In With Old Windows?

So we’ve been through the brick and the cornice. Finishing off the Phase 2 façade work means replacing the windows. Remember what I have? Total junk. I was glad to learn how bad they were because I didn’t want vinyl windows under any circumstances and I can replace these without feeling guilty. To review:

I bent back the aluminum capping and then left it like this for several years.

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I never like aluminum capping, but mine looks like this. (That scalloped marble lintel looks great in this photo though!)

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Random scraps of wood nailed into the jambs apparently to bring the openings down to a stock size. (The gorilla glue is no longer extant.)

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That window above was so racked I could see sunlight through outside the top sash. Now it’s gobbed up with caulk.

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The window jambs had sagged and separated from the windows. And they were structural! So they were unsalvageable.

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Living room window casings

I partially removed the counterweight cavities in the process and then the insulation people filled them with spray foam. The remaining wood wasn’t in great shape – you can see chunks of the remaining framing missing.

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I really love old windows best, but no houses I looked at still had them. So I decided to afford the best new windows I could find. And Craigslist brought me the very nice cottage style 2-over 2 Marvins in the back bedroom.

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The originals would have been 1-over-1 (no muntins) but I think the style I got kinda makes up for the replacements being too perfect with non-wavy glass. I got 3 more (with my Obama energy loan!) to finish off the back and the plan was always to get 4 more for the front.

But then I met Wesley, a historic preservation carpenter specializing in buildings way older than mine. He said that by the time my house was built the windows would have come out of a catalog and are all standard sizes. People in his line of work collect them to cannibalize the wavy glass and install it in even older windows. And so, he says I should easily find period correct sashes that are exactly the right size to fit into my jambs! Unfortunately, I’ll have to take down my cheapie Eucaboard and the blinds on the front of the house to measure for the new/old sashes. (They look better painted. You almost can’t tell how bad they are.)

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So, yes, I’m considering pulling out (drafty, poorly installed) double-paned windows and reinstalling old single-paned wood. Do you think I need psychiatric help? It’s true that getting nice new Marvins would be more efficient than un-replacing them with something period correct. But old windows will last longer. Old wood is much more resistant to rot than new. If I slip up with repainting my Marvins I could someday be stuck with buying new sashes. (NO ALUMINUM CLADDING ON THE FRONT!!!) And even if I don’t they may only last a few decades. Old windows can last forever. And besides that, I love everything about the pulleys and chains and counterweights on an old window. They slide better than anything new.

And I’m not blind to energy efficiency concerns. First off, windows are the very lowest return on investment you can get for efficiency. Even worse than solar panels now! So they might make sense if the old windows are really, truly wrecked and beyond restoration or if you have bad replacements. Good weatherstripping and storm windows on an old window will get you 95% of the efficiency gains from a new window. It should also cost a lot less upfront, and more of the cost would go to local labor. (The downside is that restoring them will be my local labor.) So yes, old windows are sensible, even (possibly) for someone who doesn’t have any! Definitely give them a chance before you commit to ripping them out!

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19 thoughts on “In With Old Windows?

  1. Casey

    The selling point, for me, with my little bungalow was that all of the windows were intact. In rough shape, of course. Even with all the work it’s going to take, it’s worth it to me to preserve what’s supposed to be part of the house. Replacement around here (Phoenix) means vinyl- I’d rather burn the house down that deface it that way.

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Especially since the heat and sun in Phoenix will make vinyl warp and fail so fast! I can’t believe people wouldn’t at least spring for fiberglass. One house I looked at was priced comparably to the others but was on a 70 foot deep lot, instead of 50, and had the original windows. I was almost ready to buy it without going inside, but it was sold by the time I asked.

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  2. E Oliver

    Our house was built in the 1850’s and has several ages of windows. Some are original with original storms, and some are original with new storms put in by previous owners in the 60’s and 70’s. Since we have owned the house we have put in one custom-made wooden replacement window and storm, some modern windows in an addition, and one enormous modern window that would have been extremely difficult to replace with a custom-made one.

    Guess what works best? The originals with original storms. The windows themselves are not drafty and move up and down freely. The storms have little flaps that can be opened to let in a bit of air but are also hinged at the tops so they can be partially opened in the summer. This lets in as much air as the aluminum screen/storm replacements on the other original windows. But in the winter, the windows with replacement storms are cold in a way those with the wooden storms aren’t. As to the custom-made replacement, it has a huge condensation problem, while the modern windows in the addition are 25 years old and need replacement. Time will tell on the enormous one.

