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What Replacement Windows Can’t Replace

:
The Real Cost of Removing Historic Windows
WA LT E R S E D O V I C a n d J I L L H . G O T T H E L F

Sustainability looks even better For all the brilliance reflected in efforts in this case, windows — without fully
through a restored window. to preserve historic buildings in the U.S., evaluating the consequences. Once au-
the issue of replacing windows rather thentic material is lost, it is lost forever.
than restoring them remains singularly It does not matter how accurate the re-
unresolved. Proponents on both sides of placement window, it never reflects the
the issue may easily become frustrated nuances of the original.
by a dearth of useful data, as well as
conflicting information, or misinforma- Taking the Long View
tion, promulgated by manufacturers.
Indeed, it often seems that many preser- Historic windows possess aesthetic and
vation practitioners and building own- material attributes that simply cannot
ers remain in the sway of advertising be replaced by modern replacement
claiming that the first order of business windows. Like preserving whole build-
is to replace old windows. In the con- ings, restoring historic windows is a
text of preservation and sustainability, solid step forward into the realm of
however, it is well worth reconsidering sustainability. The present approach to
this approach. sustainability, however, still too often
focuses on new construction and issues
Sustainability and Authenticity such as “intelligent” windows and
energy efficiency, while overlooking
In considering alternatives to replacing other important, holistic benefits of
historic windows, one needs to keep in preserving historic windows, such as
mind two important elements: sustain- the following:
ability and authenticity. Sustainability • Conservation of embodied energy
(building green) and historic preserva- (i.e., the sum total of the energy
tion are a natural marriage, so long as required to extract raw materials,
one remains mindful that sustainability manufacture, transport, and install
is not just about energy conservation.1 building products). Preserving his-
Preservation and sustainability involve toric windows not only conserves
myriad elements that can work in sym- their embodied energy, it also elimi-
biotic and synchronized ways toward a nates the need to spend energy on
favorable outcome. For example, pres- replacement windows. Aluminum
ervation work is more labor- than and vinyl — the materials used in
material-intensive, which benefits local many replacement windows — and
economies; natural ventilation afforded new glass itself possess levels of em-
via operable windows can reduce the bodied energy that are among the
size of mechanical equipment, especially highest of most building materials
of air-conditioning; and salvaging his- (Fig. 1).2
toric materials, such as wood sash,
• Reduction of environmental costs.
Fig. 1. Comparative values of the embodied-
obviates the need to harvest live trees
Reusing historic windows reduces
energy levels of common building materials. and other natural resources for the
environmental costs by eliminating
Note that glass and aluminum (i.e., principal manufacture of replacement units.
components of many replacement windows) the need for removal and disposal of
Similarly, retaining and celebrating
are ranked among the highest levels of embod- existing units, as well as manufacture
authenticity is one key element of an
ied energy, while most historic materials tend to and transportation of new units.
exemplary preservation program. No
possess much lower levels. Courtesy of Ted Also, many replacement units are
Kesik, Canadian Architect’s Architectural Sci- one should take lightly the option of
manufactured with such materials as
ence Forum, Perspectives on Sustainability. discarding authentic historic materials —

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26 A P T B U L L E T I N : J O U R N A L O F P R E S E RVAT I O N T E C H N O L O G Y / 3 6 : 4 , 2 0 0 5

Fig. 2. Many excellent worksheets are available for calculating payback of replacement windows; this one is produced by the Missouri Department of
Natural Resources. Results of payback calculations often reveal grossly overstated claims. Courtesy of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
W H AT R E P L A C E M E N T W I N D O W S C A N ’ T R E P L A C E 27

