Windows: To Replace or Restore?


When it comes to dealing with unsatisfactory windows on an old house, where does a consumer begin? Usually, the first thought is to replace them. Then you have another decision to make about materials: vinyl, fiberglass, aluminum, wood, etc.  Well, if money is no object, then go for wood, of course! But since most of us don’t have a money tree in the backyard, getting vinyl windows seems like the most logical and economical choice. Right?

That’s what we thought until I started researching the national requirements for restoring historical homes. With the hope that our home may be eligible for historical status, we’ve decided to be a lot more cautious about our home improvement projects. Apparently windows are a big deal for historical homes.

Most people find their old windows to be unsatisfactory because the paint has issues (lead, cracking, peeling, etc.), the wood is rotting, they’re drafty, or the owners are worried about energy efficiency. The first problems can be solved through restoration projects. As for the other issues, in my research I found that simple fixes like better insulation, high-quality window treatments, storm windows, and new weather-stripping can increase the energy efficiency of your home. When you restore your old windows you maintain the integrity of the home’s original look and you do Mother Earth a favor by not using up resources to create new windows. Furthermore, vinyl windows don’t last as long wood windows and greatly alter the look of a historical home.

So, it seems the most ideal situation would be to restore the home’s original windows. Unfortunately, only two of the original windows remain. In the late 1960s, the previous owners replaced the rest of the original windows with picture windows and awful louver windows and covered them with security bars. We can’t stand the bars but don’t feel safe taking them down until we replace the louver windows. Plus, picture windows and louvers don’t exactly offer the best air circulation. So what are we to do?

Well, replacing all the windows with wood windows is out of the question (budget issues, y’know). Instead, we’re looking into doing a combination of the following: restore original windows (2), place picture windows only on the south side of the house (2) and purchase new, historically accurate wood windows for west and east facing windows (5). (North facing windows are in the 2nd bedroom, and we’ll get to those later.) The cost of the five wood windows (minus installation) will end up being a few hundred dollars less than the cost of replacing all the windows with vinyl ones and having them professionally installed. (At one point we got a quote from a reputable company to purchase ten new vinyl windows. We came very close to hiring them.)

In the end, purchasing a few wood windows is still more expensive and more labor intensive (installation plus maintenance every five years or so) than purchasing all new vinyl windows. We are still waiting for one more quote on the wood windows. (First quote was reasonable, but it’s always nice to find out what another company would charge.)  I feel that the longevity and look of wood windows is worth the extra expense, but I’ll let you know what we decide.


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