Tips for Restoring and Weatherizing Historic Windows
ALL ABOUT YOUR ORIGINAL
REPAIR V. REPLACEMENT
After 120 years in a house, antique wooden windows can look worn, rattle loose in their frame, feel drafty, stick or not close tightly. Window panes might be broken, sashes and sills may be rotten, and that putty is falling out and making a mess. Why would you ever keep these windows in your house?
After 120 years, any product will look as sorry. What you don’t see in your wooden windows is what they look like refurbished: wood repaired where soft, stripped and repainted, clean putty applied, new glass where broken, weatherstripped and replaned to close tight as a drum. When its weights are balanced, a repaired window glides up and down in its frame with two fingers and stays open at any height you like. The top sash slides up and down, too, for those summer days you want to let the hot air out from upstairs.
When combined with an exterior storm window, refurbished windows perform as well as standard replacement windows for energy savings. (Most window replacement companies don’t compare their products to refurbished windows, they compare them to loose, drafty windows before repair). The best part is, your refurbished wooden window will last another century before it needs to go into the shop with a little bit of care, such as spot painting and replacing the puddy every 30 years. Most stardard replacement windows are expected to last 5 to 20 years before they warp, crack or de-gas — and they can’t be repaired. Failed replacement windows must be torn out, thrown out, and replaced each time they fail. When you restore your wooden windows, not only do you preserve the ancient slow-growth wood they’re made out of, but nothing goes into the landfill. If you pay to have your windows repaired, your money stays in the local economy.
Window repair is simple, but it’s labor-intensive. Dedicated do-it-yourselfers can easily learn how and repair their windows in their basements or garages, but hiring it out can be expensive, sometimes more expensive than plastic replacement windows. The return is in a replacement window’s lifespan. If you plan to own your property for more than 20 years, repairing your windows will be a better investment than replacement. If you’re looking to flip your dwelling, you can replace your windows with plastic replacements and let them fail on the new owners. (Obviously, we don’t condone.) Conversely, if you’re on the market for an old house, be wary of new replacement windows and expect to pay to replace them again in about 10 years depending on how old they are.
OPTIONS FOR REPAIR
Do It Yourself Got sweat equity to spare? Go online or go to the library and check out a couple of old home repair books. Attend a window repair workshop for hands-on learning. Local expert John Leeke sells a comprehensive guide on repairing wooden windows. Then set up a station in your basement or garage, put on the radio, and enter your home-project zen.
Window Maintenance Just need a window pane or putty replaced? Call your local hardware store or trusty handiman. If they have a repair shop, they’ll likely do it (and even repair any soft wood) for about $100 a sash. That should be all the window requires for the next 30 years.
Complete Refurbishment These experts have restored hundreds of sashes, tested scores of products for this weather climate, and some have even invented methods and machines to perfect their work! Your windows will be installed air-tight and working better than new. But be prepared for sticker shock. Refurbishing windows takes a ton of time and requires a lot of work to clean, repair and install. Your reward will be in their functionality, longevity, and authentic connection to your old house’s character.
Click here for John Leeke’s open forum on window repair.
Click here to jump down to a list of experienced window repair craftsmen working in Maine.
END THE DRAFT!
Homemade Test Are your windows in pretty good shape, but you’re concerned they’re leaking air? Test them yourself with a simple incense test. On a cold day, light a stick of incense below your window and step far away so your body heat does not influence the results. Watch to see if the incense smoke is interupted by intruding outdoor air.
Weatherstripping Remedies There are lots of inexpensive weatherstripping you can do yourself each winter to keep the draft out — even without refurbishing your windows. Lots of people buy the plastic sheet that tapes around a window for the winter. Some people buy clay string that fits whereever there’s a gap. John Leeke created simple frames with shrink wrap that he puts inside his window frames each year. Finally, if the outdoor caulking around your window frame or storm window frame has deteriorated, replace it! Just make sure you leave two “weep” holes at the bottom of your storm window for water vapor to escape — you don’t want to trap condensation inside your window.
Click here for the test as described on This Old House’s website.
Click here for John Leeke’s instructions on how to make an air panel in lieu of disposible window plastic.
It wasn’t until recently that window manufacturers even produced a replacement window that outperformed a refurbished window combined with a storm for energy savings. Now, the only products that outperform refurbished windows with a storm come with an astronomical price tag — these aren’t the plastic replacements you see advertised in the newspaper every week.
In the spring of 2010, two non-preservation building magazines, Fine Homebuilding and the Journal of Light Construction compared the math of replacement versus repair. Fine Homebuildingconcluded that the super high-end energy-saving windows would take 250 years to pay off with energy savings in the Northeast. The Journal of Light Construction advised contractors not to promise energy savings with replacement windows to their customers because they’re unlikely to see the return on their heating bills. But don’t take our word on it. You can read the articles yourself:
For the Fine Homebuilding article, click here.
For the Journal of Light Construction article, click here.
THE GREEN EFFECT
Some champions of the environment will take energy reduction over cost savings. Preservationists promote that many historic windows were milled from wood that grew in primeval virgin forests in the United States. Many of those forests are exinct today. These trees grew slowly for generations below a shady canopy, producing tight growth rings in the trees. As lumber, this wood is stronger and more rot resistant than quick-growing lumber havested young on the market today. Customers can still buy “old growth wood” as it’s called, but it’s harvested from mountainsides in Alaska, northern Canada and Russia. It comes at a steep price — but you already have it in your existing windows! It’s environmental sacrilege to throw that threatened resource into a dumpster.