vinyl and PVC, whose production is the value through the center of the glass Payback
known to produce toxic by-products. (the location of the best U-value), not
Focusing on windows as the principal
So, while energy savings is green, the that of the sash nor the average of the
source of heat transfer may lead to the
vehicle toward its achievement — in entire unit.6 To be sure that data are
conclusion that windows are more
this case, replacement windows — is being presented appropriately, request
likely to be the antithesis of green.3 important than, say, insulating the attic,
the U-values published by the National
foundation, or walls. While data vary
• Economic benefits. Restoration proj- Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC),
somewhat, up to 25 percent of heat
ects are nearly twice as labor-inten- which rate whole-window performance.7
When U-values are offered for the may be lost through doors and win-
sive as new construction, meaning dows.15 But when the aforementioned
more dollars spent go to people, not entire window assembly, they often are
significantly worse (i.e., higher) due to potential 50 percent loss through infil-
materials. This type of spending, in
infiltration around the frame and rough tration is taken into account, the total
turn, has the beneficial effect of pro-
opening.8 In cases where replacements effective percentage of heat loss at-
ducing stronger, more dynamic local
tend to warp and bow over time (and tributed to the window units themselves
economies.4
they do), this factor becomes ever more would be only 12.5 percent. That is a
• Ease of maintenance. “Maintenance- relatively small percentage for a poten-
free” is a convenient marketing slo- crucial.9 It is also important to watch
for comparative analyses: some replace- tially large investment, especially when
gan; many replacement windows, in other options are available.
reality, cannot be maintained well or ment-window manufacturers compare
their window units to an “equivalent” In actuality, typical window-replace-
conserved. Vinyl, fiberglass, sealants, ment systems offer payback periods that
desiccants, and coating systems all single-pane aluminum window. Clearly,
this is an inappropriate analogy since are often nowhere near manufacturers’
degrade, and they are materials that
these types of windows are not likely to claims: the payback of a typical unit
remain difficult or impossible to re-
be found in a preservation context. could take as long as 100 years (Fig. 2).16
cycle or conserve.5
• Long-term performance. While man-
Infiltration of Outside Air Heat Loss/Heat Gain
ufacturers’ warranties have been
lengthened in the past few years (they Infiltration of outside air — rather than Heat loss is often discussed, but what
are now generally from 2 to 10 years), heat lost through the glass — is the about heat gain? In summer, heat gain
they still pale in comparison to the principal culprit affecting energy; it can can add significantly to the energy costs
actual performance life exhibited in account for as much as 50 percent of associated with cooling a building.17
historic windows, which can reach 60 the total heat loss of a building.10 When Long waveforms within the daylight
to 100 years and more, often with retrofit windows are installed over or spectrum that enter through the glass
just minimal maintenance. within the existing window frame, the must be able to exit, or else they de-
Clearly, sustainability takes into ac- argument for preservation already ex- grade to heat that then must be over-
count more than just the cost of energy ists: restoring the integrity of the fit come by the building’s cooling system.18
savings. It also promotes salient social, between the frame and building wall Low-emittance (“low-e” or “soft low-
economic, and environmental benefits, should be the first component of a pres- e”) glass handles this task best, improv-
along with craftsmanship, aesthetics, ervation approach. ing thermal performance by virtually
and the cultural significance of historic Sash pockets, pulleys, and meeting eliminating infrared (long-wave) radia-
fabric. Still, the issue of energy savings rails are areas prone to air infiltration in tion through the window.19 It accom-
is often used to justify replacement over double-hung units. Yet, several weather- plishes this task by allowing short-wave
restoration, but just how valid is this proofing systems for existing windows radiation through and reflecting long-
argument? can overcome these heat-sapping short wave heat back to its source, while at
circuits.11 Replacement-window manu- the same time providing an appearance
Energy Savings facturers themselves admit that even that is virtually clear.20
among replacements, double-hung units Low-e glazing can be substituted into
If the foremost goal for replacing his-
present the greatest challenges for con- existing units that are only single-glazed
toric windows is energy savings, beware
trolling heat loss because infiltration and still achieve important energy sav-
of “facts” presented: they very likely
occurs most frequently at sash-to-sash ings. Single-pane low-e glass can provide
will be — intentionally or not — skewed,
and sash-to-frame interfaces, which are a virtually equivalent level of combined
misinformed, or outright fallacious.
highly dependent on the quality of the energy savings as a standard new dou-
Window manufacturers universally
installation.12 The energy efficiency of ble-glazed unit when used in concert
boast about low U-values (the measure
restored windows incorporating retrofit with an existing single-paned sash (e.g.,
of the rate of heat loss through a mate-
components (weatherstripping and as a storm or interior sash).21 Replacing
rial or assembly; a U-value is the recip-
weatherseals combining pile, brush, panes of glass, then tightening up the
rocal of an R-value, which is the mea-
bulb, or “Z” spring seals) can meet and sash and frame, is a very simple and
sure of resistance to heat gain or loss). cost-effective way to achieve the desired
even exceed the efficiency of replace-
For example, U-values are often mis-
ment units.13 This approach is suggested whole-assembly U-value without having
leadingly quoted as the value for the to modify visible light, mullions, or sash
as the first alternative among green-
entire window unit, when in fact it is weights.22
building advocates.14
28 A P T B U L L E T I N : J O U R N A L O F P R E S E RVAT I O N T E C H N O L O G Y / 3 6 : 4 , 2 0 0 5

same results in IG units through the
use of applied films (as opposed to an
integral layer within the glass) has
been shown to greatly reduce the life
of double-glazed units by inhibiting
the movement of their seals.28

