Historical buildings were built when neither advancements in technology nor construction technology was in abundant supply.  Early designers made the most of building materials and design options to construct buildings with a powerful combination of harnessed natural resources and innovative design that worked together to maximize energy efficiency.

Everything from exterior paint colors, locations of balconies, numbers and placement of windows, to physical placement of buildings on lots was carefully considered to maximize heating, lighting, and ventilation in traditional construction.

The results are astounding, and studies have shown that properly restored and maintained 18th-, 19th, and early 20th century buildings can be just as energy efficient as new construction, and in many cases even more efficient.

The historical wood windows in your building contribute to that energy efficiency, and, contrary to urban legends, new replacement windows are not more energy efficient than historical wood windows.  Typically, studies that conclude such a finding have compared new replacement windows with historical windows that have not been maintained or restored, are decaying, and have no complementary energy retrofits, such as weather-stripping and storm windows.

Studies on energy efficiency also usually fail to consider “embodied energy”. Embodied energy represents the energy it took to manufacture a product.  They say the greenest building is the one already built.  This is true when you consider the embodied energy – an existing energy investment that will never be able to be recaptured once you destroy the product it’s embodied in.

Historical wood windows have an embodied energy value that includes all the energy from harvesting and milling the wood to transporting and manufacturing the windows to installing them in your historical building.  Preserving existing windows conserves that embodied energy and eliminates the need of additional energy to manufacture replacement windows.  When you take all energy into consideration for defining the energy efficiency of windows, historical wood windows are far more energy efficient than replacement windows.

Tips For Improving Energy Efficiency

Here are some tips for improving the energy efficiency in your historic home.

  1. Have a maintenance appraisal performed.  When not properly maintained, there are many ways a historic home’s energy efficiency suffers – such as air leaks into and out of the home.  A maintenance appraisal performed by a qualified contractor will locate any source of air leakage and provide you with a plan-of-attack to remedy the problem without damaging the historic aspects of your home.
  2. Schedule an energy audit.  This could really be tied for the #1 spot; both the maintenance appraisal and an energy audit are absolutely essential things that need to be done BEFORE you implement any energy improvement measures.  The energy audit will evaulate your home’s current energy performance and identify any deficiencies in both the envelope of your home and/or mechanical systems.
  3. Implement these findings.  Hire a qualified contractor to eliminate any air infilitration, repair windows and perform the other maintenance affecting your home’s energy efficiency.  Hire a qualified energy contractor to replace any mechancial systems found to be deterimental to your home’s energy efficiecny.  Make sure both of these contractors have a proven track record of working with historic buildings in a way that does not damage the architecture and its features.
  4. Change your habits.  Install timeers or motion detectors on lights, attach self-closing mechanisms on doors that might otherwise hang open, install fans and raise your thermostat temperature, use LEDs in your lights and turn off “vampire” devices that use electricity in standby mode or that use electricity in standby mode or whenever that are plugged into an outlet.
  5. Install insulation. Ther is a lot of misinformation regarding the best ways to insulate your house, and some of them can even damage your home.  Have the historic contractor and energy consultant you hire work together to devise an insulation plan specifcially tailored to your home, so you won’t compromise its architectural integrity.
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.  Salesman convince owners and architectural review boards members that replacement windows are superior to historic wooden windows when the truth is, these historic windows can last longer than any new wooden 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 the windows into the soul, as the old adage goes, then surely windows are how we see into the soul of a historical building.

Windows are an important component in a historical building’s appearance.  Not only are they one of the few parts of a building that serve as both an 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 a building’s architectural style and historic 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 the glass.

Muntins, historical glass, putty beading, moulding profiles, glazed opening widths and regionally specific patterns and features are more distinct characteristics of original wood windows that contribute to a 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 gold mine that helps us understand and document historical building practices and craftsmanship.

These features and variances can be difficult to duplicate with modern technology.  Today’s manufacturing and installation process is significantly different than the process used hundreds of years ago.  The characteristics imparted by modern machinery and installation techniques create an entirely different window than the traditional building materials created when the building was originally constructed.  Such a loss of historical elements is a permanent scar on a historical building.

Replacing original wood windows also often requires changing the window’s rough opening to install a window manufactured on national standards to the non-standard opening of a building constructed during a time when there were no building standards – another mistake that permanently damages a building.

Throwing out the artifacts from our built history that stand testament to how buildings have been constructed over the last several hundred years prevents future generations from gaining a deep understanding of a piece of history that’s just as important as the knowledge we gain from all the other artifacts we work so hard to preserve.

Just as we shouldn’t replace our historical art with modern replicas, we shouldn’t replace our historical wood windows with modern replacement windows.  Because once they are gone, they are gone for good.

 

John Stahl of Next Generation Systems joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss his epoxy system, preservation contracting experience and services, plus his window evaluation program of surveying, documenting, and providing recommendations to building owners.

A Practical Preservation first – John launched his new product ‘on the air’ – cold weather epoxy for wood:

Contact information and discount code:

John Stahl – 607-760-6658 or [email protected]

10% off of epoxy repair materials – code practicalpreservation

Bio:

John Stahl started his career working on a historic property
in Salt Lake City while attending college.

John moved to New York City and began a small painting and
building restoration company.

In 1992, John began a long relationship with This Old House
Television show demonstrating wood and wood window restoration. John also
worked on several articles for This Old House Magazine.

John assisted Sanford University in surveying and developing
a detailed scope of work for the restoration of 1300 windows and doors at their
historic Main Quad.

John is the owner and product developer for Next Generation
Systems located in Altamont, New York.

