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How To: Save America’s Windows

How To: Save America's Windows

I’ve got an idea that might just save America’s windows! Stick with me and hear me out because it involves you.

Historic preservation is a tough business. I think any business that has societal value is tougher than ones that are easily marketable. As a business owner I can make great mark ups selling alcohol or cheap goods from China, but providing a product or service at a fair profit that serves the greater good is tough because you do it not because you just want to make boatloads of money but because you believe it is for the good of the world.

Historic preservation is just one of those things. It’s tough to make a good living doing this kind of work, but it’s immensely satisfying. That satisfaction is why so many of you read these posts and use the information to fix your own houses. There’s nothing better than a good before and after, especially knowing that you were the one who accomplished the task with your own hands.

With all the challenges historic preservation faces we need a lot more cooperation to overcome the obstacles in our way. I’ve got an idea about how we can work together, and let’s start with my favorite part of any old house, windows

Sash Sharing

There’s two scenarios where we can work together to Save America’s Windows as John Leeke’s book says. There’s too much to do on our own and as the Bible says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up…A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. We are stronger together!

Scenario #1 The Homeowner

Say you’re a homeowner of an old or historic home (most of my readers are) and you have work to be done on your windows. You’ve checked my directory or restorers, you’ve called the Window Preservation Alliance, but alas there is no one in your town or state that restores historic windows. What to do? Well, you can buy my book, or visit my resource page and work through restoring all 30 windows yourself like a lot of people have done, but if you’ve done even one window you know how much effort and time it can take.

I don’t know about you, but I have a full time job and so my time to work on my house is sadly limited to weekends when we don’t have plans as a family which means I don’t accomplish much on my own house. The cobbler’s kids have no shoes!

What if you and I could work together? Sure I’m in Florida and you’re in __Fill in the Blank__, but what if there was a way I could help you with your windows? My company Austin Historical has started doing this very thing for clients out of state. The homeowner takes their sash out and ships a bunch to us and we restore them and send them right back!

If you’re doing more than around 10 windows it makes a lot of sense and the shipping isn’t expensive on a per window basis. Sure you’re still on the hook to have the jambs completed, but it cuts the time in half that you need to dedicate to the project. We work together and more gets done in less time!

If this is something you might be interested in we have even setup an online form where you can easily use a smartphone to submit the details of your windows so we can give you some pricing. You can view the Quick Quote form here.

Scenario #2 The Overwhelmed Restorer

Homeowners are not the only ones who get overwhelmed with too much window work and not enough time. I know many small window restoration companies that are booked out for up to 2 years with work. That’s great demand for window restoration and it means that things are getting saved from the landfill, but with backlogs like that lots of people will sadly opt for replacement windows rather than wait.

What if you looked for the bigger window companies in your area that might have some capacity to help you get the job done in a timely fashion? There are lots of small companies, mid sized companies, and large companies when it comes to window restoration and there is no reason why we can’t all work together for the common good.

Lately, my company has been partnering with other window companies as far away as Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. Sometimes they send us work because they have too much and sometimes we send them work when we are overwhelmed. It helps smooth out the sometimes rollercoaster ride that this business is.

Say you’re a 2-4 person company and you just won a 500+ window contract. How on earth are you going to do that is a timely manner other than hiring a ton of new people who all need training? There are a lot of opportunities for us to all work together and take turns carrying each others burdens.

A lot of window restorers have been experimenting with this idea to spread out the work to make their lives easier and their companies more profitable.

Working Together

When you boil it all down it comes back to cooperation over competition. Historic preservation is not a zero sum game. When one building is restored it must be maintained. Somebody has to do both. If we are going to truly succeed at saving America’s windows then we need to start working together.

