If a 200-Year-Old Window Ain’t Broke…Restore It?

If a 200-Year-Old Window Ain't Broke...Restore It?

If you’re moving to an old house, you’re probably thinking about replacing some of that home’s old fixtures. After all, the inexpensive cabinets that looked nice in 1975 probably look less than great now. But if you’re thinking about replacing the house’s windows, you may want to reconsider…

Research those old windows

Shannon Kyles, an instructor and Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, headed a study that discovered old windows, when properly restored, are as energy efficient as new windows.

The study examined two pairs of windows. One set had new windows and the other had restored 200-year-old windows. Researchers performed an air infiltration test that showed there’s no specific difference between new and restored old windows.

But let’s be practical

Obviously, not every old window is great or properly restored. And some new windows are amazing. But others are total trash. So, how can you tell the difference?

Old window breakdown

Older windows — pre-1900 — were often made of sturdy woods, Pablo Solomon, eco-artist and designer, explains.

“Depending on your climate, woods like cypress, mesquite, and cedar are very weather resistant. Older coastal homes also used mahogany and teak, which are not only weather resistant, but hold up to salty sea breeze,” he says.

Kyles saysthat these old-growth woods are strong because they’ve had to struggle to live. Because of this, they’re hearty and the rings between the wood are very close together. “This makes the wood more or less impervious to water,” she says.

“I have photos from Switzerland of wooden windows from the 13th century. In Britain, it is not unusual to have windows made in the 15th, 16th century — they last forever. There is a lintel on the Folks Electric building in Dundas from 1790 that has been exposed for 230 years, unpainted. It is fine. New wood needs to be kept inside because it is… OK — garbage.”

Solomon adds that modern industrial style homes, such as homes introduced in the early-to-mid 1900s, typically are constructed with industrial-grade windows made from iron and aluminum.

And Jett Hovell, a handyman for Fantastic Handyman, says that older windows, in general, were made by people who considered construction a craft. “Before [World War II], window making was basically considered a craft.”

However, older windows are far from perfect. For example, they are typically single paned. Older windows also are harder to maintain — they often require a lot of upkeep and are susceptible to rot and crumbling glazing — and they are less able to reduce noise, and aren’t as easy to reinstall. Solomon also notes that fixing older windows can be very expensive.

New window breakdown

Although most modern windows are double or triple pane, some modern-day windows just don’t hold up. “As mass-produced homes and [their] windows and doors became standard, cost-cutting led to poor-grade materials,” Solomon says.

In general, this change came after World War II. “The demand was more [and] people came up with different systems to make the process faster,” Hovell explains.

However, modern, new, durable windows are reasonably priced because of plastic improvements and the availability of newer building composites, Solomon adds.

Although classic, old wood windows demand a bit more time and attention from the homeowner in order to look good, vinyl windows are easy to look after. “Slap them in place and you have nice, pretty windows for your home,” Hovell says.

But do your research

Dedicated to living in a home with restored windows, or live in a home that requires you to keep its original windows? You can make older windows look and perform better.

First: Don’t forget that, in general, older wooden windows require more maintenance. Re-glaze them every couple of years so they maintain a nice appearance, Hovell says.

And make certain your home’s older windows are “top-notch”.

You’re on the right track if your home’s windows are made from those previously mentioned “good” woods. Also: Hire a window restorer who knows what they are doing. This person must understand that historical, wood windows are subject to swelling, shrinking, rot, waste energy, and leaks.

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Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.