How to Address 3 Key Obstacles When Renovating Old Buildings

Posted 09/05/2017

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Older buildings present a number of benefits to a community. They preserve the community's history and keep rare forms of architecture alive. However, achieving those benefits can pose some challenges for architects and designers during the renovation and restoration process. Learn about the most common obstacles when renovating old buildings and how you can overcome them in your next restoration project. 

Replacing and Preserving Older Materials When Renovating Old Buildings

Architects and designers may struggle to preserve an older structure's unique characteristics. Certain structural details must be repaired or replaced altogether depending on their age or condition. Either solution can become a daunting task when materials that were used in the original construction have been out of use for at least a century, rendering them near impossible to replace. This leaves a few options: completely eliminate those elements from the renovation's design plan, or have an experienced restoration team attempt to patch or repair such elements with modernized construction methods and specialized tools. 

When either of these options compromise the renovation's desired look and feel, a third option is to recreate the look of original design elements by going custom. New York City's Algonquin Hotel was built in 1902 and since then has served as a haven for literary and theatrical guests and playing a critical role in the city's history. In 2012, the renovation team engaged Symmons® Design Studio™, a custom partner, to help solve two problems:

  • Hotel bathrooms were small and needed fixtures that would fit well within the space and still adhere to the original design intent
  • The building had low water pressure, which impacted the guest experience when using the bathroom sinks or shower

Symmons industrial designers and engineers worked together to design faucets and fixtures that were:

  • Scale-appropriate for the limited bathroom square footage
  • Engineered to compensate for the building's low flow and pressure problems
  • Designed to be cohesive with the building's historic aesthetic 

Read more about the Algonquin Hotel's transformation by clicking on the link. 

Meeting Modern Building Codes

Renovations usually uncover an older building's discrepancies with current building code compliance. Here are some common building code issues that can arise during restoration projects:

  • Structural integrity. The foundation may have settled over time and need reinforcement to meet safety standards.
  • Faulty electrical wiring. Engineers and contractors may find a host of electrical problems lurking behind the walls or within control panels, such as knob and tube wiring or lack of grounding.
  • Plumbing problems. The building's pipes may be made of out-of-code materials depending on when the building was constructed. Polybutylene piping from the 1970s - 1990s and galvanized iron piping from the pre-1960s should be replaced before corrosion or pipe damage leads to more serious problems.

When any of these issues crop up, the key is to call a specialized professional (e.g. structural engineer, electrical engineer, plumbing engineer, etc.) to assess the extent of the problem and recommend solutions. For example, a plumbing engineer can run a flexible camera through the building's plumbing system to locate leaks and cracks. Replacing materials that are no longer compliant may prove difficult, if not impossible, without damaging the structure. It may be helpful to take up the issue with local governing bodies in an attempt to have certain historic structures considered for specific coding exemptions. 

Finding a Dynamic and Communicative Restoration Team

Most present-day contractors are primarily familiar with modern building techniques. In addition, today's building codes call for materials and methods that are in use today. When assembling your team, look for engineers, architects, designers, and contractors experienced in handling heritage or historic renovations. These specialists are specially equipped for your project's needs, and they understand how to maximize renovation efforts down to the smallest details. Resources like the Preservation Directory can be a big help when looking for both professionals and suppliers. 

If you want to complete your renovations with true-to-era, sophisticated plumbing fixtures with water-saving features, contact Symmons today. With over 75 years of experience and a vast selection of plumbing fixtures and accessories, our experts can help meet your renovation project’s needs. 

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