Repair, Don't Replace, Old Wood Windows

August 6, 2010

Is it my imagination or is almost all the discussion on this forum about replacement windows? I manage a remodeling company in the mid-west. We repair and/or replace windows as needed without prejudice either way. If a window can be repaired and that's what the customer wants, we repair it. If the customer wants it replaced, we replace it. It seems to me, however, that we are frequently asked to replace windows that don't need to be replaced, and we think replacing windows is a frequently bad economic and environmental choice. I know there are a lot of people on this forum that make their living replacing windows, and what I am about to say will probably drive them nuts. But it is a discussion that ought to be had, so here it is.

You may be unlucky and have old aluminum or steel windows on your old house, or even replacement vinyl windows from the 1970's or 80's. Most likely these cannot be repaired, and must be replaced. But if you are lucky enough to own a house with old wood double hung windows, you often have the choice to repair OR replace.

Most wood double-hung heritage windows can be restored and upgraded to rival the performance of a standard replacement window, and usually at a fraction of the cost. And there are other important advantages of repairing rather than replacing. You not only save on your own heating a cooling costs, which reduces waste and your carbon footprint on the planet, you also save the resources and energy cost required to manufacture new windows which considering what new windows are made out of, is not an inconsiderable savings. You also preserve, not just wonderful old-time workmanship, but the superb old growth wood from which your windows were made. We can't build windows like that any more. It's not that our craftsmen do not have the skill and experience. Any of our master carpenters or cabinetmakers could build a traditional window. But we can't get that dense, heavy old growth wood, and the new wood is ... well, we're pretty sure it's wood, but it's just not very good window wood.

Are Replacement Windows a Good Investment?

Before 1996, primarily as a consequence of the pervasive and unceasing marketing of replacement windows after the energy "crisis" of the 1970's (when gasoline prices jumped to an astounding $.80/gal. oh, for the good ol' days), it was nearly universally thought that replacement windows were vastly superior energy performers. But then the State of Vermont and the U.S. Army joined together to actually test the performance of restored heritage wood windows.

They repaired and restored 150 windows all over Vermont, then tested them against replacement windows in similar situations. What they discovered was an eye-opener. They found that the energy savings difference between restored old windows and new replacement windows amounted to just a few dollars a year. When a storm window was added to a restored window, the window/storm window combination actually outperformed many of the new thermal windows. These findings have been well supported by subsequent studies.

Keith Haberern, a professional engineer, in an analysis of New Jersey homes found that the annual energy savings of a modern replacement window over an old window in good condition is 626,000 Btu. How this translates into dollars depends on the cost of energy in your area. There are 1020 Btu, on average, in a cubic foot of natural gas, so the average saving to a natural gas customer is 614 cubic feet of natural gas per window. In most of my state, Nebraska, a cubic foot of natural gas sells for 1.2 (as of 2007). The energy cost savings, then, is a $7.37 per window per year.

At this rate, if you have 20 windows in your old house, your total annual savings would be about $147.40. The cost of a good quality thermal replacement window, installed, is about $500. You can pay a great deal more for a replacement window, but you will not find a quality window for much less. So, your window replacement cost will be around $10,000.

To pay for your replacement windows out of your energy cost savings would take a whopping 68 years. Odds are pretty good you won't live that long. But if you did, consider this: The life expectancy of a modern replacement window is only 15-40 years. So by the end of the 68 year payback period you will have replaced your replacement windows at least once, maybe twice. The net result, then, is that you will never actually recover your initial cost of replacement windows from energy savings alone.

Other studies have found even worse results. Researcher and energy consultant Michael Blasnik looked at actual energy bills of houses in upstate New York before and after replacement windows were installed and found the actual average annual savings per household was just $40.00 not per window but per house. Based on these findings, he concluded that it would take 250 years for the cost of the replacement windows to be repaid from energy cost savings alone.

Obviously there are reasons other than economic reasons to buy replacement windows. New window sashes tilt out for easy cleaning, they have several lock positions so the window can be opened slightly and still be secure (although old windows can be modified to do this). Old windows don't have these nice features. Or your old windows may have deteriorated to the point where they really can't be fixed although this is very unlikely. But if it is your intent to reduce your cost of heating and cooling to pay for your windows out of energy cost savings, think again. It won't happen.

While many replacement window manufacturers still claim reductions in household energy use of up to 35% after installing their replacement windows, most admit that these projections are based on hypothetical computer models, not actual field testing. When these claims have been field tested, little or no actual savings have been found. I have yet to find any window manufacturer's claims of energy performance to be backed up by actual field testing. If you know of one, please let me know.

Where an old window is restored and equipped with a good storm window, the old window system has been repeatedly shown to outperform the standard thermal replacement window. And it costs much less to restore an old wood window than it does to replace it with even an average thermal window.

Windows Built to be Repaired

Old wood windows were made to last for many generations. They were built to be repaired. The old-time craftsmen knew that their windows would last a good long time, but not forever. So they built windows that could be easily fixed when something finally did give way. Modern windows are not built that way. Most have a expected lifespan of less than 40 years, and other than replacing the glass, cannot easily be repaired. Frames are single integrated structures, as are sashes. In fact, in some modern windows, frames and sashes are completely integrated so literally noting can be repaired except some very incidental parts. But an old window is at least a dozen individual parts put together with joinery that can be undone It can be taken apart and any of the parts replaced individually without replacing the entire sash, or, worse, the entire window.

