Even if you decide I’m too long-winded, or that I’m preaching to the choir, to read this entire post – MAKE SURE YOU SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM to get your free copy of a report on how to make wood windows last for generations we recently wrote.
Why Save Historic Wood Windows?
Did you know that historical wood windows are one of the most vulnerable and “at-risk” elements of our architectural heritage?
Preservation Virginia has proclaimed historical windows endangered, saying, “Historic wooden windows are destroyed daily in lieu of new, inferior windows. Salesmen convince owners and architectural review board members that replacement windows are superior to historic wooden windows when the truth is these historic windows can last longer than any new wooden window or vinyl clad window.”
Despite this, windows don’t often have a high priority on the list of things we should preserve in our built history. Yet they should. If eyes are windows into the soul, as the old adage goes, then surely windows are how we see into the soul of a historical building.
The windows in your historical building are an important contribution to how your historical building looks. Not only are they one of only a few parts of a building that serve as both and interior and exterior architectural feature, they usually make up about a quarter of the surface area of a historical building.
Many aspects of windows contribute to your building’s architectural style and historical fabric – height, width, and thickness of frames and sills, the visual design of sash components, the materials and color treatments used, and even the way light reflects off of the glass.
Muntins, historical glass, putty beading, moulding profiles, glazed opening widths, and regionally-distinct patterns and features are more distinct characteristics of original wood windows that contribute to your historical building’s façade. And all of these varied between architectural styles and periods and from region to region, making wood windows living artifacts from history – an archeological goldmine that helps us understand and document our historical building practices and craftsmanship.
[sws_grey_box box_size=”630″] Beyond their importance in contributing to how your building looks, your building’s windows play an important role in how your building functions. Perhaps one of the most important of those functions is how windows serve as an integral part of a historical building’s design to “breathe” moisture. Historical buildings function as a cohesive, whole system to handle moisture infiltration and the original design, installation, and materials used – including, and especially, the windows – were all picked for your building’s specific system. Changing your windows can significantly impact how your home handles moisture – a road no homeowner wants to travel down. [/sws_grey_box]
Historic Wood Windows Vs. Replacement Windows
These features and variances can be difficult to duplicate with modern technology. Our manufacturing and installation process is significantly different than the process used hundreds of years ago and the characteristics modern machinery and installation techniques impart create an entirely different window than the traditional building methods created when your building was originally constructed. Such a loss of historical elements is a permanent scar on your historical building.
Replacing original wood windows also often requires changing the window’s rough opening to install a window manufactured on national standards in to the non-standard opening of a building constructed during a time when there were no building standards – another mistake that permanently damages your building.
The Importance of Historic Wood Window Restoration
Just as we shouldn’t replace our historical art with modern replicas, we shouldn’t replace our historical wood windows with modern replacement windows.
Throwing out the artifacts from our built history that stand testament to how our buildings were constructed over the last several hundred years prevents future generations from a deep understanding of a piece of our history that’s just as important as all the other artifacts we work so hard to preserve.
Because once they are gone, they are gone for good.
[sws_toggle1 title=”Which Windows are Historically Significant?“]The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief #9: The Repair of Historic Wood Windows notes that windows should be considered significant to a building if they:
1) are original,
2) reflect the original design intent for the building,
3) reflect period or regional styles or building practices,
4) reflect changes to the building resulting from major periods or events, or
5) are examples of exceptional craftsmanship or design [/sws_toggle1]
[sws_toggle1 title=”What is Recommended for Historic Wood Windows?“]
The National Park Service’s Standards and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historical Windows recommend the following:
• Identify, Retain, and Preserve
• Protect and Maintain
• Repair • Accurate Restoration
• Sympathetic New Windows in Additions
• Preserving Decoration and Function
• Replacement In-Kind
• Compatible Materials
[sws_toggle1 title=”What is NOT Recommended for Historic Wood Windows?“]
The National Park Service’s Standards and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historical Windows do NOT recommend the following:
• Removing Windows Important to Historical Character
• Changing Location or Size of Windows
• Inappropriate Designs, Materials, and Finishes
• Destroying Historical Materials
• Replacing Windows that Can be Repaired
• Failing to Maintain
• Replacing instead of Maintaining
• Inaccurate Historical Appearance
How to Save Historic Wood Windows
Now that you know how important your historic wood windows, we want you to have the knowledge you need to save them.
Get your free copy of our recent report “Put Replacement Windows to Shame: 10 Tools to Make Your Historic Wood Windows Last for Generations”