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The Economics of Saving Old Windows

A common mistake when performing repairs on historic properties has been to replace the original windows with modern windows. Because of this, it is rare to find properties that still have their original windows. When someone goes to purchase a property and they see that the windows are replaced, it takes away from the beauty and character of the historic building. Many buyers looking to buy these properties want the original windows still in place and are willing to pay more for it.

They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

Historic windows were made differently than the windows found in stores today. The width and visual weight of sash components, depth and thickness of the frames and sills, even the color and the pattern of light reflecting off the glass was different than any windows manufactured today. Older windows tend to be larger and rounded unlike modern windows. Most were custom-built and did not respect standardized sizes as they do today, which can even change the amount of natural lighting inside the building. Choosing to repair and retrofit preserves integrity by keeping as much of the old window as possible.

Historic Windows Were Built to Last

When buildings were built long ago every component including the windows were built with great attention to detail. Builders did not do their work based on what would be the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish their goal. They made sure to use quality materials. Prior to 1940 wood windows were usually made from old growth wood. Old growth wood is stable and mills well. It holds paint and stains well. Insects are less attracted to old growth wood and it has a natural resistance to rot. Most of the time the wood was harvested locally, making it best suited for the local climate conditions.

Modern windows typically have a warranty life of about 8-10 years. Because they are not designed to last longer than this, they are usually just replaced instead of repaired. Most historic residential windows have a proven longevity of over 100 years before needing repair and, when repaired, can be used for another 100 years.

Historic Windows Can Be Repaired

The replacement of these beautiful historic windows is often caused by peeling paint, broken glass or missing glazing putty. When these areas show signs of damage the windows tend to lose much of their beauty and eventually the window is often replaced. But with repair, and regular maintenance, these old windows will hold and last for years to come.

When overseeing the restoration of a historic building or house, it is always better to repair the windows that are already in place. By repairing them, the original character and beauty of the building is maintained. Replacing them with modern windows, even for more energy efficient ones will, in a sense, decrease the value.

A Common Misconception

There is a common misconception when it comes to historic windows that they need to be replaced to help with energy saving. Even though replacing the original windows with more "energy efficient" windows may help save on expenses, it rarely makes a difference in the long run.

The argument that modern windows are more energy efficient than older windows fails to consider the conservation of embodied energy and reduction of environmental cost. Although smart windows may seem very eco-friendly, even manufacturing new windows has a cost on the environment and leaves an old usable window to waste.

Fittings ought to be used for as long as they are in working order, especially in these times when we are facing challenges of global warming. Most historic windows are made of durable material that can last for as long as the building itself with mere maintenance. Replacing the original windows in a historic building should always be a last resort.

For more information on the restoration of historic windows contact Scott Henson Architect, where we specialize in the preservation and restoration of historic buildings.

Published in Restoration

When replacing windows on construction projects in New York City, it is important to choose the right type of window and a qualified installer to do the work. There are several important things that need to be considered when choosing the proper window replacement, including whether your building is within a historic district, whether you’re concerned with acoustical or thermal performance, or whether the window is being installed as a retrofit or brick-to-brick.

Which Materials to Use

There are many materials that you can use for your windows, and they all have pros and cons. For example, steel windows are great for aesthetic purposes. However, they are also more expensive than other options.
Wood windows are great for older buildings within historic districts that must conform to a specific style, but they also require a lot of maintenance. If you are not within the boundaries of a historic district, aluminum is both an inexpensive and low-maintenance option.

Brick-to-brick vs. Retrofit Installation

A “brick to brick” installation involves removing the complete frame, casing, jambs, brick mold, and trim. This type of installation is more expensive as the entire window is removed from the opening and any deteriorated material is cleaned out entirely. The new window with complete frame is installed, leveled and mechanically secured into place.

Brick to brick installation is a good option if you desire thermal and acoustical performance. This allows for windows to be insulated thoroughly around the new frame, guaranteeing a tight seal. Additionally, this option allows for better sight lines and is the preferred option for historic buildings.

A “retrofit” installation means that a replacement window is installed into the existing frame. The sash is removed from the frame and all materials around the frame remains intact. The new sash is then secured into the existing frame. Retrofit installations can be a much more cost efficient option, as the labor required is significantly less than when the installers aren’t replacing the entire frame. A major disadvantage with retrofit windows is that it is difficult to know what’s behind the existing frame, which means you’d be unable to address any thermal or acoustical bridges, or structural issues. You’d also have noticeably reduced sight lines because you are essentially installing a window inside a window, which is aesthetically less attractive.

Insulated Glass

Insulated windows are generally better for energy efficiency, as they trap air between the panes. Insulated windows are typically filled with argon or krypton gas, which makes the air denser, reducing the chance for energy to escape. You can also get glass that that has a coating designed to block UV rays and heat from the sun, thus keeping your home cooler in the summer and saving energy.

For standard double insulated windows, you can expect about 90% of a building’s energy to be retained. A triple insulated window will hold about 97% of your building’s energy inside.
Triple insulated windows excel at reducing condensation, and for cold winter months, this is an immense benefit. A higher indoor relative humidity helps regulate the temperature inside your home during the chillier months.

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Published in Blog