“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.

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]

Historic Wood Window Restoration, Save Historic Wood Windows, Wood Windows vs. Replacement WindowsWood windows are an integral part of the innate energy efficiency of historical buildings. If we have learned anything from history it is that sometimes with all our modern advancements we do ourselves more harm than good.

Advancements in technology do not always produce better results, and construction technology isn’t exempt from that. Built in a time of readily available building materials and energy sources, modern building designs typically make poor use of both. Historical buildings were built when neither was in abundant supply and 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, to locations of balconies, to numbers and placement of windows, to physical placement of buildings on lots was carefully considered to maximize heating, lighting, and ventilation in traditional construction.

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The results are astounding and studies have shown that properly restored and maintained 18th & 19th Century buildings can be just as energy efficient as new construction, and in many cases even more energy efficient. (Perhaps not surprisingly, studies have also shown that buildings built in the 1950’s through the 1970’s were the biggest energy consumers of all.)

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The historical wood windows in your building contribute to that energy efficiency and, contrary to urban legend, 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

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have not been maintained or restored, are decaying, and have no complementary energy retrofits such as weather-stripping and storm windows.

If you would like to read these studies, you can access them in the resources section of our website.

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 when you consider this embodied energy – an existing energy investment that will never be able to be recaptured once you destroy the product it’s embodied in.

If the greenest building is the one already built, then the greenest window is the one already there. 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 reduces the use of additional energy when making replacement windows.

Which means that when you take all energy, energy expended on heating and cooling costs as well as the embodied energy, into consideration for defining the energy efficiency of windows – historical wood windows are far more energy efficient than replacement windows
.

 

Increasing energy efficiency in historic buildings is always a hot topic. Here are our Top Six Tips for improving the energy efficiency in historic buildings:

 

Number 1

Have a Maintenance Appraisal Performed to Increase the Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings

When not properly maintained, there are many ways energy efficiency in historic buildings suffers – one of which are 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 leakage without damaging the historic aspects of your home.

 

Number 2

Schedule an Energy Audit to Increase the Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings

This could really be tie 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 evaluate current energy efficiency in your historic building and identify any deficiencies in both the envelope of your home and/or the mechanical systems.

 

Number 3

Implement a Maintenance Plan to Increase the Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings

After you have these two critical reports in your hand, set to work implementing them.  Hire a qualified contractor to eliminate any air infiltration, repair windows, and perform the other maintenance affecting your home’s energy efficiency.  Hire a qualified energy contractor to replace any mechanical systems they’ve found to be detrimental to your home’s energy efficiency.  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.  Maintenance is one of the most critical aspects of improving the energy efficiency of historic buildings.

 

Number 4

Change Your Habits to Increase the Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings

This can be the toughest one to do, but if we truly want to increase the energy efficiency of historic buildings then our habits have to change.  Some of these changes can be easy – install timers or motion detectors on lights, attach self-closing mechanisms on doors that might otherwise hag open, install fans and raise the thermostat temperature, use CFLs in your lights, unplug “vampire” devices that use electricity in standby mode or whenever they are plugged into an outlet (most chargers, DVD players, etc.).

 

Number 5

Install Insulation to Increase the Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings

Installing insulation in strategic places can be a cost-effective solution to energy loss – but make sure you are not installing the insulation in ineffective places and ways.  There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there of the best ways to insulate your house, and some of them can even permanently damage your home.  Have the historic contractor and energy consultant you hire work together to devise an insulation plan specifically tailored to increase the energy efficiency of your historic building that won’t compromise its architectural integrity.

 

Number 6

Use Shading Devices to Increase the Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings

There are several ways you can make use of shading devices in ways that are historically compatible to increase the energy efficiency of historic buildings.  Many historical homes made use of exterior awnings and if there is evidence your home may have originally had awnings you can consider installing them again.  Some homes may still have their awnings on them – if yours does, maintain it well for maximum benefit.  Trees, bushes, and other foliage are another good way to shade your home during the summer to increase energy efficiency if you have the space.  As is hanging drapes and curtains on any windows receiving direct sunlight  and keeping them closed during the sunlight hours.

