Historic Windows

Top Ten Reasons to Restore or Repair Wood Windows, New England Window Restoration Alliance (NEWRA)

1. Because your windows fit your house.

Quirky as they might be, your older windows fit your house. Care was taken to match the weight and style of window to the building, the trim, etc. They have expanded and contracted with the seasons. With proper weather stripping they can be made to fit and seal even better. Replacement windows have a rigid structure that fits within your window openings. Old houses move and shift over time and frequently the gaps that open up around replacement windows and the window openings result in more drafts that the original windows.

2. Because you appreciate good craftsmanship

The true mortise and tenon construction of antique windows is incredibly strong and even when it begins to weaken is easily repaired. Many unique window shapes were created because of the craftsmanship with wood joinery. Antique windows were built to last and not land in landfill.

3. Because you value good materials.

Antique wood windows are constructed of old growth timber. The wood is much denser and more weather resistant than today's tree farmed softwoods. Delicate profiles are possible because of the density of the wood. The reason these windows are still around, even with years of neglect, is because the wood is of very high quality requiring no cladding or additional materials to give them weather resistance. Minus all the ugly paint your wood windows are usually quite beautiful, graceful, and strong.

4. Because you love the character of antique glass.

Even the glass in antique windows tells a story. It may be roundel or cylinder glass, each indicating a certain era of manufacturing. Old glass has varieties of color and texture that are a delight to the eye. Two layers of glass are better than one, and in an antique home that second layer of glass should be the storm window that protects the original window.

5. Because you think a warranty should be more than 20 years.

Chances are your windows have done their job for fifty or more years already. Sure, they may be a little creaky and may not be as attractive as they once were, but it's a far better investment to repair a proven performer than to sink money into a new window that only has a 20 year warranty at best. With proper maintenance your antique windows should last another 100 years. Heck, even without maintenance they may last that long!

6. Because you want to avoid vinyl.

Poly vinyl chloride (PVC) is becoming one of the greatest concerns in the building industry. Not only does the production of it create an environmental nightmare, but the gases it emits over time are becoming a concern. Heaven forbid your house catches fire, and PVC burned will release toxic amounts of dioxin. If you are concerned about lead, please understand that it is used as a stabilizer in the manufacture of PVC. If you are concerned about our planet's health you should read up on efforts to reduce the use of vinyl.

7. Because you want more light.

Replacement windows are set into the window opening, and the sash is smaller than the originals. You get less viewing area and less light. Who wants less light?

8. Because windows are a functional part of your house.

Weights and pulleys are the best balance systems ever invented. There is a prevalent myth that a lot of cold air comes in through the weight pocket. If there is cold air in the weight pocket it's generally because there is a gap between the outside trim of the house and the siding. It may also indicate a poor seal at the floor joists. Replacing easily serviceable weights and pulleys with vinyl jamb liners or invisible balance systems means installing a system that has a maximum life span of 10-20 years but generally fails in less time.

Historic windows are often the first targets for replacement when considering efforts to cut energy use. Industry trends have established a preoccupation with 'new', making total replacement much more accessible than simple repairs.

Unfortunately, these new 'green' windows are made of vinyl, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the most commonly used and environmentally problematic plastic in the world. Concerned about our planet's health? Read up on efforts to reduce the use of vinyl.

9. You really can save 30-40% on heating costs.

According to the Field Study of Energy Impacts of Window Rehab Choices conducted by the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, the University of Vermont School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering laboratory the estimate first year energy savings between a restored wooden window with a good storm window vs. a replacement window was $0.60. Yup, less than a buck. In their conclusions section they noted "The decision to renovate or replace a window should not be based solely on energy considerations, as the difference in estimate first year savings between the upgrade options are small." Broken glass, failed glazing, no weather stripping – these small and repairable items are what really effect energy efficiency in windows. Visit the following section for tips on weatherstripping windows and effective energy measures!

10. the greenest building is one that is already built.

Replacement windows are touted as a way to save energy. But when evaluated from the perspective of the entire production, shipping, installation and removal process replacing windows consumes a whole lot of energy, or viewed the other way an older building has a great deal of embodied energy. If the total energy expenditure to manufacture replacement windows is considered, the break even period stretches to 40-60 years!

Replacement windows are not recommended. These vinyl windows fail to match the visual authenticity of historic windows, and they also fail to match the construction of historic homes. New plastic windows are mass produced in standard sizes, with extremely rigid plastic structure. Old houses breath, their materials expand and contract with the seasons. Wooden window frames specifically tend to shift over time. Thus, trying to fit a new replacement window with an extremely rigid structure in an existing wooden frame tends to be difficult -- gaps open up around the new windows, creating greater drafts than the original.

The window industry sells these products as long-lasting energy saving materials, requiring no maintenance. Yet warranties on these plastic windows rarely surpass 20 years. And vinyl is known to deteriorate under the sun's UV light, making it brittle and susceptible to breaking. If the vinyl window warps or breaks, the only option is to hope you remain under warranty and ship it back across the country or send it to a landfill --- Green? Not quite.

