Should You Restore or Replace Old Windows?


There is something very special about the presence of an old window and the character it adds to a home. The rustic design, the quality of materials, the wavy glass and divided lite patterns, all characteristics of a thing of the past reflecting what it has seen to us today. Just as time takes its toll on us all, so it does with windows causing cracks, chipped paint, leaks and sagging. But before you jump to the decision to replace your antique windows, here are a few things to consider.

Window Restoration vs. Window Replacement

While replacing an old window might seem like a much easier fix, there are many reasons not to scrap the old. For many, it is the look of the old frame and glass, but there is also the benefit of pure materials that are inherently higher quality, safer, more durable and will last longer (consider their current lifespan as proof). Old windows also are designed to be repaired, while replacement windows are designed to be—well, replaced.

In order to keep old windows up and working, it requires a bit of effort. Here is just a brief snapshot of what steps are taken when repairing windows from the past.

The Window Restoration Process

Depending on the amount of wear on the window, the process of restoring and repairing can be either fairly simple or slightly more complicated. Ask a trained professional to handle all old window renovation projects, but here is what you might expect to see them do.

Start with the Window Sash

A window sash is an encasement that holds the glass. This can be made out of aluminum or vinyl but most old window sashes are made of wood. If the wood is not painted or treated regularly it can swell, crack and rot—damaging the integrity of the window. For first-time restoration work, many old windows will need to have a paint seal broken, which is where the sash (usually the top sash, but sometimes the lower one as well) was sealed to the frame with a layer of paint making it unable to be opened. It is very important that a trained professional handle anything pertaining to the paint on old windows as any windows dated before 1978 run the risk of lead-paint exposure.

Next, the stops will be removed. In old windows, stops are pieces of wood trim attached to each side that direct the path of the window for opening and closing.

Once the sash and glass are separated from the frame, the weights and the pulleys in the window are taken out. These will either be soaked in an ammonia solution to clean and loosen them or they can be replaced altogether to prevent jams. The sash will be stripped to the bare wood and then sanded primed and painted. For energy efficiency improvement, insulation can be added to the outside of the sash.

Next is the Glass

To remove the glass from the sash safely, the seal will need to be loosened which can be done through a careful process of applying heat and using a special type of chisel. Once the glass is free, the glazier points—little metal stays that hold the glass in the frame—will be removed and a new glazing compound will be applied. From there it is basically putting it all back together while adding extra insulation and updated finishes and coatings to protect the window from rot and cracks.

Window Restoration: Pros and Cons

If you are considering taking on a restoration project, there are both pros and cons about window restoration that you should consider.

Window Restoration Pros

To give the good news first, there are several reasons why many people support the restoration of old windows. There are studies that prove a restored window can provide just as much insulation to a home as the newer vinyl replacement windows. Not only are they airtight, but the materials tend to last longer than the material that new windows are made of.

In addition to this, vinyl window components are designed to be thrown out and replaced once they go bad. This can be more costly than taking the time to freshen up older materials that are designed to be rebuilt. Reusing materials can also be good for the environment, instead of trashing the glass and wood these materials are excellent for sustainability. Because you can keep repairing the materials on old windows, they will last longer than replacement windows which tend to have a lifespan of only 20 years. Many historic windows have already been around for 80+ years and still have more life in them.

Furthermore, the effect a plastic window on an old house has on the appearance and character of the entire home is a big factor to consider. Not only does the aesthetic appeal decrease but also the historic value. Taking the time and effort to restore the original windows will keep that classic look while also preserving the legacy attached to the house.

Window Restoration Cons

The most obvious downside to restoring old windows is the amount of time and effort it takes to get them into a condition that is as efficient as a new window. The process is meticulous and can be time-consuming. It also can cost a decent amount to hire a professional and procure all the appropriate materials needed to do the job well. Some of the equipment and materials can be difficult to find depending on how specifically the restorer wants to stick to historic guidelines.   As previously mentioned, restoration can also be dangerous. Lead-paint exposure is a threat when dealing with windows in a home built before 1987 and the extra precautionary steps that need to be taken to protect against this can slow-down the process even more.

Start Your Restoration Project

Now that you know the good, the bad and the ugly about window replacement versus window restoration. It’s up to you to decide which is the right choice for your home. If you decide to replace your windows here is a resource to help you find the perfect fit.

 

Glass.com attempts to provide accurate information but cannot be held liable for any information provided or omitted.  You should always work with a licensed, insured and reputable glass shop that can assess your specific needs and local building codes and offer professional services. Never attempt to cut, install, or otherwise work with glass yourself. All content is provided on an informational basis only.

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Kyra Thompson

By Kyra Thompson

Kyra Thompson is the editorial assistant for USGlass magazine and Door and Window Market magazine. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism with a minor in Cinematic Arts from Liberty University where she wrote for the school newspaper. She also helped start and run an independent-student-run news site.

Kyra enjoys her hometown but also has fun traveling whenever the opportunity arises. She loves the arts and spends most evenings teaching dance. When not dancing, Kyra can also be found singing and acting.


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