It can also be fully weatherstripped and insulated. We use a system that insulates sash weight pockets to between R-18 and R-22 probably better insulation than is in your walls. Using the right, long-lasting, materials, weatherstripping is actually fairly easy. Any competent window man (or woman) can do it in about an hour.

It can be a lot of work. But professionally restoring your old window is about half the price of replacing it with a new thermal window -- typically between $200 and $300 -- and wastes nothing. Old growth hardwood is saved from the landfill, and a lot of good old-time craftsmanship is preserved. If you can do it yourself, still more savings -- figure about $100 for materials.

Of course it is not yet as energy efficient as a new window. For that we are going to have to add a storm window. A good quality white aluminum storm window installed is about $80 in this area, and I doubt it is much more elsewhere. An upscale wood combination storm window from a company like SpenserWorks will cost a bit more (caveat: we have no connection to Spenserworks whatsoever).

If you already have storm widows, then you are just that much ahead, But assuming you don't, your cost to repair your old wood windows and add a good storm window is about $325.00 vs. $500 and more to replace them. This is a savings of $5,500.00 in a 20-window house. For your investment you get a window that should be good for another 100 years, while a replacement window is doing very well to last 40 years. Your window performance is just as good if not slightly better and you saved 45% of the cost of installing replacement windows.

I not alone in my opinion that repairing old wood windows is often a better choice than replacing them. The href='http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/weatherization/windows/additional-resources/nthp_windows_repair_replace.pdf'>National Trust for Historic Preservation has this to day:

Many window replacement manufacturers claim greater savings than actually occur. Since windows account for at most 25% of heat loss, the payback and time to recoup your investment in terms of energy savings could take between 40 and as much as 200 years, based on various studies. A study from Vermont show the saving gained from replacement windows as opposed to a restored wooden window with a storm is only $.60. The added problem is most replacement windows will not last as long as 40 years, much less over a hundred years. And some are being replaced only after 10 year of service."

Anyway, that's my view. Opposing argument is certainly welcome, but please, if you quote studies or statistics, back it up with a reference. Here are my references:


"Replacement Windows and Furnaces in the Heartland; Indiana's Energy Conservation Financial Assistance Program"

Center for Energy Research, Ball State University, Indiana, 1990. (Replacing windows without any other energy improvement results in an annual savings in energy costs of 1.4% per year.)

"What Replacement Windows Cant Replace: The Real Cost of Removing Historic Windows" Journal of Preservation Technology, 2005. (Replacement windows do not provide enough energy savings to justify the embodied energy cost of the new windows or the loss of authenticity.)

Testing the Energy Performance of Wood Windows in Cold Climates A Report to The State of Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Agency of Commerce and Community Development"
University of Vermont, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. (The energy savings between replacement windows and restored wood windows based on a multi-year Vermont study was found to be insignificant.)

Comments (147)

  • chipster_2007

    I wonder if anyone has looked at 4 windows, side by side, in a home and 1 window is a new vinyl, double pane, no gas fill, 1 is double pane, argon gas, 1 is triple pane with krypton gas and an old window that has been "completely restored" and used an infrared camera on them at the exact same time to clearly differentiate the heat savings, or lack thereof, of all these windows. Has such an experiment been done? I would love, along with others, to see the results.

  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd

    The results would most certainly show the following order from warmest (assuming cold temperatures outside) assuming your are figuring on Low-e in all of the:

    -restored wood with an air tight storm would be the warmest (i.e. losing the most energy from inside)
    -double pane sealed with Low-e would be next
    -double pane sealed with Low-e and argon would be next
    -triple pane with Low-e and krypton would be last

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  • xoldtimecarpenter

    Actually, based on field studies, the restored single glazed wood window with storm would perform better than the dual-pane IGU. See, e.g.:

    Testing the Energy Performance of Wood Windows in Cold Climates: A Report to The State of Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Agency of Commerce and Community Development
    , University of Vermont, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, 2009.

    The argon- and krypton-filled windows would work better than the restored wood window with storm only as long as the fill gas lasted, then they would be no better than an typical, air-filled, dual glazed thermal window. And there is no question that fill gas is going to leak out over time, sometimes after a very brief time. Gas filling is a measure used to temporarily inflate the thermal performance of windows so they seem to be more efficient than the actually are.

    "No manufacturer war­ran­ties in-fill gas from leak­ing, be­cause they know full well it will leak out over time. This war­ranty lan­guage from Mil­gard Win­dows is ty­pi­cal:

    'For Milgard Products with argon or krypton gas-filled insulating glass, Milgard injects the gas at the time of manufacture. The gradual dissipation of the gas may occur naturally over time and is not a defect. Other than gas loss due to seal failures, this warranty does not cover the gradual dissipation of inert gas or the amount of inert gas remaining in the Milgard Products at any time after manufacture.' Your Old Windows: A Consumer Guide, StarCraft Custom Builders, 2010.

    When Milgard says "gradual dissipation of the gas may occur" they are being disingenuous. What the company actually means is "will occur", because there is no recorded instance of in-fill gases that did not leak out over time."


  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd

    And here we go again....


