Forum on Historic Windows: Part 1

Posted on: March 26th, 2009 by Guest Writer 4 Comments


Check out window tips from the latest issue of Preservation magazine.

Check out helpful window tips from the latest issue of Preservation magazine.

A few weeks ago, a member on Forum-L (the discussion list for Forum, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s professional membership) raised a question regarding window deterioration. And, as is the case with many topics pertinent to energy efficiency and sustainability, the thread got a lot of attention.

As a result, we asked three of the contributors to the conversation to answer two follow-up questions on the topic. The first question dealing with reasons behind replacement is answered below. Tomorrow, we will post the answers to the second question involving cost considerations.

And of course, please feel free to discuss your own thoughts and opinions on historic windows by leaving a comment below.

Question: What are the most common reasons that homeowners use to replace a historic window? What are the reasons that homeowners should not replace a historic window?

The most common reasons that homeowners use to replace a historic window are that they’re hard to open or that the ropes are broken. Drafty. Some of the windows are showing signs of decay. People want to save energy.

As for reasons they shouldn't. Original windows look better and have character. It is cheaper to fix them and put on storm windows. They are usually a hundred years old and will last another hundred if they are cared for. New windows will last fifteen to fifty years tops, and they will need new glass in five to twenty years usually, and their plastic parts will break down sooner than that, and they are mostly not replaceable. The payback in real energy savings is slight and the cost recovery time is something like 40 years.

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

This is a loaded question because the reasons are broad and all encompassing. However, that said, the calls we receive for window restoration fall into three general categories: a) new homeowners planning to replace all of their windows (this is particularly problematic when the call comes from "flippers," or owners buying older houses to simply rehab and sell with no intention of living in them and no personal care for the property, just maximizing profit.), b) new or existing homeowners planning an addition or remodeling to include new windows, or c) a cold winter, hot summer or high energy bill that spurs them to consider replacements.

We are most often called when a new owner has acquired a property and is planning major rehabilitation work to the entire house. They are weighing window restoration against complete window replacement. They typically need to be personally enlightened (i.e. consumer education) in the first place because the window replacement market is very accessible and convenient. Most architects, contractors, sales people and suppliers financially benefit more from window replacement, so no one should have difficulty comprehending why the window replacement market is so prolific; many of these professionals simply want a known quantity and zero-risk approach.

As for the second part of the question, not replacing a window, the answer is "all of the above." A properly-restored historic window provides better service over the life of the window; is more comfortable (with a proper storm window); will perform better in terms of energy over the life of the window if properly maintained (with a proper storm); is easy to maintain compared to new windows after the first few years of service; and will cost less than replacement over the life of the building.

That said, window restoration is not convenient, as it requires some personal sacrifice on the part of the owner if the house is occupied during the work. One way we have tried to address this is to use translucent board-up materials (with or without temporary operable vents) so they at least get daylight and/or ventilation through the openings. More often than not, the work is staggered around the house. Meanwhile, reducing removal/reinstallation to just a few windows at a time increases logistics and costs substantially unless they are dealing with a local handyman one window at a time.

And of course, sustainability!

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

I think that most “average” homeowners look to replace their windows because of their concern over energy bills, and their expectation that a newer-insulated window will help to reduce the energy loss associated with their existing windows, and that they’ll have a tighter seal and therefore be less likely to be “drafty”. Once a homeowner has decided to replace their windows, cost becomes a primary consideration.

I know that many of the staunch “preservation supporters” will be grinding their teeth about now – they’re thinking to themselves “people should have existing windows repaired, they shouldn’t be replacing them!” Unfortunately, that’s not always the preferred alternative for a variety of reasons. Some markets, for example, don’t have a ready supply of specialists that can provide restoration/preservation services. In some other areas, the most highly regarded restoration specialists don’t have the depth of staff to meet the needs of homeowners within a realistic time frame. Some may not be able to do the job for months because of their backlog. Once the homeowner has decided that they’re going to replace their windows, many will choose products with price as a determining factor. This is frequently because the homeowner has a shorter term view. The U.S. Census indicates that the median length of time in a home is nine years, so many homeowners will look for a shorter term “fix”, taking the stance that the next owner can use historically accurate windows if he or she wants to.

As for reasons not to replace your windows, I’ll be shocked and disappointed if someone doesn’t say, “The existing windows help to keep the home original, and therefore will enhance the value of the property”. True enough if you’re dealing with an educated buyer. However, that’s not always the case. Real estate is first and foremost about location, and since many historic neighborhoods are well-located, some buyers care more about the location than they do about the “authenticity factor." This is, in part, one of the factors that drives the McMansion effect, where historic homes are purchased and demolished in favor of constructing a new home. People want the location more than they want the structure.

So, in my opinion, the original windows will appeal to a certain segment of the buying public, but they’ll be a detriment to another segment of the buying public. Some will see it as an opportunity to own a more “complete” home, while others will see it as an expense that they’ll incur to replace the windows as soon as they close.

