For those who don’t know, I own a window restoration business in Orlando, FL called Austin Historical. Since 2010 we have been restoring windows in residences and commercial buildings all across the southeast US.
From the very first days of my business the number one question I have gotten is, “Why is window restoration so expensive?” It really struck me this week when one of our first clients from 10 years ago reached about having their steel windows restored again. Not that they were in really rough shape, but they wanted to upgrade the glass to a more efficient kind and that basically required stripping and deglazing every pane as well as buying all new glass.
I was able to find their old quote from 2013 which listed a price of $12,350 for the original restoration work on 298 steel window panes of glass. Our new quote in 2023 for the same work (plus the extra glass replacement) had now gone up to $72,887! What gives?
The Costs of Window Restoration
You may think with a price increase like that I’m just buying boat after boat to park on my beach house. Not quite. Let me explain.
Trying to understand pricing for almost anything in the construction trades is kind of like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Especially in historic restoration work there are a lot of dark spots on the map, and special considerations when dealing with lead paint and the myriad other complications that come with working structures 80, 100, or more years old that were built before there was a building code.
The Cost of Labor
The biggest driver of cost in window restoration is by far the cost of labor. In my business, the cost of a project is 92% labor and 8% materials in most cases. Ten years ago the costs of labor were considerably less than they are today, but that’s not all.
Training is a big deal in window restoration. Nobody goes to school and gets a degree in window restoration (unfortunately) so we need to train all our craftsmen from the ground up even if they already have experience in the trades.
How long does that training take? For us, it takes about 9 months for a craftsman to go from novice to apprentice to journeyman. That training process is almost entirely done in house by each window restoration company. Unfortunately, that cost of training gets passed on to the client because, well, you’re benefiting from their increased abilities and skills.
How long does it take to train someone to install the typical replacement window? Usually less than 1 month since the process involves screwing the window in the opening and filling the gaps with caulk or foam. Not exactly the pinnacle of craftsmanship.
How Long Does it Take to Restore a Window?
So now we’ve established that the cost of window restoration is almost entirely based on labor, and that labor is highly skilled. So, how long does window restoration take?
A full restoration of a historic wood window of average size can be broken down into a few different sections, each with their own costs and times. These vary based on the a couple factors, mainly the size of the window and the overall condition of the window in question,
- Jamb: 6-9 hours
- Sash: 4-6 hours for each sash
- Trim: 2-3 hours for interior and 2-3 hours for exterior depending on complexity
- Additional Lites: 1 hour per extra pane of glass
That last one gets people all the time. Tow windows of the same size will not cost the same based on the number of panes of glass. a 6-over-6 window versus a 1-over-1 window will take considerably more time due to the time required to restore each of those individual panes of glass and the munitions that separate them.
In that case above it will add an extra 10 hours of work! And these times are for a skilled craftsman to do the work. For a DIYer you can easily double those times.
So, let’s use the sample above for a 36″x60″ 6-over-6 window in typical neglected condition. When you total all those hours up you’re looking at 24-31 hours of restoration time without even including the trim which would bring the total time up to a max of 37 hours.
Fortunately, we don’t have much in the way of materials to account for other than some glazing putty, paint, rope, and maybe an extra piece of glass or two. You will have to account for dulling scraper blades, sandpaper, and other sundry items used in the restoration process which usually adds up to about $70 for a window like this which would also get a markup to about $140.
How Much Do Restorers Charge Per Hour?
So now that we have a sense of how long it will take to restore a window we’ve got to look at the cost of that labor. While there are no stats on window restorers specifically since it is such a specialized trade we can use the average cost for a carpenter as a good measuring stick since this is another similar trade that requires specialized training.
According to Thumbtack the average hourly charge (not hourly pay) is between $35 and $90 nationally with the median being $56 per hour. That rate is enough to cover the hourly pay the restorer receives in addition to the cost of benefits like worker’s compensation, PTO, medical insurance, 401k, etc. as well as money for overhead expenses and profit.
Depending on where in the country you are, the cost of living, and the skill of the craftsman your rate may vary, but let’s use just the median to determine the total cost of window restoration.
37 hrs x $56 = $2,072 + ($140 materials) = $2,212
That’s not a cheap window, but that’s a realistic price, at least here in 2023 from the dozens of window restorers I know and many are more expensive than that.
Is Window Restoration Worth the Cost?
Now you know the cost, the bigger questions is this:
“Is window restoration worth the cost?”
My answer to that is, “It depends what you value.”
There are several great things about window restoration and whether you value those things will determine if it really is worth it to you.
Keeps Waste Out of the Landfill
When you choose to restore your original window you’re not throwing them in the landfill and pulling new raw materials out of the earth to manufacture your new windows. The only things being thrown away in window restoration are old paint, broken ropes, and old putty. Everything else is saved and restored.
There is nothing more authentic lookin on an old house as it’s original windows. The replacement companies can make window that are similar in many ways, but never the same and in their appearance and operation. You can’t beat the original here.
If you have a historic window that has lasted 100 years you can be assured it will last another 100 years at the minimum if not indefinitely. There is not a single replacement window on the market that can make a promise anywhere near that. Unlike double-pane glass, which has a 15-20 year life, there is no lifespan on single-pane glass. It lasts forever or until your son’s baseball hits it.
Depending which calculation you use it takes approximately 41 years or more to recoup the cost of replacement windows in the form of lower utility bills. If the only reason you’re thinking of replacing your original windows is to save on energy costs it will take decades to make the costs back. By then the replacements will have already been replaced putting you in a never ending cycle of replacement windows that never end up paying for themselves.
Unlike a lot of products that to be “maintenance free” historic window do need regular maintenance. It amount to about 15-20 minutes per year and costs about $10 to do it yourself or $50 to hire a pro. This isn’t an advantage, but more of a reality check. Skip this basic maintenance and you’ll end up paying for restoration again far sooner than you should.
Keeps it Local
By paying a local window restoration company you are keeping your money in your local community and supporting small business. You’re supporting the trades, and we’re all sunk without locals who can fix things on our home when they break. So closing restoration builds up your community and doesn’t send your money off to big corporations in other states or countries.
I hope this has lifted the veil behind window restoration a bit. I know it may seem difficult to price things like this and my hope is that with a little more education we’ll all be better situated to make the right decision.
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.