bloglovinBloglovin iconCombined ShapeCreated with Sketch. Fill 1Created with Sketch. Fill 1Created with Sketch. Fill 1Created with Sketch. Fill 1Created with Sketch. Fill 1Created with Sketch. rssRSS iconsoundcloudSoundCloud iconFill 1Created with Sketch. Fill 1Created with Sketch. Fill 1Created with Sketch. Fill 1Created with Sketch. SearchCreated with Lunacy Search iconCreated with Sketch.

5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 1 Windows)

5 worst mistakes historic homeowners windowsBeing in the business of restoring and preserving historic structures, I have seen many a house that made me cock my head in amazement at some of the frightening things people do to “upgrade” their old homes. The phrase “What were they thinking?” is almost a cliche at my company.

Every year people tear out important (and valuable!) architectural elements and replace them with off the shelf items from the local big box hardware store all in the name of “improvement” or “energy-efficiency.”

Don’t get me wrong, I know that the science of building a house has been added to significantly in the last 100 years. And I’m not one to spit in the eye of progress when it comes to green products and energy saving upgrades- quite to the contrary!

Service seo texte schreiben lassen studied this issue and wrote an article where he wrote that the value of a historic house is largely in its historical characteristics. Remove or cover those up and you destroy the value of the home. So, in the interest of educating some of you about how to invest properly in the value of your historic home and to save some valuable historical elements from the landfill, I’ve compiled a list of the 5 worst mistakes we see when it comes to restoring historic homes. This week we’ll touch on the #1 offense- windows.

Replacement Windows

This has got to be the most widespread mistake and my personal pet peeve. Historic wood windows are constantly being torn out of homes today and being replaced with inferior products.

Metal, vinyl, double-paned, triple-paned, argon filled, are promoted as the solution to a drafty old house. And I’m not going to lie, they work! What?! That’s right, they work. For a time these new windows are extremely efficient; however, they have a few flaws that make them a bad choice.

The first flaw is longevity. Many of these windows come with a 15, 20 or 30 yr. prorated warranty. That’s great, but what happens after that? Not that you’ll be in the house then, right? Just because you won’t be there doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

Your historic wood windows were designed when families planned to live in a house for generations. There are countless original windows in homes built not just in the 19th but 18th and 17th centuries that are still in service today! Properly cared for these windows can last indefinitely.

The use of old-growth lumber, which is more rot resistant than today’s lumber, combined with the simple design and function of most historic windows makes them extremely resilient. Historic windows are simple and everyone knows that the more complicated something is, the easier it is to break. Argon gas seals leak causing multi paned windows to fog up and fail. Spring tensioners wear out making it hard to open and close windows.

Aside from too much paint build up or a missing rope, historic windows don’t have any of these issues. You can learn more about the design of historic windows in my post All About Historic Windows.

Secondly, removing your home’s original windows inevitably destroys the character of a historic house. New windows were designed for new houses. And while there are companies that make windows that look like historic ones they are still quite quite right. Lacking this major architectural element almost guarantees a lower resale price for a historic home. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking newer is better. On an old home, this is rarely the case.

More than likely, your windows are painted shut or rotting in a few places if they haven’t been cared for. Before you run to replace them, call a restorer to bring them back to life. Your wallet will thank you and so will your sense of conservation. Historic windows are a superior product so why replace them with an inferior one?

The Solution

Historic windows need a couple things to perform as good or better than new windows.

First, they need to be properly weatherstripped. Next, they need to be properly maintained and painted when necessary to prevent rot or other issues. And lastly, you should consider adding historical storm windows to dramatically increase their efficiency. You can add these on the outside or even better the inside to preserve your home’s appearance from the street.

If you can do these three things, you will have windows that last centuries, retain your home’s value and meet even the toughest energy-efficiency standards today.

I’ve put together a resource page of how to do the most common tasks associated with restoring, repairing and maintaining historic windows at How To: Repair Old Wood Windows where you can find help doing almost anything you might need to save your old windows.

Read the rest of the 5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners:

Part 2 Floors

Part 3 Siding

Part 4 Plaster

Part 5 The Details

Subscribe Now For Your FREE eBook!

