Form before function: Putting new fenestration technology to work in old buildings
Preserving and improving older buildings offer glazing contractors great opportunity and challenge.
With new construction projects, aesthetic and performance criteria can be clearly defined by owner, architect and construction team, and window systems can be engineered, fabricated and installed per the specifications. With renovation projects, the glazing contractor and window systems manufacturer face pre-existing structural constraints and style preferences, tenants who do not wish to be disturbed, and unknown surprises lurking beneath the buildings’ surface. Renovating an historic property increases these sensitivities, the number of watchful eyes, and the resulting restrictions on glazing contractors’ work. Following are some examples of the issues involved as seen in a handful of case studies from around the country.
How old is too old?
The degree of outside influence and involvement on a property will not necessarily be dictated by its age. No universal standard definition exists for what constitutes an historic building. Most building owners and facility managers use “historic” to describe any structure more than 50 years old. Many of the buildings at the University of Notre Dame, Ind., fall into this category including student residence halls, offices, classrooms and The Morris Inn.
For more than half a century, The Morris Inn has offered hospitality to the Notre Dame college’s alumni and visitors. Each May, the hotel books guests attending graduation. In 2005, following its annual peak—but still bustling with a constant flow of guests—the hotel’s renovation efforts launched into full swing: Interiors were remodeled, masonry was washed and repaired, the roof was replaced, and all the non-thermal aluminum-framed windows were removed.
In place of the Inn’s weathered window units, Harmon Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn., installed 456 fixed and casement windows manufactured by Wausau Window and Wall Systems of Wausau, Wis. The windows feature 1-inch insulating Viracon glass with a low-emissivity coating. The aluminum frames and historically styled muntin grids were finished by Linetec to complement surrounding stonework.
To ensure the proper performance and historic look, Notre Dame’s Tony Polotto, senior project manager at the Office of the University Architect, ensured each building on the historic campus complied with the architectural master plan.
While the plan is detailed, Polotto emphasizes that it does not specify a certain brand or manufacturer, but project managers “typically choose the highest grade windows, architectural windows, for long-term durability.
“We attempt to match the windows in similar building types to maintain the architectural style of the building,” Polotto says. “Window design, aesthetics and function play an important role in every building structure. We evaluate the primary purpose of the window, building occupant considerations, window operations, hardware considerations, application to structure, aesthetic considerations and the window types and manufacturers available.”
The Office of the University Architect considers daylight, sound control, condensation control, energy control, operation, fasteners, exterior trim, sightlines, frame depth, muntins, glazing and the windows finish. “Each building, whether new or renovated, will go through a study of the above options before a window is selected,” Polotto says.
The university’s guidelines and the AW classification description outlined by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association of Schaumburg, Ill., enable Notre Dame to “ensure that all window manufacturers are on an equal playing field and eliminate the question of window quality,” Polotto says. “However, each manufacturer may have unique features or aesthetics options that set them apart.”
Along with providing the appropriate window system and proper installation, Polotto notes, “the top factors in maintaining a strong working relationship with our glazing contractors include: ensuring that the contractor can meet the university’s pre-qualification requirements, that the contractor can maintain our aggressive construction schedules, the overall performance of the installation, call-back response if there is a problem [warranty coverage], and of course, pricing.”
Maintaining this positive status, Harmon’s renovation team worked on the inn while most of the visitors were gone from their rooms. The sensitivity to scheduling was valued by Morris Inn Manager Bill Beirne. “The window system performs better,” he says. “It’s a better fit, a tighter seal, so there are no drafts. It’s easier for guests to operate. And it’s much more attractive.”
Says Lenny Weingarten, Harmon’s renovation sales representative in Indiana, “Because of our good record with past projects for the university, we earned another window renovation project on Notre Dame’s Farley Hall. Unlike the 1931 construction of Alumni Hall and Dillon Hall, two student residences we renovated in 2004, Farley Hall was built after World War II when the university’s standard Indiana limestone was in short supply.”
As a result, Farley Hall was constructed from brick and with wood surrounds to the windows. A casual observer may note the brick exterior and the narrow, double-hung windows, grouped in pairs and trios of units, uniformly spaced across the building’s four stories and 66,900 square feet. Upon closer inspection, “you can tell the existing windows don’t match the 108-room dorm’s historic style,” Weingarten says. “The originals were replaced in the 1970s when facility managers were more concerned with the energy crisis than with design. Today, they can have both the advantages of modern thermal performance while preserving the aesthetics of the past.
