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Replacement Windows: Best Choice for Historic Homes?

February 26, 2013 | 7 comments

Historic homes were often constructed with energy savings and sustainability in mind, using thick walls, light-reflecting finishes, operable shutters, and awnings/porches that provide shade.

As they age, older homes can be made more energy efficient – and replacing outdated components isn’t always the answer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

A good example: Windows in older homes (especially those that predate 1950) are typically made of now-scarce, old-growth wood. The DOE says this wood is denser, more rot- and warp-resistant, and holds paint better than modern, plantation-grown wood.

You don’t always have to replace your home’s historic wood windows to improve efficiency, but replacement might be necessary if windows can’t be repaired or updated.

When thinking about replacement windows for historic homes, consider these points first because they could save you money … especially because repairing vs. replacing windows in historic homes can usually be done at a lower cost while achieving nearly the same level of energy efficiency:

  • Check the caulk at the interior and exterior casing to stop air leaks.
  • If you live in a local historic district, check with the historic district commission before purchasing low-e storm windows; they may not comply with guidelines.
  • Keep exterior surfaces painted (including glazing putty) to protect components from water. Keep paint off of sash locks, window panes, and ropes.
  • Do spot repairs as necessary to glazing putty. Putty needs to be replaced periodically, but spot repairs can be done.
  • If your sashes are hung with rope, it can be replaced if it dries out or breaks.
  • Make sure the sash lock works and is engaged. It helps with security, but also makes sure rails are held together tightly.
  • Add weather-stripping as necessary.
  • Consider applying window film. Newer low-e window film increases the insulating value of your windows, offering year-round savings. It helps keep heat out during summer months, and keeps heat in during winter months. Some low-e films don’t noticeably darken windows or views, so your local historic district may allow these window films.

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, replacement windows for historic homes could take 100 years or longer to pay for themselves in energy savings. Trying these steps to repair or update your windows can prolong your home’s character, save historic resources, and improve energy conservation.

Have you replaced the windows in your historic home? Why or why not?


7 Comments


  1. Phillip Stone
    August 15, 2013

    I’ve been in the window business here in Tampa for decades and historic homes present lots of challenges. Most people don’t even realize it. Good job!


  2. Mac Heal
    May 12, 2014

    Hi,
    Interesting Blog.And I agree with your point about old house windows are old growth wood and unuseable and also can be made more energy savings.And it is very difficult to repair old house windows and doors. And we need to replace old windows and doors otherwise it is unuseable and waste of money. i think your idea is great. And also thanks for sharing great information.And also i will recommended to my friends and colleagues.


  3. Vista
    May 12, 2014

    Hi Mac, glad you enjoyed the blog. Thanks for reading!


  4. Susan Hirst
    March 18, 2015

    Thank you for this advice. I live in an old home that my great-grandfather built. It can get rather cold, because the windows are badly insulated. Window replacement sounds like a good option for me.


  5. Vista
    March 25, 2015

    Hi Susan – glad you found our post to be helpful. If the windows are original to the house and in bad condition, replacement may be necessary. But if the windows themselves are in good condition, window film installation can improve the insulating properties of your windows (and do so much more cost-effectively than a total window replacement).


  6. Susan Hirst
    May 14, 2015

    I really appreciate this information. I live in a home that is over 100 years old and it is a real beauty. However, it is not the most energy efficient. The windows are single paned and they aren’t well insulated. I’ll be sure to take your advice about replacing the windows and alert the historic district commission before making any changes.


  7. Vista
    May 22, 2015

    No problem, Susan. Glad you found the article helpful!


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