Renewed Life For New England’s Mills

Window replication and renovation in historical structures means sourcing appropriate materials.

Of the 801 mills in the United States in 1831, more than 500 were located in the six New England states. In 1837, Worcester County, MA, had 55 towns, 26 with at least one woolen mill and 24 with at least one cotton mill. Throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s, life revolved and communities grew up around these mills. Many of them were beautiful buildings, standing tall and proud at the center of town, and many of them still stand today.

The mill buildings have not gone unnoticed by developers who aim to breathe new life into these historical structures and bring new energy to what often have become neglected areas. City fathers encourage the investment, and local, state, and federal agencies often help facilitate the activity with financial assistance in the form of tax credits and grants. But strings are attached to that aid, and it helps to know what to expect. Window replication plays a vital role in obtaining the blessing of historical review boards. York, PA-based Graham Architectural Products’ Bill Homer, a New England-area representative, and Bill Wilder, the company’s director of technical sales, have more than 40 years between them in the historical-window-replication arena. They offer this information on sourcing appropriate windows. CA

Cable Mills, Williamstown, MA

Cable Mills is an adaptive reuse of the one-time Water Street Mill, built in 1873 in Williamstown, MA. Three historical mill buildings were renovated to accommodate 61 apartment homes in a dramatic transformation from the buildings’ roots as factories making twine in the post-Civil War era and wire and cable in the 20th century. The apartments feature spectacular views of the nearby Green River and the Berkshire Mountains, thanks to York, PA-based-Graham Architectural’s SR6700 series windows and its 2200H series single-hung windows. Although different Graham windows were initially bid, the company worked with the National Park Service to accommodate the specific sightlines requested.

Loom City, Rockville, CT

Loom City Lofts now occupies the former Roosevelt Mill, built in 1906 as one of the first buildings in New England to be constructed entirely of reinforced concrete. It is an industrial-themed apartment building with 61 rental units, including studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units. The building also has commercial space available for lease. Graham Architectural provided more than 360 2200H series single-hung windows, as well as a handful of 1400H series fixed windows and 6800 series awning windows. Despite the windows’ size–56 in. wide and 110 in. high–the building achieved the National Green Building Standard for energy efficiency.

Massachusetts Mills, Picker Building, Lowell, MA

Developers are bringing new life to the five-story Picker Building, previously described in a newspaper account as, “a dangerous, dilapidated, and once-majestic riverfront mill.” Constructed in Lowell, MA, in the early 20th century, the neglected building had trees growing through its roof, yet developers still saw its potential. The building is expected to reopen by the end of 2016 with 70 apartment units and more than 600 of Graham Architectural’s 6700 series fixed and projected windows. Through those windows, residents on higher floors will be able to view the city and the Merrimack River.

Worcester Loomworks, Worcester, MA

Developers converted an abandoned mill complex in Worcester, MA, into The Lofts at Loomworks, a low- to middle-income residential building with 94 affordable one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Built in 1890, the structure most recently served as headquarters for textile machinery maker Crompton and Knowles Loom Works. Graham Architectural provided 850 windows, the majority of which were the company’s 2000H series single hung. The remainder were 1200H series fixed windows. The first residents moved in during September of 2015.

Knowledge is Power

Know what you’re trying to replicate. If you’re seeking approval from historic review boards, make sure you determine up front exactly what you are trying to replicate. Do you want to go back to the original windows, or do you simply want to upgrade the existing windows? Is that going to be acceptable to the review boards? Usually–but not always–when historical requirements are involved, the review boards want to go back to the original construction of the building. This can involve forensic work, such as combing the archives to find photographs, or locating remnants of an original window system long since covered by a retrofit system. At York, PA-based Graham Architectural Products, we typically perform this work in conjunction with the architect and the historical consultant.

Know your review board(s). Not all boards see a project in the same way. Local historic review boards can sometimes be more demanding than state boards or the National Park Service. A window that passed review in one instance may not be approved under similar circumstances elsewhere. Experience makes historic-window-replication specialists key allies. This is also why the specialists prefer to meet with the owner/developer early in the process to design a product that will not only meet the historic criteria, but all the other project criteria. By knowing the standards early on, drawings can be submitted to the historical consultant who’s helping them through that process of getting approved by the local and state boards, and park service. This can expedite approvals.

Know the building’s intended use. Retail? Office space? Condos? Mixed use? Senior housing? Very often, that kind of information allows a window consultant to offer suggestions as to fenestration design. Will the windows be fixed, or must they be operable? If the latter, does ADA compliance come into play? All of this adds to the challenge of replicating what often, by definition, were large and inefficient windows with large and efficient windows. Knowing the building’s purpose early in the process can save time, headaches, and money.

Know your timeline. National Park Service tax credits are tied to a timeline: Your building must be occupied by a certain deadline in order to qualify. The clock is ticking and time is truly money. So it pays to have experience in your corner.

Know the code requirements. Does the regional code specify thermal performance? Do you have to meet a certain U-value? Does the code demand a certain amount of fresh air? Does it insist upon hurricane-impact standards? With the designs of some historical windows, you can only build so much efficiency into the replicated window, but review boards aren’t particularly interested in your excuses. Ideally, the window consultant is involved from the beginning.

Just as important are detailed requirements from the architect and specifier. Here’s an example: The windows might have to meet a certain U-value, because by calculating how much heat transfer is going to go through that window, the mechanical engineers can determine the size of the HVAC system. Energy efficiency is based on two key parameters: the glass component–how energy efficient is the glass–and the window design. With a southern exposure, you will likely want a glazing material that has a low solar-heat-gain coefficient, so the glass can restrict some of the heat from entering the building. On the northern side, where the sun is less of a factor, you’re likely to want glazing with a higher solar-heat-gain coefficient. As for design, a fixed window (one that does not open) is inherently more thermally efficient than, say, a double-hung window, where both sashes operate. So sometimes if the code has stringent requirements for thermal performance, you may not be able to achieve that performance with a double-hung window. Fortunately, some companies, including Graham, can create fixed windows that simulate double-hung windows, increasing the chances of meeting code requirements and passing historic review.

Know what you plan to do with the original window. Replacing a window while using the existing frame increases the degree of difficulty in a historic replication job. In attempting to squeeze the window inside the old frame, you basically have to lap overtop of the frame with the window. That adds bulk to the sightline and can impact the likelihood of approval. That’s where the review board subjectivity comes in. Sometimes it will pass. Sometimes you will be told to remove the existing frame. And yet other times, if you are able to articulate a compelling reason as to why you can’t remove them e.g., they’re embedded into the concrete or some other reason that would stop the job, the review board may reconsider. 

The bottom line is, the National Park Service and the state want to save buildings and see them restored and reused. So if a task is cost prohibitive to the point that it prevents a building from being saved, they will take that into consideration. Local review boards, on the other hand, do not always do so.

Give your project its best chance to succeed by making sure you have experienced, knowledgeable historic-window-replication specialists on your team.


datacache— Get information on historical replication projects.

— Information on the 1200H series fixed window.

— Information on the 2200H single-hung window.

— Information on the 6800 series awning window.

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