Alison Hardy from Window Woman of New England joins me to discuss the state of window restoration.  If you’d ever wondered what preservationist discuss this episode is for you.  We discuss:

  • Can your windows be saved or are they really beyond repair?
  • Repair vs. Replacement mindset
  • The education process to combat the replacement window marketing machine

Contact information for Alison plus additional resources:

Alison Hardy – Window Woman of New England

978-532-2070

https://windowpreservationalliance.org/

Bio:
Alison Hardy is owner of Window Woman of New England, Inc. Her company restores windows in the North of Boston/Merrimac Valley region. Alison has a BA from Denison University and an MBA from Boston University, only some of which is useful when scraping paint. When not restoring windows for other people she works on restoring her 1850’s farmhouse in Topsfield, MA.

Transcript:

Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning in to the Practical Preservation podcast. Please take a moment to visit our website practicalpreservationservices.com for additional information and tips to help you restore your historical home. If you’ve not yet done so, please subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher, and Sound Cloud. Also like us on Facebook.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Practical Preservation podcast hosted by Danielle Keperling. Keperling Preservation Services is a family owned business based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania dedicated to the preservation of our built architectural history for today’s use, as well as future generations. Our weekly podcast provides you with expert advice specific to the unique needs of renovating a historic home. Educating by sharing our from the trenches preservation knowledge, and our guest’s expertise balancing modern needs while maintaining the historical significance, character, and beauty of your period home.

Danielle: Thank you for joining us for the Practical Preservation podcast. Today, we have Alison Hardy. She is the owner of Window Woman of New England, Incorporated. Her company restores windows in the north of Boston Merrimack Valley region. Alison has a BA from Denison University and an MBA from Boston University, only some of which is useful when scraping paint. When not restoring windows for other people, she works on restoring her 1850s farmhouse house in Topsfield, Massachusetts. Alison, thank you for joining us.

Alison: Thank you for inviting me, Danielle.

Danielle: Thank you. I know that we have met in person a couple of times, so I’m excited to have you here to share your knowledge and expertise. How did you get started in preservation? It kind of sounds like it was a meandering road, similar to mine.

Alison: Indeed, this is about my third career. I actually trained to do textile design and costume design and did that for many years, and sold large format printers for printing textiles. Then when my husband and I bought an old house, suddenly like most people in preservation, you start looking at your old house and appreciating your old house and getting interested in old houses. It really came about from owning a wreck of a house with windows in terrible condition. I said, “This is crazy. I must be able to fix these somehow.”

Danielle: Very good. Did you start at restoring your windows yourself? Did you learn yourself or did you take some classes? How did you figure out what you needed to do?

Alison: I am self-taught. Luckily, my husband builds furniture as a hobby, so he had a wood shop which was very handy. Then I am one of those people who will just go out and research a project to death, so I read as much as I could, went to some events on preservation and talked to as many people as I could, and just started chipping away at paint and figuring out how to re-putty a window, which is daunting at first, but after you do a couple hundred you get really good at it.

Danielle: Right, we joked that people, if they’re going to try to do it their selves should start in the back of the house.

Alison: Definitely, definitely somewhere you don’t want to see. In fact, the house that we’re in now, the first windows that I did are embarrassing.

Danielle: Oh no.

Alison: They’re my walk of shame every day. I’m like, “Oh, I really should redo those,” because I just didn’t have the patience for getting all of the paint off and doing all of the repair techniques that now we do.

Danielle: Right, and the little details do matter. We try to impart that, too, to our employees. That, just because you’re scraping paint doesn’t mean that that’s not one of the most important things that you’re doing on this window.

Alison: True, and it’s funny, we just had a batch of windows come in that had been scraped by an abatement company, and my crew was horrified at how badly they were done. I’m like, “Well, that’s why we insist on being neat and tidy and doing things so that you don’t harm the window, you actually make it better.”

Danielle: Yes, yes. Important lessons. How did you get started then selling your services to the public?

Alison: Well, funny enough, a friend of ours bought an apartment building in a town not far from us and said, “It’s got a bunch of windows in horrible shape. Do you want to tackle those?” I thought, “Sure, why not? I’ll give you a hand.” Which, turned out to be a huge project. I’ve never seen so much nicotine on a window in my life. That was sort of the cutting teeth to, yes I think I can do this for other people.

Alison: Then, you know, God bless America, you can hang out a shingle and start a business. That’s pretty much what I did and started off with some projects for friends, and then those friends knew other people. The good thing about the old house world is that they all talk to each other about products and services and suppliers. Luckily the word got out quickly.

Danielle: Right, that’s one thing I’ve noticed too is that, people are very willing to share their knowledge and information, which is very helpful. You know, even contractors and crafts people, they will share the information because it’s not, even though you might be a competitor, everybody is working towards the same goal.

Alison: It seems like once you find people who cherish older houses and older buildings, we want to support those businesses and we want to let other people know that this is a contractor or somebody who gets old houses just like we do, instead of the “rip them apart and make them into planned cottages.”

Danielle: Yeah, that kind of takes us into my next question. Why do you preserve windows? What makes you passionate about this?

Alison: I do so many estimates now, and it’s always amazing to me the condition of older original windows. You know, to somebody who’s not as observant as I am about windows, they may look terrible. The paint’s peeling, the glazing’s falling off, but to me, I’m like, “But look at the corners and the joints. They’re still in really good shape. They’re still beautifully built. They’re still serving their function. They fit the building. If we just do a little bit of repairs to them, they’ll be beautiful again.” It’s exciting, because most people who call me in kind of know that in the back of their mind, so it’s a validation of saying, “I thought they looked pretty good.” I’m like, “Yes, they are really good. Let’s save them.”