    Feel free to re-read the thread when you have some free time. Oberon and I have hashed this thread and question out pretty thoroughly.

    The R-Value of a single pane wood window with a tight storm window (most are not) is about an R-1.85 on average. R-Value of a decent insulated glass IGU without argon can easily be an R-3+. R-Value of a double pane window with Low-e and argon is R-4.

    Triple pane R-Value with argon can easily exceed R-5+. Triple pane krypton number are R-6.5+ in some cases.

    Numbers are what they are despite the convection arguments.



  • toddinmn

    Argon in windows does not make a big difference in U/R values, the biggest gains come from Low-E coatings.
    aproximate U-values:
    wood single glaze with storm .50
    wood single glaze with Low-E storm .36
    vinyl clear dual pane IG .48
    vinyl Low-E .33 dual pane
    vinyl Low-E/argon .30 dual pane
    wood sash kit clear dual pane with storm .34
    wood sash kit with low-E/argon dual pane with storm .24
    Figuring out actual cost saving between all of these is a black art especially when you start throwing in air infiltration numbers, SHGC numbers, condition of windows, brand of storm windows and of course who is doing the testing.Just remember liars use statistics and statistics lie.That being said, I would do what is best for you and your house and not worry about the numbers to much because your old house is probally losing more money through air leaks and insulation inefficiencies.

  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd

    +1 to Todd's post.

    Figure out what is right for you home. Air infiltration and air tightness are the variables in this equation that can throw the U/R numbers way off.

    That is in large part the benefit of a sealed IGU (insulated glass unit, i.e. double or triple pane). The fact that the air is dead air and not moving.

    It can be very difficult to get a sash pack replacement in and make it air tight whereas most folks can get inserts in and make them tight.

    If the window is at all historical or maintains the look you are wanting, a Low-e, insulated storm, is a great option when combined with retrofitting the existing window. That scenario, although not referenced in your initial question, will give you very good R-Values.

    I will disagree with Todd slightly in that Argon has been shown to increase the overall IGU efficiency by about 20% as compared to an air fill. Example, a window with an air fill might be a U-Factor of 0.35 whereas it will be a U-Factor of about 0.30 with argon.

  • skydawggy

    That link you posted OTC is a perfect example of someone setting out to prove a point and then completely ignoring anything that is counter to their pre-determined conclusion. It's so full of holes that I stopped reading it after several pages. i'd lie to have that part of my life back.

  • xoldtimecarpenter


    "That is in large part the benefit of a sealed IGU (insulated glass unit, i.e. double or triple pane). The fact that the air is dead air and not moving."


    Not so! Air between the panes of an IGU is moving constantly and conveying heat in the process.

    "The R-Value of a single pane wood window with a tight storm window (most are not) is about an R-1.85 on average."

    I have seen this figure (and others) tossed around as the R-Value of a single pane windows with storm, but I have found no authoritative source for it. If you know of a report of an actual laboratory test of an spw w/s, I would love to read it. I have never found one, and believe me I have looked.

    I agree that a dual glazed window can reach an R-value of 3+, but the operative word is "can", not "will". Most average around R-2 ro 2.2 in the perfect, controlled environment of the testing lab. What they rate in actual use is anyone's guess since they are never rated in actual use.

    I don't think is correct to assume that most storm windows are not tightly sealed any more than it is correct to assume that most replacement windows are improperly installed.


  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd

    I was not speaking to convective looping but moving in and out of the IGU like the air between a storm window and window move (i.e. to outside).

    We have had this discussion on multiple occasions and you referenced any number of my previous posts, you would quickly realize that I was not suggesting that the gas or air fills inside a seal IGU are static.

    How can you dismiss what is pretty universally accepted as the R-Value of a single pane wood with storm window combination in one breath and claim that an NFRC thermocouple measured window will only perform at 60% of its intended value in "actual" use.

    Wouldn't the same strains placed on a window in "actual" use just as adversely affect the single pane wood and storm combination? Even more so negative would the impact be given that it is scientifically proven that a storm/single pane window is not an airtight combination and the insulation value of that trapped air, much like air moving in fiberglass, is seriously diminished when the air is lost to outside.

    In terms of those people quoted R-Values of 2 (which is generous given the questionable air tightness mentioned above), here are some links. They don't reference the study that they used to establish this guideline but I hardly consider secretive fact.




    Storm window in no way shape of form approach the tightness of a sealed IGU. They must accommodate movement and therefore rely on weatherstripping and other seals against air loss. They only have thin interfaces with the frames and do not have the same weatherstripping profile flexibility as the operable window. Most are not nearly as air tight as even the leakiest windows. This leakiness is what drives the efficiency of an otherwise suitable combination down well below that of a sealed IGU.

  • xoldtimecarpenter


    Yes, I've seen these sites before.

    Efficient Windows Cooperative reports the R-value (actually U-Value) of single glazing (center of glass value), but not with storm window.

    The other two report that the R-Value of single glazing with storm is R-2.0, a number commonly quoted, but they don't say where they got that number.

    I'm still looking for the actual study that tested single glazed windows with storms and found a R-value of R-1.85 or R-2.0 or whatever. I'd like to know if this is the whole window r-value or just the center of glass R-value, and the methodology used to calculate the R-value.