69 thoughts on “5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 1 Windows)

  1. Hi, I was wondering if it is possible to put aluminum on top of my wood windows on the outside rather than replacing them. My windows are all wood and single pane. I have a lot of windows and it’s very expensive to replace. I’m looking for a black exterior & interior look.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Debbie!
      Our best recommendation would be to use our directory to find a licensed preservationist in your area that can provide an accurate suggestion upon seeing your beautiful historic windows in person.
      Best of luck to you!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  2. I just purchased a 1924 bungalow in south Florida close to the ocean and want to hurricane protect my home. The house still has all its original windows and it kills me to replace with hurricane impact windows but am considering it. Has anyone had any had to make this decision and what did you decide?

    1. Meghan, the best advice I can offer is to cut pieces of 1/4” polycarbonate to install as storm panels on the exterior of your windows when a hurricane is coming. Polycarbonate is impact resistant. You might go years without putting them up but if you keep them on hand you’ll be protected when you need it and get to keep those original windows.
      One other thought, people will encourage you to get impact windows, but those original windows have held up just fine through the last 94 years worth of hurricanes. Just something to think about!

      1. How would you install the poly carbonate? A lot of Florida homes use exterior screws and are very unsightly.

  3. SO what to do if the damage is done… our 1750 cape already has gross vinyl windows that the previous owner put in. Where can we find windows that will suit the character of the home better?

    1. Oh no! So sorry to hear that horrible tragedy! Our best recommendation would be to find one of our network restorers in your city using our online directory and see if they can possibly build you some more accurate and efficient ones using the correct materials? Keep us updated on your progress!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

    2. I have at least 15 double hung original hand crafted wooden sashes. You can purchase at a reasonable cost.
      If you let me know how to do this.

      1. Hi Connie,I am interested in wood windows. do you have an email
        Or send me an email atcbeach (at) ya

    3. You can get new “old windows” and they aren’t that costly either. I’m in north east Ohio and did own a cottage on Lake Erie that I believe was built around 1900 and one of the 36 windows had the lower sash broken by a painter. I was upset about it, but remembered the Amish guy that made me huge glass storm windows to enclose the porch in the winter. I took the sash to him to have it repaired. He said that he could repair it for $70 or make a brand new exact copy of it for $35. The brand new reproduction was perfect. He does a lot of historic replacement windows and doors for historic buildings. There are many places that can make you new “old windows”. You can even get the old wavy glass if you want.

      1. We just bought a 1917 home in Cleveland Heights that has original wood windows in decent shape but I want to have storms made for them. Can you send me the name of the Amish guy who made your storm windows? Thanks.

        1. Did we ever get the contact info of the Amish window guy? I’m buying an old craftsman with half of the old wooden windows missing. Looking for replacements that are similar.

      2. Any chance you can provide this guys contact information?? I am in St. Louis Missouri and am trying desperately to save my windows

      3. I’m getting ready to build a new Victorian and I’ve been desperately looking for a window builder. Can I please get this guys info?

      4. Bruce, I have a landmark home in Cleveland Hts and want to make custom storms for the single pane original steel windows. What area does your Amish worker service? Thanks

      5. Bruce I don’t live far from you and I’m interested in this craftsman. Does he have a shop that I could visit to talk to him? Thanks for any and all help, it’s appreciated!

      6. Bruce

        I’m from Western PA. I went to an Amish window maker from the Mesopotamia area, but I paid a heck of a lot more than $70 a sash. Would you be willing to share your window mans contact info? Dennis

  4. I have a 1925 craftsman/bungalow that I am restoring. The 6 over 1 original weighted windows are intact through out the house except for the kitchen. The kitchen windows are missing. They have only cheap, storm windows. I’m not sure what to do. I would buy old windows if I could find them or have custom ones made if I could find someone to do it.

    1. Hey Beth!
      So sorry to hear about your kitchen window issue. We have a directory on our site of people who do what we do all over the country. Hopefully you can find someone in your area who can come take a look and provide a better answer upon seeing it all in person.
      Best of luck to you on your journey of beautifying and preserving your bungalow!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  5. I’m completely renovating our 1925 Florida bungalow and unfortunately gutting the bathroom which is beyond any form of repair. In in the process I have no choice but to rebuild the exterior wall where the tub sits. The only good news in this is that it gives me the opportunity to make any changes to that wall and window. The existing (original) tub had a standard 3 over 1 double hung window but it has completely disintegrated due to water damage. I am stuck trying to decide how to keep a window in the shower, avoid repeating the water damage problem, and honor the historic integrity of the house. The shower walls will be covered in classic subway tile. I would like to build a replica of the original window and I have the carpentry skills, but I am worried about a repeat of the water damage. I’ve considered a few options:

    Rebuild it as is using a water safe product such as PVC, StarBoard or Accoya.

