Google has a fantastic self-populating feature as you type in a search term so I thought it would be fun to see what Google thinks I’m wanting to know when I type “wood windows” into the search bar. As I suspected, the questions were more in line with infamous “false assumption” premise otherwise known as a loaded question.
The most famous of all and example most people use is the question “When did you stop beating your wife?” No matter how you answer you appear guilty and evasive. There is an assumption of guilt and the question sets up the respondent with no good option.
The questions and search terms were setup much the same way regarding wood windows. Personally, I hate this line of questioning because it promotes an agenda rather than seeks the truth. So, I decided to dive in and actually answer the questions truthfully (a novel concept in 2023). Hopefully, you can find some value in setting the record straight.
1. Do they make wood windows anymore?
Yes, of course they still make wood windows. Wood was the standard for window construction for centuries and only recently was it dethroned by vinyl windows. According to the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), vinyl makes up 70% of the U.S. window market, with about only 15% of the market comprised of wood. The remaining 15% is comprised of aluminum and other composite materials.
2. How can you tell if a window is good quality?
This is quite possibly the most arbitrary question of the bunch. What constitutes “good quality”? If we’re talking about longevity then historic wood windows built before WWII of old-growth wood are by far the best in class. If we’re talking about ease of repair, ease of operation, availability of replacement parts, architectural appropriateness, ease of upgradability then once again the historic wood window takes the day.
If you’re talking about energy efficiency without any upgrades then a triple-paned composite window takes the cake. Personally, I feel that “good quality” should apply to the window as a whole not just one particular characteristic, but you’ll have to decide what’s important to you on this one.
3. What is the most durable type of window?
Durability. That’s just a another name for the longest lasting window, right. What will hold up through the years and still perform as close to originally designed. The answer to this question is indisputably a historical wood single-hung window. The simplest design creates the least opportunity for failure and the longest life. There are countless examples of these windows that have last 300 and 400 years. I have yet to find a vinyl window that lasts more than a couple decades or an IGU that will stay sealed and fog-free for that same amount of time. Sorry modern windows this one ain’t your game.
4. What are three disadvantages of wooden windows?
Three? That’s fairly specific Google, but let’s see what I can come up with.
- Wood Rot – It’s a fact of life. Yes, old-growth lumber is much better at resisting rot than new wood, but all wood is susceptible to rot, and that is indeed a problem that needs to be considered and dealt with.
- Termites – Yeah, they’re a problem. They eat wood like little kids eat chicken nuggets, constantly and without remorse. If you’ve got wood then you have to watch for termites and take preventative measures.
- Maintenance – Wood requires maintenance no doubt. It requires regular cleaning and painting to keep it protected from the elements. Wood will never be a no maintenance product and if you can’t be bothered to do the maintenance then wood windows may not be for you.
5. Are wooden windows worth it?
Worth it? I’m assuming they mean, are new wooden windows worth the extra expense compared to vinyl or aluminum. And to be honest, I would have to say “No.” New wood windows are a substandard product that don’t hold up well or last long. However, historic wood windows are a different story. If you currently have historic windows on your house then restoring them is worth it. It is less wasteful to restore your windows than to throw them all out and replace them especially considering they will last hundreds of years, with regular maintenance. So, if they’re historic then, hell yeah, they’re worth it.
6. What is the lifespan of wood windows?
That really depends where you live. The major problem with wood windows is rot. So, with new wood windows installed in a warm, wet climate you might get a decade of life out of them. Contrast that with old-growth wood windows which consistently get hundreds of years over and over in the wettest climates and you see the difference between the quality of the wood in these types of windows.
7. When did they stop using wood windows?
Ummm, they didn’t. Check yourself on this one Google.
8. Should I replace 20 year old windows?
You should replace windows that have reached the end of their life and no longer serve their original purpose. Whether that window is 2 or 200 years old. If it has rotted so much that there is no wood left and you’re only left with a gang of termites holding hands then sure, replace it. But if you are wanting my permission to replace a perfectly good window just because it’s 20 years old and nothing else, that’s crazy and wasteful. Drafty windows can be weatherstripped, rotting windows can be repaired, broken glass can be replaced (on historic windows at least). Windows are not like computers or iPhones that need replacing for the newer better model every couple years.
