Spray foam plays a role in the revitalization of a 100-year old Canadian hotel into the home building of high-end condos
By Juan Sagarbarría
On the western tip of Lake Ontario exists one of the most unique and attractive cities in Canada. The city in question is Hamilton. Known as “Steel Town” from its heyday as a city driven by the production of steel to a degree that would have mirrored Pittsburgh, Hamilton is also a city that is surrounded by incredible natural sights comprised of mountains, waterfalls, and lush vegetation; it is a city where art is ever-present and artists thrive; but, more importantly, it is a city that is characterized by its architecture.
Hamilton is not only the third largest metropolitan area in Ontario, it is also one of the oldest cities in the province, and as such, boasts unique architecture that the city officials strive to preserve. Included among the city’s most notable landmarks is the Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology, the Dundurn Castle, the HMCS Haida, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, and the newly enhanced Rock Garden at Royal Botanical Gardens. Additionally, Hamilton has no shortage of historical landmark buildings – one of them being the Royal Connaught hotel – which, as of recent, has become one of the largest revitalization projects in the province.
Opened in 1916, the Royal Connaught hosted its share of royalty, prime ministers, and Hollywood stars over time – and now, more than 100 years later – this 50-metre-high venerable landmark is in the process of becoming the home of many high-end, luxurious condominium apartments. “Own a piece of history,” is the invitational slogan being used to lure and entice potential tenants. It seems to have been a compelling message since, according to the building’s website, the first phase of condo units have been sold out since 2015.
The ongoing revitalization of the Royal Connaught came with the challenge of preserving the building’s original design, which was conducive to maintaining the integrity of the original façade by restoring the exterior brick and masonry veneer while the spaces inside are updated to modern standards. The project is being spearheaded by developers Spalacci Group and Valery Homes, who together crafted a strategic design to transform the historic hotel into a luxury condominium complex that embraces the building’s rich past and brings it into the 21st century. And with luxurious amenities comes comfort and energy efficiency, two components that also played a major role in the Royal Connaught condos design. That is how spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation came into play for the developers – specifically opting for Icynene ProSeal closed-cell SPF, which was chosen due to its high insulating values and air-sealing capabilities. A wise choice since Icynene ProSeal closed-cell spray foam offers an R-Value of 7.1 per inch [LTTR 2.02 (m²•K)/W (Type 2) at 50mm], which automatically begets optimal temperatures and lower energy costs for the tenants. Mission accomplished – but the install is a story within itself.
To install the foam, the developers brought in SPF-specialized contractor Niagara Commercial Coatings and Insulation (NCCI). The SPF application portion of the revitalization project technically consists of five phases, and the first phase has recently been finished. This initial effort involved the application of SPF insulation to the room’s exterior walls, rooflines, and soffits. NCCI also installed SPF to shafts, a space that will be turned into a health club, and a parking garage. All in all, thirteen stories of the building have been insulated with SPF during Phase One.
“I think the Royal Connaught is going to be a cornerstone in the overall rejuvenation of the historical section of Hamilton and bringing it in with the new section of architecture and infrastructure, so it is an honor to play a part in this project.” says Robert Doerrsam, owner and operator of NCCI.
The “old with the new” concept is fitting since the aim of the project is to breathe new life to the building while preserving its historic features.
For prep work, the NCCI crew masked with plastic sheeting all the windows of each floor they worked on. The NCCI crew had limited access to the many rooms and corridors within the building, but by scheduling spray times and working closely with the other trades, they have been able to move through the project in an organized manner. However, this wasn’t a conventional application in terms of feeding a heated hose through openings of the building. For the three-man NCCI crew, there was an alternative for a much more streamlined application process. They assembled a customized portable spray system that consisted of a Graco E-30 Reactor, a Graco Fusion air-purge spray gun, a compressor, and 150 feet of heated hose on a skid-mounted unit. The unit allowed for the crew to easily move from floor to floor to each designated spray area.
“Even with 600 feet of hose we wouldn’t have been able to feed the hose to the top of the Connaught; this portable setup solves that problem,” says Doerrsam.
According to Doerrsam, the depth of foam that has been installed during Phase One has been highly dependent on the substrate. Therefore, the SPF was applied in varying thicknesses between 1.5 to 2.4 inches (38-60mm) within the steel stud wall cavities against precast concrete or bricks. In addition to SPF, the NCCI crew also installed to the concrete slab of each floor half-an-inch of Monokote® MK-6/HY plaster, a single component, spray-applied fire resistive coating with maximum yield and a quick-set finish that fireproofs steel and concrete structures.
“Every floor was different, all the way up,” explains Doerrsam. “Sometimes we were spraying to a historical structure, sometimes we were spraying to new masonry, sometimes we were even spraying to Dens Glass sheathing. We have been spraying to different depths and this has been done strategically to ensure that there is an air and vapor barrier in place virtually everywhere in the building.”
There is no doubt in the NCCI crew’s minds that SPF was the best product for this building, despite the complications that momentarily arose from having to switch foam depths.
“There isn’t another product available that makes a building airtight like foam can,” notes Doerrsam. “When you use spray foam, you get a complete seal from air leakage and infiltration and, thereby, the thermal value increases.”
That concluded Phase One of a project that’s been lauded and recognized by the Canadian construction industry. As this article is being written, Phase Two of the SPF insulation portion of the project is being rolled out, and it will entail spray-applying foam from the 13th to the 31st floor of the building. In the interim, the revitalization of the Royal Connaught earned its project developers a Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) Award of Excellence, an Ontario Home Builders Association (OHBA) Award of Distinction, and a Hamilton-Halton Home Builders’ Association (HHHBA) Award of Distinction. Furthermore, NCCI received two 2017 Icynene Architectural Design Awards for their work installing Icynene spray foam. Not a bad takeaway for a project in its initial stages, but a project that offers promise to be the first of many in the endeavor of improving Hamilton’s historical building heritage.