“The new windows are fabricated in aluminum and mimic the sightlines and look of the old sashes,” Weingarten continues. “In capturing this architectural legacy, our challenge on Farley has been to replicate the custom extruded panning that fits the building’s recessed openings. It’s taken a lot of engineering to get that look.”
Harmon Project Manager Scott Swartz agrees. “The Notre Dame officials were adamant about replicating the existing wood profiles. Several digital photos were taken and transferred into workable shop drawings so Wausau could create the dies,” he says. Swartz and colleagues created a three-dimensional rendering of the panning profile for Notre Dame officials to visually review and approve the design.
Earning this approval, Wausau and Harmon worked together to come up with a design that was acceptable to university officials. Wausau’s Indiana sales associate Dave DeBettignies explains, “It was important that the 517 windows on Farley Hall match the look of the other buildings. The beveled exterior face with beveled muntins replicates the original system’s wood-and-putty units. Historic grids fasten to the frame but sit off the glass to make cleaning easy. The champagne anodized finish smoothly transitions with the surrounding wood and brick. The equal sightlines are preserved at vent and fixed locations. The structural integrity is strengthened with visible butt hinges.”
Preserve or replicate?
For historic projects seeking to preserve or replicate existing woodwork, this process can become even more laborious. Employees with Re-View of Kansas City, Mo., focus their glazing expertise exclusively on these applications, and as a result, their sales have grown 250 percent in three years.
In 2004, Re-View’s window system became part of the restoration on the pentagon-shaped Whitcomb Lee “The Con” Conservatory and Lee Memorial Chapel in Crete, Neb. Working with Bahr Vermeer Haecker of Omaha, Re-View returned the conservatory’s 321 wood window sashes and surrounding frames to original condition.
An unusually innovative system for 1906, each of the 84 openings contains a set of four double-hung sashes to provide enhanced thermal performance. “The system acts like a built-in storm window,” says Todd Maxwell, co-owner of Re-View. “It’s a slick design for the times, before the advent of insulating glass.”
In spite of the building’s ingenious glazing system and historic significance, the five-sided, multipurpose, musical and cultural venue was relegated as a storage facility. After 30 years of neglect and disrepair, it required total restoration. For its role in returning the facility to a functional and recognizable status, Re-View officials adhered to a nine-step process.
Based on resources such as the U.S. Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation of Washington, D.C., its proprietary process involves:
1. On-site survey documenting existing conditions of each window unit, and classifying and marking the necessary work
2. Lead paint removal utilizing dip tanks with liquid stripper to avoid abrasion and damage to the wood. Whether in the field or in the shop, this abatement process is safely conducted by licensed and trained technicians.
3. Repair structural mortise and tenon joints using wood epoxies, securing the joint with an injection of polyurethane glue and a staple or wood dowel. The sashes are squared, clamped and cured to ensure structural integrity.
4. Replace deteriorated components using the same profiles, sizes and shapes
5. Apply liquid wood epoxy revitalizing the end grains of cracked and water-damaged components and restoring deteriorated sashes to a durable condition
6. Apply epoxy wood filler to fill in the voids that could invite water infiltration
7. Finish and sand using planers and custom scrapping knives to match the profiles and contours, and an assortment of sanders for a smooth surface
8. Glazing begins with an application of linseed oil and a small silicone bead toward the back of the glazing pocket, followed by setting in the glass and stopping it with wood glazing beads, concluded with hand-applied glazing putty.
9. Finish stain or painting color-matched for historical accuracy.
Although not itemized on Re-View’s agenda, the company also repairs windows’ balance systems. For The Con, each of the four sashes had a traditional weight and pulley system that needed to be strung and tied.
Helping fund the massive renovation, The Con was awarded a $919,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of Washington, D.C., due to its cultural and architectural significance as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and its position at the front of Doane College of Crete.
Property owners who invest in caring for their registered historic properties may qualify to obtain federal funding and tax incentives for rehabilitation and renovation. Income-generating, certified-historic structures may even qualify for a 20 percent investment tax credit.
