Keeping Useful Buildings Functioning

By Shive-Hattery

Keeping Useful Buildings Functioning

Beautiful, loved buildings are often retained for many years past their practical life span due to their cultural and aesthetic value to a city or campus.

Keeping these buildings functioning requires maintenance and re-investment. Re-investment may be only for key priorities or it may be for a complete overhaul to modern standards. It may be to redevelop a building for a new use, or it may be to expand a building because its size has become too small.

These projects require assessment of a building’s functionality, code compliance, energy standards, and infrastructure needs. With master planning, a building owner can evaluate a return on investment and develop a strategy for the building.

Which buildings are considerable FOR re-investment?

Large buildings (e.g. old factories and warehouses) may not have a historical significance or be especially aesthetically pleasing like a church or government building. But they are really useful spaces that can be turned into residential lofts, restaurant or retail space, offices, or a lot of times a mixed use of these.

Aging university buildings can undergo renovations to suit present-day needs of versatility and multiple uses. Increasing the ability to use a building for additional functions increases its value.

Older buildings tend to be much more solidly built, with thicker walls and longer-lasting materials. The structure is often in good condition while its windows and roofs may be past their life expectancy. An older building may have architectural interest that is worth keeping, including fine details, arched masonry windows or unique masonry construction with brick or stone.

How can the building’s character be preserved?

When making additions, it’s important to use appropriate materials so that the renovations blend with the look or style of the building. It is quite possible that an addition can be designed to look as if it had always been there. At times an effort may be required to research a building’s materials and existing construction to accomplish this.

Stained-glass windows, mosaics, and arches are just some of the beautiful features that can be restored or even added to preserve the building’s character. By taking a well-built old factory or warehouse building and adding these artistic touches, you bring beauty and character.

What accessibility shortcomings need to be overcome?

  • Exterior and interior ramps
  • Elevators
    Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-equipped bathrooms. Often restrooms lose fixtures to accommodate ADA dimensional requirements.
  • Areas of rescue assistance
  • Narrow passages or openings and steep stairs

What Life Safety shortcomings need to be addressed?

Some ways to improve safety and meet current fire code standards are:
  • Adding sprinklers – which may require a new, larger water service and backflow preventer – guard rails, and fire rate corridors
  • Enclosing stairs to become proper exits
  • Adding stairs for secondary routes
  • Installing addressable fire alarm systems
  • Restoring exterior fire exit stairs
  • Abatement

Does the building have adequate infrastructure?

An older building might only have service of 200 amps but may need 600 amps with its new use. A new transformer and panel would be required. Updating the building to the current electric code might require more outlets installed. Hiding conduit in older buildings may not be possible with solid masonry walls.

Mechanical systems may be very inadequate or surviving year to year. Older systems are often not energy efficient. The floor to floor elevation may be difficult for layout of new ductwork. Old failing hydronic pipes may be buried deep under a floor.

Can the building become more energy efficient?

An initial benchmark study will assess how well the building uses energy followed by measures to improve its performance. There are ways you can increase your building’s energy efficiency while making renovations:

  • Some old roofs have little or no insulation value; this can be added while replacing the roof.
  • Add a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system such as a geothermal system.
  • Add new windows to increase efficiency while maintaining the original look of the building.
By incorporating energy efficient elements, you may even qualify for energy grants or rebates.

What are some special difficulties for renovation or restoration?

A restoration may require a lot of interior work with molded wood trim, plaster detailing, style and rail wood doors, fabrics, terrazzo, marble or hardware. Replacements may be custom made.

There are specialists who can replace or restore decorative stone and even brick shapes. Cost can vary and can be mitigated by strategically selecting architectural features to invest in.

New high-performance windows may not have appropriate frame profiles to coordinate with the building's original style. Adding insulation to walls will require a strong knowledge of air barriers and moisture migration control.

How is an evaluation made?

An architect has the ability to assess everything about a building with their own knowledge and experience and relationships with contractors. An owner uses this information against the future value that the building will bring. A decision is made in relation to a budget and the use goals of the building. Planning may result in phased work or limited investment or heavy re-investment. When the cost to restore a building is too great and there is not enough value, building owners will have to decide whether the costs of renovation are worth it.

How do I find an architect who knows the specialized work involved?

Take a look at their portfolio. What work have they done in the past? Have they produced the results you’re looking for? The right architect will be able to give you an assessment of the costs involved and help you decide if it’s worth renovating, or if it’s more cost-effective to tear down and start new.

If you want a truly historical look for your building, somebody who’s involved with historical groups or who has a historical preservation certification might be more in tune with your building’s renovation needs. They could even help you apply for state or federal historical preservation tax credits to help pay the costs of renovation.

A building owner should not dive into a renovation without first enlisting an architect to help determine what costs will be involved. These costs will depend on whether you’re adding onto a building, changing its use, or simply renovating. All of these costs add up. But in the end, you could be preserving a building full of unique character with years of usefulness left.

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