Volume 33, Number 5, May 1998


by Robert Foster

Today's construction industry reflects a human trend as middle-aged buildings, as well as middle-aged people, live longer and look better later in years than they did previously. Advances in products and techniques increase the cost effectiveness of remodeling in a market full of '80s building boomers and their predecessors.

The figures tell the story. According to a recent industry survey, there are more than three million existing commercial buildings in the United States. The majority of these structures—80 percent—are more than 15 years old, while almost half—45 percent—are more than 30 years old. One- or two-story commercial buildings make up 88 percent of the total with retail and office buildings leading the remodeling field.

Most of these buildings need more than preventive maintenance to remain competitive. Aesthetics, energy efficiency and ADA compliance are the major reasons for remodeling, followed closely by a growing interest in historic architecture and traditions, environmental considerations, improved security, tight budgets and the need for higher quality products.

But these mature buildings do hold trump cards. They are frequently situated in accessible, prime locations and sometimes serve as landmarks for the local community. As a result, there are almost 335,000 exterior renovations on commercial buildings each year, which translate into a large potential market for glazing contractors. The demand is high for both standard and custom architectural aluminum products capable of maintaining historic integrity and competitiveness with the newer buildings. Remodeled buildings share a common theme: successful second lives for their owners and communities and business opportunities for glazing contractors.

However, successful remodeling involves many special challenges not encountered during installations at new construction sites. Some of the logistics needing attention are:

Typical case histories illustrate these special requirements, skills and experience needed by glazing subcontractors who work in the remodeling field.

From Steel and Stone to Glass & Aluminum

Roebling Market, Trenton, NJ

Trenton engineer Washington A. Roebling worked on projects that included the Brooklyn Bridge (1883) and George Washington Bridge (1932) in New York and the Golden Gate Bridge (1937) in San Francisco. Like many innovators, he turned to invention and developed in his Trenton factory the famous high-strength twisted steel cable used in these bridges, elevators and other landmark projects of the time.

Today, the once-famous cable factory has been remodeled as part of a major revitalization of New Jersey's South Trenton capital district. The former factory buildings feature retail stores and offices, including the 66,000-square-foot space owned by New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.

Original steel windows were replaced with 25,000 square feet of thermal fixed windows with a factory-glazed historical muntin and custom-extruded mullions that duplicated the look of the originals. Many were stacked three stories high and reached 60 feet. Ten thousand square feet of framing and medium stile entrances enclosed the retail stores.

Installer R.A. Kennedy & Sons of Folcroft, PA, submitted a full-sized mock-up of the windows with historical muntins so the architect could verify that they could match the original aesthetics of the building. The owner was very concerned that new windows matched the detail of the original sash while still being able to meet the structural performance requirements of the project.

R. A. Kennedy worked on a fast-track delivery schedule for windows, starting the day after it was awarded the job. "We had to measure and lay out every opening and there were several hundred different sizes," explained company president Tom Kennedy. "Each window we installed was custom-sized because the architect would not allow perimeter trim to make up any differences in the rough opening dimensions. Window manufacturing and deliveries were phased to meet the tight deadlines."

Kennedy's tip for ensuring smooth remodeling installations? "Careful and accurate field measurements and layout up front."

Build It and They Will Come

Hershey's Chocolate Town Cafe®, Hershey, PA

Hershey's Chocolate Town Cafe began as a storage area for Hershey's Chocolate World–a popular family attraction since the 1970s. Surrounded by large exterior precast panels, it was located at the corner of a large building that includes a motorized tour demonstrating how chocolate is made, a snack bar and large souvenir shop.

As crowds visiting Hershey's Chocolate World Visitors Center and nearby attractions increased, Hershey realized the need for a restaurant and the architect visualized almost transparent glass walls that allow the highly colorful and active interior to be fully visible. The resulting Hershey's Chocolate Town Cafe is so successful that it draws additional crowds in its own right.

The architect selected a structural silicone-glazed curtainwall for its clean lines. The system allowed the required transparency and was also flexible enough to incorporate a curved canopy that penetrates the curtainwall and continues on the interior—a feature that required a custom connection. The curtainwall also allowed different finishes on the interior and exterior, and Weaver's Glass & Building Supplies of Harrisburg, PA, used clear Low-E glass to retain the radiant heat for occupant comfort. Anticipating that the café would become a popular tourist attraction, the architect chose a combination of sturdy doors, frames and hardware designed for high traffic areas.

"This project is typical of most remodel projects we've been involved with—custom products and aggressive construction schedules. We received our contract for this project in March and the cafe was open to the public for the July Fourth weekend," said Guy Weaver, owner of Weaver's Glass. "We took delivery of the two-color curtainwall on time and, in fact, we received the aluminum and glass before the precast cement was demolished. Our guys even got the job done weeks sooner than we figured."

Commenting on his remodeling experiences, Weaver mentions building relationships with architects and contractors, understanding the products and hand delivering samples as necessary. He also emphasizes the importance of reliability and his great team. "When it gets down to it, it doesn't matter what we do—those guys in the field just have to get the job done right and on schedule."

USG Robert Foster is senior marketing manager for Kawneer Company, Inc., a leading manufacturer of architectural aluminum products for the commercial construction industry based in Norcross, GA.

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