Thursday, March 1, 2007

Top Reasons for Saving your Old Windows

Top Reasons for Saving your Old Windows

SOHO Helps You Care For Your Old House

The popularity of replacement windows is more a function of clever marketing than substantial benefit to the homeowner. Here is some food for thought as to why your old windows are worth saving.

Window replacement is not a way to save a lot of money on heating or cooling costs. Research shows that old windows can be made virtually as energy efficient as new ones for less money. The "R-Value" (resistance to conductivity) of an original wood window, plus a good aluminum storm is the same as a double insulated replacement window. A 1998 Vermont state study funded by the National Park Service analyzed eight ways of upgrading windows, from adding metal weather stripping and storm windows to putting in vinyl replacements. All achieved similar energy savings, but sticking with old windows proved to be as much as seven times cheaper. Consumer Reports sites only a modest drop in heating and cooling costs using top of the line windows, far from offsetting the thousands of dollars spent on new windows.

Why old windows?

  • Old wooden windows are a character defining feature of an old house. Original or old windows can: Be energy efficient
  • Last for generations and longer than replacement windows
  • Be functional and easily repaired
  • Offer craftsmanship and details not found in replacement windows
  • Add warmth and beauty to a room
  • Help you date the age and style of your home

Very few things go truly wrong with old windows. By and large their assembly is very simple, just two counterweighted sashes running in a slot. Old windows are easier to fix than replacement windows, largely composed of springs and plastic parts.

Items to remember:

  • Wood is the easiest building material to renew or repair. Epoxy such as Abatron's wood replacement product can be used to eliminate any rot.
  • Broken panes can be quickly and easily replaced.
  • Old windows be easily fine-tuned and balanced to operate properly and smoothly. Proper sash "spot" cord, 825 lb. test, (or chains) will help insure longevity. A properly tuned window will operate well and last for generations.

Most replacement windows:

  • Parts aren't standard. If you don't know your manufacturer (or if they are out of business), resolving any problems can be painstaking.
  • Double insulated glass is subject to seal failure, which causes fogging. It must then be replaced at a cost that can easily exceed $100.
  • Spring-loaded suspension systems will eventually lose tension, and then windows won't operate properly.
  • Tilting in windows puts a strain on a replacement window mechanism, making them vulnerable to breakage.

Old windows have withstood the test of time and properly maintained will outlast a replacement window. Most of Somerville's homes were built prior to 1945 and used older wood that was resistant to rot. New wood windows don't have that advantage. Plastic, vinyl clad windows are at an even greater disadvantage. An old wood window would have to be severely damaged before it needs to be replaced.
The original old windows were made to fit the style of your Somerville old house, making it visually appealing. Replacement windows, with vinyl white cladding detract from your home's style. This unattractive appearance continues on the inside, usually accompanied by glue used to hold the framing, contrasting sharply with your room's woodwork.

Window Resource List (Partial)

Window repair (articles, books and do it yourself):
The Old House Journal Guide to Restoration, 1992, NY: Penguin Books
The Repair of Historic Wooden Windows,
Working Windows, A Guide to the Repair and Restoration of Wood Windows, Meany, Terence, 1998, New York: The Lyons Press
Repairing Old and Historic Windows, New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1992, 208 pp., John Wiley & Sons, NJ, 800-225-5945
Sash Window Clinic, Old House Journal, pages 107-110, October 2000

Window Styles
A Field Guide to American Houses, Virginia and Lee McAlester.. NY: Knopf, 1984

Lead Paint
Appropriate Methods of Reducing Lead-Paint Hazards in Historic Housing
Non-legal deleading

Window Parts
Authentic sash rope/spot cord, 825 lb. test, not clothesline rope (Anything else is inferior) Available at Boston Building Materials Co-Op (BBMC), 100 Terrace St., Roxbury (617) 442-2262
75lb. chain, (sash chain kit) used in place of rope/spot cord (BBMC) (617) 442-2262
Spring bronze weather stripping, Lynn Lumber, 781-592-0400, BBMC (617) 442-2262
Abatron wood restoration system,, 800-445-1754 Available at Johnson Paint, Newbury St., Boston

Traditional Wood Windows (grooved for rope or chain)
Like the genuine look of old windows? Here are two local sources to get wood window sashes with individual glass panes (true-divided lights) and grooves for a traditional rope/chain and weight system.
Boston Building Materials Co-op (BBMC) (617) 442-2262, Ask for Don (window specialist)
Dorchester Door and Window, 41 Hallet St. 617-282-6900, indicate weight and pulley not track system

Viking (custom colors, low-profile), 860-225-6478 (call for dealers)
Allied Window (hidden storm windows), 800-445-5411,
Harvey Tru-Channel
Innerglass Window Systems, 860-651-3951

Window Repair, David Liberty, (617) 782-9410
Sash restoration and repair, Steve Gentile (781) 762-5616

Glass Repair and Glazing and Screen Repair
City Paint and Supply Company, 1149 Cambridge St. Cambridge (617)-547-0050
Tags Hardware, Porter Square, (617) 868-7711, Screen repair, glass cutting but not glazing

Restoration glass
Bendheim 800-221-7379

Storm Window Showroom and Installers
Anderson Installations, Weymouth, 781-335-6600
Bostonia, 781-444-0340

Credits/Sources: David Liberty,, Consumer reports, November 1993, Old House Journal, National Park Service

1 comment:

Katie said...

Last year, we had replacement windows (Los Angeles source) installed not just because we wanted to improve the heat and cold control in the house but also to save ourselves from bothersome and unreliable repair services. So I guess it depends on your purpose. Here in Los Angeles, window replacement is quite common because we trust the firms that provide them. Moreover, new windows can definitely achieve the same effect that old ones bring.