    Just because a lot of people say something, and say it often and loudly, does not mean it's correct. In 1491 everyone knew the world was flat, the sun revolved around the earth, and that our planet was the center of the universe. Turns out, however, that none of it was true.

    You might take a look at Joseph H. Klems, "Measured Winter Performance of Storm Windows", Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, (2002) (Download (PDF), in which the R-value of a single glazed window with storm was calculated under field test conditions to be R-3.01.

    The study is interesting for its methodology which suggests that test environments much closet to the real world environment can be constructed to produce window ratings that are much more applicable to real world installations.


  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd


    There was no mention in the article of what the claimed U-factor on the single hung replacement was.

    From your study.....
    When one compares the values in either the measured or corrected column of Table 4, a recognizable pattern emerges: the addition of either low-E storm produces a combination that has performance close to, but not quite as good as, that of the replacement window.

    Actually, the data that if referenced in you study indicates and R-Value of 1.72 (U-Factor W/m2K = 3.32) for a single pane window with storm. Single pane with storm and Low-e has an R-Value of 1.87.

    These numbers are from your quoted study. R-Value of the replacement window is this case was measured at and R-Value of 2.28 (roughly 22% better by comparison to the single pane with storm window and Low-e and 33% better than single pane with un-coated storm).

    This study was done circa 2002 when the Energy Star for that region where the window was tested (Reno, NV) was U-Factor of 0.40 (R-2.5). In this comparison, the replacement window was function at nearly 91% of its claimed performance.

    This somewhat negates your claim that the static testing done by the NFRC is unrepresentative of real world numbers.

    As a matter of fact, in this study, the author specifically mentions that the connection between the wall and the replacement window was compromised and did leak air although he mentions that the air leakage on both assemblies had little effect on total thermal performance. Therefore, a properly installed and sealed (foam, backer rod+sealant, sealant) replacement window would perform even closer to its claimed R-Value and further lengthen the gap between the storm and single pane combo.

    I find this a bit questionable given my personal observations but this is what the study claims. The test case windows were on the shielded side of the wind.

    Leakage of the single pane window was designed to be average. In order to achieve that average rating, you, in most cases, will need to retrofit that window. Using a tighter exterior storm with a looser interior window will result in condensation and storm window sweating. Making the exterior storm leakier to accommodate for leakage and prevent sweating will further reduce the R-Value of that assembly.

    If you take the same real world vs. claimed performance representation of 91%, this would mean that double pane windows available today with an R-Value of 4 are actually near 3.64. This would put newer insulated windows at better than 2X times the performance of a single pane wood with un-coated storm.

    These numbers are from your study. Before you challenge anything that I have written, I would suggest you re-read the study.

  • xoldtimecarpenter


    You are right about the R-value. I don't know what number I was reading when I wrote that. Actually, I do, but I won't get into that.

    I don't disagree with much of what you said. After all, it's right out of the study.

    The one thing I will note is that the air infiltration effects were not accidental, they were deliberately introduced to see how much impact they had on overall performance.

    We don't know what the NFRC rating of the test window was. It may or may not have been up to the Energy Star minimum, so you cannot compare the window's performance under these test conditions to a supposed NFRC rating. Without knowing the NFRC rating of the windows we can conclude nothing about the relation of NFRC testing to window performance in the study. So I must discount that argument, sorry. Good argument, though.

    Back to the real world. You indicate that the dual-pane thermal window performed about 22% better than the window/storm window combination. I can accept that with the observation that this makes little difference to real world performance.

    The difference in tested performance between the window/storm and dual-pane was R-0.41. How much are you willing to spend to get an improvement of R-0.41 over your existing windows?

    Should I replace my old wood windows or should I repair and restore them? Ultimately that is the question to be decided.

    Let's look at the numbers from my house. I have 27 oak wood windows. Replacing them all with a comparable oak wood dual-pane double-hung window (Kolbe Heritage Old World Series, or equivalent, no fill gas, hard low-e), including installation, would cost me about $1,200 per window (and that's with my dealer discount) or $32,400. This would give me a window with a rated U-.33 in the NFRC tests, or R-3.


    I can restore and weatherproof the existing windows at an average cost for labor, materials and taxes of $271.42, then add a very good, color matched, low-e storm window for a cost of $97.32, including installation, for a total of $368.74 per window or $9,955.98 overall.

    Which way to go???

    If I go with the Kolbe windows,then I get an additional R-1.15 per window at an added cost of $831.26 per window, or a total added cost of $22,444.02.


    I can suffer through with a mere R-1.85 per window and pay an estimated (by my local utility) additional $70 per year for heating and cooling my house. After 50 years, I will have paid an additional $3,500.

    To recover the additional cost of the Kolbe R-3 replacement windows from energy savings on my heating/cooling bill, I would have to live another 321 years. And, while I am in pretty good shape for a broken down ex-Marine, I would have to give very long odds of that happening. (But if it does, I plan to create my own diet and exercise program on DVD and make a killing through infomercials.)

    Throughout this whole thread, this is really the only point I wanted to make. Maybe I did not do a good job of it, but that is the only point.

    Replacement windows are greatly oversold as thermal products. The fact that a replacement window has a rated thermal performance of 22% or 122% or even 222% more than my restored old window makes but a few dollars difference in performance in the real world.

