window restoration

A three-person crew installs a replacement window and frame.

People mistakenly believe that replacing old windows is better than restoring them. This is exactly what the window replacement industry wants people to believe. For example, in the July issue of This Old House magazine, Marvin Windows’ ad is the most expensive ad in the magazine: full-page and inside cover. This demonstrates the huge financial investment these replacement window companies make to perpetuate this misconception. Here is the ad’s opening:

“Is it really time to replace? Difficulty opening or closing, drafty, leaking, water stains, chipping paint are often warning signs…[Replace these windows and] you’ll love the benefits… more natural light to better operation…”

Modern window construction materials are different from old windows

If you do a little research on window replacement, you’ll quickly find conflicting information on the best window materials1. Older windows are constructed of sturdier materials such as old growth wood and steel, increasing their lifespan. Replacement windows, on the other hand, are constructed of vinyl, fiberglass, aluminum, composite or less dense, modern wood and are prone to failure. For this reason, a majority of replacement windows will last only two decades.

Additionally, most modern windows feature sealed glazing between two panes of glass.

Over time, the gas inside the window leaks and moisture from outside seeps between the panes. Not only can this permanently fog windows, but it can decrease their insulation as well. Although this normally happens gradually, it can also occur shortly after installation2 . Newer window installations are especially vulnerable to changes in outdoor and indoor atmospheres. Seal failure can occur from temperature changes during transport, installation and/or from the position of the window in relation to the sun.

The sturdy materials used for older windows ensures that these inconveniences don’t happen.

Restoring Old Windows is Better for the Environment…And Your Pocketbook

Americans demolish 200,000 buildings annually. This creates 124 million tons of debris 3. When homeowners replace their windows, they contribute to that debris. Restoring old windows is more environmentally-friendly than sending them to the dump.

Many homeowners believe that restoring their existing windows will be too expensive. This isn’t actually true. Remember those warning signs of windows needing replacement presented in the Marvin Windows ad? Repairs in older windows can correct those failures. Original windows can be made fully operational again: cleaning or replacing metal parts; cutting loose paint; and sealing off drafts with new glass putty, weatherizing materials and wood repairs. The costs to have professionals restore older windows is less than full window replacement 4. Homeowners can do the restoration themselves using efficient tools, techniques, and materials, to lower costs even more.

New windows, however, are not designed for repairs. The average lifespan of modern, thermal pane windows is 8 to 20 years. These likely cost thousands of dollars for even the cheapest kind. You’re looking at a large investment repeated 3-7 times in 60 years of adulthood. Because of this, some restoration purists call them “disposable” instead of replacement windows.

When working with vintage and historic windows, people are surprised to learn that original windows were designed for easy repair and replacement of individual parts. This is not the case with new, modern windows. Even damaged, centuries old windows can be repaired or fine-tuned to enable smooth and reliable operation for hundreds of years more.

Restored Windows Are Just As Effective As New Windows

Windows can retain or add beauty and character to older buildings. Preservationists understand the importance of keeping as much of the original integrity of a building as possible. Homeowners often invest in an older home as opposed to a newly-constructed home because they value the history and quality of pre-modern materials and designs.

Kelsie Gray, a window restoration professional in Paducah, KY is proud of the centuries-old windows she restored from an early U.S. President’s estate. She stripped the paint and glazing using the Speedheater™Cobra Infrared Paint Remover.

Although window replacement companies will admit to the beauty of older homes, they often blame old windows for drafts and high energy bills. However, other air leaks such as insulation breaks account for a larger percentage of these inefficiencies. Recent studies show that restoration and weatherization of historic windows achieve similar test results to new replacement windows 5. Installing interior or exterior storm windows can further energy improvements. Exterior storm windows provide an additional air pocket for insulation and protect the window wood and paint against the elements. Top-of-the-line, dual-pane windows are approximately twice as effective as single-paned windows at retaining heat and air conditioning. But remember the risk and cost of seal breakage. Changing to these more expensive windows won’t make a big difference on your energy bill long term. Replacing the originals with even highest quality windows produces only about 5-15% total energy savings. Since most American homeowners spend at least $1,000 per year to heat and cool their homes, it would take more than 100 years to earn back the total investment 6 in only the first set of replacement windows.

Final Notes

When deciding what to do with leaky or unsightly old windows, always consider repair. Unlike new windows, old windows allow for restoration. Restore your windows to avoid dealing with the problems replacement windows cause: broken window locks, nylon strings or weather-warped tracks.

To start the window restoration process, use SpeedheaterTM Infrared Paint Removers to quickly and efficiently strip old, dry paint and failed window glazing. For more information about our safe paint removal products, contact us at Eco-Strip.

Additional Resources:

https://windowstandards.org
https://windowpreservationalliance.org/resources/Documents/WPATopTenReasonstoRestoreorRepairWindows.rev.pdf

Footnotes:

1. https://www.proremodeler.com/blog/how-long-will-these-windows-last

2. thespruce.com/how-to-tell-if-a-window-seal-has-failed-1822894 

3. https://www.communitypreservation.org/windows

4. http://www.windowrestorationne.org/

5.https://forum.savingplaces.org/HigherLogic/System/DownloadDocumentFile.ashx?DocumentFileKey=80dc79b4-3814-59ac-9abe-842685e77747&forceDialog=0

6. https://money.com/replace-windows-need-to-know/