Performance and Material Quality
A hallmark of sustainability is long-
term performance. Intrinsic within that
premise are issues about material qual-
ity, assembly, and conservability. As
noted above, some material choices
(e.g., PVC) incorporated into replace-
ment-window units are inherently not
Fig. 3. At left is a drawing of a typical late-nineteenth- to early-twentieth-century six-over-six, double- able to be conserved.29 When the mate-
hung window. At right is a modern “equivalent” replacement. The considerably thicker mullions and
rial degrades, it then becomes necessary
frame of the replacement unit (necessitated by the use of insulated glass) result in a nearly 15 per-
cent reduction of visible light and views. Drawing by Walter Sedovic Architects. to replace the replacement.30
One of the great virtues of historic
Insulated Glass
windows is the quality of the wood with
though, that a U-value is not the only
which they were constructed. Historic
criterion that determines the relative
Replacement windows nearly always windows incorporate both hardwoods
thermal efficiency of a window. Solar
incorporate insulated glass (IG) units. and softwoods that were often harvested
and light transmittance also affect
The effectiveness of an IG unit is greatly from unfertilized early-growth stock.
performance, and they may be benefit
dependent on the depth of the airspace Such wood has a denser, more naturally
when low-e laminated glass is selected.27
between inner and outer panes, as well occurring grain structure than what is
The benefits of laminated glass, though,
as on the nature, type, and amount of generally available today from second-
go much further when considered part
desiccant and seals employed around growth stock or fertilized tree farms.
of a comprehensive program to restore
the unit perimeter.23 While manufactur- Also, historically, greater concern was
and thermally upgrade historic sash:
ing techniques for IG units have contin- given to milling methods, such as quar-
• Laminated glass offers significantly
ued to improve, when IG units fail, they ter- or radial sawing. The resulting
are difficult and time-consuming to higher levels of noise abatement than
IG. window performs with greater stability
replace.24 than its modern counterpart. This alone
The additional weight and thickness • Historic glass may be laminated,
has far-reaching benefits, from minimiz-
of IG units preclude their use as retrofits offering energy and noise benefits ing dimensional change, to holding a
in historic sashes of either wood or while maintaining an authentic finish. paint coating, to securing mechanical
metal. Indeed, to compensate for their • Laminated glass is far easier and less fasteners.
heft, virtually all IG replacement win- expensive to procure and install and No amount of today’s staples, glue,
dow mullions, sash, and frames are allows for field cutting. finger-splices, and heat welds can match
bulkier than their historic counterparts. the performance of traditional joinery.31
• It offers superior safety and security
The result is that visible daylight levels Similar comparisons could be made of
features.
are reduced by 15 percent or more and
Laminated glass may be equipped the quality of hardware employed in
views are interrupted.25 Reducing day- •
replacement windows, such as spring-
light and negatively affecting views are with low-e glazing to help offset heat
loaded balances and plastic locking
explicitly not consistent with a sustain- gain.
hardware; they cannot compete with the
able approach (Fig. 3). • Historic sash, both metal and wood, lasting performance and durability of
can be outfitted with laminated glass such historic elements as pulley systems
Laminated Glass as an Alternative without modifying or replacing mul- and cast-metal hardware.
lions and frame elements (something
Laminated glass remains an often-
overlooked alternative to IG units, that would be required by the installa-
Ease of Maintenance
perhaps because of the industry’s focus tion of significantly thicker IG units).
on marketing it as “safety” glass. While • Condensation is reduced as a result of For cleaning windows, traditional sin-
laminated glass cannot compete with the internal thermal break of lami- gle- and double-hung windows are often
technologically advanced, complex IG nated glass. outfitted with interior sash stops that
units, it does offer enhanced U-values may be removed readily, allowing for
• A variety of features (UV protection, full access to the interior and exterior, as
for monolithic glass without having to polarization, translucency, etc.) can
materially alter the mullions of the well as to the pulley system. Both case-
be incorporated as layers within ment and pivot windows are inherently
historic sash into which it is being laminated glass. Efforts to achieve the
fitted.26 It is important to recognize, very easy to clean inside and out.
W H AT R E P L A C E M E N T W I N D O W S C A N ’ T R E P L A C E 29

