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On-Site Window Restoration: Saving Time and Money

Sean Cullen

Historical restoration of buildings in the Milwaukee area has been booming. One of the many requirements for historical buildings is to keep the original windows. We have been lucky enough to work on several historical restoration projects and have found a main way to save on costs and schedule is doing the majority of the restoration on-site. Restoring windows to working condition is a five-step process that includes:

  1. Removal: Windows are removed and tagged
  2. Abatement: Windows are sent for lead paint stripping and then returned to the jobsite
  3. Repair: Once back on site, windows are sanded and repaired
  4. Paint: Windows are re-painted
  5. Install: Windows are re-installed to their original locations
Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home

In 1897, the Milwaukee Soldiers Home opened on a 90-plus acre district, making it one of the three original soldier homes in the entire country. Over the years, these buildings were abandoned and have aged. As part of an Enhanced Use Lease Agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the six buildings on the Civil War Era Milwaukee property are being restored and rehabilitated into an estimated 100 housing units for veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

One of the major operations on this project was the restoration of the windows and dormers. About 500 windows needed to be removed, abated, restored, re-painted and re-installed.

Window Restoration Process

A typical construction approach would involve removing the windows, sending them off site to be restored and then bringing them back on site for install.

But when planning for the project the team found a way to complete all but one step of the window restoration process on site, saving the owner 39% on the cost of this operation.

After removing each window unit for restoration, they were tagged with their location and then sent off site so the lead paint could be stripped off the windows. After, they were brought back on site to our shop where we completed the restoration process of the windows (repairing and glazing) and re-installed them.

Beyond costs, completing most of the window restoration on site also saved on schedule and improved quality, as our carpenters could make any alterations to the fit or build back on the spot.

The Fortress

Located in Milwaukee, WI, The Fortress  was built in the 1892 and has seen many additions until 1912. Now it is a mix of commercial and residential spaces. Part of JP Cullen’s scope of work for this project was to restore 100s of the windows located throughout the building. The extension of each window’s restoration varied from small repairs of the rotting windowpane to broken glass that was falling out.

Window and Façade Surveying

To accurately quote and bid the work, JP Cullen crew members conducted an on-site exterior investigation of the façade and windows. Each window was assigned a classification number (ranging from 1-5) depending on how much work each window required to get back into full working condition. Each number was given a price point, we then used those numbers and the different groupings to come up with the estimates to procure the work.

To help assist with lead in the glazing compound, we brought on an abatement company. Most older homes and buildings have some sort of lead exposure, so we knew this would be a hurdle and something we needed to research. Together, we came up with an innovative tracking system to ensure windows were put back in the same space after restoration was complete. Each window was tagged with a brass ID and number, and the windowpane/sash was then tagged with the same number. A master list/key sheet was created so the teams could easily see that each window had a number and where they were located. The master list was organized by sections of the building which was instrumental when it was time for reinstallation. As windows were completed, instead of jumping around the building, they were saved until all windows in a certain area were complete. This ensured a streamlined process to install the windows and saved on time. As the JP Cullen crews completed windows, they found themselves perfecting the process and becoming more efficient

On-Site Restoration Shop

An on-site restoration shop was set up in the facility, allowing JP Cullen to self-perform on the jobsite. A lot of pre-project planning and communication between team members took place to ensure the process was running smoothly. Special carts were ordered and when an area of the building was ready for work, windows were loaded into the carts to be brought to the abatement crews and then brought back. The shop was designed as such when a window was brought in the front door, it traveled down an assembly line of work and thus when it reached the back door, it was ready for install. Because the work was being performed during the winter, the on-site shop had to be temperature controlled due to cure times. Heaters were placed throughout to ensure the work area did not dip below 40 degrees.

Window Restoration Process

The restoration process was very technical. The epoxy that was used had cure times with many of the window sashes requiring several coats which needed to be taken into consideration when working with volume and dollars. Daily communication between the teams and the organization of the master list/key sheet were both key elements to the success of the process. There was no room for error, constant communication ensured the production was running smoothly. To hit production rate, crews had to complete a certain number of tasks per day. The owner was also heavily involved throughout the process. The owner was brought to the shop on multiple occasions to ensure we were executing the job to the level of perfection that was expected.

JP Cullen successfully executed the restoration of hundreds of windows through pre-project planning of an on-site restoration shop and creating an efficient process that saves on time and money.

Have a Historical Restoration project on your plate and not sure where to begin? Send me an email to discuss how JP Cullen can help support your efforts and successfully complete your next window restoration project:

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July 17, 2024