Why Shouldn't I Replace My Windows?

Many people have said to me they need new windows because they fear lead paint, want better soundproofing, energy efficiency and easy cleaning. Then the answer is to restore original windows, not replace them. Restoration will cost less and the windows will be lead free, soundproof, energy efficient and easily cleaned. I have trained many small contractors and homeowners how to perform this task efficiently, cost effectively. For those who insist they want tilt-ins for easier cleaning, this system gives them an easy cleaning solution as well. All of this and a new combination wood storm/screen or interior storm cost less than a wood tilt-in with vinyl jamb liners and no storm. This system keeps the sash weights, cuts nothing off the window sash and removes all old paint and glazing. My friend John Seekircher always says, "The reason they call them replacement windows is that you have to replace them over and over again,"

EPA & HUD lead paint regulations are out of control! The facts however fly in the face of this anti-preservation intrusion into our lives. Lead poisoning in children has been depicted by HUD and the EPA as an epidemic. The facts do not support this notion. Children today have less lead poisoning than ever before in history and it has little to do with lead paint regulations. Taking lead out of gasoline and better factory emissions are responsible for much of this.

In essence we should be teaching the uneducated, educated, poor and well-off families to clean their houses. Common sense education is all that's needed with lead paint. Lead paint is only a hazard if it's unstable. Removing lead paint from window jambs and sashes is a safe, quick and easy process if the homeowner or contractor knows how to do it. We must start immediately training small contractors & homeowners how to do this. Right now the contractors that are getting lead certified are gouging homeowner's pocketbooks because they can.

The reason homeowner's think they need to replace their windows is that the window industry spends tens of millions of dollars a year to convince them to buy their inferior products. It will take a consumer about 40+ years to get any payback from replacement windows with insulated glass and considering the following statements in the window industries trade periodical, Glass Magazine, the industry makes the case for restoration.

July 2001 Glass Magazine, By Editor, Charles Cumpstom, "The consumer's perception of glass is significantly different from the industry's. While some in the industry think a 15-year life is adequate, it is the rare homeowner who envisions replacing all his windows in 15 years."

Another article in 1995 in Glass Magazine by Ted Hart states, "Remember our industry, with rare exception, has chosen to hide the fact that insulating glass does have a life expectancy. It is a crime that with full knowledge and total capability to build a superior unit, most of the industry chooses to manufacture an inferior single-seal unit." NOTE: Single seal units are still the norm with an average seal life of 2 to 6 years.

As a side note to this, I am not a general contractor. I believe it is a conflict to teach people how to do these things out of one side of my mouth and then try to get their business out of the other. I do however buy endangered, residential historic properties and rehab them. This keeps me in the fray with the least conflict of interest. Outside of my own rehabs, my only professional purpose is to teach cost effective preservation methodology and neighborhood planning.

Restore and Maintain Windows. Don't Replace Them!

  • New wood windows are made with new growth lumber that is not as strong or rot resistant as the old growth lumber in windows made before the 1950s.
  • Insulated glass seals tend to fail in 2 to 6 years allowing condensation between the panes.
  • Most insulated glass panels cannot be replaced once they fail. The entire window must be replaced.
  • Primary window sashes were never intended to take a direct hit from the weather. In early years they had shutters then storms to protect them.
  • Air infiltration is the biggest energy issue with windows. Vinyl windows, by their nature, have weep holes in their bottom rail to let the moisture seep out which allows massive air infiltration.
  • PVC or vinyl is the most toxic consumer substance manufactured today. It can't be recycled, off gasses toxic fumes and has excessive contraction and expansion issues. It fades, cracks and has a maximum lifespan of 16 to 18 years.
  • Metal clad windows are designed to allow water to seep behind the cladding. This causes early rot of the often finger jointed, new growth lumber underneath.
  • The vinyl jamb liners that are needed for tilt-in windows have cheap spring balances and cheesy foam backing that have a lifespan of about 6 to 10 years.
  • Double hung windows were invented in the 1400s as an air conditioning system. Lower the top sash and raise the lower sash. This lets the hot air and humidity out the top and brings the breezes in through the bottom. Most replacement units don't have a full screen to allow for this process.
  • Aluminum, self-storing storm windows are not even a good windbreak. Metal conducts heat and cold while wood insulated against heat and cold.
  • Sash weight pockets are only a problem if a house has not been caulked and painted properly.
  • Quarter inch thick, laminated glass has better UV protection than all the low-e coatings. It also approaches the same thermal capabilities as insulated glass, is more soundproof, is safer and cost less than insulated glass. If retrofitting glass into an old sash is something you feel must be done, install laminated glass.
  • Original window sash is a part of the footprint of your old house or building. Replacements often have different dimensions and sometimes the window contractor wants to reduce the size of your openings. This has a negative effect on the overall texture and look of the original footprint of your building.
  • If you don't want to lift a finger to maintain or rehab your home then hire a contractor to restore your windows. Your restored windows will cost less, have a better payback, be easily cleaned, have a nice track system, and stop air infiltration, which means greater energy efficiency.
  • Restored wood windows have another 100-year economic life before total restoration is needed again. Replacement windows can never be restored effectively.
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Repair your Windows - IT IS WORTH IT!

