The Keys to Giving Your Steel Building a Facelift

Published July 10, 2014 by Whirlwind Team

steel building faceliftJust as humans can add or remove clothing to change our appearance, or to respond to environmental or weather conditions, steel buildings can have new facades or entire shells added to their existing structure in order to meet the needs of inhabitants, owners, designers, etc. A building's exterior envelope is one of the determining factors in its overall longevity, durability and energy efficiency so the right retrofit can end up saving you thousands or millions of dollars - depending on the size of the structure - over the course of the building's lifetime.

Whether your steel building needs a facelift for aesthetic reasons, or it has been determined that a retrofit facade will enhance overall energy performance, the following tips and examples can help your design and build team as you determine which facade options are right for your building.

Upgrading the Facade of Your Steel and Metal Building Requires Careful Planning

It shouldn't surprise you to read that the first step in upgrading or retrofitting your building with a new facade is a thoughtful and detailed planning phase. This will make or break the cost-effectiveness and long-term benefits of the project. Here are some of the questions you should ask during the planning phase:

Why are we doing a retrofit in the first place? For aesthetic purposes? To increase overall energy performance? To reflect a change in corporate ownership? This is the first place to start.

Does the existing cladding material need to be replaced? In some cases, your facade may be able to attach directly to the existing cladding material. Even so, it's imperative that you evaluate the existing materials for flatness and make modifications, such as using additional furring members, to make the surface plumb. In other cases, the existing exterior may need to be dismantled and subframing should be evaluated to determine whether or not it can accommodate the new cladding system loads and attachment requirements.

Are the working conditions suitable for the project? If yes, great. If not, it's time to begin working with the local building department, architects and engineers, subcontractors and/or nearby businesses or residences to make the changes or amendments required to facilitate a safe and efficient facelift.

What environmental and weather related components are we dealing with? The engineering and architectural design of your curtain wall are directly related to the building's vulnerabilities. How is the building oriented on the lot? Is there seismic activity in your geographic location? Is your area prone to high winds, excessive winter storms or other unusual weather patterns - even if only in occasional years? Are you prone to a terrorist attack, in which case blast levels become a consideration? All of the answers to these questions, combined with your desired aesthetic, will drive your facade's final design.

Have we considered the effects of thermal loading and condensation? That extra layer will alter the building's thermal load, which can - in turn - have an effect on condensation. Internal architectural elements, such as thermal breaks and thermal isolators, can be used to address the challenges that arise when condensation can build up on the curtain wall framework. Condensation and moisture are always an issue for any building owner and adding or changing a facade can increase the odds for moisture infiltration and entrapment if you don't plan for it.

How will light transmittance be affected by the new facade? Depending on where your building is located, mitigating light transmittance may be an overarching goal for the facelift in an effort to reduce heat gain and reduce your building's cooling costs. In most projects, light transmittance is a major consideration since the comfort of the building's inhabitants is a priority. Everyone prefers a naturally lit environment when at all possible and adequate day lighting will also cut down on annual energy expenditures. You want your facade design to balance both solar heat gain with daylighting requirements.

What are the lifetime maintenance requirements for the retrofit facade or shell? Finally, you will need to evaluate the lifetime costs for the retrofits's maintenance requirements. If these costs exceed projected energy savings and other benefits, the design will need to be amended accordingly. Things to consider include the projected costs of washing, sealing, gasket replacement, etc.

Case Study: Structural Facelift for A.J. Celebrezze Federal Building

For a fascinating real-life example of a multi-story, over-clad facelift, we recommend this article from, detailing the structural facelift for the A.J. Celebrezze Federal Building in Cleveland, Ohio. With the changes in building requirements, combined with the increasing threat of terrorist activity, the building is in the midst of an all-clad, glass and metal retrofit designed to withstand wind, blasts and thermal loads. The facade will also significantly reduce the building's heating/cooling costs.

Interested in giving your steel building a facelift? Contact Whirlwind Steel and let's get started.

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