The second green argument is called “embodied energy.” Your antique windows were already lumbered, milled, transported and installed over a hundred years ago. When you throw those windows into a landfill, you start the environmental intrusion all over again. New materials need to be extracted, many from petroleum sources and from countries with lower standards of environmental protection. Those materials need to be shipped long distances to be manufactured, and then delivered to the warehouse or retail store. If the window fails after 15 years, the environmental intrusion starts yet again. It may be impossible to ever make up in energy savings what it costs the environment to produce a new replacement window.
Want to see old growth wood? In the following photo, the top board is current lumber sold at a major home improvement supplier with 6 growth rings per inch. The second board is 175 years old with 10 growth rings per inch. The bottom board is in the ballpark of 300 years old with up to 30 growth rings per inch. The older wood was salvaged from demolished buildings. Click here for the photo.
LIST OF CONTRACTORS IN MAINE WHO REPAIR WINDOWS
Organized by contact’s last name. Maine Preservation does not endorse or guarantee any contractor’s work.
Bagala Window Works
60 Gray Road, 3-4
Falmouth, ME 04105
Full window restoration service serving Maine. Sash can be shipped from anywhere to Mark’s shop for refurbishing and shipped back.
Salmon Falls Woodworks, Inc.
Contact: Brad Christo
195 Oldfields Rd.
South Berwick, ME 03908
Wooden Window Restoration Company
P.O. Box 483
Stonington, ME 04681
Phone: (207) 367-5599
Specializing in the restoration of old and historic sash.
Blackburn Restoration Service LLC
48 Plymouth Street
Middleboro, MA 02346
Phone: (508) 947-1739
Bob’s Old House Restoration
105 Hubbard Lane
Winthrop, ME 04364
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Fossel Building Restoration
Contact: Les Fossel
P.O. Box 525
Alna, ME 04535
Tel: 207-586-5680 Fax: 207-586-5670
Fine restoration of early buildings. Business founded
in 1975. 10 employees. 2001 Maine Preservation Honor Award winner.
North East Housewrights
Contact: Craig S. Gilbert
618-B Main Street
Westbrook, ME 04092
Highland Window Works
Contact: Gregory B. Gordon
371 Camden Road
Hope, ME 04847
Dedicated to the preservation and restoration of
wooden windows and other components of
traditional building. Services include: steam
stripping, reconstruction, weather-stripping,
glass replacement, hardware maintenance and
Caleb Hemphill, Preservation Carpenter
3 Dunham Pond Lane
Falmouth, ME 04105
chemp (at) maine.rr.com
Preservation carpentry and historic window work.
at Windows Plus
5 Cushman Road
Winslow, ME 04901
Contact: Alex Hamilton
35 Burnt Jacket Landing
Woolwich, ME 04579
We reproduce: wood turnings, moldings, brackets,
windows and doors. We have been in business
since 1974. Highest quality.
3 Breezy Lane
Bath, Maine 04530
nate (at) antiquewindowrestoration.com
restoring antique windows to their original form and function
mike (at) tz250racing (dot) com
High quality restoration of 1860-1920 antique windows and storms, including rebuilding of frames, boxes, resizing sashes and storms, glazing, exterior and interior finishing, window frame work, sealing, wood repair. Service Area: All of Maine, travel cost may be added south of Saco or north of Bangor
Richard D. Libby
The Olde House Doctor
495R Allen Ave.
Portland, ME 04103
rlibby (at) theoldehousedoctor.com
rlibby10 (at) maine.rr.com
window and door repair, maintenance and restoration
Union Station Plaza
274 St. John Street, Portland
Their repair shop will replace broken glass, reglaze puddy, and can repair soft wood in window sashes at a reasonable cost.
38 Freeman Rd.
Casco, ME 04015
screw_gun1 (at) yahoo (dot) com
Specialize in restoration of wooden sashes, weights and pulley window,and wooden casements, broken ropes, stuck sashes, drafty windows, glass replaced and reglazed, damaged woodwork repaired painted or stained. Service Area: Greater Portland.
Ed Somers Woodworking
Contact: Ed Somers
P.O. Box 192
N. Bridgton, ME 04057
A restoration carpenter with twenty years
experience in southern Maine. I can competitively manufacture
period doors, windows and trim.
Last Chance Woodworking
Contact: David Stenstrom
60 Warren Avenue
Portland, ME 04103
A one man woodworking shop with extensive
experience making and installing cabinets, millwork
appropriate for historic residences and buildings,
including replication of existing architectural details
such as mouldings, doors, etc. All work, including
furniture, done in the best manner.
Contact: Jeffrey C. Stone
5 Cox Street
South Portland, ME 04106
Serving Maine and New Hampshire since 1993. We provide interior and
exterior restoration, renovations and maintenance. References are
available upon request.
Specialist Painter-Rejuvenation Contractor
26 Noyes St
Portland, Maine 04103
Phone/Fax: (207) 774-0208