130 yo windows, better to restore or replace? - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 20 Old 08-26-2020, 10:06 PM Thread Starter
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Question 130 yo windows, better to restore or replace?

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Never, never, never throw away old windows.... old-house windows were built of higher-grade wood than what is available today, and were designed to be endlessly rebuilt.
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People replace 200-year-old windows with new vinyl ones that are guaranteed for five years. They are made of oil products and evil gases and soon their useful life is over and they end up in the landfill. Old windows are made of clean wood and glass, and, once rebuilt, are good for another 200 years
Question #1: Assuming this assertion by architect Matthew Cummings AIA has merit..... why isn't such high-grade wood available today? Are the trees from which it came extinct? What would these trees or wood have been called (in the United States)? Or did it have more to do with how the trees were milled? What is the highest quality of wood available today (new wood, not reclaimed)?

Question #2: Do you agree with the architect's assertion? Is this a widely held belief? If you've restored a centenary+ home, which route did you (or the owners) choose? Our partially restored Victorian was built in 1890 and "showcases" (cough, cough... tortures us with) around 40 windows. Is it better to restore the old or usher in the new?


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post #2 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 12:36 AM
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Great question!

To better help you understand why Architects want to restore the old windows do some research on "old growth pine" which was used back in the day for a lot of windows. It's close grain and cellular structure made it impervious to moisture, rot or other forms of deteriorization. Keep it if at all possible and use similar wood to replace it. More research is required to find qualified sources and qualified shop to do the restoration. It's not a DIY project in my opinion .... unless you have considerable experience in making widows and handling large panes of easily broken glass.
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post #3 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 11:13 AM
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the architect has axe to grind - people who go with "They are made of oil products and evil gases" cannot be counted on for rational advice.
the wood quality issue is a yes and no thing.
'back in the day' when large trees were being harvested, the trees had grown slower, the wood was denser, etc etc.
'modern advancements' promote fast growing trees which, in generalities, are not as strong.


but one can still get high quality wood - so his argument is, again, not exactly rational.
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post #4 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by woodnthings View Post
To better help you understand why Architects want to restore the old windows do some research on "old growth pine" which was used back in the day for a lot of windows. It's close grain and cellular structure made it impervious to moisture, rot or other forms of deteriorization...
I can confirm this from personal experience. I had the chance to mill some old growth pine on my mill 9 years ago. My neighbor across the street from our cabin in northern Wisconsin owned the property where an old dam used to exist that was used by the loggers back in the late 1800's. We pulled an old growth pine log out of that shallow creek that had been sitting in the water/mud for a hundred years or so. Apart from the small section of the log that was sitting above the water level of the creek the rest of the log was perfect and made some very nice lumber.

I know there are a lot of old growth logs that are pulled out of the chilly depths of lake Superior which are still in perfect condition. I was shocked that a 100+ year old pine log sitting in a 4 ft deep creek survived that long and still produced nice boards.
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post #5 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 02:07 PM Thread Starter
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Cool

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I was shocked that a 100+ year old pine log sitting in a 4 ft deep creek survived that long and still produced nice boards.
That is shocking, but so cool! Gives me a whole new appreciation for the wood floors and crown moulding in my home. What did you end up making/building with those boards?
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post #6 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 02:20 PM
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That is shocking, but so cool! Gives me a whole new appreciation for the wood floors and crown moulding in my home. What did you end up making/building with those boards?
We milled the boards for our neighbor and didn't keep any of the boards ourselves. He dried them for a few years in his barn but after that I'm really not sure what he ended up doing with them. Unfortunately he passed away about 5 years later due to complications from MS.
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post #7 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 02:24 PM Thread Starter
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We milled the boards for our neighbor and didn't keep any of the boards ourselves. He dried them for a few years in his barn but after that I'm really not sure what he ended up doing with them. Unfortunately he passed away about 5 years later due to complications from MS.
Oh I'm sorry, that is so sad.
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post #8 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 03:36 PM
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That's total BS!

We replaced all the windows in our house last year. Our electric bill is easily 25% lower.

But boy, they ain't cheap!

