Clients have been asking me lately why they should restore their old windows. So, I’m half writing this for you, my readers, and half so I can have a handy printout to give to clients who are looking at their window options.
So, here is my list of reasons to keep your old windows. I’m sure it can be added to, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
While you’re at it, check of my new resource page How To: Restore Old Windows that has all the details of historic window restoration.
1. Authenticity – A large part of a historic home’s character is held in its windows. Original historic windows were custom built to fit their frames and complement the design of the house in a way that no replacement can.
2. Quality – Not just of materials like old-growth wood, which is more rot and insect resistant than today’s options, but also the quality of the workmanship. Historic windows traditionally have pegged mortise and tenon joints which are the strongest and most stable joints made by Master Carpenters.
3. Repairable – Historic windows are simple to repair. Their parts (cords, pulleys, locks, etc.) along with individual glass panes and glazing putty are designed to be easily replaced or repaired when they reach the end of their useable life. They can be restored many times and their lives extended into centuries of use! This provides a more economical and less intrusive repair process that is more maintenance and less full scale replacement.
4. Resale – Buyers of historic properties will pay a premium for homes with their original features still intact. The most important features looked for by buyers are original floors and windows.
5. Efficiency – Windows account for only 10-20% of energy loss in a typical home (much less than attics and doors), but when tuned and weatherstripped properly, historic windows can be efficient windows. And with the addition of historic storm windows or interior storms, a single-paned historic window can match a replacement window’s efficiency. And the historic storm window will lengthen the life of the window it protects.
6. Operability – The pulley and weight counter balance system used in most double-hung historic windows has never been improved upon. It provides the greatest ease of use through decades of time with minimal maintenance. And historic windows are designed to operate smoothly with greater tolerances to building movement and other issues that inevitably arise. Spring tensioned replacement windows become harder and harder to operate after years of use and require much more maintenance.
7. Lead Safety – By restoring your windows once, you can assuage all your lead paint concerns. Once they have been stripped and fully restored the fears of lead paint are no longer an issue for your historic windows.
8. Sustainability – The greenest window is the one that is already installed. Every year tens of thousands of old windows are brought to the landfill. Most replacement windows have a lifespan of 20-25 years and when a historic window could have lasted 100+ years installing a replacement results in almost 5 times more future window replacements over the next century.
9. Return On Investment (ROI) – 24.5 years. That is the average amount of time it will take you to recover the financial investment of a new window. And since the typical life span of a replacement window is only 10-20 years, that makes replacement windows a very bad investment.
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.
25 thoughts on “9 Reasons To Keep Your Old Windows”
I have a 1909 craftsman bungalow in central coast Ca. Through the years, I have replaced all light fixtures with those that match the two original that were in the house when we bought. My husband keeps saying he wants to replace the windows which makes me cringe. I love the wavy glass and the look of my many many windows. I will never let him touch them even though they can be drafty. I close my pocket doors, entry door, close the heater vents in those rooms and voila! The heating bill is easy to manage. The only non original part of my house is a rear porch converted to two bedrooms and a bath. It was done with the same flooring, and windows. We have been here for 30 years and will keep it in the family. I love your advice! Thanks..
My husband and I just purchased a 1909 farmhouse and the sellers already replaced 8 of the 20 original windows. What do we do now? continue replacing all the other original windows to match? Or leave as is? What can be done about the 8 replaced? Just found your blog tonight while searching for books about restoring old homes and am wishing these owners had left those windows alone. ***sigh***
I am taking on repairing 38 windows in a 1890s house in our town, the expense to pay someone is astronomical. I’m hopeful that with your blog and my hard work I can accomplish this.
All of the glass is wavy, 12 panes (they have two long panes) need to be replaced but fortunately I was able to resource the glass.
Wish me luck!
Good luck Penny! You can do it!
Something i learned the hard way. Do not let cleaners like bleach get on old window glass. I sprayed bleach around and on old windows and frames to kill green mold. Later while cleaning up all my paint drippings etc i was cleaning the windows and perplexed why they still had a haze. Bleach can be too strong for some of the old glass.
