Repairing original windows provides energy efficiency & is the ‘green’ option
by Darcy Mertz Krewson.
We hear it everywhere, “Be energy efficient” and “Go Green.” While both these efforts are certainly important, there seems to be a growing yet distressing trend when it comes to both commercial and residential historic buildings – ripping out the original windows and replacing them with new in the name of energy efficiency. Tune into almost any home remodeling or prepare your home for sale show and you will hear property owners being told to get rid of those nasty old wood windows in favor of shinny new vinyl windows and their building will be so much more appealing. Although they may have the best of intentions, that message simply is not true.
Most people will agree that old buildings are appealing because they have character, charm and beauty. Yet a large part of that beauty comes from the windows, a major feature of any building and a clue to its history. Also, there is something almost magical about standing where others have before, looking out of the same windows and trying to imagine what they saw. Take that away, and you have destroyed that magic as well as the history.
Now when it comes to claims of saving money by reducing energy consumption, window replacement companies can be quite compelling with their sales pitch. They tout new windows as being better, smarter, and greener. Yet studies show that a well maintained wood window made prior to the 1940’s can be as energy efficient as replacement windows. New weather-stripping, re-caulking trim and replacing any damaged panes or putty may be all that is necessary, a minor expense compared to the cost of replacements. In fact, according to the Weatherization Tips & Strategies guide put out by The National Trust for Historic Preservation, studies show that it can take as much as 222 years to recover the cost of replacement windows in energy saving. A 100 year old window can last another 100 years with proper restoration and maintenance, yet the non-replaceable plastic parts of a vinyl window will start to deteriorate in less than twenty years at best. And when maintenance is combined with a storm window, many are finding it to be even more efficient than a new double-pane window alone. Furthermore, by repairing the original windows the need for non-renewable vinyl is reduced, there has not been any construction materials added to landfills and no energy was consumed getting the products to a distributor or the job site. That’s some very “green” results!
So, don’t fall for the hype when looking for ways to make your historic building green and more energy efficient. Remember the better, smarter, greener and best value for your dollar is to repair those original windows and keep the magic of historic architecture alive.
For more information on repairing and restoring historic windows:
- Historic wood windows tip sheet
- National Park Service, Technical Preservation Services, Preservation Brief 3 “Improving Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings“
- National Park Service, The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings, p. 25
- U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Building Technologies Program, “Measure Guideline: Wood Window Repair, Rehabilitation, and Replacement,” by P. Baker, P.E., Building Science Corporation, December 2012
Do-No-Harm to Historic Buildings – Do not destroy anything and preserve as much as possible. Be a steward of our historic buildings and show a deep level of respect for them.