Written by Carolyn Hamm
Arlington County wanted to tackle homelessness effectively by opening a shelter that would also provide employment training and substance abuse treatment. What county leaders accomplished is a model example of how to repurpose an existing 1965 office building into something that benefits the entire community and helps address the nation’s growing homeless problem.
One of the biggest challenges was making sure the converted office building at 2020-A 14th Street North felt warm in winter. It had drafty single-pane windows. The shelter opened in 2015 and that first winter, it was so cold, the county installed plastic sheeting on the windows and used space heaters. But that wasn’t going to work long term.
To replace the windows would have cost more than $1 million and required constructing scaffolding on the exterior of the building. Instead, the county found SuperGreen Solutions of Maryland which sells Indow interior window inserts. For less than 20 percent of what it would have cost to replace the windows, Arlington County installed 304 Commercial Grade custom window inserts. This eliminated the need for plastic sheeting and space heaters and enabled the 50-year-old single-pane windows to perform like new double-panes.
Residents throughout the region have also used Indow inserts in their homes to block drafts and increase energy efficiency.
The inserts can be easily removed and make the shelter’s living areas much more comfortable. “The inserts are integrated so well into the whole frame of the window that you don’t even see them,” said Bryan Pax of SuperGreen Solutions. “Unless someone tells you they’re there, you wouldn’t know.”
Since they are interior storms, the county didn’t need to apply for a permit to put up exterior scaffolding and get a crane to apply exterior storms. The Indow acrylic inserts just pressed into place on the inside.
Addressing the problem from the interior was better for the county, said Pax. “If you want to remove one, it can be easily removed. It was win-win all the way around.”
The building was a strategic location for the Arlington County because it’s in the heart of things, not far from public transportation, the police headquarters and various services. It has 50 year-round beds and an additional 25 winter beds for people who might otherwise suffer from hypothermia.
Nationwide, on any given night in 2016, 549,928 people were homeless in the U.S. and living in a shelter, transitional housing or out of doors, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Earlier this year, Arlington County saw a 33 percent jump in its homeless population to 232 people, according to a survey published by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Repurposing a building for a homeless shelter takes planning and creativity. In addition to dealing with the windows, the county had to add bathrooms, sleeping areas and dining rooms. It also needed convalescent rooms for people recovering from illnesses as well as offices for those in charge of operations. The project’s leaders wanted a commercial kitchen to train people who are homeless in the hospitality industry.
Pax takes pride in helping Arlington County create a more efficient building that works to solve a pressing social problem. He has helped commercial building owners across the region save money on energy costs and create more comfortable work environments by offering them an affordable solution for drafty windows.
For more information, visit www.indowwindows.com.