Non-traditional building supply sources?
January 30, 2009 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a home addition but would like peruse building material sources beyond what's available in consumer hardware stores. What sources do architects and contractors use for non-standard windows and other items? Is there a McMaster-Carr-equivalent for building materials?

I'm in the early design stages of a home addition and am trying to figure out windows, in particular. Pictures 4 and 5 on this page show what I'm looking for.

Would a large array of windows like that be a completely custom thing? I.e., I'd need to contact a glass and metal shop and get it totally made from scratch?

In general, who are the vendors for not-exactly-standard building components like this, and where are they listed? Perhaps sources traditionally for commercial applications that I could rework into a residential environment?
posted by odinsdream to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well the *big* product catalog for architects is Sweets, which is essentially just a compilation of product cutsheets (ads, basically) from companies that produce building materials of any sort.

All you really need to replicate the windows at the Villa Savoye is a few sliding metal windows that get mulled together in the field. It doesn't look like it needs to be a custom job - it's just a bunch of standard units put right next to each other. Large window arrays like that typically aren't one object. You can see in the photos how the divisions between some of the panes of glass are larger than others, which marks where one window unit meets another one. You can probably get pretty close to that look just buying stuff at Home Depot. You're looking for something like 8'-0" x 3'-6" sliding aluminum windows, black anodized.

If you were actually looking at something that would need to be custom built, you could first try working with the major window manufacturers themselves (companies like Marvin, Andersen, Milgard, etc.), who almost all have custom divisions where they'll produce whatever window you want, within certain constraints. Of course, the cost will be a lot more since you're not just taking a unit their factory produces automatically. Otherwise, many local window installers, who would be installing your windows from Marvin or whoever, also produce windows themselves or can contract with local manufacturers. The price point will still be higher than standard factory units.
posted by LionIndex at 9:05 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just thinking further, since you're probably wondering "If windows like that are so totally standard, why don't I see them all over the place?"

The answer has nothing to do with the windows themselves, it has to do with the wall. And some other stuff. The wall at the Villa Savoye carries no structural load other than itself. The structural strength comes from the columns that are located just on the interior side of the wall, which you can clearly see in the photos you reference that are taken from the interior.

If you want to get the same look from the exterior of your house, you're going to have to do the same thing, and that's where you'll start incurring the costs, because a column supported structure with a wall in front of it is going to cost a lot more than just a wall alone. Normally, the walls have some solid portions in them where there's an uninterrupted strecth of plywood, which provides resistance to lateral forces, such as seismic activity or wind loads. With a Savoye-style ribbon window, there's no place for that plywood (also known as a "shear panel") to go, so the lateral loads have to be picked up by the columns and beams behind the wall. Those columns and beams will then most likely have to be made of steel, and will have to be large enough and have sufficient welds to resist whatever kind of lateral forces happen in your area.

So, the windows themselves should be surprisingly cheap; it's everything else that'll be really custom and expensive.
posted by LionIndex at 9:16 AM on January 30, 2009

LionIndex; Sweets looks very cool so far. I'm browsing their window section at the moment. I only have a basic understanding of structural requirements so I'll be running it all by a proper engineer. Thanks for the tips!
posted by odinsdream at 9:24 AM on January 30, 2009

You might want to browse a magazine like Metropolitan Home, which is targeted especially at interior designers. The back in particular has lots of ads from companies that make windows, door hardware, bath fixtures, etc.
posted by adamrice at 10:23 AM on January 30, 2009

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