    While NFRC ratings overstate the actual installed performance of thermal windows, typically modern windows do in fact perform somewhat better at inhibiting heat transfer than restored old wood windows, at least in the short term. But they don't last hundred of years like traditional wood windows, cannot be easily or economically restored or repaired when they finally do fail, and do not provide a sufficiently better thermal performance to make the investment in replacement windows worth the enormous cost.

    That may change, but at the moment restoring old windows is almost always the better economic and aesthetic choice.

    Always a pleasure,

  • toddinmn

    Most people are not going to have Oak sashes and nor are they going to use $1200.00 windows.My cost on a decent vinyl window is around $200, wooodgrain add 25%.Cost on a Marvin Ultima insert is around $450.Cost on a Sash kit is around $225.It is misleading to take a worst case scenario and presenting it as the almost always better economical solution.

  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd

    +1 to Todd's comments. Todd, shoot me an email when you get a chance.


    Could of points to address.

    The air infiltration was noted to minimal impact but the windows were placed on the non exposed side of the building so they were not getting hammered like they would on the other side. They also noted considerable leakage between the frame of the replacement and the framing of the test building. A properly installed replacement window should not be leaking at that connection and a tighter window connection would further create better performance for the replacement window.

    Nest, the study specifically references the fact that they used a vinyl single hung with soft-coat Lowe-e/argon combination. I made the assumption that the window was Energy Star (U-0.40) for the sake of argument and it actually shortened the spread between the comparable R-Values of the windows compared in this case.

    If you are saying that the window was not Energy Star Qualified, that makes the data even more favorable looking for the Low-e/Argon replacement because both the R-Value improvement and NFRC claimed value and real world R-Value that much better.

    These two arguments that:
    -NFRC values are unrepresentative of real world performance figures (i.e. convective looping, etc)
    -Single pane/storm windows have as good a thermal performance as replacement windows

    are now resolved and determined to be largely incorrect by the very study that you posted.

    As I mentioned in my previous post, the newer performance packages with R-4+ numbers out of double pane and R-6+ out of triple pane are going to even further lengthen the spread between single pane/storm and replacement performance.

    I agree with Todd that your numbers are very unrepresentative of real world numbers and you can skew the numbers to legitimize any comparative analysis.

    So we can put this argument to bed for the last time...............I think that the wood window restoration is a good and viable option!!!!

    If the window is in otherwise good shape or a historic application, getting a storm or insulated storm window is a great option.

    That being said, most of the wood windows that will require replacement are from young growth timber and are rotting in multiple locations, poorly constructed, and certainly not worth repair. Most clients in that case are very happy with a good vinyl replacement.

    I think your prices are a bit off on storms but lets use your number of $370 for retrofit and a number $550 for a very good vinyl replacement. In this application, the replacement will have a 2X better R-Value and I can guarantee you save more than $70 per year if you figure on the overall R-Value impact on the wall.

    Combine the added R-Value with the functionality of the new window and most customer with non-historic wood windows would probably opt for the new replacement and in this application I would theorize that the ROI differential is probably less than 10 years by comparison.

    Again, I think restoration is a fine and suitable option when dealing with historic windows and good wood. That just represents such a small portion of what is out there that it does not enter the conversation in most cases.

    I have never argued that point and if you look at other posts, you can see where I have recommended that option. I am all about preservation of existing materials if they are candidates.

    Windows aren't even the first thing on the list of things to do in most homes energy efficiency retrofits anyway.

  • xoldtimecarpenter

    Toddinmn, welcome to the discussion.

    You said:
    Most people are not going to have Oak sashes and nor are they going to use $1200.00 windows.My cost on a decent vinyl window is around $200, wooodgrain add 25%.Cost on a Marvin Ultima insert is around $450.Cost on a Sash kit is around $225.It is misleading to take a worst case scenario and presenting it as the almost always better economical solution.

    Unfortunately your argument is an old lawyer trick we all learn in the first week of law school: "If you don't like the answer, change the question."

    First, there are no "decent" vinyl windows that wholesale for $200. These are bottom of the line windows. A "decent" vinyl window, if there is such a thing, will run about $350.

    If you reread my post you will see I posited replacing my existing windows with "comparable" quality windows. Plastic windows are not comparable to oak wood windows.

    To reach the quality of my existing windows in terms of materials, workmanship, and functionality you are going to have to look at a top-of-the line window. I like the Kolbe window because it is will made, uses gravity balances, and can be made reasonably thermal resistant. At a retail of about $1,200 it's actually a bargain. My single panel wood windows cost an average of $100 in 1928, which is $1,326.84 in today's dollars. Kolbe's windows are dual pane, with a triple pane option, and low-e coated. Much more value for a lower price.

    My restored windows will easily last another 100 years. Your plastic windows will last, with luck, 30 years.

    Anyone can replace a good quality restorable wood window with an El-Cheapo, Inc. plastic window. But if you are doing that, then you are not doing your customers a service.

    We prefer to have our customers come back.


  • xoldtimecarpenter


    As usual, you make some good points.

    There is considerable research support for the proposition that single pane primary windows with storms (SPPW/S) can outperform dual glazed windows, see, e.g. the Vermont Study. Do the always do so? No, of course not. But when dual panel windows outperform SPPW/Ss, they do so by such a tiny margin, that in real economic terms it translates to not much savings in energy costs compared to the relative high cost of replacing the window. Again I refer you to the Vermont Study which found that the annual energy savings of replacing a SPPW/S with a dual-pane low-e windows was only $4.45 per window.