Replacement windows incorporating • high-quality equivalent replacement 10. Ibid.
tilt-in sash — a feature that on its sur- units have been shown in practice to 11. Shapiro and James.
face appears enticing — require that cost as much as three times that of
12. Bill Mattinson, Ross DePaola, and Dariush
there is no interior stop, increasing the restoration. Arasteh, “What Should I Do About My Win-
potential for air infiltration around the Windows are a critical element of dows?” Home Energy 19, no. 4 (2002).
sash. Compressible jamb liners that sustainability, but sustainability is not 13. The growing market for retrofit seals has
allow for the tilt-in feature are often just about energy. It is about making resulted in an ever-increasing supply of high-
constructed of open-cell foams that, environmentally responsible choices quality weatherstripping products manufac-
once they begin to degrade, lose both regarding historic windows that take tured in a variety of materials and configura-
tions for application in both typical and non-
their compressibility and sash-to-frame into account the spectrum of associated typical applications.
infiltration buffer. costs and effects. The choice of whether
The ability to readily disassemble 14. Shapiro and James.
to replace or restore requires embracing
historic wood windows also allows for a more encompassing definition of 15. Hastings Borough Council, “Have You Got
selectively restoring, upgrading, and sustainability. The answer is not as Money to Burn?” http://www.hastings.gov.uk/
energy_efficiency/heat_every_home.aspx#money
adapting individual components of a simplistic as some would have us be- _to_burn (accessed November 1, 2005).
window throughout its life. Most re- lieve.
placement-window systems cannot 16. Shapiro and James.
make that claim. WALTER SEDOVIC, the principal and CEO of 17. Fisette, 68–73.
Walter Sedovic Architects, works in historic
preservation and sustainable design. His work 18. Ibid.
Aesthetics and Authenticity and firm are recognized for integrating green- 19. The National Energy Foundation, “Energy
building approaches and ideologies into preser- Advice: Saving Energy: Insulation,” http://
Nuances in molding profiles, shadow, vation projects. www.nef.org.uk/energyadvice/insulation.htm
line, and color of windows, along with (accessed September 16, 2005). A. Roos and J.
quality and appearance of the glass, JILL H. GOTTHELF is an associate at Walter Karlsson, “Performance Criteria for Coated
Sedovic Architects, providing project manage- Glazings in Windows,” in Proceedings from
contribute greatly to the overall build- ment, design, and construction administration. Glass Processing Days, Tampere, Finland,
ing aesthetic and generally emulate the She has extensive experience in integrating 653–656 (Uppsala, Sweden: Dept. of Material
stylistic details of the building as a sustainable building technologies into preserva- Science, Angstrom Laboratory, Uppsala Univer-
tion projects.
whole. Even what might seem like small sity, 2001). See also http://www.glassfiles.com/
changes in these elements can and does library/23/article440.htm (accessed November
1, 2005).
have a noticeable and usually detrimen- Notes
tal effect on many historic facades. 20. Roos and Karlsson, 653-656.
1. Walter Sedovic, “History’s Green Genes”
Outfitting historic buildings with mod- (Greenbuild 2003, The 2nd International 21. Mattinson, DePaola, and Arasteh.
ern replacement windows can and often Conference on Sustainability, U.S. Green
Building Council, Pittsburgh, Pa., November 22. Shapiro and James.
does result in a mechanical, contrived,
12-14, 2003). 23. “Product Information: Insulating Glass,”
or uniformly sterile appearance. Worse,
2. Ted Kesik, “Embodied Energy Comparative PPG Industries, Inc., http://www.ppg.com/gls_
when historic windows are replaced, residential/share/res_ins.htm (accessed Novem-
authenticity is lost forever. Values,” Canadian Architect, Architectural
Science Forum, Perspectives on Sustainability, ber 1, 2005).
January 2002, http://www.canadianarchitect. 24. James Piper, “Windows: Repair or Replace?”
Value and Cost com/asf/perspectives_sustainibility/measures_of Building Operating Management (Jan. 2004).
_sustainablity/measures_of_sustainablity_em-
Repairs of historic windows should add bodied.htm (accessed November 1, 2005). 25. Chad Randl, Preservation Tech Notes,
Windows, No. 19, Repairing Steel Casement
to the value of the property, as an au- 3. “Windows,” Global Green USA, Public Windows (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department
thentically restored automobile would Housing Authority Toolbox, http://www.global of the Interior, National Park Service, Cultural
command greater value than one “re- green.org/pha-energytoolbox/tech_windows. Resources, 2002).
htm (accessed November 1, 2005).
stored” with plastic replacement parts. 26. California Glass Bending Corporation,
While there is a dearth of cost-com- 4. Don Rypkema, “The Economics of Preserva- “Static-Exchange Correlation-Polarization
tion” (keynote address, Preservation 360°, (SECP) Tables,” http://www.calglassbending.
parative analyses between a replacement
Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, com/secptabl.htm (accessed November 1, 2005).
window and its restored, authentic Saratoga Springs, N.Y., March 18, 2005).
counterpart, empirical knowledge based 27. Roos and Karlsson, 653–656.
5. Paul Fisette, “Understanding Energy-Efficient
on field experience covering a wide Windows,” Fine Homebuilding 114 (1998): 28. James Piper, “Avoiding Common Window
variety of window types suggests that 68–73. and Window Film Mistakes,” Building Operat-
restoration is on a par, cost-wise, with a ing Management (Oct. 2004).
6. Ibid.
middle-of-the-road replacement. Corol- 29. Fisette, 68–73.
lary conclusions are that: 7. National Fenestration Rating Council, http://
www.nfrc.org. 30. John M. Corbett, “A Last Look at Historic
• cheap replacement windows will Wood Windows,” Traditional Building 14, no.
always exist to superficially counter 8. Andrew M. Shapiro and Brad James, “Creat- 6 (2001).
ing Windows of Energy-Saving Opportunity,”
the cost-basis argument for restora- Home Energy 14, no. 5 (1997). 31. Fisette, 68–73.
tion; and
9. Fisette, 68–73.
SEVEN TO SAVE ENDANGERED PROPERTIES LIST, 2006:
Original & Historic Wood Windows:
Repair and Preservation
PROJECT CO-SPONSORS: HISTORIC ALBANY FOUNDATION, INC. &
ASSOCIATION FOR PRESERVATION TECHNOLOGY, NORTHEAST CHAPTER.