    Move the window up and back away from the spray zone to prevent the majority of the water.

    Replace the window sill and casement with subway tile as part of the tub surround and incorporate a new double hung window as close to the original style as possible.

    Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  6. I am restoring a 1922 brick colonial two story home. Love the home all original wood windows are there some better than others. The house has some aluminum storm windows on outside and a few wood storm windows. I’m going to remove the metal ones and replace with wood. My question is what species of wood do you suggest for these storm windows (I’m in southwest Idaho pretty dry minimal snow) to be made out of and how thick should the frames be… ? The originals I found are an inch and quarter thick.. They stick out of the window frame on the house so I was thinking 1 inch or maybe 15/16 thick… Thoughts?

    Also different subject I’m thinking hvac for the house it has walk in attic upstairs main floor and basement. Brick foundation and concrete foundation… I am thinking I should hire mechanical engineer to design a system for the home… Boiler is pretty old and no Ac units… I am not a fan of different rooms ductless systems… Any suggestions?

  7. I am restoring a 1922 brick colonial two story home. Love the home all original wood windows are there some better than others. The house has some aluminum storm windows on outside and a few wood storm windows. I’m going to remove the metal ones and replace with wood. My question is what species of wood do you suggest for these storm windows (I’m in southwest Idaho pretty dry minimal snow) to be made out of and how thick should the frames be… ? The originals I found are an inch and quarter thick.. They stick out of the window frame on the house so I was thinking 1 inch or maybe 15/16 thick… Thoughts?

  8. So if I have recently become the owner of a historic house that was already remuddled with vinyl windows, how would I best replace them with something more historically authentic? What suppliers are best for good repros?

  9. I am in the process of purchasing aHome that was built a hundred years ago. I know that there are a few things that had changed and 1978 with the home I believe the family thought they were doing a great service by updating. I would have preferred them leaving it original. it was the kitchen that had been updated… However the cabinets are made very well structured there’s just not enough of them but I will make do. I do not have much knowledge of how to preserve a home this old. as long as I only update modernize the same rooms not to enlarge any of the rooms, is this something I really should get into? the other rooms that I believe need to be changed is the second bathroom which was added and the washer and dryer is in the kitchen I would like a laundry room and rearrange the objects in the bathroom so that when you open the door it does not hit the toilet seat. and for some reason carpet was laid in two of the rooms… The spare bedroom and the informal living room, I am hoping and praying that there is still hard wood underneath them. I know what to do if hardwood is there keep it! I do have hardwood throughout be home except for those two rooms plus the kitchen. the walls are plaster? I do not have any experience at all with plastered walls. I had no plans on purchasing a home that had this much character… I had planned on building a new home and having hardwood put in. it has the old type of roof that is made of tin? it also has some type of older home siding on it. there has been some damage to it not sure what I should do. as far as the windows go they look great they also have the exterior storm windows. the lower slats of the window seal on the outside look like they need to be replaced I’m sure it’s just the weather almost in some areas the one piece of wood looks as termite has gone through but there is no insect there. how do I replace that and what type of wood should I use? when you open the door it does not look anything like the outside.I do know for a fact that it was built 100 years ago maybe a year or two older than that and also a little history on that house that I’m in process of purchasing the man was the richest man in the county and spared no expense on building it.I would love to hear from other people concerning whether I should go ahead and purchase this home or just build me a new one. I will be 50 next year and unfortunately I am disabled. will this home cost me more in the long run to keep it going then to build a new home on about 5 acres? my email address is angel skytrain at gmail this is my email address because I have literally been around the world thankfully I used my younger years to do my traveling before my injury

  10. Scott,

    I like a number of your points and suggestions, but I respectfully disagree with regards to your storm window solution. We have an old salt box that was built circa 1754 in Connecticut. Our home remains its original dimensions and is kept fairly antique in a number of ways.

    When we purchased the home in 2011, the window situation was bad. We have old sashes that slide up and down freely and necessitate a storm window. The previous owner had made interior storms. While they reduced draft for sure, they stopped us from being able to open our windows on warmer winter days for fresh air and they also made our rooms feel closed in. And during the warm season, freely sliding sashes demanded prop-up screens which let untold amounts of bugs in our house on humid New England days and nights.

    We eventually purchased and installed custom exterior 3 track storm windows from the Burch Company. Surely, this flew in the face of antiquity, but we are a young family and we needed to balance our love for our old home and being able to live comfortably and functionally. We were able to keep our antique sashes, stop bugs, and open windows any time of the year with a simple storm/screen swap. Additionally, installing, removing, and storing the large interior/exterior storms is a giant hassle.