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  3. Christine Harris

    No, you’re not crazy to want to put in original-style wood windows. Before I was house-savvy, we replaced all the windows in a 1924 house with “nice, new, vinyl ones.” We also put vinyl siding over the shingles. May I rot in hell for it.

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  4. Mary Elizabeth

    In the 1900 two-family Victorian-style house I grew up in, my dad fixed every one of the windows except a metal-framed casement (crank-out) window in the peak of the roof in front, with a clear leaded glass fan light over it. (He did show me how to oil the window crank mechanism, though.) The room in the attic, a former maid’s room, was my bedroom for a time. Seeing the street through wavy old glass was a hoot when I was 11 to 12, but it was pretty cold in that room in winter, because there was no storm window. The glass on one side broke during a storm and was replaced with regular glass, so that created an even odder visual effect.

    I remember my dad sanding down, re-glazing and repainting the wood windows as needed, and I especially remember him installing the replacement cords and weights for the window mechanisms. And by the time I was 12 or 13, I could paint all the sashes and mullions. We also painted every one of the storm windows the first fall after the house got a new paint trim. Then the next spring we repainted the screens. I think there were about 40 of each. Then we only had to repaint the screens and storms a few at a time after that to keep up with them. The storm windows in particular were very heavy. And getting on the ladders to put them up and take them down was exhausting work.

    Anyway, your house doesn’t have so many windows, so maybe you won’t have trouble keeping up with the painting, re-glazing, etc. until you are much older.

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  5. coteetcampagne

    We are keepiing all but one of our old windows. Single pane all. Glass needs new mastic/moulding but that’s it. Why not? We have shutters for winter and very hot summers so we will see.
    If I have an awful condensation problem or it’s freezing I’ll rethink.
    I think a few draughts= good ventilation anyhow, I would not want to live in a hermetically sealed box

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      My parents have all of theirs but one and they’re fine. Like most Americans with single-pane windows, they have triple-track aluminum storm windows. They also have shutters, but they were never functional. The storms are installed into the outside trim where the shutters would otherwise close.

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      1. coteetcampagne

        No storm windows, but I truly think our shutters will do the job when needed.
        The windows in question are only about 60-70 years old but they are good strong hardwood & made the traditional way here. Our new French doors are double glazed but much larger area of glass on those, no doubt the passive home propounders will be screaming at me right now!

        We had some friends who had all tiny pane hardwood windows that were a complete pain to clean and paint and blocked their pretty view- I suggested taking out the cross pieces and leaving the main frame and installing double glazed panes in those. It worked really well.

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      2. Chad's Crooked House Post author

        Shutters will do a better job than storms. Especially because aluminum storms are a poor insulator. They do block driving wind and create an air cushion. If the passive house people give you any trouble, remind them of the environmental damage from manufacturing new windows, and that window replacement is the LEAST cost effective way there is to make your house more energy efficient. It is now more cost effective even to get solar panels! The solution for your friends sounds like the 6-over-1 windows that were popular in pre-World War II Colonial Revival houses.

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      3. coteetcampagne

        I don’t have to pander to the PHPs so frankly I don’t care. The drive here is to do what’s best for the house and for us. It’s way better insulated now than it was when we bought it!

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      4. coteetcampagne

        I did!
        People should butt out basically. If one more well meaning “expert” tells me that the French house must have only lime render, lime mortar, lime plaster and limewash I am going to scream!! We are preserving old lime plastered walls and ceilings and base finishes where we can but that’s as far as it goes. Limes pretty toxic if you mishandle it anyway and it has a limited life

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      5. Chad's Crooked House Post author

        And I think you already know that I’m planning to put Portland cement stucco/render on the back of my house. On the front where I have pressed brick and 1/8″ mortar joints, I’m on board with tuck pointing them with lime mortar if I can.

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      6. Chad's Crooked House Post author

        apparently I’m using the word wrong. I meant spot repairing the areas where mortar is damaged or missing. Tuck pointing is apparently pointing with mortar that matches the brick with a thin line of morter in a contrasting color added to make it look like the joints are super thin and even, the way mine actually are. But I think my mortar joints are supposed to be red, not white.

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  6. Pingback: 4 Year Anniversary Tour – The Exterior | Chad's Crooked House

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