New windows and doors revitalize older buildings

With their improved aesthetics, energy efficiency, and durability, replacement windows and doors can add significant value to a renovation project.

For the renovation of Mitchell Hall at the University of New Mexico (designed by
For the renovation of Mitchell Hall at the University of New Mexico (designed by Pueblo Revival style advocate John Gaw Meem), the Design Group of Albuquerque specified fixed windows with fiberglass frames, applied muntins, and sightlines that matched the original windows.
March 30, 2012

When selecting replacement windows and doors for retrofits, Building Teams must consider aesthetics, cost, schedule, view, energy performance, accessibility, and durability. Then there are environmental and security considerations, such as vandal resistance, blast-hazard mitigation, and hurricane-impact protection. Fortunately, new technologies are making it easier to meet those requirements and upgrade the appearance and energy efficiency of a building, while keeping the project on budget.

Compared to the products available 15 years ago, new windows and doors offer greatly improved thermal performance, says John Bendt, sales/marketing vice president with Wausau Window and Wall Systems ( “That’s because better thermal separators, such as glass-reinforced nylon, provide superior insulation through increased aluminum separation and air space in the frames,” says Bendt.

Fabricated glass continues to improve in insulating value and controlling solar heat gain while letting an appropriate amount of natural light into the building. Triple-insulating glass is also being considered for more projects. “The biggest trend today is toward energy-efficient technologies, including aluminum-clad wood, fiberglass and vinyl frames, and high-performance, low-e glass,” says Terry Zeimetz, commercial marketing manager for Pella Corp. (

“Aluminum cladding has come a long way in its ability to emulate wood profiles,” notes Jeff Hoffman, an architectural sales representative for Marvin Windows and Doors (

Older windows can be swapped out for new ones that offer similar sightlines and historical look. For example, aluminum-framed, projected windows can be made to look like old steel windows or double-hung windows but are easier to operate, says Bendt. Aluminum cladding is frequently used in historically influenced replacement windows because it’s durable and easy to customize. Factory-applied anodized and baked-on fluoropolymer paint finishes can be formulated to match existing color schemes or reproduce a building’s original colors. Such finishes are also eco-friendly.

Commercial doors can be specified with components and technologies to address constantly increasing thermal performance requirements. “Many types of high-performance glass, including those that withstand blasts and hurricane impact, can be incorporated without altering the overall look of a door,” says Mary Olivier, marketing manager for Tubelite Inc. (, a manufacturer of architectural aluminum window, entrance storefront, and curtain wall systems.

Durability is a key factor in selecting a door/hardware combination and the size of the stiles (the vertical members of the door frame). But the most significant task in replacement projects, particularly for historic buildings, is to match the work of historic artisans using modern materials on a limited budget, Olivier says.

Deciding whether or not to use the existing window and door framing in a retrofit depends on such factors as the presence of wood rot and hazardous materials, the structural integrity of the existing frame, and the anchorage scheme of the replacement system, says Ken Brenden, CDT, of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (, Schaumburg, Ill.

Bendt points out that older window frames don’t offer modern-day thermal technology and performance, so it’s worthwhile to evaluate new frames for their potential energy savings and reduced maintenance. Ultimately, the decision to keep or tear out existing framing should be based on energy modeling and budgeting information, he says.

Let’s take a look at a few instructive window/door retrofits.


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