A great post – and I heartily agree.
The payback period on window replacements depends on two main things: the price of heating or cooling fuel, and the climate. SoCal? Great! no worries! Single pane is wonderful!
Much of Canada, where I live? Not so great.
This does not mean that historic windows should be replaced. Far from it. It just means that different strategies need to be used to upgrade the windows. You are right, Scott and posters, nothing beats real wood and the reflective and visual qualities of old glass.
Just remember this: a single pane? It’s about as thermally efficient as a piece of paper. Add a storm window and what do you get? Two pieces of paper.
In an era of climate change, in regions where thermal efficiency is a real issue, I am afraid that if we do not pay attention to fuel use and cost, and develop strategies for upgrading old houses that satisfy both historic and environmental qualities, we simply will not have any more historic houses.
Note also: modern, Passive House certified or like quality windows are a heat source rather than a source of heat loss.
Finally, though I now work building and renovating homes, and simply love recycling aluminum windows and installing new, triple paned units, I did have a 15 year career in historic sites, and have thought long and hard about this.
I bought a 1937 brick home with all the original windows, screens and storms. Screens have been redone and look like new, even used the original screening, just cleaned and spray painted them. Now working on the storms.. the wood is amazing.. looks like new! Am so anxious to see them back on the house. My indow windows should arrive today. New windows for my home (22 windows) would have cost between $18k and $22k. It is a lot of work but the outcome is spectacular!
Good for you Marilyn! Sounds like you’ll have some of the most beautiful (and efficient) windows on the block.
How about one more reason: old historic windows are beautiful! Too many times I drive by old houses with their old windows gone in favor of modern replacements. The look of the house has been almost ruined in my opinion!
Strongly agree. The new windows look out-of-place.
If you want to save your old windows, a great resource is Double Hung Window Restoration in Greensboro, NC:
Wow, that last one is just profound! Thanks!
Scott! Thank you so much for this article! My husband and I are currently looking to buy a craftsman house in southern California and there are so many we come across where it has been totally “botched” by people who think that they are making the house better. Recently remodeled and updated are two phrases which I hate to see in a “old” home listing. When they put in Vinyl windows, laminate fake floors over beautiful oak, tear out claw foot tubs and rip out beautiful REAL wood kitchen cabinets and put in particle board crap….I want to shake them! Thank you for this blog! Glad some of us “GET IT”!
Amy, glad to have you here! This is definitely the place for those who “get it!” 😉
Lots of vintage wavy glass gets discarded with old windows. Such a waste.
Indeed it does Bob. It’s getting harder and harder to come by.
You don’t talk in #7 about how to strip off the lead safely. Go to epa.gov/lead to find out how to do this. Lead paint chips and dust are very toxic and cause lifelong damage to kids. Disposing of it safely is also important.
Charles, this post doesn’t really focus on lead safe paint removal, but more on the “Why” of saving old windows, but yes, lead safe practices are a given and a very important part of working with any old house.
I especially like #6. The design at the turn of the century resulted from centuries of practice through trial and error. Its almost a perfect design. Every modern window finds its roots here and fails in trying to improve it.
Amen! Every time we mess with a different balance system it takes twice as long and never works as well. Rope and pulley is super smooth and easy to work with.
Having started in the trade in the late seventies I have seen alot of windows come and go. The old storms carefully installed with felts did the best job, though it required crews to go around seasonally to install. The cavity needed for the weights here in the North East is an issue though. Any solutions?
The best solution I’ve found is to coat the sheathing with 1/2-1″ of closed cell spray foam to air seal it and then I put some radiant barrier tight against that. Doesn’t give a huge R-value but the air sealing stops the drafts (which is the main issue in most old houses and the radiant barrier blocks 95% of heat loss/gain. Not a bad solution. You just have to remove the interior casings to get it for right.
Another great article to end the year with! From now on, if any of my new customers have any doubts about restoring their old windows, I’ll refer them to your site!
Thanks Judy! You’re too good to me. 😉