The Preservation League of New of your historic wood windows. earliest period of European
York State designated Original settlement. In later revival styles
& Historic Wood Windows as I’m just changing the windows and they were installed to imitate the
one of the listing for the “Seven keeping the rest of the house the historic period. An examination of
to Save Endangered Properties same. the materials themselves would
help determine the age and date
Program” of 2006. While often seen as
of the windows in each case.
interchangeable parts, windows
Each year thousands of historic are actually one of the most As double-hung windows (with top
wood windows are removed and
important aspects of a building’s and bottom sash) became more
sent to landfills across New York
original material fabric and common in the eighteenth century,
State. Along with project partners historic appearance. The design glass technology improved to
Historic Albany Foundation and of the windows is just as important produce larger panes of glass.
the Association for Preservation as any other decorative element. The earliest sash commonly
Technology-Northeast Chapter,
Windows offer clues to the age of contained anywhere from 6 to
the League has been particularly
the house, demonstrate the styles more than 16 individual panes
concerned about this issue or construction techniques of a (also called “lights”). As the
because original wood windows region or period, reflect later nineteenth century progressed, the
are such an important part of the changes to the building, and can industry was able to make larger
appearance and character of a be exceptional examples of panes until only two panes were
historic home. Property owners
craftsmanship or design. Since used per sash or even a single
should have all of the facts before
they are original design elements pane sash became more common.
they opt for replacement. which relate to other parts of the At the end of the nineteenth
architectural style, overall scale century, as revival styles came into
What’s all the fuss about windows? and proportion of a building, we vogue, multiple-light and
You might think that windows say that the windows are an patterned sash became the norm,
mainly serve as functional important part of a building’s solely for aesthetic reasons, as
components of a building to character. technology allowed for virtually
provide light, ventilation and a unlimited pane size. There were
By considering the changes in also stained glass windows
view outside. Of course, they also window design brought about by
impact the overall appearance of available and affordable even
changes in technology and in
the building—just consider the for middle class homes. In
design ideas, we can construct a addition to the number and size of
effect of unpainted windows on timeline of window types that help
an otherwise attractive building. panes, the shape of the window
us identify the original style of a also changed over time. Certain
And that may be why you are house or the period during which it
thinking about sprucing up the window types are essential parts
was updated. In the United of architectural styles.
exterior of your property with States, the earliest windows were
new windows. casement (hinged windows But my windows are old and junky.
You have many options for opening out like a door), and
improving the looks and function buildings retaining such windows In the case of wood windows, old
were likely constructed during the does not necessarily mean