9. Why you should not replace old windows?
I could write a dissertation on this, but I’ll be brief. The long and short of it is this: Old windows can be restored to be just as beautiful as the day they were installed and just as energy efficient as the energy codes require today. That’s it! Why would you replace a window that could be beautiful and energy efficient with a little elbow grease? I think for most people the reason is ignorance. They just didn’t know it was possible.
10. Are wood windows high maintenance?
I’ll lay out the facts on maintenance let you decide for yourself on this one. Wood windows need an exterior cleaning once a year. That entails misting with water and wiping away dirt and grime. They need the glass cleaned with a little glass cleaner. They need any chipped paint touched up and any missing glazing putty patched yearly as well. At my company we call this maintenance process AustinCare+ and it takes about 10-20 minutes per window per year. Every decade or so when you repaint the exterior of your house they need to be repainted as well, but other than that there is very little maintenance needed for windows. The problem for most folks is that though they are low maintenance they are not no maintenance. But anything that claims to be no maintenance means it can’t be maintained.
That’s it! Google’s top ten questions about wood windows. Hopefully, we’ve cleared up some misconceptions and busted some myths and you can walk away from this a bit wiser than before. If you want to read more about the topic check my post The Replacement Window Myth which dives into all the economics of replacement windows.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
5 thoughts on “10 Most Googled Questions About Wood Windows”
In many instances, there are other factors to consider besides “old wood.” What if you have a multi-story c.1910 hotel (now a non-profit occupant) with very generic 1-over-1 wood windows that haven’t been maintained for decades, and you need operable sashes, low-E benefits, street-sound dampening, and the ability to clean the upper-floor windows without paying for a lift every time you want to wash the windows? Modern windows with removable tilt-in sashes that don’t need painting seem like a reasonable alternative. Or is that faulty thinking? Someday they will need to be replaced, but for a few decades at least they will prevent a lot of headaches and ongoing costs. And grants are often available in the non-profit world for capital improvements for things such as window upgrades, but never for routine maintenance. And unless you are examining the windows as closely as you would read a book, you would be hard pressed to know they aren’t original. I’m a big proponent of retaining original character-defining features, but many windows are pretty standard in their configurations, and often they weren’t that well-built to begin with.
This window cleaner,retired after 37 years, is thrilled to read your article. Our joke is: ‘they are called replacement windows as they will require replacement in 15 to 30 years’. At expense equal to or greater than complete rehabilitation of historic windows. Clad wood begins to fail in 15 to 25 years. Most houses with all double glazed windows will see some of them fogging within ten years. There is NO reasonable cure. Heat loss or gain and sound can be better addressed with ‘double sided’ window inserts. Can be built by the homeowner.
I have a combination of the original wood windows & cheap vinyl windows that don’t match the beauty or look of the originals on my 1917 home. I’d love to replace the vinyl ones so the look better suits the home. I can’t imagine trying to hunt down matching historic windows for all the vinyl that needs replacing but I’d also be so sad to see the large, beautiful originals go. Most of the windows are now vinyl.. Should all the windows be replaced so they match? Thanks for this article.
I have 120 year old, single hung windows in my home that I have been restoring using your Windows Made Easy book. While it has been a time consuming endeavor, it has also been relatively easy and it’s SO satisfying to see the end result!
My house was built in 1893 and I have most of the old windows. I live in Canada and so every fall I use “Draft Attack” removable caulking on the inside. Then in the spring I remove it and may have to re-stain a bit. I think most people think of old drafty windows should be replaced but but with this removable clear caulking there is a phenomenal difference and my house is pretty air tight and warm. Just an fyi. It is great stuff but do Not get the removable caulking that must be removed in 6 months. It was really hard to remove. The other just pulls off easily.