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What are the Differences and When Should they be Specified?

There’s often confusion about when to use demountable or relocatable glass partitions and there’s little online to help to clarify things. In spite of them being different products, the terms are frequently used together, without a real understanding of how they differ and when they should be specified.

Here, we define demountable glass partitioning and relocatable glass partitioning and consider when you would use each product. We also look at the changing nature of demountable and relocatable glass partitions over the years.

What is Demountable Glass Partitioning?

A demountable partition is a non-permanent partition which can, if necessary, be taken down without damaging the main fabric of the building fit out (often called CAT-A elements), such as raised floors and suspended ceilings.

In contrast, a permanent partition would span between floor and ceiling slabs, perhaps made from a product like drywall. To remove a permanent partition, you would need to remove part of the ceiling and floor.

Demountable partitions sit between the ceiling and floor, which are largely unabused by removal, apart from some fixings and sealant. Demountable partitions are therefore suitable for partitioning space for the length of a tenancy. However, demountable partitions are frequently damaged by the removal process and cannot, therefore, be reused.

If a client has a requirement to restack the layout on a regular basis – creating offices, taking them away, constantly refreshing the space for example – then a relocatable system should be considered.

What is Relocatable Glass Partitioning?

Relocatability is very different from demountability. Relocatable partitions should be capable of being taken down and reused somewhere else within the same building. Relocatable partitions offer flexibility by allowing you to rearrange office spaces regularly and repeatedly.

The Ska Rating, an environmental assessment method and standard for non-domestic fit-outs, defines relocatable (or reusable) modular partition systems as those which:

Ska favours relocatable partitions because they are not substantially damaged themselves on removal, and can therefore be used again, saving on waste. Since relocatable partitions are re-useable, they meet the Good Practice Measure M09 of the Ska Offices Standard.

Alongside the potential for re-use and their popularity for sustainability reasons, relocatable partitions also have tax benefits. As relocatable partitions are movable, they qualify as Plant and Machinery for the purposes of claiming capital allowances. They are listed under Section 23: List C of the Capital Allowances Act 2001 as “13. Partition walls, where moveable and intended to be moved in the course of the qualifying activity.” Make sure your client takes professional advice to confirm the qualification.

The Changing Nature of Demountable and Relocatable Glass Partitions

Every proprietary glazed partition system is demountable in some form, but they aren’t necessarily relocatable, and they don’t necessarily look different.

Historically, glass partitioning used silicone glass to glass joints. Silicone is a wet trade which requires keen-eyed quality management. Whilst silicone joints are demountable (they are easy to remove with a knife), taking them off is a messy process. Whilst the glass can be reused if taken down and re-installed carefully, the glass has to be re-siliconed into position, which is a time-consuming process.

Additionally, in the past, buildings were constructed with shorter spans between columns and glass partitions did not have to absorb movement. This meant that a simple u-channel at the head of the glass partition was sufficient. However, if the glass partition was to be relocated to a new area, it would not be able to accommodate any change in ceiling height. For these reasons, traditional frameless silicone-jointed glass partitions were not considered to be relocatable.

Therefore, relocatable partitions traditionally tended to be based on a modular, hung panel system, with built-in tolerance. For example, in the late 1990s, Citibank in Canary Wharf was designed specifically with relocatability in mind, with a high requirement for reconfiguration of office space. Part of the selection process involved subcontractors taking down and rebuilding their product against the clock to demonstrate the ease and speed of build and demountability. On this project, Optima installed a fully relocatable, modular, bi-panel system which fully met the client’s relocatability requirements.

However, the nature of office fit out has changed somewhat since then; today designers and clients are much more interested in achieving a very high-quality finish. The traditional modular, relocatable approach can be a little clinical and doesn’t allow a bespoke feel.

The way in which buildings are constructed has evolved too. Larger spans between columns and rigid ceilings – either plasterboard soffits or substantial steel ceilings suspended on rods or steel straps – mean that ceilings cannot absorb building movement and glass partitions therefore have to accommodate a deflection head. This built-in tolerance means that glass partitions can more easily accommodate a change in ceiling level, which aids relocatability.

All of the glazed partitions that we manufacture at Optima today are demountable because the glass panels are joined with removable glass-to-glass dry joints. Our glass partitions can also be configured to be relocatable if we know that the client will restack the layout on a regular basis – creating offices, taking them away, constantly refreshing the space, for example.

Summary

In summary, it is important not to confuse demountable and relocatable glass partitions. All proprietary glass partitioning systems are demountable to some degree, but they are not necessarily fully relocatable.

Glass to glass dry joints certainly aid demountability, but in order to be classified as relocatable, the glass partition should also be capable of accommodating a tolerance of ± 10mm of the original installed height upon relocation, and should be able to be taken down and reused without substantial damage to both the main building fabric and the partition itself.

If a client requires the flexibility of being able to frequently reconfigure and rearrange office space then a fully relocatable system should be considered.

Take a look at some of our most popular demountable glass partitioning systems:

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