Why keeping old windows makes sense

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips, Historic Preservation

Let me be clear: I am not a nosy neighbor. But I do have a love of old houses and an interest in renovations and restorations, so when something like that is happening anywhere in the vicinity, I pay attention. In fact, I have been known to slow down and stare at the changes in an old house (rumors that I have slowed down to a point of being honked at by the driver behind me might or might not be true). And if I know the person whose old house is being worked on, I am not shy about asking questions!

Over the last few months there has been some serious renovation happening with an old house at the end of our lonely woodland road. This is a gorgeous behemoth of a house that was just short of the wrecking ball before a kind soul stepped up to save it. The work has been going quickly, and it heartens me to see such a lovely piece of history being restored to its former glory.

But what I saw this week made me want to cry.

Sacrificing the old for the new

One of the most beautiful things about an old house is the original windows. These handmade masterpieces are filled with the kind of character that can't be duplicated by any replacement windows, no matter how lovely they might seem.

That's why I was so shocked to see replacement windows on that beautiful old house. And they were vinyl, no less!

Considering our harsh northeastern climate, contractors in our area tend to push for the most insulated windows available. I can only assume that's what happened here: the original windows had seen years of neglect, perhaps with snapped ropes, cracked glass and many layers of stubborn paint. Besides that, they were single pane, which anyone knows is not the 'hip' thing right now -- conventional wisdom says the more insulation, the better.

But that sells those old windows short, doesn't it?

Why old windows make sense

Old windows can be very energy efficient. In fact, single-pane wood windows with exterior storm windows and adequate weatherstripping can exceed energy efficiency requirements, according to the Window Preservation Standards Collaborative. In addition, insulated glass units have a tendency to fog up anywhere from five to twenty years down the road -- right at about the time their warranty runs out.

Proper maintenance on old windows is quite easy. If something breaks, fix it. There is no waiting for a part from the manufacturer, or finding out that that part isn't made anymore. There's no worry about replacing the whole unit due to a tiny crack in one pane. As an added bonus, most repairs can be made by a handy homeowner.

Finally, keeping your old windows simply makes good financial sense. There are absolutely no replacement windows on the market today that claim they last 100 years or more. That's because they don't. But original wood windows can stand the test of time, and it's proven by the thousands of homes across the world that still boast their beautiful original windows. Why spend more on replacement windows when simply fixing the old ones means they might last for another 100 years?

Replacement windows do have their place in homes where the original windows are too far gone to save. But if you have the option, it might make sense to go with the tried-and-true and keep those old windows.


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