Robert
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post #9 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 04:23 PM
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we live in a late 1800s home that was remodeled and doubled in size in 1938, we bought it in 97 and went thru the whole house. old windows are nice to look at, but terribly inefficient and drafty. there's a lot you can do to improve the efficiency, but old windows will always suck imo. i replaced all the windows with casement windows by 2001 and a quarter of those need replacement already.

old growth wood is very stable. i saved all the good sashes and frames. the frames are 6/4 clear fir that i have made many things out of. the old sashes have been sucked up by my kids as they decorate their new homes
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post #10 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 04:46 PM
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In this area, if you are restoring your antique home and want it to be as close to orignal as possible you would want to restore the windows and use as much of the glass as possible or order antique glass to replace any newer glass.

Antique glass was wavy, newer glass is not. Wavy is what Restorationist want. Also in this area, if you remove the antique windows you have to replace with thermopane windows which are not single pane windows, the antique windows are single pane.

The windows in the photo will be custom made windows and the cost will be very high. As stated, most single pane windows are not energy efficient, but with proper prep can be made to be better at draftiness.

I would say it is up to you if you wish to restore or replace to keep the home as close to orignal or not. If the windows are in good shape or restorable, and the loss of utilities, or the cost of custom made windows don't bother you, then the choice would be yours to make.
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post #11 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 05:18 PM
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To save on energy bills .....

I don't know what the purists would think of "storm windows" which would fit into the existing frames/casings during cold weather and could be easily removed and stored at any time. Years ago I made some out of pine with Visqueen stapled across tightly stretched, but they were cloudy and not clear enough to see through. Later, I found some high quality clear plastic that was much better, more expensive, but worth it. I didn't use glass because of the cost and the weight. At that time I had about 40 ft of continuous glass 6 ft high with Thermo pane Pella windows. It was freakin' cold in the Michigan winter evenings, but when the sun shined in during the day, it was quite pleasant.

I was more of an eco-freak back then in the 1980's, wanting solar panels and heat storage systems, but that just didn't pay off here in Michigan. All that run of glass had an estimated "R" value of just around 2, while my 6" thick walls had an "R" rating of 20, BUT the end result was not all that efficient, averaging them both together.


Heating with a large woodstove was a full time job, sawing, splitting and stacking all the wood for a heating season. I still heat with a woodstove during the coldest months, but have 2 propane furnaces for a more reliable heat source. It's a long story including a major 3 story roof line remodel, 20 ft long steel support beams plated together and sliding door walls replacing some of the windows which lead to a 40 ft sun porch .........
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post #12 of 20 Old 08-27-2020, 06:21 PM
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Qusrion #1.... I almost went to work at a company in Kansas City called ReView.... they repair and replace historical windows in libraries, court house, capital Buildings,etc....big money. They use Sapele in there replacements of parts and or windows removal and replacement..

So that's the materials the big boys are using...
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post #13 of 20 Old 08-28-2020, 10:24 AM
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find a reliable and well experienced window installer/repairman in your area to help you with your questions. old window beauty is worth considering. many improvements can be made, some were mentioned here. you can get replacment double pane sahes of pretty high quality.

many folks will keep that charm on the lower floors (w/storm windows), then replace with double glazed Hi-eff on the upper floors. you cant tell from there, and storms are not needed then.
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post #14 of 20 Old 08-28-2020, 11:37 AM
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Personally I would rebuild the windows if needed.I would get real familiar with glazing and caulking...

On another note... I wish you were close, I'd work o that old house for free....

If it helps my brother in law in Florence, Al. Is a window salesman and installer...

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post #15 of 20 Old 08-28-2020, 02:39 PM
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If you go back a very long time, say before the Civil War, windows were made locally, like just about everything; so the type of wood used varied. With the advent of industrial scale manufacturing in the late 19th century, white pine became the preferred wood for windows. It came mostly from Lake States forests until after the First World War. Pine production shifted to the West Coast and the window industry shifted to Ponderosa pine. There are some amusing exceptions. Railway coaches used cherry for window sash for its durability and stability. The German window industry prizes western hemlock from British Columbia for tilt and turn windows. It is specially milled and dried for them at great expense. I ran some cypress sash a long time ago, and it was a very nice wood to work with.

