Historic home restoration contractors are often approached by homeowners who want to replace their old windows. Many times this is the first item on their list when they begin to restore an old house. They figure the old windows are drafty and hard to open and close. The reality is they are correct. However, replacing the old windows for new is rarely the best option and here are the reasons why.
First of all, it is hard to stress enough the contribution that original windows make to the over all look of the historic home. Original historic windows have the proper proportions for the home and the attention to detail that new windows don't have. Also the character of the old glass with its waves and bubbles add to the historic value of the home. The slender pieces of wood between panes of glass have unique characteristics that are true to the time period and style of the historic home. For example Georgian windows have a different profile than Greek Revival windows. Modern double glazed windows typically have fairly wide aluminum or vinyl pieces between panes of glass that don't look right in most old houses. No mater what century your historic home was built, your options in a replacement window is very limited.
Another point to consider is energy efficiency. When restoring an old window, weather stripping can be used to virtually eliminate drafts. You can also add storm windows for the cold Denver winter bringing the efficiency pretty close to that of a typical replacement window. The payback period for new replacement windows can be as long as 40-60 years. The payback period for restoring an old window, weather stripping and storm windows is much less. It just doesn't make sense economically to replace the old windows.
The real advantage to restoration vs new is reliability. Repaired old windows are much more reliable than new windows. For example, there are hundreds of historic homes in the Denver area built in the 1800's that still have the original windows. That is nearly 200 years of service life and they're still working! Modern replacement windows on the other hand will fail in less than 25 years because the seal between sheets of glass will fail and the glass will fog up. Modern windows are hard to repair. When one breaks it is often necessary to buy a complete replacement window because replacement parts are no longer available. Historic windows have few parts that are readily available. Also, most handy homeowners can easily replace sash cords, fix a broken pane, and/or install weather stripping.
If you have decided to keep your historic windows you may want to know what to do next. If you are fairly handy and are feeling up to task, there are plenty of sites on the web for help. Search Google for "window restoration how to" and "window restoration help videos," you will find some helpful resources.
DOWD Restoration has restoration experience from repairing weathered worn and damaged windows to restoring historic architecture to both private homes and commercial properties. Refurbishing a timeworn, derelict or mistreated piece of the past and renovating it for future generations to relish is tremendously satisfying work. Let DOWD Restoration help you with your next historic restoration project!