Commercial and architectural window products are available in a broader range of materials and styles than ever before, yet one thing remains constant: They're all subject to neglect through lack of proper maintenance. Design, function, energy efficiency, and installation are all scrutinized to a great extent prior to and during the construction process; however, after construction, maintenance is virtually nonexistent. Quite literally, after the final punch-out and cleaning phases of construction are complete, concern for window operation goes unaddressed until something breaks. The problem isn't limited to publicly funded projects, such as schools, hospitals, and universities, but spans the full range, from new construction to retrofit.
It's all too often that large sums of money are spent on window replacement, only to have the windows fail just after the manufacturer's warranty has expired. The problems are not a result of "planned obsolescence," as is the case with so many manufactured products today - the problem lies in the fact that shortsightedness has led to neglect. Once a building is occupied, mechanical, electrical, and communication systems are maintained on a regular service schedule; however, operable windows and hardware are rarely addressed. When you consider that operable windows generally account for between 5 and 7 percent of the initial cost of a building, it seems only prudent that the industry begin to consider maintenance issues for these systems.
The problem lies primarily with the sales and installation network: The importance of a yearly maintenance program isn't promoted after the sale. This failed effort leads to hardware, glass, gasket, finish, and leakage problems that could have easily been avoided through proper care. Read the fine print in a window manufacturer's warranty; it typically exonerates the manufacturer if the product hasn't been properly maintained.
The solution to this problem is quite simple: Facilities managers, and those in charge of building maintenance, need to recognize the importance of a regular maintenance program. It's critical to either have your personnel trained by a capable sales or service representative - preferably by the company that sold the windows - or to sign a contract with a local, reputable window company with a history of qualified service to perform semi-annual maintenance.
Just as you change the oil in your car every 3,000 miles or so, windows require the same care and attention to ensure continued, flawless operation. Simply following the short guidelines included here will not only result in the continued proper operation of the windows, but also maintain any remaining factory warranty.
As it has been said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Steve Downing is president at Owings Mills, MD-based Window Consultants Inc.