Danielle: Yes, you don’t have to listen to the person that told you, you just need to get new windows.

Alison: Right, I always use the analogy, if you got a flat tire, would somebody say you had to throw out the car and get a new one? It’s the same thing. You have a broken sash, it’s not the end of the world. It can be fixed.

Danielle: Right, right, very, very true. Since you kind of have been learning as you go, what do you wish that you knew when you started that you know now?

Alison: I think if I had any idea how much time was required for doing windows, I probably would have been terrified. You have to acknowledge that it’s a very labor intensive process and there’s not many shortcuts. If you do take shortcuts, it usually ends up costing you in the long run. I think if I really had thought about how much time was involved, I probably would have had a different idea.

Danielle: Yes. That’s true, and that’s one thing that I’ve been trying to explain to people. The majority of our cost is labor. We’re paying people to do this work.

Alison: Yes, glass isn’t a big of expense, wood isn’t a big expense, it’s just the people.

Danielle: Right, right. Have you made any major mistakes that you’re willing to make a public confession about?

Alison: I think undercharging in the beginning made my life a lot more difficult. Once you start charging fairly, your life gets a little bit better.

Danielle: That is really true, and from a business standpoint, that’s I think pretty typical for people who, especially are doing the hands on work, they do undervalue the contributions that they’re making.

Alison: It’s true. It’s hard to believe that people don’t really know what kind of value and cost to assign to window repairs. They know what replacement windows cost if they’ve been shopping around, but they really don’t know, and so it’s up to us to give a fair price. That we know how much time it’s going to take and we know what we need to do to get it done right, and it’s going to cost. It’s not a cheap process. We try to be as efficient as we can, but at the end of the day it’s still labor hours.

Danielle: Right, yeah.

Alison: I have to say, yeah, the other big mistake that I am always teetering on the edge of is I got asked to look at a project and the client said, “Well, you know, I had your competitor work on my last house and I don’t want to have them back.” I get all puffed up and go, “Yes, because we’re better.” It turns out that that’s a very bad mistake, because they’re usually very bad clients. I’ve learned to not get my ego all puffed up and think that we’re better than the other guy. No, sometimes they’re just bad clients.

Danielle: Yeah, and that’s true. Sometimes you do have to kind of see those warning signs and see how the development process goes before you make a commitment to them.

Alison: Yeah.

Danielle: What is the biggest challenge that you see in preservation, or even just in your corner of preservation?

Alison: I know, my very tiny corner of windows. Really, the hard thing is awareness. I can’t tell you how many times people say, “I had no idea anybody did this type of work. I had no idea anybody did this type of work.” It’s frustrating because we don’t have the big advertising budgets of the large replacement companies. We’re very small voices out in the world and it’s hard to get the message out there. I think that’s why we’re so grateful to word of mouth, is that that’s the most efficient way we can to spread the message, but it’s slow and painful and there’s nothing worse than finding out that somebody replaced their windows unnecessarily because they just had no idea that they had an option.

Danielle: That’s very true. We’re fighting the mentality of the past 50 or 60 years of being product installers rather than crafts people too, and looking at it as something that’s repairable rather than just having to replace it. All of that has been pushed by advertising. That is a very big challenge within preservation.

Alison: I think we all sort of cringe at the TV shows that people just take sledgehammers to buildings without even stopping to think about it, or at least not on camera they stop to think about it. It’s so maddening as a preservationist. You know, “Why are they just taking it down in the most destructive way possible? You can take a cabinet off a wall without having to take a sledgehammer to it.” It just drives me crazy.

Danielle: Right, it wouldn’t be as good TV.

Alison: Yeah, right?

Danielle: Do you see any trends in preservation? Any maybe glimmers of hope?

Alison: You know, I have been doing some estimates recently for young couples who are buying their first house and I keep hearing this, “I want to do it right. I want to be real. I grew up in a house with vinyl windows, I grew up in a house with vinyl siding and I don’t want my children to grow up in that kind of house.” I think this whole makers movement, you know, people wanting to get their hands dirty and to do projects and to build things is very encouraging, because once you do get your hands on something, then you start to appreciate it more. That, to me, has been exciting to hear people talk about they want to save things instead of throwing them away. I’m like, “Thank you, finally we’re getting to that point where we understand how bad all of the debris we create is.”

Danielle: Yes, yes, and I think it is values and it’s a mentality because I’ll even take shoes to get fixed and clothes to the tailor. It is, it’s a different mentality of you don’t have to just go out and get new, you can fix what you have, especially if you have a good quality. Then it’s really not more expensive, because you’re not paying it over and over again.

Alison: Right. We’ve had great success of going to some of the green fairs, even a lot of events that focus on local and sustainable foods, because that same mentality carries forward into your house. If you don’t want to eat fake food, why do you want to have fake windows? There’s a continuum here that it all sort of makes sense. Why would you want to create acres of trash and then demolish parts of your house unnecessarily? It all kind of goes together.

Danielle: It does, yeah, that’s very true. How do you keep up with trends in preservation?

Alison: I love to go to events. I think that’s probably the hardest thing for a lot of people who are working in the trades, is that they don’t have big travel budgets and they can’t get out to things. Making an effort to go and meet with fellow preservationists, we just had a wonderful meeting in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in February with the Window Preservation Alliance. This is a trade group that was formed two, three years ago now to bring together window restorers to raise awareness of window restoration, that we actually got started because there was a preservation conference that had one of the big replacement window contractors as a sponsor.

Danielle: Oh, yes.

