Projects involving historic interiors range from the meticulous restoration of a classic movie theatre to renovations of abandoned lofts for new residences. The size of the building, significance of the interiors, and scope of work will determine how best to protect interior finishes during construction work. All work involving historic buildings, however, shares the need to properly plan for and specify appropriate temporary surface protection products. Without such provisions, unnecessary damage can result which will require additional funds and can lead to complete loss of certain interior finishes. Relying on the contractor to protect interiors without specifying such surface protection puts historic material and finishes at unnecessary risk. Protective measures must be specified in the construction specifications for the job. Although general contract language may make reference to “protecting existing construction” and may require that the contractor “restore any damage to its original condition at no additional cost” the general nature of the language affords little protection to existing historic finishes or features. Rather than provide adequate protection, some contractors deliberately elect to repair damage, believing it is cheaper. Therefore the best practice for historic interiors involves specifying protection of all historic architectural features and finishes using temporary surface protection products.
An important difference between protecting historic interior features and finishes and protecting new interior features and finishes during construction is in the timing of the construction schedule. In new work, finishes such as cabinetry and flooring are installed late in the construction schedule, after mechanical and electrical systems and other high impact work are completed, thus not exposing the finishes to major construction operations. In preservation work, however, existing interior finishes are exposed to all the high impact and potentially damaging construction phases of the project. Important architectural features which are easily removed should be stored off site, if possible, to protect them from vandalism, theft and damage during construction. Lighting fixtures, fireplace mantels, and interior doors are typical examples. Access by construction personnel to spaces with significant features and finishes should be restricted, except for their work relating directly to the preservation of such spaces. Spaces with restricted access should be identified by the planning team and indicated in the construction documents in order to allow the contractor to include any associated costs in his price proposal. For spaces such as halls and lobbies, it may not be practicable to limit access, and for all interior spaces, some construction work may be required. In such circumstances, interior finishes must be physically isolated from construction operations by means of protective barriers and coverings such as the Zipwall Systems. Such surfaces are generally limited to flooring, walls up to approximately 6 foot height, and special construction such as staircases. Flooring should be protected from damage caused by abrasion, falling objects and there are a variety of floor protection products available from companies that specialize in surface protection.
Temporary protection during construction can involve covering historic features, such as floors and walls, as well as using temporary doors to control the passage of workers and the inevitable dust and dirt. Prominently located fire extinguishers are mandatory. Where protection from spilled liquids is required, a layer of water resistant surface protection should be used. In projects where electrical systems are being upgraded the use of fire rated protection should be used. Care should be taken in choosing the appropriate floor protection to ensure that moisture from spilled liquids is not trapped against the historic flooring or that newly installed or repaired flooring can breathe. Care should also be taken to avoid coverings such as rosin paper, could potentially stain the historic flooring. Historic stairways, balustrades, balconies, fireplaces, door surrounds, window surrounds, and other components will also need to be protected from construction damage. There are a variety of surface protection products on the market including Swiftwrap handrail protection, Ram Jamb door jamb protection, DoorGuard temporary door protection and others. It makes sense to contact a surface protection expert in order to choose the best temporary protection for the project.
Specifying temporary protection of historic interiors during construction is the responsibility of both the architect and contractor. Most general conditions of a construction contract contain language such as: “The Contractor shall be solely responsible for and have control over construction means, methods, techniques, sequences and procedures and for coordinating all portions of the work. For preservation projects, it is recommended that temporary protection of historic interiors during construction be specified in a separate Division 1 specification section to ensure that required provisions are not overlooked by bidders. By creating a separate section in a price proposal, the bidder will be inclined to treat the “special project procedures” as an added cost rather than a part of the temporary facilities required for any alteration project. The contractor’s project manager can thus anticipate making reasonable expenditures for providing specified temporary surface protection during construction. To ensure the adequacy of temporary protection measures in projects involving a construction manager, temporary protection is often best provided by the construction manager, who normally works for the owner on a cost-plus-fee basis. Temporary surface protection should generally be specified as to the product name, type and company where products are available.
Conditions prior to commencement of construction should be photographically documented by the contractor. For small projects, a videotape survey may also be an effective supplement to existing conditions photographs. The owner may wish to document existing conditions independent of the contractor in order to avoid any future dispute regarding damage caused by construction operations as opposed to pre-existing damage. Temporary protection of historic interiors during construction, an essential component of any preservation project, is largely a construction management issue. A successful protection program is the result of careful pre-planning, thorough project specific specifications, owner vigilance, contract enforcement, and contractor diligence. Cost savings can be realized by minimizing damage to the historic structure in the course of construction work and the proper use of temporary surface protection products.