Yet PVC has displaced a broad range of other, less problematic materials - wood, glass, metal are constantly replaced with plastic alternative products. Eagerness to replace rather than restore only worsens the pollution problem associated with PVC, piling up discarded windows in landfills and continuing to fuel the harmful production of vinyl. Oftentimes, the historic wood windows targeted for replacement have been in place for many years. If a wooden component of historic windows breaks, it is possible to simply repair the wood joinery- This is not the case with plastic- A wood windows that has worked for one hundred years could go on for another hundred with a certain amount of repair work.

Why do my old windows matter?

Should I believe the hype about new windows being better?

Should I repair or replace my old windows?

Stop blaming historic windows!
Repair, Don't Replace!

"We can't build our way out of the global warming crisis. We have to conserve our way out. That means we have to make better, wiser use of what we have already built." - Richard Moe, former President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Existing historic windows were designed to fit your house! Simple repairs and weatherization tactics for historic windows prove to be the most cost effective, environmentally friendly option, compared to wholesale replacement with new plastic windows.

Effective Energy Measures :

Air infilitration: Cracks at windows, doors and construction joints admit a continuous and significant quantity of cold or hot air which adds a considerable burden to a cooling or heating system. Simple maintenance procedures such as the following are very cost effective.

According to the US Department of Energy, "air sealing is one of the most significant energy efficiency improvements you can make to your home. Air sealing will not just reduce energy costs; it will also improve your home's comfort and durability."

Weatherstripping: Historic homes tend to be infamously drafty. The first step in successful weatherization work involves mechanically sealing up the many cracks between windows and frames or doors and frames. However, it is important to note that insensitive application of weatherstripping can intrude on the charm and unique character of historic features. Strips of foam rubber, felt, vinyl, or metal can all be used for weatherstripping, but the material should be selected based on its minimum intrusion to the existing fabric.

Double-hung windows: Weatherstripping should be installed around the inside of the perimeter of the window frame and at the meeting rail. These areas are the most common sources of air infilitation.

Doors: Weatherstripping should also be applied around the frame of the door, with special attention paid to the bottom door rail. This gap at the bottom of the door is responsible for lots of air loss and the full width should be weaterstripped.

Storm Windows: Storm windows can be installed on hsitoric houses to improve the efficiency of windows. However, special care must be taken to select storms that provide minimum intrusion on the historic buliding fabric. Exterior storm windows tend to have a greater visual impact than interior storm windows. If exterior storm windows are selected, they must have a minimum adverse visual impact on the existing windows. We recommend quality wood storm windows which are both effective and visually satisying. A less costly alternative is alumnimum storm windows. However, these should be primed and painted to match the rest of the window before installed.

Storm Windows and Condensation

Condensation tends to be an issue with storm windows. Monitoring and maintenance is necessary to avoid the build-up of moisture from damaging the wooden wash and trim of the historic window that storm is protecting. Interior storm windows should be removed periodically throughout the winter to prevent any excess moisture from forming. In the summer, interior storms should be removed completely so that operable windows may be used. When removed, any excess moisture will be able to dry. Weatherstripping storm windows also helps mitigate condensation. However, the weatherstripping material should be 'breathable' to allow gradual air flow. Exterior storms should be carefully caulked along the bottom edge of the frame of the storm window to reduce the leakage of moist air and allow gradual air movement.

Solar film

U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Savers : High Reflectivity Window Films
High-reflectivity window films can be applied over existing windows and are most suitable for locations with long cooling seasons, as they help block summer heat gain. However, on historic windows, we must proceed with caution when considering application of these films.
Learn more about Solar Film!

Window Weatherization

Will storm windows help?

Are there easy, low-cost ways to make my windows more energy efficient?

“Windows are the most visible, yet commonly under-appreciated components of older and historic homes and buildings. While being very beautiful, original historic windows also serve a great purpose – they impart a building’s inside-outside connection. They provide ventilation and light, and can function as emergency egress. Above all, they offer clues to a building’s history because they are integral aspects of architectural design.” - The National Trust for Historic Preservation







First Step: Home Enery Assessment!

We suggest a home energy audit as the first step when considering energy improvements. Historic windows are too frequently targeted for immediate replacement, when in reality they are responsible for much less energy loss than the window industry leads us to believe. And simple weatherization tactics, discussed in this section, can dramatically improve existing windows.

Before you blame your windows...
Home Energy Checklist!

Check dampers on fireplaces!

Check for air loss from construction gaps in attics, basements and crawlspaces!

Check exterior siding, trim and fenestration for air leaks! Weather strip existing doors and windows!

Check for drafts by running your hand along interior woodwork and other joints or meeting of materials!

Use wisely! How you choose to operate your home has the greatest impact on energy consumption and costs. Making the extra effort to open and close windows, use your shutters and solar shades, etc. can have an enormous impact! Be committed!

All of these check points should be completed before investigation into new storm windows, upgraded insulation, mechanical systems, and/or other projects.