- 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.

Guest Writer

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What Would You Reuse?

Posted on: March 25th, 2009 by Jason Clement


There's at least one in every neighborhood, and no I'm not talking about "that house" that is painted fuchsia or sea foam green. Or (gasp) both.

I'm talking about a once-great older or historic building that today sits vacant and perhaps forgotten.

On the struggling-to-survive main drag of my Washington, D.C. neighborhood, there are more than a handful of empty storefronts that have seen better days that I - as a newbie to the area - wish I could have witnessed. Today, their doors are tightly handcuffed with padlocks, their paint is faded and peeling, and their floor-to-ceiling show windows bear cracks and holes that look more like bruises and black eyes.

A constant daydreamer, I can't count the number of times that I've nearly rear-ended a city bus or been on the receiving end of a pedestrian's angry hand gesture (which I deserved), all because I was totally lost in Preservation La La Land. In fact, I'm sure the day will soon come when my response to getting pulled over for a routine traffic violation will be, "Sorry officer, but wouldn't that building over there make a fierce coffee shop?!?"

Today, however, there is good news for all of us daydreamers, as the National Trust for Historic Preservation has officially swung open the doors to its Preservation Green Lab. Headquartered in Seattle, this unique new field office is designed to (among many other things) make the undeniably green principle of adaptive reuse front and center among the people who are making decisions about the buildings we love.

So, as the Preservation Green Lab ramps up to start telling the world what we already know about the shared ground between preservation and sustainability, what can we do? How can we spread the message?

If you've made it this far in this post, here's your assignment: Tonight, take advantage of the longer daylight hours by grabbing your camera and heading out for a walk around your neighborhood. If you come across an abandoned building that really tugs at your heartstrings, take a photo (like the ones you see above) and share it in our Reuse It! photo group on Flickr. It only takes a few minutes to upload your shots, and hey, you get some cardio done in the process.

Much like reusing something that has meaning, it's a win-win situation.

>> Learn More About the Preservation Green Lab
>> Learn More About Reuse 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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

Protecting the Story of Juana Briones & Her California Gem

Posted on: March 25th, 2009 by Guest Writer 7 Comments


Juana Briones (Credit: National Park Service's Point Reyes National Seashore Archives)

Juana Briones (Credit: National Park Service's Point Reyes National Seashore Archives)

On March 12, 1802, Juana Briones y Tapia de Miranda was born in Villa de Branciforte (present-day Santa Cruz), which was one of three secular villas in Alta California.

Juana’s father, a Spanish corporal, was a participant in both the 1769 Portola and the 1775-76 De Anza Expeditions. In 1812, the Briones Family moved north to the Presidio de San Francisco, and in 1820, Juana married Apolinario Miranda in Yerba Buena (current-day San Francisco), where she mothered 11 children between 1821-1841. In San Francisco, the Briones Family operated a dairy farm in what is now North Beach. In addition to being a rancher, Juana was a curandera, or a practitioner of traditional medicines, and was highly regarded by both early Californios and American settlers.

In 1822, Alta California shifted hands from Spanish rule to Mexican, and although the territory changed hands politically, little changed in regard to individual land ownership. In 1843-44, Juana purchased for $300 a 4,442-acre parcel (known as Rancho La Purísima Concepción) from Neophyte Indian José Gorgonio in the Palo Alto hills. Still standing today, the wood-framed, rammed-earth and adobe brick house is believed to have been built by American desertee sailors.

Juana Briones House, c. 1890 (Credit: Palo Alto Historical Association Archives)

Juana Briones House, c. 1890 (Credit: Palo Alto Historical Association Archives)

With the incorporation of Mexican California into the United States, land ownership for many early Californios was challenged by the requirement of proof of ownership. In keeping her rancho, Juana hired the best attorney in California, Henry Wager Halleck, and with her rich ancestry proved ownership to both the Land Commission and the U.S. Supreme Court in 1856, which allowed her to retain her property. At a time when American women could not own land, Juana’s case was unique, setting a precedent for other early settlers. In 1884, Juana moved to Mayfield (now Palo Alto), and eventually died in 1889 at the age of 87.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and Juana lives on in the ambition of local preservationists who are fighting to save her 165-year-old house. Designated a California State Historical Landmark in 1954, the house has sat abandoned in an affluent neighborhood for over ten years, open to the elements and suffering from earthquake damage. In 2007, it was threatened by the possibility of demolition, which encouraged twenty volunteers to document the building with a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).

Just as Juana fought for custody of her lands, preservationists today continue to fight for her story in the hope of saving this early California gem.

