What Historic Homeowners Need to Know About Replacement Windows

When it comes to housing, everyone has different tastes. Some people prefer to live in the suburbs, while others prefer the excitement of the city. Some people prefer the amenities offered by brand new construction, while others prefer the unique charm of a historic home. Regardless, there still are important things to consider when getting replacement windows in historic homes.

replacement windows historic homes

Generally speaking, a historic home is at least several decades old (usually fifty years old or more) and must have carried some recognizable continuity through the years. Examples of houses falling into this category might be a Southern plantation home, a red-brick colonial townhouse, or a gabled Victorian home.

One of the challenges that homeowners can face when it comes to living in a historic home is the time consuming and costly process of upgrading their residence to feature some of the more modern amenities that we’ve come to appreciate, along with just general maintenance of the property that can suggest periodic upgrades for the purpose of appearance, energy efficiency, or safety.

Private Ownership is a Double-Edged Sword

While buildings on the National Register of Historic places have a lot of red tape around the issue of remodeling and upgrading, private homeowners are usually not faced with so many restrictions.

That’s a double-edged sword because even though it grants homeowners more freedom to install a state of the art kitchen, it also gives them more leeway to unwittingly tear out original, irreplaceable, and valuable components of their home.

One such feature that homeowners might be tempted to upgrade are the windows, especially in their efforts to improve energy efficiency, or eliminate chipped, broken, or rotting window frames. Here are a few things that historic homeowners should consider when it comes to installing replacement windows in particular.

Meant to Last

Unlike today’s quick moving world of disposable goods, things in the good old days were meant to last. The windows of a historic home were meant to accompany the home through the years, and the home itself was intended to house generations of people—as it often did. Historic windows are generally of a simple design, which eliminates the possibility for the malfunctions that can occur with newfangled anything.

The timber that was used in their craftsmanship (let that word sink in) generally came from old-growth forests, which were virgin, primeval wooded areas left undisturbed for centuries, allowing the trees to grow solid and strong—more so than much of the lumber that is harvested today.

Their simplicity, quality materials, superior craftsmanship, and intended longevity combined to create windows that can truly withstand the test of time, given periodic maintenance. There are plenty of historic buildings with windows from the 16th century—which is not too long after Columbus discovered the new world, to give you some idea of how long they’ve lasted.

A Professional Restoration

All things considered, if the original windows on your historic home are in decent enough shape to repair, you might consider hiring a professional to add weather stripping and treat the frame with a new coat of paint.

Installing storm windows on the outside of the original windows will also allow to retain the original look of the house, increase the energy efficiency of your home, and protect the original windows from further decay.

Historically Accurate Replacement Windows

If your historic windows have become hard to open, have cracked or broken panes of glass, or rotting frames, you may discover that repairing and restoring them is out of your price range, especially if you would want to add storm windows on top of them for protection and energy efficiency.

However, before swapping out the old windows for new ones, it’s very important to consider the value that the historic windows added to your home. New windows are made for new homes, and the windows that came with your house were specifically crafted with that structure in mind, giving the façade a cohesive integrity that would be lost if you haphazardly put whatever was available at a big box store into the window spaces.

It’s imperative that if you decide to replace the windows, you work with a qualified professional who can assist you in installing new windows with a historically accurate appearance, which will accomplish the upgrade you intended, but simultaneously maintain the economic integrity of your investment in a historical home.

Historically accurate replacement windows have the energy efficiency benefits that have come with modern innovations in window-making, while maintaining the classic look of windows from the past, especially through the use of woods like mahogany, pine, and fir.

Even though the sash is comprised of one solid pane of glass, the mullions compartmentalize it, giving the window a traditional appearance. As a finishing touch, the window can be treated with a finish that matches the existing frame and complements the appearance of the house.

Consideration of Historical Preservation Guidelines

Another thing to consider is whether or not there are any state and local ordinances about making changes to historic properties or changes that would affect the appearance of a historic neighborhood.

Chances are that when you purchased your home, you became aware of any conditions or stipulations that would somewhat restrict your ability to alter the façade of your home. Homes in historic neighborhoods may be subject to rules and regulations about changing the color of the home’s exterior, certain landscaping features, building materials, and architectural details like windows.

For example, some historic preservation related regulations may stipulate that replacement windows cannot be made out of composite materials and that they must have the same glass pane pattern as the previous window.

A professional company that has experience working with historic homes will be able to facilitate a transition to a historically accurate product, while simultaneously performing the delicate dance of conforming to preservation-related rules and regulations.

Professional Help

All said, when you work with a professional company to assess the window-related concerns of your historic home, they’ll be able to analyze the various factors that go into such a decision, such as historical preservation regulations, the condition of your current windows, the energy efficiency of your home, and the architectural appearance of your home’s façade.

historic homes replacement windows

Whether they recommend restoring the current windows and installing storm windows, or removing the old windows and replacing them with historically accurate new windows, they’ll be able to deliver quality work that protects the historic value of your most valuable asset: your home.

Don’t Do it Yourself

On the other hand, if you hire an unqualified person or attempt to do the work yourself, you’ll find that it’s extremely difficult to remove the old windows and replace them with newer units that are exactly the right size.

Even worse, once the installation is complete, if you’ve picked out windows that are not historically accurate, the appearance of your home will be changed, compromising its status, value, and charm, which were three of its greatest selling points.

Installing any type of replacement window is an extremely difficult process that involves a lot of peripheral work such as painting, sanding, and insulating, and is best done by a qualified professional.

Adding additional sets of constraints to the job such as property value, historical integrity, and neighborhood regulations create an even more difficult task that would be foolhardy to try on your own.

Feldco Does Custom Replacement Windows

If you’re looking for replacement windows for your historic home, Feldco does factory direct replacement windows that will meet your style and material needs. Get a free quote today.

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