Preservation ABCs: W is for Window

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.


W is for Window

W is for Window.

W is for Window.

Of course W is for Window. Windows are significant features of every building, indicative of technology, design, trends, architectural style and period. Original windows give much character to a building. When original (historic) windows are replaced, the ability to read a building’s architectural style (it’s identity) is lost, at least partially.

Original windows are better quality than most replacement windows, especially vinyl windows. Please do not replace your windows. The money you spend on replacement, you will not recoup. A better bet is to install storm windows or to do easy, inexpensive energy saving tricks like weather stripping or energy shades will go a long way. And most of the energy loss leaves through your roof, not your window! This is an excellent window guide with a labeled window diagram (learn your sash from your sill from your stile) from the National Trust.

Historic preservationists discuss windows often because there are many rumors against keeping original windows, even those that can be repaired. New windows will never look the same. Look at the window in the photograph above; can you imagine how much character would be lost with another window?!

If a window cannot be repaired or must be replaced, it is best to replace a window in-kind (i.e. a wood window for a wood window with the same sash pattern). But if you can, save your money. Save your windows. Here’s a tip: most historic windows can be repaired because they were made with older growth timber. The wood we have today is not the same.

Next time you see a historic house that you love, take note of the windows. I’ll bet the windows are original or are appropriate replacements.

4 thoughts on “Preservation ABCs: W is for Window

  1. Chad says:

    I have had realtors here in Atlanta tell me that a historic house on the market loses 40% of its value when the original wood windows are replaced with vinyl.

    The old growth on the original windows is dense and very unlikely to rot. Sometimes people see the crummy paint and think the wood is bad.

    Also, vinyl windows typically have a life of less than 30 years. Throwing out the original windows and later the vinyl windows fill ups landfills, and vinyl is toxic.

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