Slideshows

 

Windows are the most visible, yet most commonly underappreciated, components of older and historic homes and buildings.

In addition to adding beauty and character, original windows serve a great purpose -- they connect the outside of the building to the inside and, as an integral part of the architecture, offer invaluable clues to a building's history.

Despite this value, however, historic windows often get the blame for a building’s energy loss. Most often, people jump to replace their historic windows because a) companies promise that their replacement windows will save clients time and money, and b) it’s promoted as the "green" thing to do. In fact, a thriving industry has grown around this perceived need to replace rather than restore.

The latest report from our Preservation Green Lab in Seattle, Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement, tackles this unfortunate perception head-on. The study examines multiple ways you can retrofit (read: modify) your historic windows for better performance, and outlines each option’s energy, carbon, and cost savings across a variety of climates.

The heartening result: Retrofits for historic windows perform comparably to new replacement windows, and almost every retrofit option offers a better return on investment (at a fraction of the cost).

For more facts and figures, we encourage you to read the full Preservation Green Lab report. In the meantime, check out the top 10 things you should know about retrofitting your historic windows.

1. Include retrofitting in your cost-benefit analysis.

As you’ll see throughout these tips, retrofitting historic or older windows has numerous, measurable benefits. Still, not every old window needs to be saved, so it can help property owners to ask these questions as part of their initial cost-benefit analysis:

  • Are my windows an important architectural or defining feature of my building?
  • Are there ways I can retrofit my windows to achieve greater energy efficiency?
  • Will replacement windows last as long as my originals?
  • Are there more cost-effective approaches available other than replacement windows?
  • Will replacement windows fit the character of my property or detract from it?

2. Tackle other energy-efficiency measures first.

Just as windows are a part of your whole house, so should they be part of a whole-house solution to cutting back on energy use. As we discussed in a previous 10 on Tuesday, first do an energy audit of your house, preferably with an experienced professional. They can help you evaluate energy-saving solutions, the proper order for implementing them, and estimated costs. Then consider what additional efficiency gains or energy savings retrofitting your windows can offer.

3. Retrofits have better returns on investments than replacement windows.

Window retrofits such as cellular shades, storm windows, and insulating shades can achieve energy savings comparable to replacements at a much lower cost. Interior storm windows also reduce potential exposure to lead-based paint, while exterior storm windows help extend the useful life of historic windows by offering protection from the elements.

In comparison, replacement windows may offer high energy performance improvement, but the upfront costs are substantial and are not rapidly recovered through savings in energy bills.

4. The range of energy performance for retrofit options varies significantly.

The highest performing retrofits include interior window panels, exterior storm windows, and combining insulating shades with exterior storm windows. The performance of these measures varies significantly depending on the climate in which they are installed (see next tip).

Weather stripping was found to have the lowest energy cost savings and a low average ROI relative to other window improvements. However, the study determined that when homeowners install the weather-stripping themselves, it produces a higher return than any of the other window options studied.

5. Take climate into consideration.

The best retrofit option for Phoenix may not be right for Chicago, given the difference in their heating and cooling needs. For example, in places like Chicago that rely more on heating, insulating cellular shades helped reduce heat loss (even more so if the window also had exterior storm windows).

Meanwhile, if you’re in a place that relies more on cooling systems, like Phoenix, consider whether exterior shading, such as overhangs, trees, or nearby buildings, is present. If these elements are already shading the windows -- or if windows are not oriented toward the sun -- the windows will receive minimal or no cooling benefit from a retrofit.

6. Take matters into your own hands.

Perform high-return, do-it-yourself installations first, where possible. Weather stripping (good for old, drafty windows) and interior surface film (good for homes with big cooling bills) generate immediate savings at a low cost and don’t prevent you from adding other cost-saving retrofits later.

Taking a phased approach to window upgrades -- focusing on the highest returns first and using savings to pay for future improvements -- can eventually lead to long-term savings of money, energy, and carbon emissions for older homes, even for households that are on a tight budget.

