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Replacing Vintage Windows

With a vintage home, be it Victorian or Retro, repairing or replacing your windows is critical to maintaining the look and feel of the home. Can you make repairs and maintain the original windows, or will they have to be replaced? Are your heating costs too high or is moisture on the windows, followed by mold, a real problem? These are some serious concerns and here are some ideas and possible solutions.

Of course you want to stay true to your style without going broke, and although the facts are that window repairs or replacements can be expensive, in the long term they are worth the costs. Purchase the best quality your budget will allow and do plenty of research into options. Check with your local power company, city, and state governments for energy rebates, tax incentives, and rebates for ENERGY STAR® products.

Some repairs are simple, such as windows with broken balance ropes, needing a replacement, or leaky frames, possibly only needing weather stripping. But there are very serious problems that most likely will require complete replacement or restorations.

Things to Consider

  • Repair & Improve. What is the degree of damage to your windows? Replacing them should be done with high-quality, energy efficient windows. However, if your windows are well made and are in fair condition, you might be better off if you have the windows restored to their original state, especially if your vintage windows have what is called “rolled” glass, the wavy look of vintage glass from being handmade. Completely replacing or restoring are about the same in cost, but not time; there is a great deal of work in maintaining vintage windows throughout each season. Is it worth it? This has to be a personal choice.
  • Conserving Energy. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates an average household will spend 40% of its energy costs on heating and cooling of the home, so look for the ENERGY STAR® label if you are going to replace the windows.
  • Safety & Health. Lead paint is found in many older homes built before the 1970s, and the most common sources of lead dust is from sliding, painted sash windows rubbing against painted frames. Even the tiniest amounts of lead dust can cause serious health problems. Determine if your windows are painted with lead based paint and replace completely. Professional removal of the paint is pricey, time consuming, and hazardous; it may not be worth saving the windows.
  • Costs. Window replacement costs can range from $150 to $500 or more, so take into account how long you intend to live in your house and the number of windows you will replace. Depending on the house, it may take up to 20 years to recoup your investments in lower energy bills. Check out EnergyStar.gov for important 2008/2009 credits for energy savings.

Two popular types of sash windows for vintage homes are wood or vinyl replacement inserts or double-hung sash replacement kits. For maintenance-free windows, consider vinyl replacement windows. Some companies offer simulated wood grain interior; ask your window dealer for help measuring for the correct fit. If you are looking to retain the authentic wood look of your old double-hung windows, there are sash replacement kits available. Your old window jamb must be square and rot free. Measurements are crucial or the new sash won’t properly fit. Be sure to consult a professional.

If you are ready to take on this project, an outstanding site with good pictures and step-by-step details for installing sash windows can be found at Reader’s Digest.com and a video can be found at This Old House. Replacing or restoring your vintage windows is a large job and getting the opinion of a window installation contractor before committing to the project is important. Find a qualified window contractor already screened through CalFinder.

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