Forum on Historic Windows: Part 2

Posted on: March 27th, 2009 by Guest Writer

Yesterday, in Forum on Historic Windows: Part 1, we opened the floor for discussion on the common reasons for and against restoring historic windows.

Now we're back with part two, and we're asking the same Forum members to chime in on a new question. Take a look at what each has to say, and then sound off by leaving a comment below with your own thoughts and ideas.

Question: Generally, what factors should preservationists and homeowners think about when evaluating the cost of a window replacement/rehabilitation? How is the cost for an appropriate replacement/rehabilitation usually determined?

A well-restored or renovated window with a new storm window is going to lose a little more energy than a new window, but the carbon debt to make and transport and install the new window, as well as the waste of embodied energy as the perfectly good old growth sash and glass are thrown in the landfill, just about washes the small gain away, and all you have left is the empty wallet from paying for all new windows, which will fail in 20 to 40 years. This is the final measure of un-sustainability. The greenest window is the one that is already there and was restored by a local worker who spent his money in his local community adding economic sustainability to the equation.

Costs for rehabs/restores are as individual as the windows themselves. Condition is the main factor, and so is the degree of restorative work. My style is to make the windows work as well as when they were new. In my blue collar style, we often fix and seal the upper sash and make it stationary, and then install blue board in that weight track (if the trim is off). Then we usually install an aluminum storm window and strip the lead paint off if it is in a friction spot. We cut the sash as needed so the meeting rail and lock align. Then I find a good quality triple or double track and mount it inside the trim on the stops. Budget window rehab costs about $300 per window including storms/painting extra. Rotted or damaged sashes which need rebuilding will add cost of course.

- Chris Sturbaum owns Golden Hands Construction in Bloomington, IN. They have been in operation since 1979.

1) Consider reducing the scope to save cost. If they are taking a comprehensive look at their windows, think about which windows are actually used and put their money up front. Most of the owners we meet use some form of air conditioning part of the year. If they have no intention of giving up their A/C anytime soon, you can typically restore full operation to anywhere between 30% and 60% of the windows to save money on the mechanics of making all of the windows fully operational. The remaining ones are either restored or maintained in-situ fixed (stationary) until they need to be addressed down the road.

2) Consider the role of high-quality, wooden storm windows to save cost. These can often buy time, defer or completely table the restoration costs of the primary window.

3.) Consider how the replacement affects the interior casing/trim and/or exterior casing and brick mold, and whether that's covered in the cost.

4.) Consider how you maintain or repair the replacement window. How do you replace a cracked or broken thermal pane of a new window? Typically you have to replace the entire sash, insert or window!

5.) Consider the reality of sales pitches and bogus claims. Will the replacement window company sign a guarantee that their windows will save X% on their energy bill? Will they reimburse you for the difference (as adjusted for annual heating degree days)? Our cost varies widely depending on the quality of the window; whether storms/screens are included; where the work starts and stops (sash only, window only, window and trim, etc.); if double-hung; whether both sashes will remain operable; whether the window originally had groove and rail metal weather-stripping or the sashes need to be routed out; etc. Windows and doors are the only mobile millwork on the house. They require maintenance and they are the items most often neglected by old house owners. The cost in our area varies from $300 to $2,500+ per opening for wood, and $900 to $3,500+ for steel, depending on the work required, storm windows/screens included, and the standards of the final product desired. Usually, handymen are handling the lower range and our projects tend to range on the higher end. However, that said, we also deal with leaded glass, large fanlights, rose windows and other unusual window types.

- Neal Vogel of Restoric, LLC, a firm located in Wilmette, IL that provides restoration of historic structures.

I think the more basic question here is what percentage of homeowners actually consider or thoroughly evaluate the rehab of existing windows. I realize that the folks that are members of PreservationNation and/or the National Trust would routinely consider rehab versus replacement, and within replacement, they would be more likely to consider historically consistent windows. However, I’m not sure that our members recognize that the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily share their view or their passion for preservation. Remember that the National Trust has 250,000 members out of a population of 306 million – that’s less than one-tenth of one percent of the population! And Forum, where discussions can be both passionate and heated, has just 4,000 members! The lesson of course is that, to some extent, we’re preaching to the choir rather than to the congregation!

Different sectors of the population use differing hierarchies for decision making. For some, it’s price. For others, it’s quality. For others, it’s how quickly I can have what I want.

It’s interesting to note that the discussion on this issue is not confined to the National Trust and its affiliates. There are discussion groups that have touched on this topic on Yahoo and a website dedicated to promoting window restoration. It’s also interesting to note that if you Google “window rehab” or “window restoration," none of the top 25 hits direct you to National Trust resources.

- Jeff Donohoe of Donohoe Associates, an economics and real estate consulting firm located in Manchester, NH.

Want to learn more? Visit for resources on historic windows, including Window Know How: A Guide to Going Green, our Green Home Tips and our Tip Sheet for Historic Wood Windows. Also, check out the National Park Services’ technical preservation services page for additional resources.

- Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is a program assistant for the Center for Preservation Leadership at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Forum members can read past messages from Forum-L on Forum Online, which is now located at If it is your first time visiting the new site, please follow these instructions.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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