    I will state again that since NFRC ratings of the test windows in the Hill study are unknown, we cannot infer comparisons between the study R-values and some hypothetical NFRC testing R-value. But, assuming (notice the "assuming"), the windows were up to the Energy Star standards of the time, then the study R-values were lower. If the windows were not up to the Energy Star level, maybe, R-2.2 or so, then the study R-values were lower. So, how does this refute my position that NFRC tests tend to inflate R-values? If you say "well, they were only inflated a little", ok, but still they were inflated. Of course, I don't think any such conclusion can be drawn from this study. The data are not there.

    ...most of the wood windows that will require replacement are from young growth timber and are rotting in multiple locations, poorly constructed, and certainly not worth repair. Most clients in that case are very happy with a good vinyl replacement.

    We don't run into many of these in this area. Our pre-war housing seems to have pretty good wood windows made from, dense, old-growth timber with excellent craftsmanship. In the pre-war housing I saw in the D.C. area when I was working there, it was not true either.

    Any customer, who having been honestly presented with the options, carefully explained, who then replaces his or her heritage wood windows with plastic windows is certifiable, and deserves what he or she gets. Most, however, in my experience, and we do carefully explain the options, elect restoration. Does your company even offer restoration? If not, then I doubt you talk about the possibility of restoration in your sales presentations. Naturally, if not aware of the possibility of restoration, a customer will elect replacement, but only because he is unaware of the option of restoration.

    In 40 years I have not run into a wood window that cannot be restored to as good as new, and for a lot less money than it would cost to replace the wood window with one comparable in materials, workmanship, and longevity. In the older parts of the country where the housing is also older, this may not be true. But it was true of pre-war housing in the D.C. area in the 1970s when I worked there. When I was making my modest contribution to the volunteers who restored housing parts for the Smithsonian at Silver Hill, MD, I saw some truly deteriorated windows, but none we could not repair.

    Heritage windows are not rare, as you seem to think. Half of U.S. housing was built prior to 1974, and over 20 million still-occupied houses were built prior to 1940. Almost all of these started out with wood windows.

    And that, sir, is my final answer.


    I started this thread over a year ago to generate some discussion about restoring rather than replacing heritage wood windows.

    The discussion has been exceptional beyond any expectation I may have had, with numerous, well reasoned and well written contributions from some very knowledgeable people, such as yourself.

    I learned some new things, and I hope those who persevered in reading through all these posts did as well. I think every point of view has been extensively and fairly represented. And I appreciate the substantial, well-presented, contributions of all who participated.

    But now I have to go back to taking care of business.

    It has been fun, best wishes to all, and adios.


  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd


    I don't know where you get some of your information but your response to Todd was totally incorrect.

    You can purchase a decent vinyl window for less than $350 everyday. I would suggest your take another look around (of course you would prefer death over a vinyl window).

    There is absolutely no research to indicate that the premium vinyl windows that are out now will only last 30 years. Even if that where the case that is about 2X longer than most of the wood window that we see being produced now.

    +95% of the wood window stock that is out there now (that we see) is not serviceable and we would be doing our customer a disservice to try and fix a failing and poorly built wood window.

    You claimed that NFRC inflated their values. My point was that if the lack of convection and other "real" world environment showed a lesser R-Value, it was slight, if at all. Given that we don't know the claimed U-Factor of the window in question, I was assuming that the window was Energy Star (U-Factor 0.40). If the U-Factor was higher in the study sample, the window would be performing at very near claimed thermal data (91% of claimed value was based on the assumption of an Energy Star window).

    I think the fact that the window was operating at nearly 91% of Energy Star (again, assuming their window was Energy Star) is pretty darn close and indicates that the NFRC is not inflating values at all. The NFRC values are not based on dynamic environment (i.e. air leakage...which there was considerable amounts of in the replacement windows connection to the home in this case).

    You have long argued that the NFRC values where off and were unrepresentative of real world data. Without re-reading the entire thread, I seem to recall you claiming that real performance was at a delta of close to 40%, whereas your study indicates a very slight change of less than 9%...again with a bunch of leakage that should not have happened.

    If you haven't seen a window that can be restored for the same price as a replacement, you haven't been on any customer visits with me. I would welcome you to come with me and take a look at the wood window stock that is prevalent in our area and we can record your reaction and assessment and post it up for mass consumption.

    Couple that with the fact a vast majority of customers don't like storm windows, their old windows, and the misc. issues associated with them...more of the inclination to replace comes from the customer.

  • toddinmn

    xoltimer, Sure start a post guaranteed to start an argument then bail out.Just kidding, well sort-of kidding anyways.

  • richard904

    This thread is valuable even a year later since the issue discussed comes up all the time. We want to retain the look of the windows in our house, so the decision is to renovate and repair the windows and stop the air infiltration since the windows were undoubtedly not foamed and sealed to the rough opening properly. Window contractors want to replace all the windows (of course). Our problem is to find craftspeople who can do the work.

    Let the nerds run the world!

  • chuck1954

    We have what I believe is called a colonial style bow window. It's comprised of 20 separate single panes of glass within a wooden frame. The house was built in 1965. We like the look of the window.