Trees from "old growth" forests--what foresters refer to as "first forest"--are very large, grew more slowly due to the shade of older trees, and have more clear lumber in them. These have all been cut down except for a few in protected areas. The last mill I knew of that cut old growth white pine was in Sault Saint Marie, Ontario. I bought pine from them into the 1970s. It was the nicest stuff in the world to run past a cutterhead. I shifted to what the lumber dealer called "soft textured Ponderosa" which I think came from higher elevation forests. It gave a slightly rougher cut which I attributed to greater contrast in the hardness of the early wood and late wood. The last really nice wood I bought for sash work was California Sugar pine around 1995. This was clearly old growth stock--2" thick, 12"-20" wide, 16' long, clear lumber. Those trees could be gone by now also.

With a few exceptions, most species of wood deteriorate when exposed to exterior moisture. Exterior durability is a desirable trait that contributed to the early over exploitation of those species. For a long time wood windows have been treated with preservatives to prolong their service life when exposed to weather, so compatibility of wood species and treatment method are important. The combination of white pine and pentachlorophenol was great while it lasted. Penta is a ferocious toxin and was banned about 1990. I worked with one manufacturer that was using a pressure treating process that made pine remarkably durable, but I'm not sure if it ended up being economically feasible. I still use zinc naphthenate from time to time.

So, you can't get wood like you used to. The wood window industry, like wood using industries in general, have put a lot of ingenuity into building better products with lower grade lumber.
I've been asked to make some replacement sash for a 1890 vintage building. I can't find the 8/4 white pine within 200 miles, so I think I'll be face gluing a lot of 4/4 stock.
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post #16 of 20 Old 09-03-2020, 01:41 PM
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That's total BS!

We replaced all the windows in our house last year. Our electric bill is easily 25% lower.
That's less to do with the frame of the window and more to do with the glass panes. Those old windows were single pane plate glass, not very energy efficient. Modern windows use two panes with a gas in between to act as insulation. There's your energy improvement.

Vinyl windows also start to lose their seals over time. My mom's house was only 10 years old before those windows started to fail and leaked.
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post #17 of 20 Old 09-03-2020, 08:57 PM
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Old windows have loose glass ......

Typically, the putty in older widows gets hard and cracks and gaps form and even sometimes it will fall out. This lets the air move in our out causing cold drafts in the winter and heat loss. Even a well sealed single pane window will do a lot to preserve the temperature. If the window faces South with no overhang solar energy will hear the room contents and it may reach even 80 degrees during the day, at least that's what happens on my sun porch with single pane windows. Actually, I have removed the second glass inner window pane because I intend to use a heat loss window film on the inside. It's a huge project since it's 40 ft X 6 ft of glass, but it may not happen this fall.


The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #18 of 20 Old 09-03-2020, 11:06 PM
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OK, this is probably blasphemy.

Probably about 25 years ago we replaced some aluminum framed sliding windows in our 1962 house with white vinyl windows. The new windows are double pane and the insulative qualities were "feel-a-ble" immediately. There were places in the living room where I could sit and notice the lack of heat movement to the outside.

The windows look good and we have received complements on the looks of the house. I would do it again in an instant.

For those considering window replacement, there are two styles of vinyl windows. The first style is the 'Original construction' type and the outside house sheeting, shingles, stucco etc. comes up to the edge of the window. The 'Replacement type of vinyl window includes a facia of sort around the window. To my limited aesthetics abilities the facia really sets off the windows and looks better.

AND I have not had to paint or do any maintenance on these windows in 25 years.

Rich
Just a dumb old paper boy from Brooklyn, NY

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post #19 of 20 Old 09-04-2020, 06:51 AM
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Our house is 100+ years old, dealt with installing storm windows and screens for years and in a two story house it was a pain, (30 windows). The best investment me made was to install double pane replacement vinyl windows, no regrets.
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post #20 of 20 Old 09-05-2020, 08:46 AM
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One of the rubs I have with replacement windows in old houses is that the new window is usually a unit that fits inside the existing casing, so the resulting window looks out of proportion to the overall opening. If the rest of the house is period accurate, the windows will really stand out.
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