Curtain Wall vs. Storefront Real Costs


I have recently transitioned from a large (global) firm to a small (local) firm, and it appears that everyone at my new firm designs only with storefront glazing systems from the start. Their claim is that curtain wall is the first thing that gets value engineered from a project, so they just start with storefront early in design because it is "always cheaper" in their mind. This means substantial steel headers every 10ft. up a glazing surface, for instance in lobby spaces with 20-30ft. high of glazing area. In my past job, for almost every project we went with curtain wall systems for glazing, it was just assumed from the start, and clients/contractors always were on board even when the budgets were just as tight, if not tighter. The projects were sometimes a little larger in general, but often the large expanses of glazing were not much greater or taller than the projects at my new firm. For reference, the project I am currently working on is about 50,000 sf. and 2.5 stories. There are several locations such as the lobby and several public spaces with views where I would like to use curtain wall instead of storefront, but I do not have enough information to back up my vision. We also do not have a contractor on board for this project yet, so I can't get cost comparisons specific to this project.

It is my understanding that curtain wall is typically a better system in general for the longevity of a building due to water management through the system, especially when there are not deep overhangs over the glazing area, and that the total steel structure usage is potentially more efficient for taller expanses of glazing.

So my question is this: IN GENERAL, is using a stacked storefront system actually always less expensive than curtain wall systems if you take into consideration all of the costs, such as beefy headers every 10ft. up, potential extra steel structure, long-term maintenance, etc.? Is there a tipping point at which it becomes more economical to use curtain wall? I have looked high and low for articles about this very issue, and all I can find are vague statements about how curtain wall systems are more expensive than storefront but higher functioning. But nowhere can I find actual information about architects using stacked storefront for taller spans of glazing like my current firm uses. Any information, links, etc. would be much appreciated, thank you all.

Dec 7, 18 11:39 am
Non Sequitur

I've never seen stacked storefront... always used curtain wall and I have some very cost-aware clients.  Storefront is limited to odd location or single-story retail.

Dec 7, 18 11:49 am
We have had this conversation before and generally it didn’t seem like there was much point to doing a stacked storefront. Like you said, if you have to start stacking headers you start to eat into those savings... then again there is a big cost difference between storefront and curtainwall, and my guess is you could save money most of the time, and there may be an added economy of scale as well.
Dec 7, 18 12:04 pm

Non Sequitur, you say you have always used curtain wall, but have you ever had contractors suggest storefront instead of curtain wall as a VE option? Or was that never brought up? Apparently our firm has had this happen before (previous project with the same client as my current project), which is why we apparently always have started with storefront everywhere since. I feel that the stacked storefront is a seriously shortsighted and backwards way of doing it, but I think I need some more knowledge, maybe a sit-down with a contractor, before I put all my weight behind advocating for curtain wall, especially as a junior designer in the firm.

Natematt, have you done a cost comparison at all when you had those conversations? Or just a quick thought experiment? I'm wondering if anyone has seen a case study or article that gets more into the numbers on this topic. Like at what point it becomes more expensive to do stacked storefront than curtain wall. Any resources out there would help a lot.

Really trying to avoid all those chunky headers and storefront sills in the lobby...

Dec 7, 18 2:25 pm
Non Sequitur

Yes, twice before and both times CW won. This was for 8 and 9 storey office buildings.


Just got this priced at a schematic level and the GC put in a $5/ sf difference in the allowances - in favor of storefront. So, end game, I don't think there is actually any difference - especially when you take into account everything else required to do storefront.

Dec 7, 18 2:50 pm

Stacked storefront... I've personally have not seen or done this before. But I would imagine this would be more costly then CW when factoring in labor and the additional structural scope.... But who knows what's going on in construction market you're in, maybe storefront is readily available and the GCs have a good relationship with the local installers. 

I'm curious, what does the detail look at the second floor slab? 

You guys got to start specing Schuco SSG, or something similar, as a basis of design so that the CMs VE options are to go from Schuco to Kawneer. 

Dec 7, 18 3:30 pm

Sounds like the storefront would be cheaper, but the additional support required would make it end up being a wash. Then you are just getting a less aesthetically pleasing component for the same price.

Dec 7, 18 4:06 pm

Thank you all for the comments. 

Sean!, for the building I am working on, the locations in question are where glazing goes from slab of the lobby level to lobby roof (20-30 feet), there is no intermediate slab to deal with. But with the chunky headers to hold the stacked storefront, it basically looks like a slab edge from the exterior... Good idea about starting with a spec that leads the contractor in the final direction you want anyway. 

z6jbishop, that is exactly what I have been thinking and trying to convince my coworkers of, to no avail so far.

Does anyone know of a resource or guide for basic cost estimations of systems (including structure) like this? Thank you for your help.

Dec 7, 18 4:30 pm

Ah, that makes sense now.. For costing you can try RS Means, that will give you a good ballpark.


opps... hit the wrong button. Back to costing, RS Means or your local rep. The rep can usually give you some pretty good order of magnitude pricing. They also have a good handle on your local market.

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