PRESERVATION LEAGUE OF NEW YORK STATE ● 44 CENTRAL AVENUE, ALBANY, NY 12206 518-462-5658 ● INFO@PRESERVENYS.ORG ● WWW.PRESERVENYS.ORG
Seven to Save Endangered Properties 2006: Repair and Preservation of Wood Windows Page 2

obsolete or lower quality. In fact, or too light—to function properly A local hardware store can easily
given the quality of materials and with your windows. If the cords replace a broken pane of glass
craftsmanship involved in the are not the culprits, you may need within a sash (reglazing). Most
original fabrication of your to remove paint from the window contractors can do simple repairs
windows, they may be better than or frame itself which is causing the to wood elements or reglazing.
anything being made today. window to stick. (Others may try to sell
Windows built before the 1950s homeowners on replacement
were likely constructed of milled I don’t think there are any repairs windows, where most of the mark-
heartwood or old-growth wood that I can do myself. up is in the product, not the labor.)
which is more dense than the For larger projects, property
woods now available. Older This is the true benefit of old owners can contact a local historic
windows will nearly always far wood windows – they were built preservation organization which
outlast their replacements if to be reparable. Most might maintain a list of contractors
homeowners have the skills
properly restored. In addition, who work on historic buildings.
needed to repair old wood
traditional joinery such as pegged Homeowners can also reach out to
mortise and tenon joints used in windows, whether the problem is their municipality or state
older windows have proven to be a broken sash cord preventing the preservation office for contractor
more durable through changes in window from moving up and lists.
climate and moisture than are down easily or staying in place,
or there is a broken pane of When interviewing a contractor it
glued finger joints.
glass. Old window sash can be is important to ask for and check
If just one part of an old wood easily removed from the window references. It is also a good idea
window fails, it is easier to repair openings, paint and glazing putty to get several contractor estimates
than a component in a modern that has built-up can be stripped to compare. What one person
window. The wood window sash and renewed, a broken pane can says is irreparable may be
can be removed from the window be swapped out for a new pane another person’s idea of a simple
openings, the problem piece can (reglazing), the cord holding the repair.
be repaired and the sash weight can be replaced and
reinstalled in good working order. reattached and window put back
With a modern window unit, a in place. I live in an historic district and am
broken pane of glass usually not allowed to install storms or
requires the installation of an No engineering degree is screens over my windows.
entirely new insulated glass unit necessary, and all the tools and
materials needed are available
which is not easily removed from I don’t want to have to mess with
at your local hardware store.
the wood, aluminum or vinyl installing and removing storm
window members. Typically the Replacing the glazing putty, the windows.
cost for repairing the glass alone glass, the sash cords, and the
is close to the amount of a new weather-stripping can be done at Many buildings dating to the late-
a cost equal or less than $1/linear 19th and 20th century added
replacement window.
foot. There are countless step-by- protection during the winter by
When I do finally get my windows step instructions available in books using wooden storm windows in
to open, I can’t get them to stay in or on the Internet to guide a the North and shutters or blinds in
place. I’d rather have new, homeowner in making these the South. Therefore, it is
repairs. Don’t be overwhelmed absolutely historically appropriate
working windows.
by trying to do all the windows at to install wood storms over your
Many a stubborn window can be once. Try to assess which windows wood windows. In fact, this
repaired by simply replacing a need which type(s) of repair and added layer will protect the paint
cord which is broken or painted so break the project down into and glazing of your primary
that it no longer rolls easily along phases. Begin with the more window and eliminate any drafts
the pulley. This allows it to simple repairs. Find out whether a the weather-stripping has not
properly use the counter weight workshop is available in your stopped.
which not only aids in moving the region.
window but also in keeps it in Most homeowners associate wood
storms with the obligation of
place. If you are replacing the I barely know a hammer from a
weights, make sure that they are handsaw, and I don’t know of any having to install them in the fall
the right size—neither too heavy contractors who repair windows. and remove them in the spring.
This was often the case in the past,

