West Orange, NJ
With the creation of the light bulb in 1879, Thomas Edison was always destined to have bright ideas. In 1886, he moved to West Orange, NJ and a year later began to build a new laboratory compound, which became a one-million square foot industrial complex between 1906-1914. The Edison Battery Storage Complex is the last surviving structure of Thomas Edison’s industrial empire and is made entirely of reinforced concrete, which was not a common building material at the time. Edison believed that, “Wood will rot, stone will chip and crumble, bricks with disintegrate but a cement and iron structure is apparently indestructible. Look at some of the old Roman baths. They are as solid as when they were built.” The concrete complex consists of 14 ft and 16 ft high ceilings with thousands of enormous multi-panel industrial windows. The pinkish-tan exterior is made of reinforced concrete with column and beam construction. The Edison Battery Building concluded operations in 1965 and today is on the National Register of Historic Places, the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and is locally designated as a historic site by the Township of West Orange.
The Edison Battery Building manufactured alkaline storage batteries for light delivery vehicles, automobiles, railroad signals, industrial applications and mining equipment. Prior to renovations starting in 2016, the facility had elevators and lighting running off the original direct current system which Edison preferred over the popular electric current. The facility was transformed into a residential building following the objectives that the building was to be restored to its original look while also maintaining a fresh, contemporary look that it had when it was first built.
Problems That Led To Repairs
The Edison Battery Building restoration was part of the complete Edison Village Downtown Redevelopment project, originally adopted in 2003. The scope of the job was to re-develop Block 66, Lots 1, 5 and 7 (the Edison Battery building) and construct 16,000 square feet of retail space, 31,700 square feet of amenity support space, 334 residential rental units, a parking structure containing 635 parking spaces and create public infrastructure (roads, utilities, sidewalks, etc.).
With over 100 years of wear and tear and a vacancy lasting over a year, the Edison Battery Building had seen better days. There was a lack of concrete to cover the bars, cracking and leaking joints not to mention spalling concrete and severe corrosion on the exterior of the building. There was also random repair attempts over the years contributing to the worn appearance of the façade. The aging of the 130,000 square feet concrete façade was due to the lack of maintenance and minimal concrete repairs that were done incorrectly in an attempt to repair the building. Despite all of the deterioration on the exterior and a few spalls where the rebar had to be spliced, the building itself was in good structural standing.
After a thorough inspection of the building by the project team, the concrete spalls that had to be repaired were broken down into 2 categories; hand applied repairs and formed repairs.
The hand applied repair areas were about an inch or less in thickness and were repaired with a single component hand applied non-sag mortar. To prepare the area, a chipping hammer was used along with saw cuts to define the perimeter of the repair. A CSP 5-6 was achieved to make sure there was adequate preparation done for the repair material to bond to the existing concrete. Furthermore, Sika® Armatec®-110 EpoCem was used to support the mechanical bond resulting in a total of 2,500 square feet of the façade repaired using this technique.
To address the deeper spall, a form and repair technique was needed primarily to repair the window sills. The steel was cleaned and primed while the concrete was coated with a reinforcement protection coating before forming up the area. Sikacrete®-211 was poured in the forms that were stripped after seven days with splicing some cases where the concrete was deep to be sure the patches were tied to the original spiral bar resulting in a total of 7,500 square feet repaired using this technique.
In order to prepare the surface to be coated, the facade had to be leveled with SikaQuick® Smooth Finish and this polymer modified material was used to parge the entire 130,000 square feet exterior. After the leveling coat, Sikagard® 550W Elastocolor was used both to enhance aesthetics as well as increase durability. In order to meet the requirements of the historical commission, a textured base coat Sikagard® Elastic Base Coat Textured was selected to cover the blemishes and maintain some of the charm of the older concrete. After twenty color samples sent for approval by the historical commission, Capitol Tan was the winner!
With the 2,450 windows replaced, the perimeter caulk color needed to match the original construction so Sikasil® WS-295 was factory tinted the custom green color that was used to caulk all along the border of the joints. Finally, a Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) single ply roofing system was used to replace the existing roof. With the help of these Sika products and a great project team, the Edison Battery Building is destined for a bright future!
It is clear that Thomas Edison was a man ahead of his time with direct current batteries now being used more frequently in machines that we operate on a daily basis. His choice in using concrete to construct the Edison Battery Building proved to be a sustainable material that has lasted for more than a century. It was an honor to restore and repurpose such an iconic structure built by an American Legend that will now stand tall for generations to come.