood. Schöck is committed to  advancing the awareness and knowledge of thermal bridging and expects to have a better understanding of hot climate conditions, consequences, and solutions. As a representative of Schöck, I look forward to continuing to share structural thermal break technology with American designers, be it for cold or for hot climate applications, improving the performance of commercial and institutional buildings.


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