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East End News

On the importance of saving vintage windows

Carol Hazard had a great long piece on over the weekend on the folks behind Old House Authority and the importance of saving vintage windows in old houses:

Old windows can break, leak and test a homeowner’s patience when they get stuck, Dotts said. But they can be repaired. “Replacement windows, on the other hand, can never be repaired,” Dotts said. “They can only be replaced.”

The window industry has convinced many homeowners that the best way to make their houses more energy-efficient is to replace well-crafted, original wood windows with inferior vinyl products, said Dotts, an agent with Virginia Properties, a Long & Foster Co.

Once repaired or fully restored, vintage windows can be combined with low-profile storm windows to preserve them for the next 100-plus years and make them as energy-efficient as most new windows, restoration experts say.

See also: Restore Those Old Windows by Dixon Kerr

PHOTO of Dixon Kerr via This is Carpentry

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John M


Dana Bagby 02/02/2017 at 11:06 AM


Huotari fan 02/02/2017 at 11:36 AM

Not that I’m against preservation, I highly admire the art and the engagement to our past, but there are perfectly good, brand new wood windows that look exactly the same from the street and probably from inside too. A lot of people can’t afford to do such repairs. In fact, it’s how lower income folks get priced out of certain districts. CAR wouldn’t let me replace my plain ol’ bay windows with brand new, wooden, exact replicas. We never wanted vinyl. From the street there is no way to tell the difference. It’s the *idea* of history, or the attempt at stopping entropy, which is impossible. Is that what the impetus behind preservation is? The attempt to pause time, which is really an attempt at preventing our own deaths? Anyway, we had to get each window expensively and painstakingly redone. So the windows are now part history, part modern putty. We couldn’t afford to get other rotting windows replaced because these were so expensive. The only way I could have gotten new windows were if the old ones weren’t able to be repaired. Next time, I plan on smashing the windows that need repair into tiny historical pieces that can be placed in vials to wear like holy relics. THEN I can get normal windows.

CH resident 02/02/2017 at 12:00 PM

I just recently bought a 170 year old home and the windows I inherited were installed in the 1980’s. They are wood, but they are not “historical” by any means. When I went to renovate my house, I was only allowed to change out 3 out of 11 windows. I was willing to put all new wood windows in! The windows I would have put in would have been much better than the windows from the 1980’s that are in there. So really my question is, what am I actually preserving?

And the only reason that they actually permitted me to change the three windows out, were because they were chewed up by an animal. I totally love historic preservation and think restoring HISTORIC windows is great, but there should be a bit more flexibility when for historic homes, especially when they’re making me keep something that is not historic.

Anyways this is a good article and I totally appreciate the work that Jenni and Dixon are doing! Really!

Brian 02/03/2017 at 3:03 PM

There’s nothing wrong with preserving history, but how many of you really enjoy feeling the breeze inside your house with all of your windows “closed?”

My windows are 107 years old and I cannot wait for my new, not vinyl but a wood polymer composite, windows arrive. They’re stupid expensive at $1450ish each, but if a full restoration for a single pane window is about $1500 anyway, I definitely don’t feel bad about replacing it with a double pane window with all its fancy features for about the same price.

I’m having seven windows replaced at the end of the month, if anybody is interested in them, let me know.

Jason 02/04/2017 at 7:49 AM

I understand one can make a case for replacing or restoring. If you choose restoration call… Restoration Builders Of Virginia. They are excellent at this kind of work. They have decades of experience and are based in Church Hill. I’ve seen nothing but quality from them. If you decide to restore your windows or anything else in your home I suggest you call them.

I must mention that if people like RBVA were not restoring some of this stuff for 30 or so years, the Church Hill we all know and love may not be as charming as it is today.

I’m a painting contractor, and paint new and old construction. The window thing is your choice. But like I said, if you restore, go with RBVA.

Jason 02/04/2017 at 7:52 AM

I’m sure old house authority, mentioned in the post, is great too. I just don’t know them

ilya 02/07/2017 at 11:47 AM

Excellent post Huotari fan. I agree, preservation is taken to ridiculous extremes. Change is the only constant.

Mark 02/07/2017 at 12:21 PM

I do old wood restoration work.and I have never seen a restoration go as high as 1250 each even when I worked for Rbva! Also if you replace with exactly what was there originally the permission is just a formality they cannot disapprove or delay you! Also original windows with storm windows are a much greater r value than replacement in most cases


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