Window Restoration

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Repair. Don't replace.

If you own a well maintained older home, one built in the early 1900s’, 1800s’ or even earlier, congratulations, you own a real gem. If your home still has its original windows and doors you have a true classic home with a lot of history that has stood the test of time.

Your home was well built by true craftsman using old growth lumber. That wood cannot be replaced today. Old growth wood was harvested from trees that may have been hundreds of years old and were selected by nature to be the best. Modern lumber is made from trees that were selected by foresters for rapid growth and quick harvest. Much modern wood is even a composite of many pieces of low grade wood glued together to appear as a single piece of good wood. Old growth wood is less susceptible to rot and insect damage, making it far superior to modern wood. That is why the old wooden windows in your home have stood the test of time and are still in use.

But like all things, your old wood windows will require periodic maintenance. You may now be faced with that situation and are wondering what to do. Today you have the option of replacing your classic old-growth windows built by craftsmen, with modern plastic windows built by machines. That may look like an attractive option, but you should give it a great deal of thought before deciding.

Remember your original windows have been in service for decades, maybe even centuries. They can be made to look and work like new again. Modern plastic or wooden windows can be expected to be used for 20 years or so before they will need work. Occasionally the seal on a double-pane window leaks and moisture will get in between the panes, resulting in a foggy appearance and reduced efficiency. That can be very expensive and difficult to repair.

Your existing wooden windows were intended to be maintained. They were designed and built to be repairable. Those plastic or modern wood windows may not be repairable. Once they fail, or if the glass should break, your only option will be to replace them again.

Perhaps even more important though is the fact that preserving your original windows also preserves the historic character of your classic home. Those original windows were hand crafted specifically for your home. They will have glass in them that was manufactured using techniques that have been lost to history. That old glass alone adds to the character of your home and should be treated as a valuable asset. If your home is in a historic district, modern replacement windows may not even be permitted.

Now you may be thinking of energy efficiency. Modern windows are marketed as being energy efficient. However tests show that a properly maintained historic wood window fitted with a storm window can be every bit as energy efficient as a modern double pane window. You may already have storm windows as most historic houses have had them. If not, there are a few options that can add this feature.

Adding a well-fitted storm window to each of your windows will do these three things:

  • Reduce heat loss from your window.
  • Stop air infiltration through your window.
  • Protect your primary window sash from the weather.

Wood storms are the most historically accurate storm windows you can use on your historic house or building, but aluminum storm windows will also serve the purpose and you may already have them.


Example Sash Repair in the Riegel Restoration Workshop

Note that these old historic sash were designed and built so they could be serviced. Modern windows are designed to be thrown away when they need servicing.

  • This sash had severe damage and needed to be dissassembled for restoration.
  • Note the chart. It provides documentation needed for reassembly.
  • This old sash was held together with wooden pegs. Each peg must go back in the same location with the same orentation. The colored marks will allow that.
  • Once removed the pegs go in to color coded egg cartons.
  • Carefully knocking the sash apart.
  • These are the parts of that sash ready to be restored.
  • Refining a rabbit using the shaper.
  • Once the parts have been restored the sash can be reassembled.
  • Tapping the mortise and tenon joints back together.
  • The sash is assembled and ready to have the pegs reinserted.
  • Kurt is carefully tapping the pegs back in.
  • Note the blue mark used to ensure correct orientation of the peg.
  • The sash is reassembled and ready for priming and painting.
  • Preparing the original glass by carefully removing paint and other foreign matter.
  • Kurt is preparing this sheet of salvaged old glass for cutting to replace broken or missing panes. Using old wavy glass retains the original classic character of your older home.

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