Custom Windows: The Choice Is Crystal Clear

According to College Planning & Management’s "1999 Construction Report" (Feb., p. 20), higher education construction spending for 1998 was in excess of $6 billion, including new construction, additions and retrofits. Windows are key building elements in all new construction and remodeling projects. Most of these projects require customized window solutions. This may involve operational windows or multistory expanses of glass, but each must fit the building’s aesthetic and performance needs.

Twelve Steps for Success

Custom window solutions involve skilled craftsmanship and engineering. When choosing a window manufacturer and partner, request these services.

1. On-campus facility analysis for function and aesthetics. The window manufacturer must visit the building to review the project’s unique window needs. This person should conduct a photo take-off and accurately record measurements that pertain to the window openings. To ensure complete satisfaction, special attention should be given to aesthetic preferences for the campus.

2. Pre-bid engineering for product selection and performance standards. A pre-bid engineering team should assist with the product selection, proposal details, specification review, design and on-site technical support. Depending on the performance needs, the team should conduct a structural analysis, thermal modeling analysis, condensation resistance analysis and U-value analysis.

As well as meeting extreme weather conditions and energy needs, custom window solutions also can be engineered to meet acoustical demands. For common acoustical needs, remember to keep the noise source in mind. Blocking low-frequency noise requires more mass than blocking high-frequency noises, but high-frequency noise passes through small leaks more easily. For tightly sealed windows, low-frequency noise can be more of a problem.

For security needs, college facilities may not require steel bars, but appropriate hardware packages should be evaluated. Strong, break-resistant glass can be requested for certain buildings, like laboratory research centers or medical facilities.

For privacy, many window products offer optional, integral Venetian blinds. For low maintenance, the blinds are encased between the interior and exterior pane of glass.

3. Facility planning and pricing for budget estimating. The manufacturer should prepare a thorough proposal that includes a complete budget estimate. The proposal should cover material and installation costs to help with long- and short-term planning.

4. Mockups and samples including quality and performance testing. The installing subcontractor and the window manufacturer should work closely to provide installed field mockups of the window system. This helps ensure that the product meets the project’s aesthetic and performance requirements.

As needed, the window manufacturer may conduct additional testing on the mockups. If requested, certification by a third party may be sought.

5. Field measuring for proper fit on renovation projects. Each opening should be measured on site to guarantee an exact fit.

6. Project management for coordinating all schedules and requirements. In the best circumstances, the window manufacturer provides a single point-of-contact person who oversees the entire project. This project manager coordinates all phases of the project, including submission requirements, submission approval, material allocation, production and delivery schedules. This person also should be on call to visit the job site.

7. Engineering by registered engineers, designers and detailers. Administrators should be interested in the educational backgrounds of the team that custom engineers their windows. Many engineers continue their education through industry certification programs and maintain their certification through coursework and other educational programs.

The larger the project, the more you need the assurance that the team is composed of skilled craftspeople. For example, drawing from a window engineering team of more than 90 structural engineers, designers and detailers, Wheaton College’s Blanchard Hall underwent a 98-percent interior renovation and total window replacement. More than 300 energy-efficient, low-maintenance windows were custom engineered accurately to match the original window shapes and sizes installed in the building. The project flowed smoothly, thanks to the well-educated team.

8. In-house finishing for maximum quality control. For maximum quality control, ask if the window manufacturer has an in-house finishing capability. Finishing normally is completed before manufacturing.

Bancroft Hall is the largest dormitory in the United States. This historic facility houses 4,500 midshipmen attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The building contains 1,873 rooms, nearly five miles of corridors and 33 acres of floor space.

To preserve the building’s architectural elegance, 10,000 custom, double-hung windows were created with beveled, integral grid muntins. Each has a dual finish, where the exterior color matches the Academy’s green and the interior color is white.

9. Manufacturing by skilled craftspeople in a controlled environment. Custom window products depend on the proper combination of advanced manufacturing technology and skilled craftsmanship.

10. High-quality installation to guarantee excellent performance. Relying on the highest-quality installers will lead to the highest quality in installation. The window manufacturer usually recommends an installer who is familiar with its products and will provide the best service.

Under extraordinarily tight delivery schedules, Houghton, Mich.-based Michigan Technological University’s Dow Environment-al Sciences building required windows with excellent thermal performance for its extreme weather conditions. A zero sightline, insulated window was engineered to set within a custom-engineered curtainwall system. Additionally, a standard curtainwall incorporated a custom, segmented skylight. The curtainwalls were factory assembled, shipped in large sections and installed in vertical ladders to reduce field labor time.

11. Maintenance materials and/or training for proper care, operation and lifetime use. Once the windows are installed, the proper operation and maintenance should be reviewed. In-person training sessions and manuals should be offered to the college and university staff who will be responsible for caring for the products.

12. Signed warranty. Make sure there is a signed warranty that guarantees materials and workmanship. The warranty should include repair or replacement of the window extrusions, weather-stripping, trim, finish and hardware, as supplied by the manufacturer.

Steve Wetzel is vice president of sales and marketing for Wausau, Wis.-based Wausau Window and Wall Systems. To request a free copy of Architectural Windows for Colleges and Universities, call 715/845-2161 or fax 715/843-4350.

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