 

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The Technical Preservation Service at the National Park Service offers Preservation Brief #3: Improving Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings that provides an in-depth look at this topic.  You can read the brief online at: nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs/3-improve-energy-efficiency.htm

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Rebecca Williams, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, put together this slideshow presentation on green preservation of our historic buildings.  This is a topic near and dear to our hearts, as we firmly believe the greenest building is the one already built.  Browse through her slides below for some really enlightening information and to learn how we can not only protect our built heritage, we can protect the energy investment that’s already been made in them.

 

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Protect Historic Masonry Buildings from Permanent Damage Caused by Portland Mortar

Historic masonry buildings are very different from modern buildings.  Historic bricks were fired at lower temperatures and are much softer and more permeable than modern bricks.  Historic buildings constructed with these softer bricks were designed to absorb moisture and then release it.  A key component of this design was the lime mortar historically used in masonry applications, a mortar that was also soft and readily allowed moisture to pass through.

In the late 1800’s, a new mortar debuted in the U.S. at the height of the Industrial Revolution.  Favored for all the qualities a mass-production revolution could ask for (fast-curing, inexpensive, and less work for masons), Portland quickly gained popularity with masons and by the early 1900’s most buildings had some Portland mortar in their masonry surfaces – usually as an additive to traditional lime mortar.  By the mid-1900’s Portland was no longer used as an additive and became the predominant ingredient in mortar mixes. Historic buildings were not immune to the new technology and masonry repairs on historic buildings in the 1900’s were predominantly made with Portland mortar.

If your historic building has been re-pointed in the last sixty years, it very likely was re-pointed with a Portland cement mortar mix.

A common mistake, Portland mortar applied to historic buildings doesn’t just erode the historic fabric of the building, it causes physical damage that is often permanent.  Traditional mortars worked with the softer historic masonry materials to expand and contract together as temperatures and moisture levels changed, creating a wall and masonry surface that “breathed” to expel excess moisture.  Applying a Portland mortar mix to a historic masonry surface disrupts that relationship and traps moisture in the wall and historic bricks.

Moisture trapped within walls will not easily pass through Portland cement mortar and will be forced through the soft brick instead, a path of much less resistance.  When the water evaporates, salt deposits are left behind that crystallize that destroys the protective shell of the bricks.  Once this outer surface is damaged, the softer insides of historic bricks rapidly disintegrate.

Moisture issues caused by Portland mortar on a historic building can begin to destroy historic masonry within just a few years.

The historic bricks on masonry buildings are not the only things threatened by Portland cement mortar – structural elements, interior features, and occupant health are also compromised by the moisture issues associated with Portland mortar.  Remember, historic

masonry materials and mortars were designed from a construction approach that created buildings that “breathed”, allowing moisture both in and out.  Modern masonry materials and mortars are designed from a watertight construction approach that aims to keep water from passing through.

Combining a material from the system designed to let a house “breathe” with a material from the system designed to prevent water from passing through is a recipe for disaster.

Historic mortar differs significantly at a molecular level from modern mortar.  This difference makes modern mortar incompatible with historic masonry materials, permanently damages historic masonry materials and structural elements of masonry buildings, and traps moisture in walls lowering energy efficiency and endangering air quality inside the building.

Here’s a tool you can use to evaluate your historic building’s masonry for potential problems and problem indicators. For a printer-friendly version of this checklist, click on the picture.

 

Achieving energy efficiency without compromising historic integrity in old buildings is always a high priority, and sometimes surprisingly easy….. when you learn to compromise on the right thing.
Recently we restored an early 1900’s wood exterior door for a private residence.   When this door was constructed there would have been no door sweep or weatherstripping and restored to original condition this door would have a high rate of air infiltration – leading to moisture damage and high energy losses.  Fortunately,  we do not have to choose between energy efficiency and historical integrity – non-original features like door sweeps and weatherstripping can be added in a historically complimentary way.
Instead of the commonly used plastic door sweeps, a sunken bristle door sweep can be installed to limit visibility and eliminate an obvious visual intrusion on the door’s historical features. Brass or bronze weatherstripping can be used in lieu of plastic to remain in keeping with materials and styles one would expect to see for that period.

Strike the right kind of compromise by choosing historically complimentary options and you too can have energy efficient historical preservation.

On Tuesday A. Tamasin Sterner from Pure Energy Coach spoke on the topic of indoor air quality at the monthly breakfast meeting for the Central Pennsylvania Preservation Society (CPPS).  
A single hour in Tamasin’s presence, is easily one of the most informative hours you’ll ever experience in your life and Tuesday was no exception.  The Historic Restorations family and other attendees at the meeting learned what the single most important aspect of energy efficiency and healthy air in a home is:
Balancing the air that goes out with fresh air coming in to achieve a neutral pressure field. 