7. Saving existing windows is greener than producing new windows.

Keeping existing windows saves the energy and resources needed to create new windows. Like any product, the production of replacement windows requires materials, and these materials generate CO2 and other environmental hazards from the extraction, manufacture, transport, and disposal processes. Retrofit measures also require materials, but are often less materials-intensive and so impact the environment less than an entire window replacement.

8. Saving windows preserves a home’s character.

Historic windows were custom fit to their original openings and often have sizes and shapes not found today. Replacing them usually requires changing the size and/or shape of the opening. So while standard-sized new windows might save on operational costs, they’ll com¬promise the character and historic integrity of a home with smaller windows, less light, distorted proportions, and trim that doesn't match the opening.

Moreover, changing the opening’s size or shape decreases the chance that new stock replacement windows will fit well. The resulting gaps around the windows will be just as (if not more) drafty as the historic windows they’re replacing.

Tip: The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and The Secretary of the Interior’s Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings can guide you on how best to approach the preservation of windows in historically designated homes, or homes that may be eligible for listing.

9. Older windows are built with high-quality materials.

Wood windows made prior to the 1940s are likely to be made from old growth wood -- a stable, dense wood that mills well, holds paint and stain well, is not as attractive to insects, and has natural rot resistance. Also, the wood was most likely harvested locally, making it better suited for local climate conditions.

10.    Older windows can be repaired.

Traditional windows are made from individual parts. Each piece -- the rails, stiles, muntins, stops, sill, stool, jamb, etc. -- can be individually repaired or replaced in kind. Vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, and composite windows are manufactured as a unit, and the components generally cannot be repaired. When a part fails, or the insulated glass seal breaks, or the vinyl warps, the entire unit must be replaced.

Bonus benefit of older windows: Repairing and increasing the energy performance of existing wood windows is good for the local economy, as hiring a window repair specialist to refurbish windows creates skilled local jobs.

So, as you can see, historic windows have a lot going for them, and the more you understand what options are available for improving them, the better you can protect your building’s character -- and your wallet’s health. Read the Preservation Green Lab report to learn more.

For a more detailed report summary, check out Preservation Leadership Forum's post Old Windows Are Worth It.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

[Slideshow] Restoration Diary: Ch-ch-ch-Changes Inside & Out

Posted on: September 28th, 2012 by David Garber

 

After hearing word the other day that the scaffolding was down at Lionel Lofts, I popped over to check out the recent progress -- which turned out to be pretty dramatic. Not only is the 3-story scaffold down, but the interior has been fitted out with -- wait for it -- floors and walls! It's. All. Starting. To. Come. Together!

Check it out:

 
More information on this development project can be found on the Lionel Lofts website.

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.

Burlington, Iowa’s Old-School Movie Theater Gets a New Lease on Life

Posted on: September 25th, 2012 by David Robert Weible 1 Comment

 

Though I’m a child of the '90s, when megaplexes were popping up like Furbies and Pokemon in suburban neighborhoods, my friend Tim and I would spend rainy Saturday afternoons at the 1924 movie house my neighborhood struggled to keep open, watching and re-watching flicks like Men in Black and the Jurassic Park series.

Though they weren’t exactly Gone With the Wind, seeing these movies in a historic setting made an impression on me -- which is why I’m always thrilled to see the restoration of historic theaters across the country, including one of the latest, the Capitol Theater in downtown Burlington, Iowa.


The Art Deco building first opened with the showing of The Prince and the Pauper in 1937 and featured countless classics before closing in 1977 after a final screening of Carrie. Though it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, the theater remained shuttered, slowly decaying from neglect, until a friends group was formed in 2003.

Since 2005, the upstart Capitol Theater Foundation worked to restore the marquee and the lobby’s colorful terrazzo floor, uncover and restore original tin ceilings and maple floors, repair the terra cotta exterior, reconstruct the ticket booth and concession counter, repair and replace damaged acoustic tiles, and expand the stage for live performances.

The building reopened after the $3 million restoration as the Capitol Theater and Performing Arts Center on June 1, almost 35 years after it was closed. And while they may not make movies like they used to, at places like the Capitol you can at least watch them like they used to.

For my money, there’s nothing better.

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.