- Corri Jimenez

Corri Jimenez received her master's degree from the University of Oregon in historic preservation. In 2007, she led a volunteer HABS documentation project on the Juana Briones House. She currently works as a preservation consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information on Juana Briones, see "Juana Briones of 19th Century California" by Jeanne Farr McDonnell (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2008) or visit online.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at

Notes from New Orleans: The Return of the 'Miracle Mile'

Posted on: March 24th, 2009 by Walter Gallas


In November 1952, Mid-City New Orleans pharmacist Nick Persich wrote the following letter to the editor of the New Orleans States in response to a slum clearance order in his neighborhood:

Let any honest-hearted and fair-minded citizen visit this section and then ask this question: Aren’t there hundreds of thousands of square feet of area lying almost unused in the business and industrial districts? Why not use them first and then, when our city’s growth is such that all other space has been used up, then, and only then, the argument that our area is needed for the progress of our city will be sensible, logical, honest, and acceptable to us.

This letter appeared as citizens learned that the City of New Orleans was clearing “slum” housing near Mid-City (from Tulane Avenue to Poydras Street, and from South Claiborne Avenue to South Broad Street) as a part of the "Miracle Mile" redevelopment of Tulane Avenue.

Today, the "Miracle Mile" vision has been replaced by a new vision called the "Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District." The LSU Medical School sits on some of this land, surrounded still by the area made vacant by that order. Yet even today, those lands aren’t sufficient for LSU’s vision for its new medical center, and so the latest city-engineered land grab continues across Tulane Avenue to Canal Street and up to South Rocheblave, threatening once again to displace more people and destroy more property.

M. L. Eichhorn, who grew up in the lower Mid-City neighborhood that is now ground-zero for the new hospitals, has been a tireless researcher of this area, digging up the names, personalities and professions of those who made this part of the city home over the last 100+ years. In a piece entitled “Sacrificial Land" that appears in the latest issue of Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Eichhorn weaves that research into a narrative that not only brings this area alive, but that very fittingly concludes with Mr. Persich's important observations above.

Read "Sacrificial Land" in Louisiana Cultural Vistas

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.

A Lobby Day Throwdown: Bring It On

Posted on: March 24th, 2009 by Guest Writer


Admit it: you’re getting just a teensy bit tired of hearing about this coffee-guzzlin’, sandals-with-socks-wearin’, software-lovin’ group from the other Washington being touted as the biggest, baddest team of preservation advocates to storm the halls of Congress since, well, who knows when.

Although we’ve worked hard to earn this claim to fame (and loved every minute of the limelight this year), we’ve decided that the time has come to relinquish our title, but it’s gonna cost you.

Team Way Outside the Beltwayers is throwing down the gauntlet and officially challenging other states to take us down by bringing a bigger, badder team to Lobby Day in D.C. next year. What’s on the line, you ask? Nothing short of bragging rights and a round of drinks on us at the Willard Hotel. And, let me tell you that nothing beats raising a toast with your teammates in the Nest at the end of that long, yet rewarding day of lobbying. If you don’t believe me, just ask our friends from Indiana.

In the spirit of leveling the playfield (all for the good of the movement, of course), we’re even willing to offer a few tips to assist you in your quest to unseat us:

Talk it up. If you’ve had the privilege of carrying the preservation mantle for your state on Lobby Day, tell everyone you meet what an amazing and worthwhile experience it is. Tell them how thrilling it is to become totally steeped in the national preservation agenda, to experience D.C. from the inside, and to know you are truly making a difference by joining preservationists from around the country to advocate on this important day. Oh, and in describing the experience, you might want to leave out adjectives like hectic and exhausting. Also, omit the part about how you seriously thought your feet were going to fall off at the end of the day.

Think outside the box. Diversity is the key to a strong, well-balanced Lobby Day team. Some of our most passionate and articulate voices for preservation aren’t preservation professionals at all; they are historic barn owners, county council members, former educators, developers and maritime heritage enthusiasts. The common thread? We all share a belief that historic preservation makes a difference in our landscapes and in our lives.

Start recruiting now. For the best results in recruiting a well-balanced cadre of seasoned lobbying veterans and enthusiastic first timers, don’t wait until a few weeks before the trip to begin cobbling together your team. Plant the Lobby Day seed now, and cultivate it throughout the year by sending legislative updates and keeping potential participants informed and excited about what is going on. Oh, and try to recruit at least one representative from each of your state’s congressional districts. This will send a strong message that preservation matters in every corner of your state.

Show them the money. Traveling to and staying in D.C. is expensive, so make it easier for folks to make the trip by offering travel stipends. Even if you can’t cover all of their travel expenses, often times offering even a few hundred dollars can make it more possible for someone to participate. Also, remember to cultivate the ongoing support of your Lobby Day scholarship donors by keeping them informed throughout the year.

The ball is in your court now. Show Preservation Action, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, and most importantly, your congressional delegation how much preservation matters in your state by putting together your largest Lobby Day team yet.

Beat Team Way Outside the Beltwayers and our consistent, double-digit team numbers next year, and the glory (and the libations) will be yours to savor…for at least a year.

- Jennifer Meisner

Way Outside the Beltwayer Jennifer Meisner is the executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. Visit our Lobby Day 2009 website on to learn more about her recent trip to Capitol Hill.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at