Replacing Glass in Historic Storefront Buildings

Written by KC Glass on . Posted in Blog

Colorado and the West are teeming with historic storefront buildings that should be brought back to their former glory and fully enjoyed once again. Many towns have invested in their historic districts and have actively revitalized entire streets full of urban pioneer buildings. Today, these once-forgotten early structures have been resurrected as restaurants, law offices, bookstores and gift shops.

No matter the type of business you run out of a structure graced with a historic storefront, you can maximize your location to attract traffic and sales. However, if you own or plan to purchase this type of building, know the rules about glass replacement before you design a renewal project or sign on the dotted line.

Understand the Rules and Who Enforces Them

Each large city and small town has local ordinances governing basic commercial building construction. The municipality or town will have code enforcement officers and inspectors to check out new projects.

In historic districts, you may be required to submit plans for approval to a special design commission. In Fort Collins, for example, properties in the Old Town Historic District are under the scrutiny of the Landmark Preservation Commission and city staff. For alterations to properties that are federally designated as historic landmarks, you have to consult the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Even if your historic property is not included in strict regulations, you should try to restore your building back to its original storefront whenever possible. In doing so, your building may qualify to be included on the national historic register. If you run a tourist-driven business, this can be a boon.

Study guidelines issued by historic districts in your region for construction and repair details concerning glass and other materials. The literature published by these groups is invaluable when you need expert architectural guidance.

Restore the Storefront Glass to Tempt Passersby

Search for old images of your storefront to help you reconstruct the original facade. When there’s no record of the facade, you may be permitted to install a contemporary rendering or a simplified version of the period style. Remember that the old storefront often acted as an advertisement, meeting place, decoration, sign and photo background all in one.

Most historic storefronts are defined by the large display windows that jut out to the sidewalk on either side of the entry. Each display window should draw in pedestrians and shoppers intrigued by the wares posed on shelves and pedestals. For that reason, only clear glass should be used in a purely historic redo. The decor just inside those storefront windows is an important part of the building’s architecture.

In areas where you don’t have any enforcement of historic standards, reflective and metallic glass is an option. This may be a desirable storefront feature in a doctor’s office, bar or other establishment where you want limited sunshine and maximum privacy.

To fit in with the period of your building, consider using modern clear insulated glass. Simply mount classy curtains on a bronze curtain rod just inside the storefront window. This look can be inviting to passersby because it hints of mystery.

Remember the Top Windows

Attempt to restore all of a building’s windows whenever possible. Remember that other components of the historic structure’s windows must be repaired and preserved at the same time. Guidelines for storefront and upper-story windows are similar.

Components considered part of a window restoration include:

  • Panes
  • Screens
  • Shutters
  • Storm windows
  • Window frame
  • Window sash

Any window-mounted security devices, planters, signs, awnings or other attachments are part of the window structure as well. As you plan a restoration or replacement of the windows, remember to itemize all of the windows’ design elements. A list of itemized project needs helps your glass professional source exactly what you need and keeps you within budget.

Know When Exceptions Are Allowed

If windows have been significantly altered from the original building’s design, consider replacing the windows with designs more in keeping with the architecture of the original storefront. You can use modern materials to create the historic look. For example, cast-concrete exterior window sills can mimic missing stone sills. Modern insulated and decorative glass can be used in place of old, thin panes.

In certain historic districts, you must adhere to stricter guidelines that are enforced somewhat arbitrarily. In Fort Collins’ historic districts with enforced guidelines, you are not allowed to use tinted, metallic or reflective glazing. You may use only clear window glazing.

No vinyl or unfinished metal is permitted for use in window replacements. Windows must be the same size and sitting depth as the original windows. A triple-pane window should replace a former triple-pane window.

Exceptions are made for buildings that are not primary structures. If there is no way you can repair your windows per the guidelines, you may also be granted an exception.

The review boards and panels of these agencies review the sum total of your project on a case-by-case basis. The sustainability factor of newer materials is a concern of all cities, so you can often get permission for non-historic alterations to your windows if you can prove your choice is environmentally friendly.

Contact Ken Caryl Glass, Inc. today to schedule your glass replacement in the Rocky Mountain region.

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