Historical windows, you either hate them or you love them. If you hate them it’s probably because you don’t think they are energy efficient, or the ARC is requiring that you use pricey historically accurate replacements.
Newburgh is the second largest historic district in NY State. That means that there are thousands of historical windows that still remain despite many replacements. What about the windows that remain that have broken panes, rotted sashes or torn ropes? Should you try and save them? Fortunately there are some die-hard old window aficionados out there who are painstakingly restoring Newburgh’s windows one at at time. Ben Brandt of Newburgh Sash and Restoration is one of them.
Here, Ben will explain why it’s worth saving those 100 year old windows on your home. Make sure to visit his facebook page or instragram for other examples of his work! You can also email him at newburghsash(at)gmail.com.
Reasons to restore windows:
“They’re important original features of your house! They were designed for your particular house, and are a significant part of the “look” of a building. Replacement windows fit inside your existing window frame, so they are slightly smaller than the original sashes. And because they have to accommodate a doubly thick insulated glass unit, they have less depth and edge details than the original wood sashes. This gives new windows the appearance of being “cut and pasted” onto a building instead of being integrated into the design. And because modern aluminum and glass are manufactured to have a flawless surface, new windows have a “dead” appearance compared to historic windows that acquire character gracefully over time. While the differences may seem small, it’s the small details that add up to make a big difference.
“They don’t make them like they used to” is a phrase that definitely applies to windows. Most importantly, the wood that was used for old windows is several orders of magnitude better than wood that is commercially available today. It was milled from slow-growing, old-growth forests that provided much denser, and more naturally rot resistant lumber. The joinery, or the way the wood parts were assembled were developed to last a lifetime, be super strong as well as reversible, allowing the possibility of repairs as opposed to wholesale replacement. Also, the pulley- and-weight balances are a simple, durable and effective system that allow for easy repairs compared to the modern proprietary plastic parts that are often difficult to track down when they inevitably brake.
They’re more energy-efficient than we’re led to believe by the replacement window industry. Independent studies have confirmed that a well-maintained or properly restored window with weather-stripping and a good storm window is just as efficient as any modern replacement. When you factor in the energy saved by NOT throwing away the embodied energy in your existing windows and the energy required to produce new glass and wood/vinyl/aluminum replacements, you came out even farther ahead in energy savings.
Quality. Because of their unique materials and traditional construction, they’ve lasted over a hundred years! We can make them last 100 more. The majority of commercially available replacement windows cannot make that claim. Approximately half of all replacement windows ordered today are made to replace failed replacements. Take a look at the windows at the Foundry Condominium development. They’re only about fifteen years old and the color is faded and the insulated glass units have failed and become fogged up. I’d be curious to ask the occupants if they still operate well, my bet would be that they’re sticky and don’t stay open. Old windows are designed to be maintained for decades, new windows are designed to be thrown out and replaced again.”
To learn more about restoring historical windows, see the following sites:
Window “replacement” has a varied scope. If the frame is in good condition then a ‘replacement’ insulated sash can be made to fit. The entire unit, to include the frame, can also be replaced to fit the original opening as built. The ’embodied energy saved’ is a wash considering the hiring of a house mechanic to maintain original windows and periodically swap out ‘storms’. Because most buildings in Newburgh are multi-storied the use of an extension ladder is a necessity and not everyone has a ‘knack’ for painting. This isn’t a bad thing imo, as the ’embodied energy’ is released several times over through hired maintenance ad infinitum. That’s what we’re throwing away…not just relative to windows either. Walk the streets of Newburgh and you’re seeing decades of ’embodied energy’ $$$’s sitting idle and decades discarded. Boost the economy? Easy…replace the subsidizing with unlimited capital improvement credits so the Mr. Brandts are the norm again.
We strongly believe in preserving what can be preserved, and recently finished a home restoration in the Heights. Ben did a fantastic job repairing and restoring 22 double-hung windows circa 1900. Nothing like old construction..and someone who knows its value. The cost is well worth it when you begin to price out lesser quality ‘custom’ size replacements. And the pleasure of opening a perfectly balanced window with one touch, priceless 😉
Yes Ben is right. I’ve been advocating for historic windows and restoring them for forty years. It’s well worth the effort when you can preserve that “something” that makes a building special.
While I agree that historic windows look better than replacements, that’s little consolation to groups like Habitat who must work within tight budgets to house families in need, or people barely able to pay the bills in a city with quite high property taxes.
Not everyone can afford 50 thousand dollars window replacements, much less the average City of Newburgh resident. I’d be interested in knowing what the city is doing to subsidize people who want to preserve the character of these historic buildings.
I think a take away from this article is that if you care about old houses and their details, there are options. Not everyone can afford a professional but there are tons of people doing this kind of work themselves. It’s doable. But again, maybe this is only possible if you care or have the time. I know Ben had interest in giving classes on window repair. Maybe that will happen in the future…
Anna from Door Sixteen posted in detail about her DIY window restorations which can be found here: http://www.doorsixteen.com/2009/06/11/guest-bedroom-window/