We bought your circa 1894 Victorian outside of Chicago 15 years ago.  All the original windows were painted shut (with the top sash slightly open).  After that first cold winter, we went to work carefully prying the sash loose so we could close the windows.  Then, one by one, we took out the windows and stripped the sash and frames, inside and outside.  As others have stated, most of the windows were in very good condition after the paint had been removed.  All we needed to do was reglaze, bleach the wood where there were some stains, treat and shellac (amber followed by coats of clear).  Only a handful (5 or 6 out of 40 windows) required some epoxy and rejoining work.  We found a restoration carpenter who performed the necessary repairs on the windows and showed us how to do the repairs in case we needed to perform more in the future.    Additionally, the windows had  integral metal weather stripping installed in the 1930s which we cleaned and reinstalled.  We added some felt strips where the top and bottom sash meet to reduce some air infiltration at this point.  After 14 years, only the windows on the south side of the home, where they are exposed to lots of sunlight, need to have the shellac retouched (it has burnt off).

These windows are amazing.  They will last for a century more with little care.   They are beautiful with their original wavy glass and honey colored wood.  If they had been replaced by a previous owner we would not have purchased the home.  We purchased the home because it had all original elements in reasonable or restorable condition.  I am confident we saved lots of money over buying custom made replacement windows. 

When we made the commitment to restore the windows it was hard to find information on how to perform this work.  Now, with the internet, the information is easy to find so there is not reason not to at least try it!


RE: Repair your Windows - IT IS WORTH IT!

Way to go! I call it Midwestern Sensibility.

Am on board but...

While I agree with what's being said I've found it difficult to find someone who'll actually restore windows in our area. The one I did finally find was very expensive. More expensive then buying a new window. Perhaps its just the market conditions in this area.

The aesthetics argument falls flat with folks I know pulling out original windows. by definition they don't appreciate the authenticity, design or look. They're buying percieved cost saving and/or resale value smoke-n-mirrors.

The Natnl. Trust published a good break out on the numbers behind replacement windows in terms of break-even analysis which was helpful. tinyurl.com/l6t2s9

What would be helpful would be more numbers. That's what would  sway those who don't appreciate what they have and are hard to convince... IMO. Has anyone seen a side-by-side comparison? Average house w/ X windows. Average repaired window at $Y/window (some good, some bad) = $Z  Compare this to good/better/best replacement windows cost. Then overlay the average life (or guarantee) of repaired window over that of a new replacement. Anyone seen a white paper on something of this sort? Would be helpful IMO. 

btw... the original windows on my home are a big reason I purchased. If they'd been replaced I likely would have gone with a different home that hadn't been remuddled.

Bamboozled by the Vinyl Pirates

More and more homeowners are waking up and realizing they have been brainwashed, bamboozled and besmearched by the big plastics corporations and their vinyl pirates who rip out the good old wood windows and install cheap plastic imintation windows.

Listen to Bob and Steve. They know what they are talking about.






new wood windows?

We restore and repair wood windows here in Northern Indiana.  A good share of our business is repairing,  rotted wood window parts on the newer wood windows.  The ones with vinyl jambs liners.  Of course we also restore Historical wood double hungs windows. 

 My point is, I was on another estimating visit today to look at a window sash that had a rotted meeting rail on the top sash.  There are meeting rail on both upper and lower sashes that, when closed, meet to form a seal to keep weather from coming into your house. 

Some people will say, OK  occasionally a weak window will give way to the weather and start to rot. So just fix it and things will be OK.  The fact is this window is in a house that's 16 years old.  16 years old!   Anyway, On the way out I stopped at several other windows to have a look see.  Most of them had signs of wood rot.  Darkened wood and a little shrinking at the edge where it meets the stile ( the side piece of the sash ) is the sign of rotted new wood.  Won't be long before they'll be letting the weather come in.

The design of new windows with  vinyl or aluminum cladding will cause the sashes to fail, probably sooner than later.  Most wood replacement windows have the same design.

Not so with old windows.  It still astonishes me when restoring old sashes.  Once we get the dirt, grime and all the excess paint off the sashes, they look as good as they did when they were installed some 100 years ago.   And the ones that do need it are far easier  to repair than the new one's I looked at today.  No comparison, keep your older wood windows.

Steve  S

Schoberg Restorations Inc