    The storms that we have are unbelievably effective. Our home is just shy of 1700 sq ft and we heat solely with a wood stove running through our central chimney. Our downstairs is typically in the 68-72 range during the winter and upstairs (chambers) is 60-65 degrees. I wear sandals during the winter in our home.

    So Scott – I really agree with a number of your points up until the storm windows, where I believe that a custom exterior 3 track system is the best balance for an antique home owner in our area of the country.

  11. Install storm windows over beautiful old windows? What?

    So that is better looking than buying modern old look windows? NOT IMO

    1. Mike, If you’ve never seen historic wooden storm windows you may change your mind. Modern old looking windows will inevitably fail in short order. Check the stats and their warranties compared to the centuries of use you can get out of your original windows.

  12. Check out a new book created by 100+ collaborators including 5 nationally-known window restorationists. It documents the logic of restoring old windows with objective tests done at a historic site in KY. Also gives brief descriptions of steps, tools needed for each step and how to evaluate the quality level you are shooting for with your specific time and money investment:

  13. 30 years ago, I was stupid. I replaced my old windows with vinyl. They were leaking badly and had a lot of rot on many lower sashes. The replacements are actually still quite viable. I guess I got good ones. But, I have an old craftsman Bulgalow. I have been restoring the old trim wood and floors and I now wish I had kept the old windows. My next plan is to remove the old replacement pine claps and restore to the red cedar shingles that should be on the huse. Soooo, good time to replace the vinyl with wood. I have a wood shop and have been researching how to build new wood sash. I found lots of information. Fine homebuilding and fine woodworking, John Leeke, and a bunch of random articles. But no real start to finish, hold my hand, tutorial or video. I know how to make a strong mortice and tenon window with the help of sash cutters on my router. But what are all the measurments I need? Many weight pockets are filled with foam. So the jambs need to be rebuilt as well. Is there a good book, still in print, that will show me how to do this from sctatch? Jambs, weight pockets, pulleys and sash building?

    1. Mike, I don’t know of a good start to finish video series on building a sash from start to finish right now. I am working on putting one together but it won’t be finished for a few months. If you find one before then, let me know. Otherwise keep an eye on the blog here!

    2. This is a comment to mike – hope that you can forward it to him. lost Art Press may have the the solution to what you need. From the website:

      “Doormaking and Window-Making” starts you off at the beginning, with simple tools and simple assemblies; then it moves you step-by-step into the more complex doors and windows.

      Every step in the layout and construction process is shown with handmade line drawings and clear text. The booklets are written from a voice of authority – someone who has clearly done this for a long time.

      During the last 100 years, most of these booklets disappeared. Booklets don’t survive as well as books. And so we were thrilled when we were approached by joiner Richard Arnold in England, who presented us with a copy of each booklet to scan and reproduce for a book.

      We have scanned both booklets, cleaned up the illustrations and have combined them into a 176-page book titled “Doormaking and Window-Making.” In addition to the complete text and illustrations from these booklets, we have also included an essay from Arnold on how these rare bits of workshop history came into his hands.

      By the way this looks like a great blog – just discovered this morning

    3. Mike, If you are still considering making vintage style wood windows to replace your vinyl units (bravo!), I strongly recommend considering Accoya Wood in their construction. When we replaced the 1971 remuddled kitchen in our 1927 Spanish Revival bungalow in Long Beach, CA with a more period correct kitchen, it was our opportunity to replace the character destroying dual paned aluminum windows over the kitchen sink. Luckily, the rest of our home’s 22 windows are original, which we restored when we purchased the house in 1999, so we had the perfect samples to know what they original windows looked like and how they were constructed. Knowing that newer wood is soft, rot and termite prone, we asked our local window builder about our options and after careful consideration we requested Accoya. This resilient acetylated wood allowed us to construct new wood windows with the exact dimensions and profiles of the rest of the vintage windows in our house. Even with no overhangs to block winter rains or hot summer sun, the casements have worked flawlessly, since they don’t expand or contract with changes in moisture. This incredible dimensional stability also means that they require painting less often than our other windows. Since then, we’ve replaced several old, rotting sills with Accoya sills, and if any of our old sashes ever need replacing, we’ll certainly use Accoya for them as well.
      John Royce

  14. Hi John, and hello from my husband! (Ed Sanchez) We couldn’t agree more with everything you are saying. We find that almost always it is cheaper to repair your windows than replace, and then you get the added benefit of windows that work for 50 years or so, instead of the little parts falling apart on the new vinyl window alternatives. It is cheaper for the customer both in the long run and the short run – that is before even getting into that they won’t be plagued by termites in their old windows as they would with new wood windows. All in all, the beauty of our old windows is their simplicity and infinite repairability. Their parts can also be augmented to replicate the efficiency claimed by new window promoters.