PRESERVATION LEAGUE OF NEW YORK STATE ● 44 CENTRAL AVENUE, ALBANY, NY 12206 518-462-5658 ● info@preservenys.org ● www.preservenys.org
Seven to Save Endangered Properties 2006: Repair and Preservation of Wood Windows Page 3

when homeowners would take that Many property owners think they requires vinyl tracks to hold the
opportunity to wash the windows must replace their old wood sash and allow it to move up and
and touch up any failing paint. windows in order to save energy. down. Vinyl, which contains vinyl
Today there are many Studies have indicated that in chloride, classified by the EPA as
manufacturers of traditional- most cases [15 to] 20% of heat a Group A, human carcinogen,
looking wood storm windows that loss in a building is through the expands and contracts in heat
incorporate screen panels which windows. The remaining 80% is and cold, and will deteriorate
eliminate the need to swap the through walls, roofs, floors and with sun exposure more rapidly
storms for screens each year. chimneys. Following this model, than wood.
reducing the heat loss through
My contractor just shook his head windows by 50% will only result Because vinyl window tracks are
and told me it would be cheaper to in will only result in a 10% naturally exposed to heat, cold
replace all the windows. decrease in the overall heat loss in and sun, they will degrade and
eventually lose their air seal.
the building.
It is rare that all windows on a When this happens, they must be
Replacement windows can be built
single building fail at the same using wood, vinyl, or aluminum completely replaced. Historic
time, and the most cost effective sash, and may have single, wood windows, which run along
approach to windows is to repair double, or even triple glazing. It wood tracks with the help of
and maintain individual windows is this capacity for double or triple counter weights, can be
as they need work. By definition, glazing which is thought to be
maintained. If the wood finally
repair work is most often done on more energy efficient.
deteriorates, it can be easily
site by local workers and is repaired or replaced without
limited to only the work needed However, most heat loss from a having to replace the entire
for each individual window: One window occurs from air infiltration window. In many instances,
window may need only new or between the sash and the window therefore, the vinyl windows do
reset hardware while another frame. Homeowners will gain not deliver energy savings nor last
more deteriorated needs an better energy efficiency by as “permanent” windows.
entire new bottom sash. One maintaining the caulk around a
advantage of repair is that it can window and using a properly- I was told that my historic windows
be easily phased to spread the fitting storm window (R factor aren’t up to code.
work and costs over a time 1.79), than with a double-paned
period, as permitted by weather replacement window (R factor Code requirements for windows
and budget. One efficient way to 1.72). To put it a different way, are generally applied only when
rehabilitation or construction
carry out needed maintenance according to the American Society
projects are undertaken. One-
may be to combine the work with of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-
an exterior painting project. This conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and two-family residences are
will most likely require an historic wood window with governed by the Residential Code
coordination between the painter storm transfers LESS heat per of New York State which regulates
various aspects. Sections:
and window repair specialist. square foot of material (known as
U-value), than replacement a) Energy Conservation. Historic
Because wood has the advantage windows on vinyl tracks with either buildings are exempt from the
of being repairable with readily a double-glazed wood sash or a
available materials and tools, a energy conservation requirements
double-glazed metal sash. of the code, per Section
program of repairing windows to
a like-new condition, followed by Replacement windows can 1101.2.5.3. The code’s definition
periodic maintenance, is the most contribute to heat loss due to the of historic buildings includes those
cost efficient long term solution. spring-loaded vinyl track along determined significant by the
Stop and think—if only one or a the frame. As previously stated, state or local governing body,
and those listed in or determined
few windows are in bad shape, most air loss occurs in the space
repairing them is easier than between the sash and the frame. eligible for the National Register
replacing all windows in the whole Wood is a far superior insulating of Historic Places. For existing
house. material than vinyl, particularly (non-historic) buildings, Section
the dense, old-growth wood found 1101.1.3 of Chapter 11 identifies
buildings and conditions that need
I was told I’d be better off with all in historic houses. New window
new windows that would help me installation, no matter what the not comply with the chapter’s
battle high heating bills. material used for the sash, energy provisions, including when
less than 50% of the building’s

