SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Truckloads of windows leave Thermolite each week, bound for New York City to be installed in one of the tallest skyscrapers owned by the federal government.

These aren’t ordinary windows. And it’s not an ordinary energy-savings project at the 42-story office building, located at 26 Federal Plaza in the city’s borough of Manhattan.

Old windows in the Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building — built in the 1960s — won’t be replaced. The South Bend company is making double-pane windows to be installed behind existing windows, creating a triple-pane system. The system will conserve heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

Thanks to the window system, the skyscraper’s heating and cooling expenses are expected to drop by 15 to 25 percent, said Steve Champlin, president of the South Bend window company on West Sample Street. The project at the building, which has more than 7,000 windows, started two months ago and is expected to last about a year.

Champlin said Thermolite’s supplemental windows offer an attractive alternative to replacing windows in old buildings, which is more costly. Skyscrapers constructed in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s often have single-pane windows that are expensive to replace because walls were designed to support only single-pane glass.

As a result, “to replace the glass you would have to redo the outside of the building. It can take hundreds of dollars per square foot to do that,” Champlin said, adding that Thermolite’s windows can be built and installed for about $50 per square foot.

Thermolite, which has 20 employees, designs and manufactures supplemental windows for commercial and government buildings. Its windows are installed in buildings by construction contractors. Along with energy-efficient windows, it makes blast-resistant windows that keep glass out of buildings if there’s an explosion. The company was founded here in 1979 and is owned by a group of local partners.

Champlin is upbeat about Thermolite’s recent entry into the skyscraper market. Because of their exposure to the wind, skyscrapers with old windows are especially vulnerable to losing heat in the winter.

By demonstrating how much the company’s windows can reduce energy costs, he believes the Federal Plaza project will lead to similar skyscraper projects. About 90 percent of the company’s sales are now with government contracts, he said, but the company expects to do more work in the private sector as word spreads about its windows.

“Five years from now, I think 50 percent of our work will be in commercial buildings,” Champlin said. “This is a real example of the government investing in an energy program and actually proving it works.”

Thermolite will continue to pursue multimillion-dollar skyscraper projects, Champlin said, which can keep its 50,000-square-foot factory busy for months. It now does up to about 50 projects per year, he said, “but a lot of them are with smaller buildings.”

For the Federal Plaza project, the windows will collectively account for about 180,000 square feet of glass. A subcontractor is installing them at night to avoid disrupting people who work in the building, which houses a variety of government agencies.

Thermolite is also busy making windows for the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building in Washington, D.C. The eight-story building — built in the 1930s — houses the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters.

Champlin, meanwhile, is hopeful Thermolite’s windows could be used for a pair of high-profile skyscraper projects in the private sector.

General Motors is interested in installing supplemental windows for a pair of 50-story office buildings at the Renaissance Center, a group of interconnected skyscrapers in Detroit. Thermolite was chosen to do a one-floor pilot project in one of the buildings, which will be completed by the end of the year. Single-pane windows will be installed behind existing windows, creating a double-pane system.

“They want to monitor the results of the floor over the winter,” said Champlin, who’s optimistic General Motors will commit to do the entire project after calculating potential savings.

Thermolite is also on the radar of the Willis Tower in Chicago, a 108-story skyscraper that is still commonly referred to as the Sears Tower. About two years ago, samples of Thermolite windows were installed in part of the building. The building is owned by the Blackstone Group, a firm based in New York City.

It remains to be seen what owners will do with the building, which was built in the 1970s and has more than 16,000 windows. “They have the option to take out all of the glass and put new windows in,” Champlin said. “But I’m optimistic we’ll get that project at some point.”

Cyclone Energy Group, a Chicago firm that specializes in energy-efficient buildings, has teamed up with Thermolite on about a dozen projects by studying the projected energy savings of supplemental windows in buildings. Benjamin Skelton, president and CEO of the firm, believes Thermolite’s windows will become increasingly popular for skyscrapers.

“Demand for these type of studies has increased significantly over the past five years, and we’ve seen several (window) retrofits happen in Chicago,” Skelton said. “A lot of buildings in Chicago, Detroit and New York were built in the ’60s and ’70s. They’re not old enough to tear down, but their facades can impact their ability to bring in tenants who pay the utility cost.”


Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/2dbzrZ4


Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the South Bend Tribune.