Kwik-Tips BLOG

Scott Staedter, Kwik-Wall Vice President of Strategy addressing the CSI National Conference, 2023

Six Most Common Mistakes Made In Operable Partition and Folding Panel Partition Specifications

Operable Partitions or Folding Panel Partitions provide acoustic separation and space flexibility for building owners and tenants. Commonly specified by architects for schools, hotels, convention centers, offices, government facilities and even residential applications, manufacturers, general contractors, and design/builders continue to see consistent errors within MasterFormat Section 10-22-26 (Operable Partitions) and 10-22-39 (Folding Panel Partitions) that lead to confusion and post-bid project fulfillment issues.

In this Kwik-Tips blog post from Kwik-Wall, we address the common errors that can occur in today’s operable partition specifications.

    1. List of Manufacturers: Ever heard of Foldoor, EMCO, or Richards Wilcox? These manufacturers exited the operable partition space several decades ago, yet still show up in current specifications. More recently, since 2018, two of the largest U.S. manufacturers, Panelfold and Hufcor, Inc. are no longer in business and continue to be listed in specifications.

For projects in North America, the manufacturers below can provide a full range of acoustically rated operable partitions achieving common 52 STC and above in different panel constructions:

Advanced Equipment Corporation | Kwik-Wall Company | Hufcor by Kwik-Wall | Modernfold | Moderco

Specifiers should also know that in June 2023, U.S. operable wall manufacturer Kwik-Wall Company purchased Hufcor’s intellectual property rights to North America and can now provide HUFCOR 600 Series operable walls; FlexTact (tactical training operable wall system); and Unispan (partition self-support truss system).  Listing both Kwik-Wall and Hufcor by Kwik-Wall products in your specifications ensures both Kwik-Wall legacy 2000 and 3000 series and HUFCOR 600 Series operable walls are appropriate for your specific project applications.

Specifying comparable products and features from this list of manufacturers will ensure that market-proven, top-quality suppliers can bid on the specifications without confusion.

    1. Selecting Incompatible Part 2-Product Performance Characteristics. Operable partition distributors often encounter performance criteria that absolutely none of the above manufacturers offer. The reason is the innate tendency for specifiers to select the “best” or “least” within a specific performance group. For example, an architect or project’s acoustical consultant may want the best acoustical performance (listed as STC or Sound Transmission Class) but also want to select the lowest weight per square foot due to deflection or overhead structural limitations.

Since increased STC ratings are achieved through increasing the mass and thickness of panels, these two elements (High STC and low panel weight) conflict. With STC ratings of 50 and above, from all manufacturers, the weight of the partition will increase. Listing a particular weight “not to exceed”, along with a high STC, will inevitably have incompatible, conflicting performance criteria.

The same holds true for sound absorption properties or Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC). NRC is basically what percentage of sound hitting the face of a partition is absorbed by the surface and not reflected into the source room. The more absorption a movable partition requires, the lower the STC value of the wall. For example, Kwik-Wall has seen specifications that require a 56 STC (top North American manufacturers’ acoustical rating) and a 0.80 NRC. These don’t exist from any manufacturer, even though both manufacturers and other third-party specification tools allow these selections.

No North American manufacturer listed above provides higher than a 51 STC that can also achieve a 0.65NRC with standard perforated steel faces and common woven finishes. Most are in the 48STC/0.65NRC maximum range. Additionally, no operable partition manufacturer can provide a higher NRC than 0.65 within their base products, unless they apply an additional stretch fabric sound absorption system to the panel face.

    • Overhead Deflection and Floor Variance Conflicting with Mechanical Bottom Seal Ranges. Operable partitions are supported from overhead structures that are affected by building deflection. The rule of thumb is the wider the opening the more deflection occurs in the overhead partition support structure. The bottom seals of an operable partition should compensate for the building movements caused by wind loads, snow and sand loads, variable heat, and other factors. Kwik-Wall experts have experienced overhead deflection as much as 8” in large convention spaces.

Additionally, the floor flatness and floor level conditions can vary greatly on projects, especially when combining slab-on-grade and elevated slabs. Elevated slabs are designed with camber to settle after pour and deviations in the planned movement over time do occur. Kwik-Wall professionals have experienced floors that have had up to 3” of variance from one end of the opening to the other.

More typically, if the overhead structure deflects 1.5” and the floor has 1” of variance, then the partition’s bottom seals will require a minimum of 2.5” of travel to absorb these building movements. Often Kwik-Wall sees generic language within the operable partition specification calling out “manufacturer’s standard mechanical seal.” Those standard seals typically provide up to 2” of travel among the manufacturers’ products. A specifier should list the minimum distance of bottom seal travel based on both overhead structural deflection and floor-level requirements and list manufacturers that have proven bottom seals that can meet these requirements.

    1. Track and suspension system ambiguity. All current operable wall manufacturers provide both steel and aluminum track systems. For decades, much debate has occurred over which is best. Specifiers should understand that both steel and aluminum track systems are tested with safety factors applied for the weight of the partitions based on the specific project opening size. (We’ll leave the debate about the virtues of steel verse aluminum suspension system for a future Kwik-Takes blog.)

Moreover, many specifications for track systems don’t match the ones shown on the architectural drawings. For example, the floor plans will show a typical aluminum track with right-angled intersections (X, T, L configurations), yet the specification requires a radius, curve and divert system. Rule of thumb is that steel tracks are not specified with   X L or T intersections using counter rotating wheels as demonstrated below. Those are aluminum track systems. Specifiers should have a quick consult with their trusted operable partition rep to make sure the track type is consistent with the plans.

Kwik-Wall recommends listing both “steel and aluminum suspension per project configurations” be included within Part 2 – Product performance requirements.

    •  Listing Exterior Movable Wall Performance for Interior Applications. Especially seen within Section 10-23-26, and 10-22-39.13 folding panel partitions using glass, specifiers continue to list exterior wind, water and structural load criteria when the project is being used for a building’s interior application. Why? Most often lost in these types of specifications is the acoustical performance of a glass folding panel partition, which is almost certainly more important than water infiltration for interior applications.

LEED v.4 IEQ standards and ANSI S.12.60 specifically outline optimal acoustical performance levels for wall and corridor designs to achieve optimal learning environments, specifiers should be focused on proven acoustical performance of glass operable partitions without bogging down the specification with exterior application performance criteria for best outcomes – especially in school design – where optimal wall performance between classrooms and corridors is minimum 45 STC.

    1. Lack of consideration for pass doors and ADA requirements: Pass doors in operable partitions need to comply with accessibility standards, such as those outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Errors can occur if the specifications do not adequately address the requirements for pass doors or fail to meet the necessary ADA guidelines. In addition, the list of pass door accessories is rarely edited for a specific project. Often, we see a list of options including a peephole and inset vision panel in a pass door. Do we really need both?

Does the door require an automatic closure or not? Do the doors require locks and panic override of these locks? Recently, we were asked to provide a door that could be locked on both sides but also required panic operation in both directions, since the egress direction would change based on the operable partition setup configuration. How is that feasible given the lock would be overridden? The point is that a timely call to your trusted operable partition consultant or local representative is warranted when working on a project with pass doors to dial in the appropriate accessories and avoid confusion post-bid time.

Conclusion:  It is important to review the operable partition specifications thoroughly and consult industry standards, manufacturer guidelines, and applicable building codes to avoid these common errors. Working closely with design professionals and manufacturers can help ensure accurate and comprehensive specifications.

Kwik-Wall operable partition experts can assist you directly to help with all of your specification questions. Call us or email us today if you need a quick consultation or if you are looking to solve a design challenge. Want to learn more?  

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