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

[Slideshow] Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

Posted on: September 20th, 2012 by Elizabeth McNamara 3 Comments

 

As you’ll read in Preservation’s Fall 2012 issue, last October my husband and I spent two nights in rehabilitated historic lockhouses along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal outside Washington, DC. We’re both native Washingtonians, and yet in less than 48 hours we absorbed more cool facts about our city’s early history than we ever anticipated. Thanks to the Canal Quarters program, which rents out six restored lockhouses to guests, we experienced the 184.5-mile-long waterway as never before.

In anticipation of our Fall issue, I hope you enjoy these pictures of the historic canal, lockhouses, and surrounding parkland.

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.

Remembering Jack Boucher, Photographer and Preservationist

Posted on: September 10th, 2012 by Dennis Hockman 1 Comment

 

The National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) is the nation's first federal preservation program, launched in 1933 as a way of documenting the nation’s architectural heritage. For half a century Jack Boucher traveled the United States for HABS photographing what NPS calls “a complete resume of the builder's art.”

He also photographed places for the Historic American Engineering Record and the Historic American Landscape Survey. But today, his images are appreciated as more than just documents of historic places; they are appreciated as art.

Lauded by preservationists and photographers alike, Boucher’s photographs of colonial-era mansions, civic monuments, structures designed by the greatest American architects, and vernacular buildings help define our evolution as a nation as well as the diverse regions we call home.

His career took him to 49 states, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, and he produced thousands of images, all of which are public domain and available through the Library of Congress.

 
Jack Boucher died September 2, 2012, and was remembered by friends and family five days later at Old Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. Here’s what colleagues from the preservation community had to say about his legacy (emphasis added):

"Jack Boucher was an American master of large-format photography. He is certainly a legend, having lectured to thousands and producing tens of thousands of large-format photographs of historic architecture, landscape architecture, and engineering sites across the United States over the past 50 years." -- Paul D. Dolinsky, Chief of the Historic American Landscapes Survey

"Mr. Boucher leaves an incredible legacy for his work capturing iconic buildings and national parks, and his photography helped raise public awareness of architecture in general." -- Scott Frank, American Institute of Architects

"In the passing of Jack Boucher, the National Park Service has lost one of the true giants of historic preservation. His nearly five decades of photographing historic sites for the Historic American Buildings Survey, Historic American Engineering Record, and Historic American Landscape Survey have provided incalculable contributions to the nation’s largest archive of historical architectural, engineering and landscape documentation that will be used by the preservation community for generations to come." –Jonathan B. Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service

"The long career of Jack Boucher as photographer for the Historic American Buildings Survey leaves a legacy that will last much longer. He captured a remarkable range of the built environment that will continue to play a pivotal role in how we see our heritage for decades to come. The absence of a successor at HABS is a sad situation indeed." -- Richard Longstreth, Director of Historic Preservation and Professor of American Civilization, George Washington University

"Jack Boucher was a luminary in the field of preservation. As Chief Photographer for the Historic American Buildings Survey, he documented thousands of important historic places including National Trust Historic Sites such as Cliveden, Lyndhurst, and Belle Grove as well as National Treasures such as Union Station and Haas-Lilienthal. His contribution to the field is unmatched and he was key to taking the pulse of preservation over the past half century. As he documented American architecture he followed the prevailing interests of preservationists from Colonial to Victorian to industrial and beyond. His lens uniquely captured the many of the important styles of our time.-- Stephanie Meeks, President, National Trust for Historic Preservation

"Jack was one of our last links to the early days of the national historic preservation program in post-World War II America. His monumental body of photographs set the standard for his generation and for generations to follow. He was a craftsman of the highest order, an artist, and teacher. His life's work will far outlast all of us. His passions were his wife Peggy, photography, good food in great restaurants, and his beloved Catholic Church.  We have lost a valued and irreplaceable member of the heritage preservation community. We will not see his like again." -- de Teel Patterson (Pat) Tiller, former Deputy Associate Director, Cultural Resources, National Park Service

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.

Dennis Hockman

Dennis Hockman

Dennis Hockman is editor in chief of Preservation magazine. He’s lived all over the United States but currently resides in Baltimore where he is restoring a 1918 center hall Colonial.