Alison: We said, “This is crazy. How can we represent our side of the argument when we don’t even have a seat at the table?” The Window Preservation Alliance, we’re a trade association so we now have funds so that we can sponsor events so that we have the other side of the argument, we’re at the table so that we can be part of those discussions. It’s exciting how we’re finding more events, we’re helping to sponsor events.

Alison: There’s one coming up in Cincinnati in May that I’m going to where we’re going to be restoring windows in two buildings. There is one in San Antonio coming up. Then in September in Detroit the Preservation Trade Network will be putting on an event too, so I’m excited about the number of opportunities that we have to meet with one another and talk about what we do. We’re kind of an obscure little profession here, and it’s nice to meet other people who know what you’re talking about.

Danielle: Yes, and that’s exciting that you’re going all over the country. I wouldn’t necessarily think of restoring windows in Texas. There are buildings there that have windows to be restored, so that’s going kind of off of what people would necessarily would think about would be where the historic places are.

Alison: It’s nice that they are people who do this for a living mixed in with community people, because a lot of times homeowners do want to learn how to do things, how to get involved, but they don’t necessarily want to tackle the whole project. As my colleague Steve [Coullion 00:16:23] calls it, “The pros and the Joes working together,” we get a lot more done in a short period of time.

Danielle: Yeah, very, very exciting. That also helps build awareness in the community that there are other options. I know my mom used to sit on the Historic Commission here in Lancaster City, and people would come in wanting to put vinyl windows in, and they would say, “Well, there are other options,” and people would say, “No, there aren’t.” Then it’s a whole education process. That’s a way to do it before even those decisions are being made. That is very, very exciting. Do you have a favorite resource?

Alison: Since May is preservation month, last year was the first year we tried to get all members of the Window Preservation Alliance to hold an event for preservation month. We did one called a sash revival, so we encouraged people to bring in their windows, which most of them have broken glass, and we showed them how to cut glass, fit glass, and glaze a window. It was a really fun event. My crew had a great time working with people. Most of them came from the next town over, which has a fabulous collection of old houses.

Alison: There were actually events all across the country and we’re hoping to do that again this year in May. We had everything from, they did a driveway pop up, they just put a tent in their driveway and had people work on glazing windows. Somebody had a booth at a farmer’s market talking about window repairs. Then some people like me opening up their shop to have the public come in and learn more about what we do and actually get their hands on a window. It’s really fun to have events like that to, again, trying to raise awareness of what we do.

Danielle: Yes, that sounds like fun. To tie it into the national trust, making their whole push for preservation too for that month, it helps build awareness on multiple fronts, so I think that’s really great and exciting. I’m kind of sad that I didn’t think of it.

Alison: Some days you just have, and again, a lot of times it’s just hanging out talking to our other fellow window restorers going, “How can we do this?”

Danielle: Right.

Alison: “Well, what if we just had people bring in windows?”

Danielle: We’ve even had classes before, but we never had people bring their own windows in, but that makes so much more sense. Then they leave with something that’s done. They don’t have to go back and kind of tackle it themselves.

Alison: I was trying to do the sad face/happy face as people came in and left, but I didn’t do so good at capturing my photographs. It was nice to be able to have something they accomplished in one day.

Danielle: Yes, yes, yes, and it makes it a little bit less daunting I would think for them. They know that they can at least, if a pane of glass breaks, they know that they can fix that and it doesn’t take all day.

Alison: Right. I think we’ve all had the frustrating experience of trying to get glazing putty to look neat. We’ve got a couple tips and techniques that we can show people to get them over that frustrating stage of, “It’s just all goopy and it keeps pulling up and it makes a lumpy mess.”

Danielle: Right.

Alison: I don’t know what to say. We’ll help you.

Danielle: This will make it easier.

Alison: Right.

Danielle: What do you think makes you different from other businesses that do this work?

Alison: You know, I’m finding there’s more similarities than dissimilarities in what we do. We’ve become one of the larger shops. I have 10 employees, and so we’re able to tackle bigger projects. I think we’re also fortunate that in the Boston area there are a number of window restoration shops, so if we have a really huge project, we can divvy it up and all work together. It’s very much a collaborative type of business, which is great. It makes it much more fun than being a competitor.

Danielle: Right, yeah, I definitely agree with that. Okay, well thank you so much for joining us today. Why don’t you let us know how our audience can get a hold of you.

Alison: Probably the best way is through our website, which is window-woman-ne.com. There is a contact us page which has our email address on it, or you can always call the workshop at 978-532-2070.

Danielle: Very good, thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Practical Preservation podcast. The resources discussed during this episode are on our website at practicalpreservationservices.com/podcast. If you received value from this episode and know someone else that would get value from it as well, please share it with them. Join us next week for another episode of the Practical Preservation podcast. For more information on restoring your historic home, visit us at practicalpreservationservices.com.

“We regret much of what we’ve built; we regret much of what we’ve torn down. But we’ve never regretted preserving anything.” -Daniel Sack

Original windows serve a dual purpose of providing ventilation and light while being an important part of the buildings architectural design. These windows are constantly under attack from the marketing forces of the replacement window companies.

Window Restoration

Window Restoration in Society Hill neighborhood in Philadelphia

 

Here’s a horrifying experience recently shared with us:

I was one of those stupid people who put new vinyl windows in my old 1883 farmhouse. I had already spent a winter fixing the old, broken, and cracked windows since no one had lived in my house for seven years. I did show significant saving (on) heating oil the first year since I had storm windows as well.

Fast forward ten years and I am already seeing the gas between the windows escaping. Some of the locks have stopped being cooperative as well. And the warranty? Well, the company no longer makes windows.

