Wooden Windows

No single element of an historic house contributes more to its character than its windows.  Often overlooked, when old windows are replaced with modern ones the effect is immediate and dramatic - as if the soul of the old house has been ripped out and gaudy vinyl covers the hole.  Beautiful wavy old glass and delicate muntins are trucked to the dump while cheap "inserts" with faux grilles are caulked in place.  We've all heard the knocks against old wooden windows for years now, so much so that even government agencies spew statements like, "If your windows are more than 15 years old, you might want to consider replacing them."  If they had said windows between the ages of 15 and 50 might need replacing, then all right, but proper wooden windows built before the 1960s need repairing, not replacing.  

Let's put a few of the myths to rest.  Old wooden windows are energy hogs and modern double-glazed replacements will save you as much as 40% on your heating bill and pay for themselves in a few short years.  Simply not true.  A traditional wooden sash and storm window assembly performs at about R 2.5 - almost identical to the R-values of new double-glazed units.  It has also been shown that windows are a relatively minor source of heat loss in an old house and consequently the payback period for replacement windows is on the order of 240 years!  Furthermore, what the replacement-window salesmen neglect to mention is that the average lifespan of a modern window is 9.7 years.  How does $10-20,000 for a houseful of windows every ten years sound to you?  Not to mention the ever-present fog caused by leaky seals, of course.  What about when a strange plastic component of your modern window breaks?  Good luck finding a replacement part.  As with most consumer goods today, new windows aren't intended to last for generations or to be easily repaired by home-owners, they're destined for the landfill and yet more fossil fuel will be wasted manufacturing glass and plastic with which to replace the replacement windows.  To say nothing of the old-growth timber and antique glass so casually tossed aside...

To be sure old windows can be drafty and frost can develop on the inside of a wooden storm window, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater - the solution is regular maintenance.  And, if that maintenance has been deferred for some time now, a thorough programme of renewal may be in order.  We have discovered solutions using high-end European weather-stripping that allow you to preserve your historic windows while at the same time enjoying energy performance as good as or better than your typical modern window.  The key lies in properly air-sealing the window assembly. It's to be expected that your old windows have become a bit leaky given 100+ years of seasonal shrinkage and expansion in a wooden house (or, alternatively, painted shut and utterly immobile!)  We specialize in repairing, weather-stripping and correctly re-installing historic window assemblies, and in building matching wooden storm windows should the originals be missing.  We use genuine linseed-oil putty just as was done when your windows were made - not the cheap, hardware-store stuff that falls out after a couple of years.  We replace cracked panes of historic glass with unbroken historic glass rescued from, you guessed it, the replacement-window crowd.  We've even found an effortless way to strip all your old sash hardware using electrolysis, bringing all that fine detail back to life.  If you're thinking that your historic wooden windows need a tune-up and can't stomach the idea of junking them for plastic inserts, we may just have the answer for you.


Traditional Windows - Their care, repair and upgrading.