PRESERVATION LEAGUE OF NEW YORK STATE ● 44 CENTRAL AVENUE, ALBANY, NY 12206 518-462-5658 ● info@preservenys.org ● www.preservenys.org
Seven to Save Endangered Properties 2006: Repair and Preservation of Wood Windows Page 4

windows are not being altered. be necessary, the procedures American Precision Museum, 2005; 802-
outlined in the National Park 674-5781; www.americanprecision.com
b) Light and Ventilation (Section Service’s publication Preservation
310.1). When windows or rooms Articles
Brief #37 Appropriate Methods What Replacement Windows Can’t Replace:
are changed or substantially
for Reducing Lead-Paint Hazards in The Real Cost of Removing Historic
altered, windows are required to Historic Housing will provide Windows, Walter Sedovic & Jill Gotthelf,
provide a minimum amount of light excellent guidance. Among the Association for Preservation Technology
and ventilation for basements and (APT) Bulletin, 36:4, 2005.
most important recommendations
habitable rooms. For light, for dealing with lead paint: “What Should I do about my Windows?” by
habitable rooms must be provided (1) children should live elsewhere Bill Mattinson, Ross DePaola, Dariush
with aggregate glazing area of while the work is being done
Arasteh, Home Energy, July/Aug 2002, p.
not less than 8 percent of the floor 24-31.
(2) all existing paint need not be
area of that room. For ventilation, removed-only that required to “Wood Windows: A Guide to Repair and
the minimum operable area is Replacement” by Richard Spigelmyer,
provide a sound surface for Traditional Building, Jan/Feb 1997, p. 35,
calculated as 4 percent of a
repainting 44.
room’s floor area, a total of the (3) it is important to use
amount provided by windows, appropriate protective gear Websites:
doors, louvers or other approved which can be found at a
Secretary of Interior's Standards for
openings. Rehabilitation. Detailed guidelines on the
hardware store accepted practices for various approaches
c) Emergency Egress. Windows (4) clean up after every work to preservation work, see
session. www.cr.nps.gov/local-law/arch_stnds_0.htm.
may also be required for
emergency egress purposes. www.historichomeworks.com Includes
Note that wet sanding can
Section 310.1 requires one many restoration topics including windows.
minimize dust. Chemical strippers
emergency escape opening for can present problems. In addition www.windowrepair.com/ “A website
basements with habitable space to the potential health concerns devoted to the fine art of making old
and every sleeping room. These associated with working with
windows work like new and be energy
must have a sill height of not more efficient too.”
chemicals, the pores of wood wet
than 44” above the floor, and a The Old House Journal has all types of
from the chemical reaction can
minimum net clear opening of 5.7 open up and permit lead based information about preservation issues,
square feet (5.0 square feet for paint to seep into the wood. You
restoration, history and products:
grade floor openings): minimum www.oldhousejournal.com/index.shtml (Not
can find the Preservation Brief on to be confused with “This Old House”)
dimensions are 24” in height and the National Park Service website
20” in width. www.oldhouseweb.com/ Has a section on
at: step-by-step window repair.
www.cr.nps.gov/hps/tps/briefs/
I know there is lead paint on my brief37.htm, or visit
windows and I’ve heard that they Project Co-sponsors:
www.cr.nps.gov/buildings.htm, Historic Albany Foundation:
are not safe. then go to “Preservation Briefs” www.historic-albany.org
While eliminating lead paint on No. 37. Association for Preservation Technology:
www.apti.org/,
windows may be required for APT Northeast Chapter:
projects funded by the U.S. www.apti.org/chapters/northeast/index.cfm
Resources
Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD), no such Books and Booklets Contributors: Kimberly Konrad Alvarez,
The Repair of Historic Wooden Windows, Landmark Consulting ◘ Erin Tobin
requirements exist for New York Bearden, Director of Preservation
John H. Myers, National Park Service
State homeowners undertaking Preservation Brief #9. Online version in Services, Historic Albany Foundation ◘
work at their own houses. Lead Preservation Briefs section at Marilyn Kaplan, Principal, Preservation
dust can create critical health www.cr.nps.gov/buildings.htm or order Architecture ◘ Tony Opalka, Historic
issues, especially for children, at 866-512-1800. Preservationist and Architectural Historian
◘ Lorraine E. Weiss, Program Manager,
however the presence of a stable Repairing Old and Historic Windows, New Technical and Grant Programs,
lead surface is acceptable. The York Landmarks Conservancy, 1992; Preservation League of New York State
key is to keep finishes in good www.nylandmarks.org/; 212.995.5260
condition, repair and repaint on a Save Your Wood Windows, John C. Leeke,
regular cycle, and avoid stripping www.historichomeworks.com/hhw/office/c
paint unless there is evidence of onsult.htm; 207 773-2306;
real paint failure. Windows on Preservation, John C. Leeke,
When stripping is determined to William McCarthy & Ann Lawless,

PRESERVATION LEAGUE OF NEW YORK STATE ● 44 CENTRAL AVENUE, ALBANY, NY 12206 518-462-5658 ● info@preservenys.org ● www.preservenys.org