How to Choose an Operable Partition
By: Jim Curtis
Operable partitions allow religious and academic facilities to easily divide a large room into several smaller spaces. When selected correctly, they give the facility remarkable flexibility to optimize the use of available space.
Unfortunately, when incorporating an operable partition into a building, many churches begin and end with the physical separation of the space. Certainly, space division is a partition's most visible function. But, limiting one's scope to that is akin to buying an automobile simply because it has four wheels and can transport you from one point to another.
Like cars, operable partitions operate under distinct circumstances that influence the purchase decision. Many factors should be strongly considered before choosing the best product for the application.
Most often, the selection process begins with partition type: single, paired, or continuously hinged. Single panel designs offer the greatest versatility for space division needs. For the largest openings, storage in remote pockets and in complex partition layouts, the single panel is usually the operable partition of choice.
Paired panels are hinged together in pairs and offer the most efficient operable partition option. Usually available in top-supported or floor-supported configurations, they are ideal for straight-line openings and offer quick and easy setup.
Continuously hinged panels are a series of panels hinged together and typically available in either electric or manual operation. They offer quick setup time and provide efficient and convenient separation, but, as a result of the weight of the combined panels, electric operation is the most common continuously hinged option.
Manufacturers provide a wide range of acoustically rated partitions, and the published Sound Transmission Classification (STC) can be used to evaluate anticipated sound control of various products. When STC claims are compared based upon a careful evaluation of current and independent laboratory test reports, the acoustical performance of a partition system can be compared in a manner similar to evaluating the EPA fuel efficiency rating of various cars.
Just as important, architects and contractors must evaluate flanking transmission, which is the passage of sound by paths other than directly through the partition.
When a partition does not fit or interface correctly with the surrounding construction, its sound-blocking characteristics can be significantly compromised. A loose or inappropriate fit creates sound leaks at the perimeter of the partition and at panel intersections. Making sure the acoustical seals of the partition are tight will optimize acoustical performance. Non-mechanical seals, non-moving vinyl seals of various shapes, provide simplicity and consistent acoustical performance at the overhead track. When necessary, retracting mechanical seals are appropriate, such as seals that contact the floor, since the contact surface varies in flatness. Many applications benefit from a mechanical floor seal that automatically activates. These automatic seals do not require the use of separate tools, which may be impractical or inappropriate, such as in a school environment.
Other finishes are more functional in nature such as full or partial dry erase boards, chalkboards and tack boards that turn the partition into a large instructional surface. Beyond the standard finishes, most manufacturers will accommodate a COM (customer's own material) finish as long as the material passes a suitability review and appropriate codes.
In addition, a variety of options can be incorporated into partitions: acoustical pass doors, as well as non-acoustical wood or metal doors, with a full array of hardware options, allow passage through a partition. Window options (full or partial height) have become a popular option. These impart a combination of form and function that makes the partition more useful and more attractive.
Ease of Use
So it is with operable partitions. Knowing who will use the partition helps determine the appropriate sealing method and usage options. For instance, a teacher who wants to separate a classroom needs an easy-to-use partition, perhaps one with a "free-flowing" overhead track system and automatic floor seals. In some instances, an electrically operated system featuring motor-driven wall movement is the best solution. Depending on the facility, such systems may need an infrared safety system that stops partition movement if the safety zone is penetrated.
Length of Ownership
Finally, the product warranty should be considered. Owners with a long-term horizon tend to desire longer warranties. Look closely at what is covered by the warranty: parts only, or parts and labor. Exactly which parts are covered? Warranties vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer, as does the expertise of the local partition supplier. Longer warranty periods many times require an annual service agreement, so investigating the experience of the local supplier is as important as wording of the warranty. Annual service agreements can be helpful in maintaining the partition's function, safety, and appearance.
Generally, you don't see large families cramming into a two-seat roadster or a bachelor cruising around town in a minivan. People select vehicles based on their personal needs. Choosing a partition, like choosing a car, is something that should be considered carefully. All options should be weighed, not just basic acoustics.
By looking at all the options carefully and, ultimately, looking at the overall function that the partition must serve, architects and end users can choose a partition that is appropriate for the space.
Jim Curtis is director of national accounts for Modernfold, www.modernfold.com .
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