    After reading the discussion on restoring old windows, I am considering the replacing of each of the 20 individual panes of single glass with individual sealed units.It would be good to hear back from people who have attempted to do this. My concern is that I do not have a lot of room to work with, once I remove the existing stops. If I use 1/2 inch sealed units, I will only have room for 1/2 inch stops. The concerns are: 1) is a 1/2 inch deep wooden stop strong enough to hold the glass?; 2) will I get much resistance against heat loss from 1/2 inch glass units?

  • HomeSealed

    Built in 1965, I doubt that you could not find something new that can replicate that look. As discussed earlier in this thread, there is certainly some gain to be had by replacing single pane glass with double pane, and 1/2" stops are more than adequate, however I'd have the following primary concerns:
    -you are adding a tremendous amount of weight to the overall unit that was not designed to handle it.
    -20 ig's even if small, would end up being rather pricey. Those are also 20 potential seal-failures.

    .... You might consider posting this question up in a new thread since this one is so long ;)

  • brickeyee

    If the underlying lead paint is stable, a high quality latex paint carefully applied is adequate for encapsulating.

    "N,inm,ayu cases"

    A series of typos for 'Not in many cases.'

    The keyboard has since been replaced.

  • NanoZ

    I know this post is getting old... but I'm just discovering it! We have a 110 year-old brick bungalow in Tucson that we want to make liveable, and I would love to keep the old windows with the counterweights. I may try to do this myself, with a little help. They don't have to look new, just 'serviceable' as someone above said. Ideas??

  • JHZR2

    Great advice, OP. I HATE vinyl windows and there is nothing better than a well-refurbished original window, with a storm window overtop if needed.

    The original stained glass windows are all that are left in my home, unfortunately. but they sure are nice even just in finish and design of the window frame!!

  • samuelm

    According to me window repairing is a better option than window replacement; you can contact experts in window repairing field to solve your problem.

  • FXMom

    I am delighted to find an opening in this discussion that is pro preservation. We brought up our family in a home built in 1855. It has the original windows, and they are beautiful. We've occasionally had to have work done over the 28 years we have lived here. Our children, now grown are male, and so were most of their childhood friends, and so, that work was replacing broken window panes. As we love the look of the occasional bubble or wiggle in the original glass, we didn't like having to replace a vintage pane with a new one. I really CAN hear the groans out there. But we like what we like. So we started asking friends who were replacing windows if we could have the old ones. We'd pull out the old panes, scrape the paint off, and when we heard the sound of breaking glass, we'd take panes down to the hardware store and ask them to cut it down to size. They'd charge us the price of a pane of glass or they wouldn't. But, according to no one but me, there is nothing lovelier than watching through one of these panes as leaves or snow float by. I am not advising anyone to do this, and I have no science to back up our liking these panes. It's just what we like. I send the highest praise to oldtimecarpenter for keeping his responses so civil and respectful in the face of some very disrespectful comments.

  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd

    I the case of a home built in 1855, that would be the prime candidate for a restoration.

    Keeping the donor components as you have was clearly thinking ahead. The componentry and parts are usually the costliest part of the equation.

    Haven't see Xoldtime around much of late but he certainly did make a solid case for restoration.

    I have read this thread no fewer than a 25 times in the past. I don't recall any disrespectful comments towards Xoldtime.

  • PRO
    Out of the Woods Inc.- Window & Door Specialists

    I think it's great to hear people that like to keep their historic windows and maintain them. Whenever we take out old double hung sash with that original wavy glass we keep it and reuse it on historic replacement sash we build. Really adds extra character, and always good to recycle things when we can.

  • millworkman

    Beautiful, you ask a question and then link a window website. That my friend is what is know as SPAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • PRO
    Ultra Windows

    SPAM with a virus connected to the website most likely.

  • toriat

    Anyone know someone in Chicago area to restore some vintage windows?

  • lasteven

    Interesting discussion, much appreciated. Our house was built in 1958 (southern California) and some windows have wooden sliders. I see no reason not to replace these, anyone have a different opinion?

    We have some rooms with double hung windows that I'd rather restore than replace -- anybody know someone in So Cal who does this?

    Our dining room has beautiful wood windows with Colonial grids that match the interior woodwork. These I would never replace. Fortunately they're still in good shape. Any tips on keeping them that way?

  • Mick T.Q.

    I'm just joining this discussion and have much reading to catch up on. While I do, maybe someone here can help on one or more fronts. I am restoring a 1924 Craftsman Bungalow - all windows upstairs have been replaced, but I still have six 4-over-1s in the front LR/DR area, which I will restore. I don't have the time to do it all myself, but my budget is tiny. So I'm looking for

    (1) pictures of restored windows which were returned to original (stained) condition, where the interior trim around windows is left painted white [trying to see if I'll hate the look of not stripping and staining ALL the trim];

    (2) recommendations for the lowest profile exterior storms possible. I hate exterior storms for the aesthetic detraction from the windows, but I've decided against interior storms due to cost and the condensation/freezing which will threaten the exterior finish/glazing. I want something "invisible" but accept that I'll have to compromise somewhat; and

    (3) recommendations for folks in Southeast/Eastern MA and northern RI who will restore the windows at a reasonable price. All research so far indicates this is wholly out of my price range but I'm committed to preserving these beautiful windows - help me figure out which corners I can cut to still have this authentic feature of the home preserved.