And ever since installing the windows, I have had peeling paint on my siding. I didn’t know about siding vents – the kind you stick up under the clapboards – until earlier this year.

This is one decision I wish I could make again – I’d never get rid of my old wooden windows!

Sadly, we hear these kinds of stories all the time (so much in fact we make traditional windows to replace modern replacement windows).

Traditional Wood Windows with Insulated Glass at the Petersen House in Washington, DC

Traditional Wood Windows with Insulated Glass at the Petersen

House in Washington, DC

However, we also know that your wood windows are the prime targets for replacement window companies.

The information homeowners are taught to believe, is that original wood windows are substandard and the only viable solution is to replace them with their very own superior product. Chances are you’ll probably even get a guarantee too!

The original windows are part of your home and integral to the historic fabric of it. Windows are one of the most significant architectural elements, and they serve as both an interior and exterior feature.

Windows that are not properly maintained can become more than an eye soar. The functionality of their original design begins to falter, chilly winter air seeps in and humidity becomes the deciding factor if the window will open this time or remain jammed shut for perpetuity.

Window Lead Magnet Ad

You can be assured that the trusted replacement window sales representative will make sure you are well educated on the seemingly endless array of benefits that can be attained by purchasing their product.

The sales pitch will include such ‘facts’ as your existing single-pane wood windows cannot perform as well as replacement windows!

This incomplete information continues to be perpetuated by the replacement window industry with the goal of you buying their window. Homeowners accepting this information are often being provided data comprised to affirm the idea that original and historic wood windows are inferior to their replacement counterparts.

Single-pane wood windows in disrepair and poorly maintained, cannot perform as well as intact replacement windows or any window in optimum condition.

Wood windows that are not adequately maintained, neglected and in poor condition are often used to base conclusive assessments of the efficiency of replacement windows verses original windows.

It should not be surprising that replacement windows fair better in this scenario.

These comparison studies and their findings are used to influence homeowners, but they do not tell the entire story. In fact, a properly maintained single-pane wood window, weatherized, in conjunction with a storm window (interior or exterior) is equal to a replacement window in energy usage according to numerous engineering studies.

A replacement window may save a few dollars in heating and cooling cost, but to recoup the cost in the investment of a whole home window replacement, it will take you fifty or more years at less than a $1.00 a year in heating and cooling savings according to the University of Vermont study.

Yes, replacement windows do offer double panes (sometimes triple), low U-Values and Low-E glass. The really cheap ones offer a low price point too.
It doesn’t make them better.

Restored windows Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA

Restored windows Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA

Another ‘fact’ that will be citied during the sales presentation is that replacement windows are “maintenance free”.

Maintenance free may imply a solution to a home’s rundown windows, but the solution is not found in mass produced and disposable windows.

Maintenance free means it cannot be maintained or repaired, with the average life span under twenty years, those very same replacement windows will find themselves in a land fill along with their nemesis, the original windows, they replaced. Every material and every part of a window wears, breaks down and needs some type of repair to continue proper functioning.

Fact is, that a replacement window cannot be repaired and cannot continue to work at the same level it was when installed. It is not comprised of the same individual components as traditional windows, it’s a single unit design and constructed as such to make it impossible to disassemble and repair.

When a replacement window fails, its maintenance free selling point becomes the reason you need another replacement window. It also becomes another opportunity for a replacement window company to sell you the latest and greatest ‘maintenance free’ window. The notion that replacing supposedly substandard wood windows with modern replacement worry-free windows, is certainly a misnomer. As in the case study above, homeowners are often disillusioned when the integrity of ten or twenty-year-old replacement windows deteriorate to level where they inevitably need to be replaced – again and again – welcome to the replacement cycle.

Original windows can be repaired and preserved because they predate the era of planned obsolescence. An era when buildings had to work with the environment to keep its inhabitants warm in the winter and cool in the summer. An era in which fixing things was preferred to replacement. An era before the skilled tradesman become product installers with an assembly line mentality of the building trades. The individual components of these windows can each be repaired, maintained or replaced in sections as need be. They were built for longevity, not for replacement.

Window Lead Magnet Ad
They can be preserved and their historical significance doesn’t need to be sacrificed for energy efficiency or functionality.

When an original wood window fails, it can be repaired and repaired again and it isn’t as daunting of a task as you just might think. Replacement window companies cannot make a profit if homeowners routinely maintain their historic windows. The replacement window industries’ goal is to sell as many windows as possible. Our goal is to help you understand there are options that preserve the integrity of your historic building and to arm you with information and facts.

Maintenance measures can be taken to keep historic windows energy efficient, properly functioning and able to last another 100 years:
 Painting
 Caulking
 Weather stripping
 Re-glazing
 And more…

Replacement windows will however permanently alter your homes interior and exterior appearance. Losing the detail and elegance found in the workmanship of true divided lights, wavy single pane windows, rails, muntins, profiles, depths and sills will be lost and replaced with flat and shadowless details, meant to replicate what was once there. Understanding the materials and traditional joinery used to build your original windows are superior to any replacement window is an important factor in deciding whether to restore or replace.

Challenging conventional knowledge on what it takes to maintain historic windows isn’t as daunting as it may seem. However, it requires shifting the paradigm of thought – understanding that maintaining your original windows can be a simple task and the reason to replace your windows is not to save energy costs or have zero-maintenance. 

Watch the video below to learn more options for your original wood windows.

We recently completed a historic wood window restoration project at the Mill at Anselma.  This mill is a gem of historic architecture in our country – the most complete example of a functioning historic grist mill in the entire country.

