Windows to the Soul… Of a Home


After the floor restoration project is complete, it will be checked off a list of Daunting Projects we hope to complete at our home over time (a lot of time). Our house is not of major historical significance, but she was built by a family seeking a certain grandeur and she once knew better days. The person who owned her previous to us did much to return her to a former state of glory, but there’s still a way to go.

Glaring exterior aesthetic issues are vinyl siding and aluminum storm windows; double ick. These issues go hand-in-hand with the non-aesthetic issues of insulation and interior temperature comfort. TBM and I know once the siding and storms come off, we’re certain to experience weather extremes worse than ever. The house is not insulated (except for what we’ve put in the attic and basement) and the windows are rickety sieves. TBM says we should replace them all; I’ve been looking into the issue and have developed a different opinion.

Saturday I attended a workshop on restoring and repairing historic windows. The presenter was architect Jack Alvarez, a member of our local historic preservation board. He spent the first half of the workshop making the case for repairing rather than replacing old windows, sharing many photos, statistics, and opinions as to why this is best. Some of his highlights:

  • Old windows have architectural character, integral to both the interior and exterior of a structure.
  • Historic windows are made with hard, dense, high quality old-growth wood. New windows-when they are actually made with wood- are from fast-growth forests and lack the strength of their older counterparts.
  • New windows- factory made with perfect dimensions- do not “sit well” in an old structure that has settled, leaned, and changed over time.
  • Glass is not a good insulator; most of the heating or cooling loss in an old window isn’t due to the single-pane design, but due to wear over time and seepage around the window. This can be addressed and repaired.
  • Old windows, when properly repaired and maintained, are green (following the adage “the greenest element is the one that already exists”) and local. Indeed, many old windows were local from their inception, milled and built on-site.
  • New vinyl windows are called “replacement” for a reason: they do not last like old windows and will probably need replacing within one to two decades.
  • For more, see here.

I hadn’t needed much convincing before the workshop, but now I was armed with information to share with TBM to help move his thinking along. He’s getting there.

During the second part of the workshop, Mr. Alvarez showed how to disassemble, repair, and reassemble a double-hung window, using a life-size prop he built for the purpose. He called it a magic window but assured attendees that the windows in our homes would be less magical: we would find them painted shut, with broken cords, missing weights, and all sorts of challenges that would have us swearing under our breath. But, he assured, if we were patient and careful, the work required to restore windows is not so skilled that it can’t be learned and applied by anyone.

I came home and examined several windows, better able to recognize and name their parts. We have some serious offenders in our house: cracked panes of glass; missing lengths of glazing; top sash painted shut. One window is actually missing the “stop” that holds it in place, and when we raise and lower it we must take care that the whole window doesn’t come out in our hands.

But we have some seriously beautiful windows, too:

Not the best photo, but it shows one of our lovely box windows, in the room we call the Porch Parlor.

Not the best photo, but it shows one of our lovely box windows, in the room we call the Porch Parlor.

If you look closely though, you can see why the storm windows will (eventually) have to go: see the slight arch at the top of each window, and see how the exterior storm window doesn’t mimic the arch? It cuts it off and hides it, and that’s a shame. Such beautiful details should not be hidden. I must say I’m thankful, though, that no one before us decided to replace these windows, original to the house. We’ll get around to their repair and restoration, then remove the storms… it will be like an eye-lift for this box window! Then it will be easier to see into (and out of) her lovely soul.


One thought on “Windows to the Soul… Of a Home

  1. Pingback: Thirty-One Days: Reuse, Remake, Re-love | reusethematerialgirl

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