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5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners, Part 1: Windows
By The Craftsman on Dec 06, 2011
Being in the business of restoring and preserving historic structures I have seen many a house that made me cock my head in amazement at some of the frightening things people do to “upgrade” their old homes. The phrase “What were they thinking?” is almost a cliche in our business! But every year people tear out important (and valuable!) architectural elements and replace them with off the shelf items from the local big box hardware store all in the name of “improvement” or “energy-efficiency.” Don’t get me wrong, I know that the science of building a house has been added to significantly in the last 100 years. And I’m not one to spit in the eye of progress when it comes to green products and energy saving upgrades. Quite to the contrary!
But the value of an historic home lies largely in its historic features. Remove or cover those up and you destroy the value of the home. So, in the interest of educating some of you about how to invest properly in the value of your historic home and to save some valuable historical elements from the landfill I’ve compiled a list of the 5 worst mistakes we see when it comes to restoring historic homes. This week we’ll touch on the number 1 offense, windows.
1. Replacent Windows
This has got to be the most widespread mistake and my personal pet peeve. Historic wood windows are constantly being torn out of homes today and being replaced with inferior products. Metal, vinyl, double-paned, triple-paned, argon filled, are promoted as the solution to a drafty old house. And I’m not going to lie, they work! What?? That’s right, they work. For a time these new windows are extremely efficient; however, they have a few flaws that make them a bad choice.
First, is longevity. Many of these windows come with a 25, 35 or 50 yr. prorated warranty. That’s great, but what happens after that? Not that you’ll be in the house then, but your traditional historic wood windows were designed when families planned to live in a house for generations. There are countless original windows in homes built not just in the 19th but 18th and 17th centuries that are still in service today! Properly cared for these windows can last indefinitely.
The use of old growth lumber, which is more rot resistant than today’s lumber, combined with the simple design and function of most historic windows makes them extremely resilient. Historic windows are simple and everyone knows that the more complicated something is the easier it is to break. Argon gas seals leak causing multi paned windows to fog up and fail. Spring tensioners wear out making it hard to open and close windows. Historic windows don’t have any of these issues. You can learn more about the design of historic windows by clicking here.
Secondly, removing your home’s original windows inevitably destroys the character of a historic house. New windows were designed for the look of new houses. And while there are companies that make windows that look like historic ones they are not the same. Lacking this major architectural element almost guarantees a lower resale price for an historic home. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking newer is better. On an old home this is rarely the case.
More than likely, your windows are painted shut or rotting in a few places if they haven’t been cared for. Before you run to replace them call a restorer to bing them back to life. Your wallet will thank you and so will your sense of conservation. Historic windows are a superior product so why replace them with a good but inferior product?
Historic windows need a couple things to perform as good or better than new windows. First, they need to be properly weatherstripped. Next, they need to be properly maintained and painted when necessary to prevent rot or other issues. And lastly, you should consider adding historical storm windows to dramatically increase their efficiency. You can add these on the outside or even better the inside to preserve your home’s appearance from the street. If you can do these three things you will have windows that last centuries, retain your home’s value and meet even the toughest energy-efficiency standards today.
You can read about the “Save The Windows” project at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Check back next time when we talk about flooring!