Save the Windows

Historic windows are being massacred across the nation. They are the scapegoat for energy efficiency problems. Windows are the first to go. The media and the vinyl replacement window business seem to scheme together to get the general public to believe that vinyl double pane or triple pane windows will solve homeowners’ problems and save them a bundle. Rather than considering other solutions and analyzing whether or not replacement windows achieve their claims, beautiful, character defining windows are ripped from their frames and tossed to the curb.

A building that loses its historic windows loses so much of its character. Architectural styles are very much defined by window type: shape, frame, number of panes, type of glass, inset depth, and how the sash operates. The typical single pane replacement windows just destroy a building’s image. Interested in understanding why? Read “Repair or Replace, a Visual Look at the Impacts” — a colorful, image-filled, 18 page booklet put together by the NTHP. Want to learn about window styles and architectural styles? Read “Window Types – A Residential Field Guide” — a beautiful, colorful, helpful guide put together by the NTHP that will take you through window vocabulary and the uniqueness of each style

As a preservationist, I know I am not alone when I say that the windows suffering as the scapegoats makes me furious. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is continuing their stance on the benefits of historic windows with their new Save the Windows site — http://www.savethewindows.org. Why? Historic buildings are losing to new windows at an alarming rate and the amount of misinformation being shared is ridiculous relating to energy savings, sustainability, and historic preservation.

Quite often, WINDOWS ARE NOT THE CAUSE OR SOLUTION TO YOUR ENERGY PROBLEMS.

First of all, heat escapes through the roof. Is the roof insulated? What is in the attic?

Second of all, why would everyone believe all of the made up or likely altered statistics about windows spouted by the commercial industry selling vinyl replacement windows? Well, if you ask the industry, of course the new windows are better. It’s corporate America, people. What do you think they are going to say?

Third, new windows are NOT GREEN. Read this from the National Trust:

Tearing out historic windows for replacements wastes embodied energy – the energy required to extract the raw materials, transport them, make them into a new product, ship the product, and install it. What’s more, when we keep our existing windows, we avoid all the negative environmental impacts associated with the manufacture of new windows. For example, the manufacturing of some windows produces toxic byproducts. And, the new wood that manufacturers use today can’t begin to match the quality of old growth wood in older windows.

And here’s the kicker. New windows will often have a life span of just 10 to 20 years. Historic and older windows, when properly maintained, can last for many more decades. Furthermore, studies have shown that with proper weatherization and use of a good storm window, older windows can be made nearly as energy efficient as new windows – even in severe climates such as the Northeast.

Fourth, new windows are only maintenance free in that YOU CANNOT MAINTAIN THEM. They will have to be replaced, not repaired. From the National Trust:

Vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, and composite windows are manufactured as a unit and are maintenance-free only because, in most instances, the components cannot be repaired. When a part fails, or the insulated glass seal breaks, the entire unit must be replaced. By comparison, older wood windows are composed of interlocking parts made from natural materials, and any part can be repaired or replaced.

Fifth, new windows will NOT SAVE YOU MONEY. Again, from the National Trust:

Window manufacturers are quick to tell you that their products will save you money. While replacement windows could save you about $50 a month on your heating or cooling bills, those savings come after you spend $12,000, on average, for replacement windows for the typical home. So if you heat or cool your home, say, six months a year, the savings are about $300 annually. At that rate, it would take 40 years to recoup in energy savings the amount of money spent on the new windows! And, by that time, your replacement windows will have needed replacing!

Did you see that — new windows will take 40 years to earn their keep. 40 YEARS!! There are so many things wrong with that. Are you even going to live in your house for 40 years? The savings only come after you’ve spent a ton of money on windows. And what happened to those old windows? They are sitting in a landfill, right? Well then you’ve used twice the energy: from the embodied energy of the existing windows and the resources required to manufacture new windows. And those new windows are likely off-gassing chemicals that you do not want floating around your house and in your lungs.

Do not believe everything (or dare I say anything) you read from new manufacturers.

How can you help? Share the information about the many, many benefits of keeping historic windows (financial! environmentally! historically!) by visiting Save the Windows, sharing it on twitter, on facebook, sending emails to your friends and family, sending a quick note to your senators, and by talking about historic windows!

Learn what you can do to keep your windows, save your money, and improve your energy efficiency. Start here: TEN REASONS TO REPAIR YOUR OLD WINDOWS.

Be green, be thoughtful, be respectful – save the windows! Love the windows!