  15. Matt, some people can afford $2500. Many more cannot. I certainly don’t expect people to spend more than they can afford. This is why I often recommend spot repairs and routine maintenance, which can always be done for much less. The savvy tradesperson can offer window repairs and maintenance at any level of funding that is available. I routinely do this for $50-100 per window. The costs can go higher if more need to be done, but I let the homeowner or building owner set the budget and then do the work that is allowed within the budget.

    Here’s a link so show what I mean by spot repairs and maintenance:

  16. thanks for the article.

    im willing to have our historic windows restored because i agree w/ your points. the problem is finding the right tradesman. how much do you think restoring an old window should be? crazy open-ended question, i know… but for ex i had window guy restoration guy tell me it may be up to $2500 for what appears to me (layman) as a standard old window (1850s new orleans). he said it isnt standard and these projects can be tricky once opened up. i hear that, but at the same time…we cant really expect people to spend $2500/window, can we!?

    1. Matt, $2500 sounds quite excessive to me as well. Usually it’s somewhere in the $150-$700 range for a single sash. You don’t always need a full restoration of a window either like John said. Spot repairs can be a real savings. I would look for another window restoration craftsman in your area to compare prices. There is a lot of variety in skill level and pricing in this industry. If all else fails we’d be glad to help you with your windows.

  17. >>Homeowners repeatedly express dire concerns about lead as their trump card.<<

    This is due to fear-based marketing by the window replacement pirates. There are very simple and practical methods to do all this window work lead-safe. This video
    shows a couple of lead-safe methods, one at the beginning and one at minute 2:40.
    There are at least 2 or 3 window specialists operating in southern Wisconsin.

  18. Rick,
    Actually there are more and more trades people who know and are actively interested in window maintenance and repair. I keep a national directory of window specialists, and the directory is growing at the rate of 20% per year for the past five years. The directory has hundreds of window specialist listed, you can find it in the back of my book, Save America’s Windows. Here’s my essay on the growth of the window preservation specialists:


    1. I’ve found the book and will order it.
      I should have been more specific. I’m sure what you say is true. I suspect though that it is more pronounced in some regions than others. Here in Southern WI… not so much. I’m in communication with local VoTech teachers on the H.S. level at tech college. Not getting much interest. Suspect interest is market driven and the community/market demand has not reached them. Will keep trying. Thanks for your help.

  19. I’m in the camp. Really. I/we can make the argument but we’ve found that much like auto repair there are fewer and fewer trades people who know how to or are interested in repair. While not rocket science to repair a window yourself not everyone is a DIY’er. Seems all a growing % of trades folks know how to do is rip-n-replace parts.

    Secondly, even if we’re able to make the case the first “yeah, but…” we get tima and again is lead. The F.U.D. around this topic needs to be addressed head on and repeatedly. Help me make that argument.

    1. Rick, agreed that today’s tradesmen know more about tear out and replace than they do maintain and repair. But John is right that, though restoration trades may be a minority we are a rapidly growing minority.
      Especially, since the economic downturn people have begun to look at houses more sustainably. I’m hoping the age of the quick cheap flip is fading away.

      1. Thanks Scott.
        I think our local trades people need to discover this on their own via the their own sources. I’ve been lobbying for some time now and think it’s damaged at least one tradesman/friendship who I believe thinks I’m ill informed, diminishing the otherwise good work that he does or both. Will keep trying.

        Lastly, I chair our Landmarks Commission. Homeowners repeatedly express dire concerns about lead as their trump card. Is there a one-pager somewhere I can hand them?

        1. Rick, I’ve been meaning to put all the info we have on lead paint in a one page handout for clients. I’ll do that this week and send it off to you. Also, check out Remodeler magazine this month who cites studies that show how drastically we have cut down on lead poisoning in children since the 1970s.

          1. Really? Wonderful! Much appreciated. Yes, decreased lead levels particularly since removal from gasoline. Just need something more authoritative than coming some perceived lunatic willing to throw peoples children under the bus for old windows they don’t want anyway. Thanks for your help. BTW… fantastic site. Great content.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.