What do you think? Is it feasible to save America’s windows in the two scenarios? Is it for you? Can we all come out from our corners and join a community that largely has the same goal of restoring and saving the historic fabric of our great country? What are the other obstacles to cooperation that we face in historic preservation? I want to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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16 thoughts on “How To: Save America’s Windows

  1. Hi, Scott – I recently bought a modest 1955 house. Unfortunately the original windows had been replaced with low quality vinyl windows. It’s apparent they are not new as almost all of them are failing. Fogged glass, rusted metal inside, etc. I found someone locally that has a huge supply of old wood window sashes. With the number of sashes he/she has, I believe I might just be able to find enough properly sized sashes for my house. Would it be possible to get jamb liner kits to be able to use these old wood sashes again or would it be too monumental of a project? Perhaps it would be best to find a company that makes new, single pane, true divided light sashes and jamb kits that all work together. I’m just thinking that would be super expensive and if I could save these old sashes that would be more desirable. Thoughts?

  2. We have started to refurbish a 5′ x 5′ lupton steel window in our son’s new 1927 house. We have removed all of the old paint and as much of the old glazing as would easily come out. We undercoated it with rustoleum primer (for very rusted windows). The window now opens and closes beautifully. Our next steps are to fill the gaps with glazing (or caulk?) and then paint it. Based on our internet research, we discover the recommended glazings/caulks all seem to need days to cure before painting.
    Is there a specific brand of glaze/caulk you can recommend that cures within say 24 hours so we can complete the glazin/caulking and painting in one weekend. Can we use DAP 40 year caulk for the job? We live 2 1/2 hours away and would prefer not to have to make two trips to finish the job.

  3. My house was built in the 1860’s (upper Michigan). Half of the house has rope and pulleys and the other half has coils. It was renovated in 1900 and 1940. I’m guessing the one I’m working on is from 1940. The coil snapped inside of it’s housing and I removed the unit, removed the rivet and removed the coil. As an aside, there is a strip of copper that attaches to the outer portion of the housing and that is attached to the window and that is what unwinds to allow the window to go down and up. Finding a replacement coil has been a nightmare. I would hate to ditch the hardware and I still think it would be easier to just get a new coil and rivet it back together. My current plan is to weigh the window, divide by 2 and get a new coil. It’s just that new coils are very hard to find and I’ll have to do some work to get it mounted properly. Any thoughts on where to buy a coil (or the copper strip that also was snapped)?

  4. I love this I’m one that messaged from TN and could not find anyone for our project we have done 4 out of 50 windows help would be great! I will submit form with photos thanks!

  5. I think this is a great idea. Repairing old windows is a huge chore and having others to help would be beneficial. I bought your book and repaired two old wood double hung windows from ~1910. The windows could be redwood as many in southern AZ seem to claim, and the wood was not in bad shape despite the years. I think it was a lot of work and don’t want to start on the others until I’m so inclined. But they look good! And it was exciting to think about saving them in this lovely old house and not spend the money on new ones. I like you’re thinking on old windows Scott.

  6. I was diagnosed with heart failure part way through my window restoration project. Now, not only do I not have money to get my windows done, I am physically unable to do it myself.

    Do you ever do any pro bono?

  7. I’m as passionate about original windows as you, and you’re on to something.
    I’m looking to apprentice with some one locally, for no pay, to hone my skills, and to get my shop set up to take on small jobs.
    Most important for me is to teach homeowners from my shop how to do a lot of the work themselves.
    I have some experience with the mechanical restoration, need more to get confident.

    1. That’s a great idea to get your skills up! I tried that originally but my local window restorer thought I was competition and turned my free labor down. The later I hired their employees when they closed the business. Gotta have that open mindset!

  8. Scott,

    Great post.

    I would truly love to work in this field more. So if I can be of any help please let me know.


    Freddy Roman

  9. Scott,

    Great post.

    I would truly love to work in this field more. So if I can be of any help please let me know.


    Freddy Roman
    AKA periodcraftsmen

  10. What a great idea! While I can’t find people locally who know much about preservation, so we do the best we can (masonry was one…), a window restorer is actually in our area! Yay! Too bad this idea won’t work for other restoration projects! We could use someone who is well versed in old homes…

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