Glazing contractors and window manufacturers can directly benefit from these incentives. Aiding applicants, researchers at the Heritage Preservation Service write on its Internet site, “As one of the few parts of a building serving as both an interior and exterior feature, windows are nearly always an important part of the historic character of a building. In most buildings, windows also comprise a considerable amount of the historic fabric of the wall plane and thus are deserving of special consideration in a rehabilitation project.”
Putting them back together
Specializing in historic fenestration, workers at Infinity Glass and Restoration LLC and sister company Infinity Architectural Systems LLC in Buffalo, N.Y., have grown intimately familiar with such considerations. The companies’ expertise can be seen in the King Urban Life Center housed in a church in Buffalo that was meticulously restored in 1997, and in the 1900 glass and steel-framed dome reconstruction for the Buffalo and Erie County Botanic Gardens. Currently, Infinity workers toil on the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House in Buffalo; a six-structure property designed and built in 1903-05. Privately owned until the late 1990s, Martin House Restoration Corp. of Buffalo purchased the property to restore the famous architect’s vision. Three of the original buildings—the pergola, the conservatory and carriage house—were razed in the 1970s when the then-owner ran short of funds to maintain the complex. Now, those structures are being rebuilt.
Relying on materials and methods of the time, the complex’s wood windows, doors and millwork will be reconstructed to match historic photos and materials found on site after their demolition. “We are starting from scratch,” says Gina Paigen, Infinity’s owner.
In addition to replicating the shape, sizes and finishes of the Martin House’s fenestration, the materials also reflect the residence’s original construction, Paigen explains, “It is all being done with old growth Cyprus—not easy to come by.
Hence, the process of historic restoration can be time consuming and costly. “Usually, you’d hear the voices of historic preservation and those of economic development shouting at each other,” Paigen says. “But here in the western New York area, we are learning economics and historically sensitive design do not have to be mutually exclusive concepts. Architecture, if protected, can be cultivated as a tourist draw, as well as a beautiful slice of culture. Similarly, we need to be able to afford to care for these properties if they are going to remain with us.”
Helping the Buffalo Public Schools preserve its 1930s architecture, Infinity workers strive to renovate the facilities’ existing wood window systems while updating them for modern energy efficiency. As part of $1 billion proposed district-wide overhaul in accordance with the New York State preservation guideline, Paigen’s employees have completed two renovations and are actively working on another two.
“We take out the existing wood sash, restore the frames, and put in custom sash units,” Paigen says. “When we can, we like to build a sash with the same configuration and profiles. This allows us to use energy-efficient glass, and install it into the existing frames. This approach is often preferable to re-working the existing sash to accept insulating glass. Pretty much anything that’s more than 30 years old is laden with lead paint. By the time you safely strip it, pull the thing apart—being careful not to destroy any of the original material—repair any deterioration, rout out for insulating glass, and then put it all back together, we could have built a new sash. With a new sash, the end result is a stronger, more solid construction that still maintains the historical integrity.”
Upgrading old single-pane windows to insulating, thermally efficient glass also can add thickness and weight that a delicate, aged window might not handle. Aware of this, Infinity’s staff members examine the Buffalo schools’ existing frames and balances. Most of the schools were constructed with a traditional weight-and-pulley system, but some relied on a “tape balance,” a wound spring housed in a steel casing set into the jamb.
“Originally, these balances were constructed to handle maybe a 55-pound unit,” Paigen says. “We were nearly doubling that weight and not only had to find replacement balances that could handle the increased weight, but had to figure out how to hang the sash without losing our fingers. We devised an angle bracket dadoed into the side of the sash. Setting it in the top of the opening, we could use the weight of the sash itself to pull the tape down into place.”
Aiding in the school students’ achievement, and energy and light control, Infinity’s window renovations incorporated exterior sunshades and interior light-shelf systems. “The sunlight comes through the transom, reflects off the light-shelf, bounces off the ceiling, and indirectly lights the classrooms,” Paigen says.
Employing modern techniques and resources to renovate historic properties, Paigen expects her crews to remain busy for months. As any business owner, she remains cautious, but her enthusiasm for the work at-hand remains obvious. “There seems to be a whole new interest in historic preservation and design and in keeping our architectural heritage alive,” she says.