Anyone who’s spent time in or around historic houses knows that every detail is important. What is a shotgun home without a front porch? How about a Victorian house without a turret and those beautiful Victorian windows? Every part of the design and construction tells a story of the times in which it was built and the craftsman who built it.
As these buildings age, they invariably need renovations. Using reclaimed building materials is a great way to maintain the character of your historic home. Reclaiming the materials already in your home is even better. A historic window restoration is a way to do just that. While you can replace your aging windows with a new set, you’d completely change the look of your home.
If your windows have become the weak points in your home’s facade, getting ugly and letting air and noise pass through them, it’s time to do something about it. The single best way to maintain the character of your home through the process is to restore the windows you already have.
Why restoring old windows is better than buying new
If the windows are more or less destroyed, they may be tough to salvage. You’ll have to assess the size of the project and determine whether or not it’s worth it. But, if you suspect that they might still have some life in them, there are some great reasons to restore them rather than replace them.
They look great
Even the best replacement windows for historic homes don’t hold an aesthetic candle to the originals. They were built specifically to match the style of your home, and their handcrafted nature means they deliver far more quality and character than modern windows. If your windows have unique shapes, you may not even be able to find a suitable replacement without breaking the bank.
They are better for the environment
Any time you can refurbish and reuse a material that hasn’t lost its usefulness, it’s a better option for the environment than replacing it. The process of creating new windows contributes much more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than refurbishing the old ones. Do the earth a favor by refurbishing old windows rather than tossing them in the landfill.
They cost less
If those reasons weren’t persuasive enough, let’s get to one thing everyone can agree on—the cost. While a historic window restoration will undoubtedly cost quite a bit of money, that amount is almost certainly lower than the cost of replacing them all with new windows. If your historic windows have unique shapes or sizes, replacing them may involve altering the opening, which means that cost grows even more.
They’ll probably last longer than a new set
With a project as big as tackling your home’s aging windows, you probably don’t want to be doing it again any time soon. If that’s the case, you’ve found another reason restoration beats replacement. The quality of the materials in those old windows is vastly superior to the materials we use in most modern windows, meaning there’s a real chance your restoration could outlive your replacements by decades or more.
The materials are key in a historic window restoration
If you’re considering a historic window restoration for your own home, pat yourself on the back. These windows were built in a time when construction techniques were still more simple, but the materials were top notch. You can reuse a good deal of the materials, meaning your historic windows will look and function great for years to come.
Today’s windows are generally made of vinyl or metal, but windows used to be made of very solid, old growth wood. If the wood hasn’t rotted, you should be able to reuse the bulk of it. Take inventory of the good and the bad. If a piece can’t be salvaged, replace that piece and keep the rest. You’ll probably need fewer raw materials than you’d think. When restoring old wood windows,
The glass in windows for historic homes is quite a bit different from the glass we use today. Until the 20th century, panes were hand blown, meaning they had imperfections in their thickness and appearance. That character is worth saving. If you have multiple broken or damaged panes, you may want to look for reclaimed materials for your restoration. Not only will they look better, but they’ll fit better since those old windows were built to hold that old school glass.
How to restore old windows
Just because a window is old doesn’t necessarily make it historically significant. If the windows are rotted beyond repair, or they were constructed with cheap materials when they were originally built and installed, it may be better to replace them with something new.
On the other hand, if they reflect a particular time or style, and they were crafted with quality materials, a historic window restoration is well worth the time and money.
Replace any rotten or broken parts
The first step in a wood window restoration is to examine all wood parts of the window and replace any that aren’t salvageable. If a piece is only partially rotted or cracked, you can cut out the bad parts and splice new pieces of wood into the gap to finish the piece. Sand it all down well, and fill any large gaps in the wood with epoxy.
You’ll follow similar steps for the glass. Replace any broken panes with new ones. Ideally, these would be reclaimed panes from the same era. If you aren’t able to find them, you may prefer to replace all panes with new pieces so they look uniform.
Repeat all steps for each window. Different types of windows may utilize slightly different hardware, but the process is very similar. A double hung historic window restoration looks very similar to that of a single hung window, but with more moving parts comes a little more time and effort.
Seal it well
Once the window has been reassembled, don’t forget to seal both it and the frame well to create a barrier against the weather. This is a very important step in any historic window restoration. Any drafts will make it harder to maintain a comfortable climate and will let every noise in the neighborhood into your home. Once you’ve put the whole assembly back together, it’s time to place the window back into its opening.
Utilize window inserts or Storm windows for historic homes
Even if you aren’t able to match the thermal and sound insulating benefits associated with a new set, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to trash them. Window inserts can allow you to retain the historic windows you love and deliver the proper seal that keeps your home comfortable by keeping noise and moisture out. They can be custom built to fit nearly any window shape. As an added bonus, a set of high end inserts can actually help protect the interior of your home from damage due to the sun’s rays.
Keep your windows fresh
Once you’ve completed your historic window restoration, the best way to avoid having to redo it in the near future is to keep up with the maintenance on your windows. Keeping them clean will prevent mildew from destroying all your hard work. A fresh coat of paint every few years will also keep them lasting longer by sealing out the elements. Remember, wood is a porous material, and if not properly sealed, moisture and critters can make their way in and destroy the wood you’ve worked so hard to bring back to life.
Treat your historic home and window restoration right
If you’re interested in maintaining the classic look of your historic home, retaining the look of those historic windows is a must. Taking the time to learn the process and execute it well will ensure the results are true to the home’s style. A historic window restoration isn’t terribly difficult, and you’ll be much happier with the outcome than you would be with a replacement set.