History of the Mill

The Mill at Anselma has truly historic origins. In the late 1600’s, the property was owned by Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn, though there was no mill on the property just yet. That would come in the mid 1700’s when influential Quaker Samuel Lightfoot decided to build a water-powered mill along the Pickering Creek after purchasing the 500-acre property in 1725. In the mid 1700’s, Chester County was becoming the “bread basket” of the
colonies and Lightfoot recognized the need for a local grist mill.

In 1767, Samuel divided his property between his two sons, with his younger son William receiving the acreage that included the grist mill. It was during William’s old age that the mill’s prosperity began to decline. It wasn’t until the early 1820’s that the mill would be revitalized when revolutionary technology that allowed for continuous production in grist mills was installed by the Shenemans. These labor-saving elevators and conveyors carried the grain between floors in the mill and were incorporated into the existing mill system – leaving the original Lightfoot technology untouched.

Just before the Civil War, the Oberholtzer family purchased and lived on the property and in 1862 poetess married into the family. The scenery around the mill is featured in her poems, including her famous “At the Old Mill” from her book of verse, “Violet Lee”. The mill remained largely untouched until 1906 when the wooden water wheel was replaced with a steel water wheel and the wooden sluiceway with iron pipe. Shortly after, the advent of portable grist mills made trips to the Anselma Mill no longer necessary and the mill’s prosperity quickly declined.

In 1919 Oliver Collins purchased the property and responded to the changes in market demand. Without touching the Colonial-era technology in the mill, Collins installed technology that allowed him to run a grist mill, saw mill, cider press, metal working shop, and even a barber shop and lawnmower repair shop – all of which were powered by the water wheel in the mill.

The Mill Today

In 1982 when Collins passed away, the Mill was purchased by the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, who performed a lengthy restoration of the mill from 1999 to 2004. When done, the historic millstones milled flour for the first time since 1934.

It is the most complete example of a custom grain mill in the U.S. and in 2005 The Mill at Anselma became the only custom grist mill in the U.S. to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

Our Historic Wood Window Replication Project at the Mill

During the restoration in the early 2000’s, the deteriorating window sashes had not been addressed and we were contracted to repair and replace the window sashes and sills.

Before we began work, the windows were a hodge-podge of different styles from different periods over the years. None of the sashes were original to the mill, so we replicated the profile from the oldest sash on the mill to give all the windows the same profile. We manufactured new sashes for the windows, replaced a few sills, and repaired quite a few stops and casings to restore the windows to full, working order.

In deciding which wood to use for the windows, we looked to the wood that was already on the mill. We determined that the window frames had originally been made of white oak and had been left unpainted, which was common for informal Colonial buildings. So we chose a quarter sawn white oak for the replacement sashes. In quarter sawn white oak all the graining runs vertically. This makes the wood a tighter wood that is stronger and more stable since the grain is all running in the same direction, is less prone to warping, and seasonal expansion and contraction, and offers extra moisture resistance. Quarter sawn white oak in general is a quality wood choice, but it was a particularly ideal wood choice to use in the moist, shady area of where the mill sat.

Though we don’t often leave wood unpainted, we did in this case in keeping with the original style of the windows. Despite the fact that originally there would have been no treatment applied to the wood, we did use a preservative that we made out of linseed oil and mineral spirits to help protect the wood and increase its longevity. The new growth wood we have available to us today simply does not last as long as old growth wood did when left untreated.

In addition to our work on the windows, we repaired the roof on their springhouse. During a winter storm a tree had fallen on the springhouse and damaged the roof. It was a traditional oak lathe roof with no sheathing and had bellied down in the center. When it was restored, the Trust chose to leave the belly in the roof as a sign of how it had always been instead of correcting it. (A choice that nags at Chuck’s perfectionist side, but one his preservationist side very much respects.)

The roof repair required special attention to detail. The angles had to be shimmed and straightened with shingles. “It took more time, but the job wouldn’t have turned out as nice without it. It was definitely worth it,” Chuck notes.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”” quotestyle=”style01″] “We’re very pleased. It was a real pleasure to work with you and show off your magnificent work. You are outstanding professionals and experts in your field.“ -Craig Hadley, Executive Director Mill at Anselma [/sws_blockquote_endquote]

 

Hi! I’m Penelope and I’m new around here, but my Mommy and Daddy know a lot about historic preservation and have been teaching me new things every day.Penelope Pic (1)

Yesterday they taught me not to chew on Karri’s office slippers (even if I really want to) and then they taught me something that really blew my mind…

Historic wood windows are one of the most “at risk” features of our historic homes.

Now, I’m still learning words, but “at risk” sounds pretty bad to me.  And apparently it’s all because the replacement window industry wants us to believe their plastic windows are better than wood windows.

But my Mommy and Daddy tell me it isn’t true.  They say wood windows not only look better in old houses, they don’t cause the moisture issues replacement windows do, AND they are more energy efficient.  They told me the guidelines for the best way to take care of America’s historic buildings say you should preserve and maintain your wood windows instead of replacing them.

And Mommy and Daddy don’t usually lie to me.

My Grandpa Chuck tells me that so many people didn’t know this and fell into the replacement window sales company’s clutches, that he’s been replacing a lot of replacement windows lately.  (I guess when people realize the plastic windows they put in weren’t the right choice they call him to make wood windows for them.  I wanna be just like him when I grow up.)

Now I have a secret to tell you, but you have to promise not to tell my Mommy and Daddy…  They gave me a report I was supposed to read so I could tell you more about this, but I was too pooped from spending the day at the office and I fell asleep before I finished it.

