3 Ways Storm Windows Can Save Your House

Storm Windows

Image Credit: smithrestorationsash.com

Historic windows can be a real conundrum for some people. Sure they are a gorgeous part of every old house, but they can be a real energy waste if they haven’t been properly maintained and weatherstripped. But just because they aren’t energy-efficient now doesn’t mean they can never be efficient.

If you have the means to restore your old wood windows you should definitely do it. You’ll regain their functionality and beauty in addition to really upping their efficiency. But sometimes you can’t afford a full restoration of your windows. While restoration is usually cheaper than replacement it’s still expensive. Your best option is likely adding exterior storm windows.

 

With that in mind here are three ways that historic storm windows can save your old house:

1. Big Energy-Efficiency Gains

Most replacement windows today are double-paned glass units, and window manufacturers are quick to tell you to throw out your old single-paned windows and buy replacements. But you can get the same performance by adding historic storm windows to your original windows for a fraction of the cost.

At around $150-300 per storm window they’re well below the cost of a replacement window, and you get the energy performance of a new double-paned window.

Here are the facts: The addition of exterior storm windows alone can cut air infiltration by 64.3% bringing it below 2009 IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) standards, which most of the US currently uses. Source: http://windowstandards.org. 63% is a HUGE leap in efficiency that’s not often accomplished in remodeling.

2. Protects Your Historic Windows

If you’re reading this I hope you are planning to eventually restore your historic wood windows. These windows are fantastic and there are so many reasons to save them. So, whether you have already restored your windows or it is somewhere in your future plans, adding exterior storm windows does wonders to protect your old windows.

Storm windows can dramatically extend the life of your existing windows. By keeping them protected from the elements, you minimize the regular maintenance that is required as well. Paint, putty and wood all will last longer and require less work when storms are installed.

3. Maintains Historic Character

Historic storm windows are extremely simple to add to your house. They don’t require any modifications to your existing windows. Historic storm windows fit in the same frame as your original screens and utilize the same hardware already in place.

While aluminum storm windows can be nearly as effective they certainly don’t fit the look of an old house. Historic wood storm windows fit right into the exterior elements already in place on your house.

And let’s be honest, if adding storm windows keeps you from tearing out your drafty old windows and replacing them with vinyl, they have done wonders to save the historic character of your house.

Whether you want to protect and enhance the efficiency of your restored historic windows or you need an affordable alternative to window replacement, storm windows are the way to go.

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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and author. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and son Charley.

http://www.austinhomerestorations.com

24 comments

  1. Paul McTigue on said:

    This is interesting especially based on the cost of new windows alone. I have a question on getting rid of the metal storms that were put over the original windows. What do I replace them with, that would have both screens and storm, understanding I need to changed them out seasonally. I saw the Indow product but they don’t have screens for summer. Also I have stained glass, that I don’t open, but would prefer unobtrusive storms on the outside so they would be more protected from breaking. I don’t have the original wood storms anywhere, can they be bought, is there such a thing as historical screens?

    • Paul, historic wood storms and screens are built almost exactly the same except for the frame being covered with screening or glass. They were both traditionally a mortise and tenon wood frame that sits into the exterior trim flush with the blind stop. There are several companies around the country (including mine) that will build historic screens and storms.

  2. Cherie Diament on said:

    I maintain a114-year-old home that I converted to offices 28 years ago. It is quite beautiful and has many of its original features both inside and out.
    28 years ago I made the decision to leave the original Windows (double hung, some with diamond patterns, some with stained-glass and some quite simple). Most of the windows had storms on them that have been installed in the 1950s and at the time we’re in good condition. At this point they are approximately 60 years old and I am considering replacing them with new storms that have low E glass. 1. 1. Have storm windows changed enough in the past 60 years for it to be advantageous in changing them?
    2. Is there a high likelihood that warping are shifting has taken place so that the storms no longer fit as well as they did?
    3. Will the low E glass make a significant difference in both heat retention in winter and solar expulsion summer?
    I’ve been hoping to convince the four owners that this would be One of three smart choice’s towards making the building more comfortable.
    The other is the obvious… more insulation in the attic floor and around the exposed ductwork up there.

    • Cherie, it’s hard to know what condition your storms are in without seeing them, but there are a few things you can do. First, unless you live in a hot southern climate where the windows get a lot of direct sunlight the Low-E coating won’t make much difference. In fact in cold climates it can even cause higher heating bills from lack of solar gain in the winter. Second, you could keep the existing storms and add interior storms like Indow Windows to greatly increase your efficiency for less than the cost of new storms. After 60 years I’m sure that a new storm window would be more efficient but the real question is whether it will pay for itself in a reasonable time.

