After nearly 170 years of upstate New York weather, time had taken its toll on the building. While proud of its designation on the National Register of Historic Places, the board was concerned about deterioration of the landmark bell tower. It was severely leaking into the building and there were concerns of collapse of both the tower and its 1000-pound bell.
Enter Jim Nally, owner of Nally Restoration. Not only was he a resident of Burnt Hills, he was coming off a successful steeple renovation in the nearby city of Schenectady. Calvary Episcopal saw his work and listened to his proposal for saving their bell tower. They liked what they heard but paused on one point—Jim was proposing covering the exterior of the structure not in wood but in PVC polymer sheet and trim from AZEK.
Though initially skeptical, Jim changed their minds. He sold with samples: showing the beauty of the material and demonstrating the strength of an AZEK adhesive joint. The strongest men on the board couldn’t separate the two glued trim pieces. Once the board saw and felt the strength and beauty of the material, they agreed to its use. The clincher may have been when they understood that this renovation could easily last 50 years with minimal maintenance and no water damage. Considering the height of a steeple, that meant a huge labor and materials savings. “Once I gave them the knowledge of what and how I was using the AZEK material, it really went over quite well,” explained Nally.
BUILDER: Nally Restoration
CONSULTING ARCHITECT: Nolan Engineering, PLLC
PROJECT LOCATION: Burnt Hills, NY
Then, in a twist worthy of a Hollywood movie, Father Gabriel Morrow, the pastor of the church, found some images showing the appearance of the tower from the early 20th century. The familiar square tower was topped with four magnificent spires and finials, one at each corner. No one living today had seen the tower in this configuration. The repair and renovate project had become a true restoration with AZEK materials front-and-center.
Jim Nally, Nally Restoration
The more he used it, the more he and his carpenters liked working with AZEK polymer products. They appreciated the consistency in dimensions and the absence of knots, cupping, and splintering. An added bonus was the material’s relative light weight, reducing jobsite breakage and making it easy to get the materials where they need to go.
As their experience with the material grew, so did their willingness to experiment with wood joinery and fastening techniques to their jobs. For example, Jim and his team use biscuit joinery to make tight seams that won’t open up due to water absorption. For trim work, they use Kreg jigs to create fastener pockets. Unlike some materials like fiber cement, special tools and PPE are not required.
Nally’s carpenters use the same or slightly less labor with AZEK materials compared to wood. “It’s easier to work with than wood. It’s a bit more expensive, but when you factor in the lifespan of the material, it’s a no-brainer to choose AZEK.” Because the polymer material is impervious to moisture, it does not suer with typical moisture-related issues that wood faces: rotting, swelling, cracking, and the ongoing need for paint for protection. This is the key to the product’s—and the project’s—expected longevity.
Jim’s team carefully removed the over-hundred-year-old carved wood detailing for reproduction. The wood sheathing was in rough shape, having survived over a century of Northeast winters and summers. For the spires, designs for the new detail work were created from the pictures found in the church archives. The structure was covered with a modern sheathing system in preparation for the panels of AZEK sheet and trim.
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The decorative elements were recreated with AZEK materials. The AZEK-to-Mill (ATM) product is designed for machining—routing and turning—to create panels and other details. To recreate the decorative finials, sheets of material were bonded together to create solid blocks of PVC, which could then be put on a lathe and formed as if they were a piece of wood. “There’s no gaps, no seaming at all. And this stuff turns wonderful.” Smaller pieces of decorative work were individually cut, heat bent, and glued to the substrate. “It’s pretty cool. It makes you look up.”
The project won industry awards for materials use, accolades from the local press, and captured the hearts of the members of Calvary Episcopal Church. On the heels of the success of the tower project, the church is considering the next phases of their building restoration: the siding, eaves, and trim on the building itself—also with Nally Restoration and again using AZEK Exteriors products. Jim summed up the feelings of most people involved with the project: “This church…is going to have a good, long life. I know I won’t be around, but I’d love to see it 50 years from now.”
BUILDER: NALLY RESTORATION
Nally Restoration of Burnt Hills, NY, started with Jim Nally in the residential construction, repair, and remodel business some 35 years ago.
His partner has been with him 32 of those years and the company keeps a staff of about eight to ten people busy. While residential renovation and new construction are their bread and butter, Jim’s favorite types of jobs—the “ice cream” jobs—are when he gets to preserve an old structure and bring it into the 21st century. “I just love old things. I love to see old become new and have a life again.”
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