Energy expert Tamasin Sterner shares her knowledge of Indoor Air Quality

It turns out, balance and moderation are not just good for your waistline and stress levels, it’s good for the air in your buildings too. Tamasin taught us how to evaluate and balance the air flow in buildings and the kinds of things that impact air flow patterns.  Not only does balanced air flow maximize energy efficiency, it protects the health of the building’s occupants and users, and preserves the materials and structure of the building.  
We were particularly interested to learn about the many ways air flow balance in a home is disturbed with all the seemingly innocuous improvements and changes we make to buildings that aren’t things we would have connected to impacting energy efficiency.  
Did you know that recessed lights placed near an air return can make you sick?  That sealing off the roof in your house can create moisture issues?  That even the appliances in your kitchen can create an imbalance in the health of the air of your house?  Did you know that many times asthma and allergy issues are directly related to the health of the air at home?  Did you know that sealing a house is really only half of the picture of energy efficiency?  Do you know what the other half is?  
It’s ventilation.  Without proper ventilation, insulating a house well is actually a bad thing.  It will decrease your energy efficiency, lower the quality of the air you breathe, and set up prime conditions for developing moisture issues.
Tamasin gave us those tidbits and tons of other information in her presentation, but perhaps the most surprising information from the presentation was

There is one single, simple, FREE, thing that all HVAC installers should be doing (but aren’t!) to check for proper drafting and ventilation when a new system is installed in a house and how to ask for it to make sure it gets done.  

When 30% of houses have high levels of carbon monoxide, 80% of houses have gas leaks, and the most common cause of older and historic building deterioration is uncontrolled moisture, this is critical information to have.  

Balancing the air in our buildings can not only contribute to energy conservation, it will keep our buildings healthy so the humans that use them stay healthy in order to continue expanding our healthy and living historical preservation.  
Healthy buildings.  Healthy Humans.  Healthy Histories.

If you haven’t yet attended a monthly breakfast meeting for CPPS, or you don’t make it a habit to attend regularly, you should.  Meetings are only $15, include a continental breakfast spread (with The Cork Factory Hotel’s homemade pastries), and expert presenters that cover a variety of topics.  You can see their upcoming schedule and register to attend one of their monthly breakfast meetings at: centralpennsylvaniapreservationsociety.org/events.


The November/December 2009 issue of Preservation Magazine featured an article, Getting Ready for Winter: 15 Steps to Efficiency. These tips are taken from this article.
  • Insulate the attic (this is where the majority of your heat loss will occur – though the replacement window and door companies would have you believe it is on the walls of the house – heat rises.)
  • Zoned heating system (heat only the areas of the house you “live” in).
  • Bleed radiators and clean forced-air vents.
  • Have your furnace serviced.
  • Change your furnace filters once a month.
  • Install a programmable thermostat (turn the heat down at night when you are in bed and during the day when you are away).
  • Insulate duct work and hot water pipes in cool spaces. Install foam inserts behind electrical receptacles and light switches (they sale the inserts (with precut holes) for behind the covers at any hardware store).
  • Close fireplace dampers (when the fireplace is not in use – we have had a call from someone not sure why their house was filling with smoke).
  • Set ceiling fans to low and switch direction so the hot air is being forced downward from the ceiling.
  • Make sure bathroom fans have functioning dampers.
  • Keep your original windows maintained (caulk, fix glazing, replace broken panes, repair wooden parts, and install weather stripping).
  • Install storm windows.
  • Use lined curtains, working shutters, and insulated window shades.
  • Caulk holes at exterior penetrations (mail chutes, etc.) only use exterior-grade caulking for this job.
Some thoughts from the Traditional Building Conference:
-Existing buildings are inherently green (embodied energy) tearing down to make a new green building uses more energy than it saves
-Changes made to “modernize” a building have contributed to the perception of the poor energy performance
-An important part of green building should be the materials should both be durable and repairable – many of the new green building products are durable but are they repairable?
-The greenest building is one that already exists – the restoration process involves less carbon emissions than new construction
-Thinking globally while acting locally also helps create local jobs and builds a sustainable local economy