    Thanks in advance from anyone who has actually done this in their home or who does restoration for a living.

  • Jmc101 z5


    Here's your referral for window restoration in MA. She posts on wavyglass.org frequently. I am not connected with her but have read her writings for the last 10 or so years on wavyglass.org and oldhouse dot com before that. Good luck with your windows!

  • sdlozano

    I've tried to follow what's been discussed, but frankly, I got lost. Our 14 wood windows are 25 years old, so not heritage or historic. They are double-hung and work fairly well with some minor sticking on some of the lesser used windows. Our problem is that the "gasket/weatherstripping" (?) is falling out of the top of the windows, some on the upper window and some on the lower one. There have also been some days that condensation has built up on a few of them. We live in the Midwest (South central Indiana) so we have some pretty cold winters and occasional scorching summers. The window companies we've talked to all say to replace, but I do like the wood and the ability to change the paint color if we choose. Should we repair or replace? Opinions?

  • dirt_cred

    sdlozano - are your windows single pane or double?

  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd

    Weatherstripping should be a serviceable item in most cases. A picture or locating the manufacturer of the windows would help get you down the path of repair.

  • PRO
    Installation Pros

    Wish I would have jumped in on this one years ago. OldTimer was way off on his information. I totally agree on keeping old school windows if they are fixable. But comparing them to today's modern window isn't worth the argument.

  • PRO

    Best way is to price out rehabbing and new. Often the price to rehab an old window can approach the cost of new.

    I think one would get more feedback starting a new post, this one is pretty old and starting to get pretty long.

  • ampmhm

    Just my 2cents with no knowledge of windows. I hate vinyl replacement windows I find them tacky and ugly not to mentione that they cannot be painted. I realize there are some that have wood on the inside however the pricepoint on them is too high. We have lived in our house in New England for 20 years. Had our kitchen redone twice had an addition put on and every single contractor has said we should replace the windows. I for one am pleased to hear that there is evidence that they are actually not just more visually appealing but likely as - if not more energy efficient than replacement windows. Ps we do have the old aluminum storm windows and they work great.

  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd

    The looks part is your opinion and you are entitled to that. The painting assertion (i.e. can't be painted) isn't correct. If you hate them, how do you know the price point is too high and what have you compared them to? Have you priced out a good wood window or a composite or fiberglass window with a wood interior? I bet you would find their price isn't high in that comparison. If you think they are as efficient, I don't think you read the thread in its entirety. Can a single pane with a storm be made to be workable and semi-efficient, sure. Will it approach the efficiency of the newer windows and technology, not even close. If you re-read the entire thread (I know it is long), you should note that Oberon pretty much handed XOldtime his lunch pail when it came to his "facts" about convection and other ideas that he had about window performance. It is entirely likely that there are much better places to spend your money if you are chasing efficiency in your home, but the assertion that storm/single pane windows are as efficient is not even close to correct.

  • PRO

    crikeys, it took me 8 seconds to scroll down to the bottom.

  • millworkman

    8 seconds, you must have one of dem dere fast puters!!

  • jlcmom

    Great thread, thank you for all the good info! I'm renovating a house built in the 1870s. I have three wood double hung windows that are in good shape (I doubt they are that old), but need some repairs, in Wilmington, DE. I've asked the local glass place if they know someone who can do the work. I just tore off the vinyl storms today. I am going to look into the SpencerWorks storms. The rest of the windows are vinyl replacements in bad shape. So thanks again, for a thread still relevant!

  • nancyburne

    We have double hung wood windows in a house build in 1951 in Los Angeles area. Three windows with a "thin wire" that raises the window on left side of window only are are broken - so the window will go up but not hold. Years ago I had a great person from a friend's window shop repair with great success...their business model has changed and they don't do repairs. Please note this is not a nylon cord which I keep finding links for. I had a handyman come in and look for an estimate and have never hear back from him. I have a card from a local small 2 man contractor that I spoke with outside a neighbor's home that seems to "get it". I don't want to do the repair but I want to understand the concept of it so I can feel comfortable about the estimate. So can someone point me to a link (or how I should search for the link with the right terms) and provide a guideline for an estimate. I comprehend that the "circular" metal part that holds the wire and weight need to come off, and the parts replaced; the other repairs were fixed with a rectangular plate. thx, ngb

  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd

    Can you take some pictures and attach them?

  • nancyburne

    yes, will do..BTW, why doesn't someone flip the posts so the most recent are on top?? lol

  • Mary Elmusa

    Anyone is the Kansas City area who can restore and weather proof existing windows?

  • PRO

    I would start a new thread instrad If hijacking

    a thread almost 3 years old.

  • PRO
    Windows on Washington Ltd


    Are you referring to window restoration or just sealing up some existing windows? The two are going to be very different type professionals. If it it just sealing up some exterior trim on windows, a decent painter can do that. If its window restoration, that is a different ball of wax.

    Window restoration is a very niché marketplace. The best thing to do is start with a Google area search near your home and especially in those areas that are more heavily concentrated in older homes.

    Next would be to ask around any of the historic districts that are in your area and see who they might have a list for.

    Hope this helps.

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