Ten Tips to Replacing Historic Windows

Historic Windows and Buildings

When researching new windows and doors for an historic home, you will find that it is possible to preserve that historic style when making your new window and door purchase. Though you may want to keep those existing windows and doors, unfortunately, many might need to be replaced due to warping. Sometimes they don’t function anymore due to other issues such as overpainting. Follow these steps to find a company and products that will preserve your historic home’s integrity while offering great new views.

  1. Find a company that focuses on historic window and door replacements.

    Look for a company that has performed historic replacements in the past, and that has products that replicate historic styles. Both large window makers and small craftsman companies can be good options so do your research and ask the right questions of those prospective window companies you are talking to.

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  2. Research all materials. 

    Your old windows are likely made of wood and new wood windows are a good alternative. But don’t count out other materials, as technology has evolved and often vinyl or fiberglass windows can replicate the look of wood.

  3. Ask how long the replacement windows will last. 

    Although you may or may not be living in the home 30 years from now, it’s a good idea to ensure that the new products are tough enough to withstand the elements to last for years to come.

  4. Ask your potential window company about energy efficiency.

    With a historic renovation, preserving the historic look is number one. But also ask about window and door options that can help you save energy at the same time. Whatever material option you choose, all offer energy efficient products including those with the Energy Star label.

  5. Check the local code requirements.

    Find out what local codes you have to adhere to and if your home is registered as a historic site. If the answer is yes, know that you window options will be more limited. A reputable window company can help you with this, so if you ask about the codes and they don’t know, they may not be the right company for this job.

  6. Make sure the company you choose is Lead Safe Certified.

    If you are replacing windows in a home that was built before 1978, your contractor must adhere to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting (LRRP) Rule. Enacted in 2008 this requires that anyone doing renovation work on residential facilities built before 1978 take steps to reduce the dust generated when paint is disturbed. The regulation requires any renovation work — and all door and window replacements — that disturbs more than six square feet of a pre-1978 home’s interior to follow rigorous work practices to protect residents from exposure to lead, which can be especially dangerous for young children. The work must be supervised by an EPA-certified renovator and performed by an EPA-certified renovation firm.

  7. Have the window company check for additional issues around the window.

    Depending on the age of the home, there may be issues around the window, such as rot, etc. Ask if your window contractor can handle these issue as well, and if yes, what the associated cost is. As long as you are improving the insulation of your windows, you may want to look for other areas of the home where energy is being lost. Your window contractor may be able to offer these services as well.

  8. Consider the cost.

    Historic renovations will often cost more for those window replacements and will vary depending on the window you choose. Replacing historic windows is often more work and can even be a custom job depending on what’s needed. Knowing this up front will help you as you evaluate the best options for your historic home.

  9. What about restoring instead of replacing?

    Restoring old windows could be an option to pursue but you may find it difficult to find a company who does this. The cost of repairing a historic window can range from 70-130 percent the cost of replacing it, so it is not always a cost benefit and sometimes more work than it is worth.

  10. Research homes similar to yours.

    If you are stressed about what types of windows to choose and how they will look, find a window company that offers a visualizer tool, which many do. This would allow you to put in wood windows, and other materials, so you can see how the new windows will fit in with the home’s historic look. This could go a long way and help you determining the right option for your home.

Do your Homework

This type of window installation will likely require more research than that of a typical home so don’t rush. Do your homework and make sure before buying you are comfortable with your final decision. When you are ready to proceed, Glass.com can help find a window dealer near you.

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By Tara Taffera

Tara Taffera is the editorial director for USGlass magazine, Auto Glass Repair and Replacement, and Window Film magazines. Her skills and more than 20 years of experience have helped her earn numerous journalism awards, including coveted Jesse Neal Awards.

Tara enjoys spending time with her family and staying active with her husband by competing in races together, including triathlons. She also spends time volunteering in her community and with her church.