Volume 14, Issue 4 - July/August 2010

feature

Preserving the Past
Window Film Company Protects Historical Treasure
by Katie Hodge

It’s not everyday that a window film company makes history. But SolarFilm of Richmond, Va., got to do just that when it was offered the job to install window film upon Stratford Hall in Stratford, Va., the home of the historic Lee family. Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, the only brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence, grew up at Stratford Hall. Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army during the Civil War, was also born in the stately house. The staff at Stratford Hall was concerned about fading and the damage being done by ultraviolet (UV) rays to the historical objects housed inside the property. They wanted to ensure that the paint on the walls, as well as the collection within, was protected from damaging sunlight. In order to preserve the history and significance of the brick Georgian Great House, Phil Mark, director of preservation of Stratford Hall, called SolarFilm for help.

Interesting Inquiry

“I used to work at Mount Vernon and they used film on their windows. When I got to Stratford Hall they had interior storm windows with Plexiglas™ that they used for UV protection. It was held up with Velcro®,” explained Mark. “We have some pretty big windows and the Velcro was starting to fail and [the Plexiglas storm windows] were falling and we became concerned about them falling on an object and breaking something. They also were very distracting. When we finally had some money [in the budget] I did some research [on UV films].”

According to Mark, protecting the historical treasures in the house was the ultimate goal for Stratford Hall.

“The biggest concern was the amount of UV protection that would be provided because that is what causes the most damage to the collection of objects and to wall finishes and paints,” says Mark. “That was the number one goal, but we were also trying to find something that offered the best UV protection without altering the look of the windows.”

Through his research, Mark learned about SolarFilm through a website inquiry and contacted the company’s general manager, John Chewning.

“John was very helpful when we talked to him, and his company had some historic home experience,” says Mark. “He understood the history of the area and seemed to be responsive to the needs of a historical site and the extra headaches that would go along with working on a site like this.”

Unique Circumstances
Chewning’s initial reaction was one of excitement despite any historical challenges such an installation might bring. His biggest concern was about the quality of glass that awaited him.

“When you are looking at historical buildings the first question that comes to mind is ‘what kind of condition are the windows in?’ If there are really fragile frames or glass it can be problematic and you can run into some liabilities that you need to weigh
in the process.”

In addition, Chewning was also concerned about the logistics of the location. SolarFilm is located 77 miles from Stratford Hall and Chewning’s technicians would be looking at a large amount of transit time.

“The logistics of the location was a concern. When you are doing a job that is two hours away from your shop you’ve got four hours of windshield time for each technician,” explained Chewning. “We worked that out with them pretty well. It turned out it was a job that we could do in two days with three technicians. I said if we can stay somewhere near here I will save six man hours. They actually put us up in the guest cottages and even told the guys they could go fishing in the pond.”
With the concerns about location out of the way, Chewning next focused on issues that could arise regarding the quality of glass with which he would be working. The glass, however, while fragile and prone to breakage, turned out to be less of a worry than anticipated.

“We overcame all of the challenges. The windows turned out to be in pretty good condition. We had a couple of windows break just from cleaning and [Mark] ran out and cut new historically approved glass, and put it right back in there and we didn’t miss a lick,” says Chewning.

Mark adds, “I keep a supply of restoration-type glass onsite and I can cut it down to size. I actually do the window glazing replacement myself so if something breaks I am able to repair it as soon as we find [there is a need].”

The Perfect Fit
Chewning and Mark decided together that 3M’s Prestige Series PR 70 film would be the best choice for Stratford Hall. Mark was looking for film that wouldn’t change the appearance of the centuries-old house, while still managing the amount of harmful light shining through the windows onto historical objects.

“[The staff at Stratford Hall] was fairly savvy about window film. The reason we settled on the Prestige 70 was because it’s hardly noticeable once it’s installed,” explains Chewning. “The beauty of it was that [the owners] didn’t want to change the look of the place, but they wanted the protection.”

He continues, “[The Stratford Hall staff’s] goal was fade mitigation. The major causes of fading are the UV rays, heat and light. Prestige does a great job of removing the UV and the heat. Of course [the owners] wanted to keep the light for the same ambience.”

While the owners of Stratford Hall were not specifically looking for the heat rejection that window While the owners of Stratford Hall were not specifically looking for the heat rejection that window film provides, they found it to be a nice bonus.
“You can tell that there is not as much heat coming through the windows and that was not something we were looking for, but it is a welcome side effect,” says Mark. “And I am sure it is helping reduce the UV by quite a bit.”

Pick and Choose
Due to funding issues Mark and the staff chose to apply window film only to certain windows.

“It was a funding issue to only have select windows done. All of the collection objects were previously removed from areas where restoration work was already being done and we were in the middle of a large-scale restoration at the main house at Stratford Hall,” says Mark. “Our plan was that we would go to film and work that cost into a room project as we did projects in each room. That way all the collection objects will be de-installed and not in the way and it will be a little bit easier to access the windows.”

Ultimate Validation
The ultimate goal to protect history without changing the appearance of the house was met. Chewning is proud of the job and the fact that it is inconspicuous.

“We didn’t do all of the windows at Stratford Hall, but when you stand back and look at it you can’t tell which windows are done and which aren’t,” he says.

The overall experience of the project was a positive one for Stratford Hall and for SolarFilm. 3M was excited about how the project turned out as well, and actually did a case study on the installation.

Chewning reflects back on what a project like this can do for the industry. “My line is that it’s never too late. This house was built in the 1700s and [the owners] are going for protection now. A lot of homeowners might say, ‘well the floors are already bleached’ or ‘the damage is done,’ but here is an example where its hundreds of years later and they are doing the work.”

For more on this project visit www.windowfilmmag.com.


Katie Hodge
is an assistant editor for Window Film magazine.

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