So I’m going just going to let you read this report for yourself:

“Put Replacement Windows to Shame: 10 Tools to Make Your Historic Wood Windows Last for Generations”

Window Report Image (Smaller File)Mainstream consumer trends would have you believe that you should replace your historic wood windows with vinyl, or other synthetic replacement windows.

Of course, you own a historic home – not a McMansion – making you anything but the typical consumer who follows mainstream trends.

Boy is this report for you, because in it we are going to give you the knowledge and tools you need to buck the system and put replacement windows (and their uneducated salesmen) to shame.

To get your copy of the report, call or email Moira at 717.291.4688 or [email protected]

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The Mylin House project was a complete interior restoration project that we had been very much looking forward to doing.  The Willow Valley Retirement Community hired Historic Restorations to restore the first floor of both the original farmhouse and the addition to use as a community center in keeping with their preservation of the original farmhouses from all the farm properties they’ve purchased and expanded onto.

The original part of the Mylin House was built in the late 1700’s by Martin Mylin III and his wife Barbara Baer (granddaughter of Christian and Anna Herr, the 1710 immigrants who built the 1719 Hans Herr House).  Mylin III was the third generation to live on and work the farm his Grandfather, Martin Mylin I, established when he emigrated from Germany in the early 1700’s and became one of the first Mennonites to settle in Lancaster County.  Mylin I would also establish a gun shop on the original homestead where he would father the Pennsylvania Long Rifle as an accomplished gunsmith.

The Mylin house and its lands were passed down through generations of the family until 1926 when it was sold to Christian Herr and became home to the Herr family (some of whom would later found Herr Foods), who resided on the property until it was purchased by the retirement community.

The original portion of the house was built during the Colonial Period and was constructed in the Pennsylvania German Traditional style.  During the Pre-Civil war period in the 1800’s a Victorian style addition was added to the original house.  (We imagine the eight children Mylin III had were motivating factors in the decision to guilt the addition.)

Though many renovations, upgrades, and modernization projects had been performed over the years both the original house and the addition were almost wholly intact.  The interior woodwork and built-in cabinetry by the renowned Lancaster County cabinet-maker John Bachman, the three corner fireplaces, the balusters and the raised panels in the stairway are all original to the house.  While the windows are likely not original to the house, they are from the 1800’s.

While the house looked like it was in good shape, there were some really questionable repairs attempted over the years and we would need to go through and replace everything that wasn’t honestly part of the historical fabric of the original – for both the original Colonial house and the Victorian addition to original condition.

 

Historical Woodwork

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Pretty much all of the woodwork on the first floor of the house was in good condition, but some spot repairs and everything needed restoration.  But before we could even start tackling that portion of the project, we needed to remove all five layers of paint that had accumulated over the last 200+ years – most of which involved lead remediation.  To restore the original interior woodwork we used epoxy and solid-wood Dutchmen for the spot repairs.

There were two built-in corner cabinets in two of the rooms of the Colonial portion of the house that were wonderful examples of traditional woodowork.

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We also re-created a built-in cabinet area in the kitchen of the Victorian addition that had storage cabinetry that was incompatible with the Victorian architectural styles.  The existing cabinets had primitive wood shelves and raised panel doors so we removed them and fabricated cabinets that matched a style on an original built-in located close to that storage area.

The windows in both the Colonial and Victorian sides of the house were not original to the house, but were about 150 years old and mimicked the original window styles well.  To preserve the old growth wood in these windows and their contribution to the historic fabric of the house, we completely restored all the first floor windows and installed interior storm windows on all the first and second floor windows.

 

Restoring Historical Plaster Walls

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That wallpaper that had been applied over the original plaster walls at some point in time was falling off of the walls.  So we carefully removed the wallpaper to keep as much of the original horse-hair plaster intact as possible so we could preserve that plaster.  Some areas of the plaster walls were missing and had drywall installed when misguided attempts to match the original plaster were made.  For these areas, and other areas where moisture had affected the plaster bond we used a three-step application of re-wiring and applying a base coat, then applied a brown coat plaster, and finally a veneer plaster for the finish to create a historically accurate plaster wall.  The plaster ceilings were also restored – some of which was deteriorated to the point that it was about to collapse so we used large washers and screws to re-tighten and fasten the old plaster and then skim-coated over that.  We skim-coated the original plaster walls that could be saved.

 

Historical Paint Color Choices

There is quite the unusual combination of colors that were chosen for the interior walls in the Mylin House.  These colors may seem rather loud and obnoxious to our modern aesthetics, but they were actually colors on that had originally been on the walls that we discovered after removing wallpaper and layers of paint.  And the smaller sitting rooms at the back of the house that had contrasting colors that didn’t quite coordinate with each other in the manner that we think of today when we choose contrast colors.  Lime green, turquoise, a mustard yellow, a real orange (think The Big Home Improvement Store That Shall Not Be Named orange bucket color), and a dark red.

There was one original color we chose not to replicate – the mauvey rose in the foyer.  Despite Lois’ firm urgings that the color was period appropriate and should be used, Chuck just couldn’t bring himself to add that color back.  (Apparently he can tolerate color combinations like lime green and turquoise, but a mauvey rose along with a dark red is just not something he can accept.)  We chose to use a white color in the foyer that would also be period appropriate as the color of unpainted plaster.

The mopboards in the Colonial portion of the house were painted the black they had been originally.  According to tradition, the floorboards were painted black at that time to avoid having the dirty water marks from mops when cleaning the floors.  In the Victorian addition the baseboards had never been painted black, so we painted them a historical green in an attempt by Chuck to mellow out the red on the walls that his aesthetic sensibilities weren’t entirely comfortable with.