      • Cherie Diament on said:

        Scott I’m sorry I should have mentioned… the house is in New Jersey they are triple track storms and this is more for comfort rather than recouping cost. There is no way that we can install interior storms… The owners would not tolerate that choice.
        The passive solar gain to this house is minimal to this particular house compared to the solar infringement in the summer (angle off the sun, location of the bulk of the windows, size of the windows etc.)
        I have read that the low e glass (in this case hard not soft surface) would reflect the buildings heat back into the house. So I guess the real questions are.
        1. Are newer triple track storms more efficient these days than they were 60 years ago? Does it warrant changing… Will it increase improve th comfort level with in the room?
        2. Will the hard surface low E glass still function as heat reflective in a storm?
        Thank you for the time and attention,
        Cherie

        • Cherie, with those circumstances I think that new exterior storms would add some efficiency and Comfort, but it would be very minimal. If you haven’t looked into Indo inserts I would really encourage you to. There are no modifications to the interior windows, no hardware, nothing to do other then set the interior storm in place. Indows would give you the biggest increase in comfort for the least work and cost.

  3. Bridget on said:

    I love your website and have used it as a resource as I restore my old New Orleans shotgun house and all of it’s windows. This may be a silly question but here it is: I’m originally from CT so storm windows are normal and common there, but I haven’t seen any in New Orleans. Do you typically install storm windows in hot humid climates?

    • Bridget, I’m in Florida so I’m well acquainted with hot humid climates and you are right that there are rarely historic storm windows here. In fact I have yet to see one in Central Florida. That being said I think we could definitely benefit from storms, not so much in the winters, but to keep the AC in during the long summers.

  4. Dana B on said:

    If an 1865, 3’x5′ window is properly restored and weatherstripped, does it need a storm window to meet that of a replacement window? Or is the claim that historic windows can meet replacement window efficiently based mainly on the installation of storm windows plus weatherstripping?

    • Meeting the efficiency of a double-paned window is a moving target depending on which double-paned window you are comparing your single-paned windows to. Usually it will take proper weatherstripping and the addition of either an exterior or interior storm window to meet a double-paned window’s efficiency. Both of those can be accomplished at a lower cost than window replacement with the bonus that you save the home’s original windows.

  5. Tamie on said:

    Where do you find the indoor storms. Just bought an 1876 colonial with 32 windows! With fuel oil running $1000 per tank and a tank a month during the coldest months, this is going to be a big ouch in my budget.

    • Tamie, check out Indow Windows. Submit your info and they will match you with a dealer in your area who can measure and install indoor storms for you.

  6. Ana Maria on said:

    Good topic. The three concept is most valuable for us.

  7. Jon H on said:

    Scott – do you guys typically use any type of gasketing at the perimeters of your storm frames, or just friction fit them into the openings? I’m thinking of routing a groove in the back of the frames to receive a barbed weather strip that would compress against the stop (except at the bottom). Not sure if it’s really worth it though.

    • It depends on the climate. Here in Florida we typically just friction fit the storms, but in colder climates it makes sense to add a silicone bulb on the outside to get a good seal. Weeps holes at the bottom are by far the most important element to prevent the storm from trapping moisture and rotting though.

  8. Kara on said:

    Beautifully said. This is what I also advocate. I think we are still in the minority, but hopefully others will begin singing the same song!

  9. Mike in Philly on said:

    Our ~1895 Queen Anne has many windows where there are tracks made of copper on the vertical sides on the outside. I’m thinking they are guides where some sort of storm or screen was once placed. Any ideas just what they were used for and how? Was it an older and “original” feature, or some fad that came and went?
    Thank you.

    • Mike, more than likely what you’re describing is spring bronze weatherstripping in the jambs. If it is then it’s probably original and a great way to make your windows energy efficient.

      • Mike in Philly on said:

        I don’t think so; let me give a better description.
        The “things” are more like a U-shaped track and are quite sturdy. It looks more like what something would slide into, with the flat part of the “U” nailed to the wood and the two arms of the “U” facing outward. And they are placed exterior (with a gap) to the double hung windows. They would interfere with a traditional storm window suspended from above. The windows that have these do not have the “hooks” for a traditional storm window. There are 3 windows on one side of the house that do have the hooks for traditional storms (and matching storms found in the basement), and these do not have the “tracks”. But then again, there are also windows that have had “new” aluminum storms put on, so there is a real mish-mash of things that have been done to the house (as I assume is common with old houses with multiple owners and cash flow issues over the years).

  10. Bob Yapp on said:

    The war on historic windows now has a chance to be won. The science proves old and historic windows can be made as or more energy efficient than a disposable replacement window. Storms, as you say, are key. As co-editor, co-writer and founding member of the National Window Preservation Collaborative, I want to say thank you for this great blog and, as you did, encourage folks to arm themselves with the best practices and scientific data buy buying a copy of our not-for-profit book, “Window Preservation Standards”.

    • Thanks Bob! Your work on the standards book has given the rest of us preservationists a powerful tool to help folks understand why old windows are as good as they are.

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