My windows are hard to open and almost as hard to close. Aren’t they prime candidates for replacement?
When a widow is hard to open, usually it’s because the ropes or chains are broken. This is a simple fix. And when a window is attached to each of the two weights at the end of the ropes, it should open with just two fingers. That’s something even high end replacement windows can’t claim to do.
You talk about “maintenance” of old windows. That scares me. Wouldn’t it be better to just get a maintenance-free replacement window?
As an architect was recently heard to say, “maintenance free” really means, “cannot be maintained.” In other words, when something goes wrong with a replacement window, it usually can’t be fixed. The window must be thrown into the land fill and replaced with a new replacement window.
Original wood windows were crafted specifically for your home by a carpenter using mortise and tenon joinery. The wood is dense, first growth timber. The pieces were made to be repaired when necessary. And most maintenance, once a window has been rehabbed, is a list of what not to do (e.g., don’t paint the ropes or the channels; don’t paint the windows shut; wax the channels occasionally, etc.). A bit of maintenance every couple of decades and youre good to go for probably the next 100 years or more.
I just bought an old house and I feel drafts all over the place. My contractor says I can get rid of drafts with vinyl replacement windows. Should this be the first thing I do to make my house more comfortable?
Actually, the first thing we’d do in an older home is reinsulate the attic. If warm air is leaking out of the attic, it’s pulling more warm air from inside the house, which pulls air from every crevice in the home, including doors, electrical outlets and windows without storms. Stop the air leaking out of the attic, you stop the drafts. Change the windows without addressing the attic and you will still have drafts from all the other crevices in the home.
What about R-Value? My contractor says replacement windows have it, and original windows don’t. Question is, do I need it?
Yes, you do need it and the higher, the better. As it turns out, an original window, when tuned up and paired with a well-fitting interior or exterior storm window, provides R-values that rival the best replacement windows. So you can save money on your heating bill without spending it all (and more) on replacement windows.
The ropes are broken on my windows and the window replacement salesperson said that is just another indication that it’s time for replacement windows. Is that true?
No. The ropes attach to weights in the weight pocket alongside the windows. Each window has two weights that are each one-half the weight of the window. When the ropes are reattached, an easy DIY project, the window will be ready for many decades of service again. (Or call Open Window for a quick in-home repair.)
And think of this: original sash windows with their matching weights on a pulley are ingeniously simple. Just four parts (the sash, the rope, the weights and the pulley). Replacement windows consist of dozens of parts, many of which can’t be repaired easily by the homeowner or even the replacement companies.
I want to re-do my old house in the greenest way possible. The fellows at the big box store said top of my list should be replacement windows. Do you agree?
Consider this: when you replace your original wood windows, you are throwing an irreplaceable resource into the landfill: carpenter-built windows made of first growth timber that is hard, has many growth rings and naturally rot resistant. You will be replacing them with, at the high end, windows that are glued and stapled together, composed of fast growth timber that is soft and subject to rot. In about 20 years, you will need to replace those windows again, throwing the old replacements into the landfill and putting in new replacements…that will need to be replaced again in about 20 years, and on and on.
If you restore your original wood windows, you not only maintain the authenticity of your old house, but you keep windows out of the land fill now, and every 20 years from now. Once restored, your original wood windows could last another 100 years or more.
Which do you think is the greener option?
I’m planning to use wood replacement windows and have them custom made to match the original wood windows. Isn’t this just as good as the original windows?
I bought a home with original windows, but they haven’t been well-maintained—some rot, broken pieces, and chipping paint. Wouldn’t my home be improved by new replacement windows?
Most people who buy old homes care about authenticity. They want an old home because it has elements that just can’t be found in a new building. If you like old houses, then your home would be improved by thoughtful renovation and repair, bringing the original windows back to their full beauty. Your original windows fit your home historically; are composed of durable materials; and were designed to be repaired when needed. Restoration, not replacement, is the answer. All of the problems you describe can be addressed—and often at lower cost than a wood replacement window.
Can you really tell a replacement window from an original?
Certainly the most common replacements, vinyl windows, look nothing like the original wood windows. Often, the replacement company does not even try to mimic the original style of the windows. But, mostly, a line of painted-on vinyl just doesn’t look anything like a hand crafted window mullion. (A mullion is the piece of wood between each pane of glass.)
Wood replacement windows, especially the more expensive custom made models, should at least mimic the original design. But remember, original windows are made of very dense, very hard, first growth timber enabling the craftsman to fashion very delicate mullions that just can’t be replicated in today’s wood replacement windows.
The windows in my sun room have been painted shut for years: can they be helped—without stripping paint from the whole room?
Absolutely! Windows that have been painted shut can be opened using a variety of techniques. You may need to repaint the stops (the piece in the front that holds the front sash in place) but you won’t need to take on the whole room, or even the whole window structure.
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