For the paint we used the Benjamin Moore Historical Colors line from Grauers Paint & Decorating in Lancaster.

 

Restoration of Historical Flooring

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We also took up the oak floor on the first floor.  We completely re-tongue and grooved that flooring, cleaned it, and then brought it back and re-installed it.  The flooring was left unfinished in the Colonial part of the house, as it would have originally been when it was first constructed.  The restored wood flooring was waxed with Briwax.

For the kitchen floor, we chose a slightly different approach.  There had originally been a wood floor installed during the Victorian period that it was built that was then covered over with several layers of vinyl flooring over the years.  Beyond the difficulty of removing the layers of vinyl flooring to salvage the original floor, the wood used in the original floor was an inferior quality and it was questionable as to whether or not it was worth saving. 

colonial architecture, historic architectural woodwork, historic architecture, historic architecture restoration, historic cabinetry, historic flooring, historic paint color, historic restoration lancaster pa, historic restoration research, historic restorations, historic woodwork, john bachman cabinetry, mylin house, mylin house restoration, restoring historic plaster walls, victorian architecture, willow valley retirement communityWillow Valley Retirement Community eventually decided they wanted to install a brick floor in keeping with a style that seemed well-fitted for a farm kitchen floor and we installed a basket-weave brick pattern using a traditional mortar recipe.  We also chose bricks from Inglenook Tile Design since they reproduce a veneer brick that is such an incredible match to the soft historic bricks by mimicking all aspects of historic brick-making, even firing at the lower temperatures that they would have only been capable of historically.

But before we began floor installation we addressed very big problem with the house – a potentially catastrophic one – the house was sagging in the middle of the interior.  We spent several weeks raising the summer beam, the floor joists, and the load-bearing walls that made up the interior frame of the house to level it up and gain back the two inches it had sagged over the years.  It took about two weeks to get just that two inches back.  After raising the sagging interior frame, we installed ¾” plywood for sub-flooring in the kitchen and installed two metal posts in the floor to hold the summer beam since it was made of an inferior quality poplar wood.

 

1700’s & 1800’s Fireplace Restorations

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The Mylin House project also involved restoration of multiple fireplaces in both the first floor and the basement.

On the first floor, we took a cast-iron wood stove out of one of the fireplaces and removed the hearth on both first floor fireplaces restoring the brick in one fireplace and plastering the other fireplace – both traditional treatments for fireplaces.

For the walk-in fireplaces in the basement we applied stucco to encased the loose stone with a natural surface.

 

Restoration in the Basement

In the basement stairway we discovered tread shadow lines on the wall that indicated  the current stairway configuration was not how the stairs were originally configured.  So we rebuilt the stairs, returning them to the original configuration.

To create a cleaner storage environment for Willow Valley Retirement Community, we parged the stone walls in the basement to waterproof them and eliminated a lot of loose mortar since it was a very early mortar with bits of shell and really wasn’t much more than dirt.  We also poured a concrete floor instead of leaving the existing dirt floor to help with moisture control and keep the storage cleaner.

When we started work there were no windows in the basement window openings – the openings just served as free passage of air.  With our moisture control efforts, we decided to fabricate new windows for those openings – each requiring individualized fabrication since each opening was a different size (a quite common occurrence in historic buildings).

 

What challenges did we run into with the project?  

The biggest challenge was digging out the basement since we did not have wide open access to it and had to dig it out by hand taking the dirt out bucket by bucket.  We filled the trailer with loads of dirt, which then got stuck several times in our unusually rainy Spring.  In fact, not tearing up that yard was probably a challenge that might give hand-digging out the basement a good run for its “biggest challenge” status.

 

 

Historically Sensitive Storm Windows

A Product Recommendation from Chuck

When storm windows first came into use to promote energy efficiency, they were installed on the outside of the house.  Not only did this take away from the architectural integrity of the house by impeding the view of major architectural features in windows, they also often created moisture on the outside of the window.

Fortunately for historic homeowners today, we have better options now.  And the option we recommend here at Historic Restorations are the interior storm windows by Allied Window.

historic preservation contractors, historic restorations contractors, historic building maintenance, historic building energy efficiency, storm windows for historic buildings, historically sensitive storm windowsAllied offers an “invisible” storm window installed on the inside of the window.  One of the major benefits of this storm window option is that it has a low profile that doesn’t limit visibility of a window’s historical architectural features.  Made from aluminum they can also be painted any color – send them a sample of the color of your trim and they’ll match it for a seamless integration into your window’s look.  They also have a good seal with an aluminum u-channel across the top, magnetic strips that the aluminum frame attaches too, and a rubber or brush seal that sits on the sill.

They do offer an exterior option with the same features of the interior.  Some people think this would be the better option, that an exterior storm window would help protect the wood in their window.  I don’t recommend this option – wood needs to breathe moisture and if there is a storm window installed on the exterior moisture will be trapped in the wood and promote rot.

We’ve had a good long-term experience with Allied.  We’ve tried other companies, much to our dismay, and Allied is the one that has provided a consistent service and product performance over time.

You can learn more about the products that Allied Windows offers by visiting their website at alliedwindows.com.

 

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?

Historic Wood Window Restoration, Save Historic Wood Windows, Wood Windows vs. Replacement Windows

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

Historic Wood Window Restoration, Save Historic Wood Windows, Wood Windows vs. Replacement WindowsThese 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

Historic Wood Window Restoration, Save Historic Wood Windows, Wood Windows vs. Replacement Windows

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]

[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

[/sws_toggle1]

 

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”