Thursday, September 21, 2006

STL Rising: Window Restoration

One of the best things about old city houses are all the windows and natural light they let in.

On the other hand, most city homes come with old, wooden windows that vinyl window sales forces would love to see replaced.

Radio ads talk about the savings you will see from replacing your "drafty old wooden windows" with new "low-e", "dual pane", "tilt-in" vinyl windows.

However, lots of older homes don't look very good with shiny new white vinyl windows. On the other hand, it's fair to say that new vinyl windows can be an improvement in a home where there are no windows at all!

Some neighborhoods require certain types of windows, and there are rehab incentive programs that mandate specific historic replacement windows to qualify for certain program incentives.

The real question I'd like to pose, though, is what about those old, original wood windows? You know the kind, the divided glass ones, often covered with ugly aluminum clad storm windowns?

I was speaking with a friend of mine who restores old windows. She likes them best when the storms are removed. And she maintains that an old window, properly painted and sealed, is not much different than a new double-paned window when it comes to energy efficiency. Maybe yes, maybe no.

Then there are the vinyl window advertisers. They talk about energy savings of up to 30% with new vinyl windows.

Our annual energy bill runs around $3,500. 30% of that is about $1,000, give or take.

Our house has 16 windows. (Our last house had even more...it had 20). There is a wide range in price for new installed windows. Let's take a middle of the road price of $500 per window. Complete window replacement in our last house would have cost about $10,000.

In our new home, it would cost about $8,000. However, to use the appropriate historic windows our house deserves, the cost would be closer to $12,000.

Based on these costs, it would take about 8 to 12 years to break even on the cost of energy savings from new window replacement. Most people don't even live in the same house that long.

Recently, a very savvy real estate agent and I were discussing the subject of original versus new windows. His advice? Buyers don't pay much attention to the presence of original wood windows in a house. If anything, they prefer the charm the old windows offer.

He suggests doing kitchen and bath upgrades instead.

Email me if you'd like a referral to the original wood window restoration specialist I referred to at the start of this post.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Low-E and argon filled windows do a lot more than insulate. They also protect your furniture, carpets, wood, from UV rays.

Historical homes should have new historical replica windows for the draft free insulation quality as well as the reduced maintenance (painting/scraping/wood rot).

What is the "R" rating of the restored windows your friend speaks of?

Are you sure $3500 is the right number? That seems very very high. Like almost $300 a month.

The individual paned windows are overrated as far as ease of use and maintenance and cleaning.

Rick Bonasch said...

Sorry, the calculation was incorrect.

I was thinking of the cost during the peak heating and cooling months.

During those months, our electric or gas bills run in the $250 or so range per month.

Figuring six months of peak cost and about six months of lower costs, our annual total is closer to $2500.

That would mean it would take even longer to break even on the cost of new windows.

Our house faces north, so most of the UV rays don't even enter the main rooms. Plus there are lots of trees proving shade.

Urban Review said...

I recently sold a very nice house that was renovated by the Gills (I always forget their company name). Anyway, they made a very wise decision in my view. They restored the original front wood windows (sans storms) and replaced the remaining windows with white vinyl windows.

Not all buyers pay attention to windows but some do. What is really noticed by buyers is when an inappropriate replacement window was used --- such as those with very colonial looking snap in fake window dividers in a house that likekly had 1 over 1 or 6 over 1 to begin with.

A good replacment wood window can have nice cladding that comes in colors such as a tan, green and black. These colors are more authentic on most of St. Louis' homes and can give a richer curb appeal than bright white windows which look very much out of place on an Arts & Crafts house, cottage or nearly everything except a colonial revivial style house.

Great discussion item!

Jess said...

Just stumbling onto your post after doing a Google search for wood window restoration in St. Louis. We're on the East Side (Belleville) and looking for a reputable contractor to reglaze our double-hung windows. Also looking for someone to create new wooden storms to match the old ones (we still have two the previous owner didn't touch). Is your friend still restoring wood windows? I'd love to contact them, if they are, for a bid.

Rick Bonasch said...

The friend I referred to is now working for another company, so he's pretty much out of the business.

You might want to try the Rehabbers Club in St. Louis. They can probably give you a lot of referrals.

Here's a link to their website:



Good luck on your project!

Katie said...

When we bought a guest house in Los Angeles, window replacement was one of the immediate needs we had to focus on. The insulation of the old windows was faulty, cracks and scratches were very visible, and the colors of the frames didn't match the interiors. Luckily, the replacements performed really well.

Just a thought on the concern about savings. For me, it's better to look at the monthly savings rather than thinking about the ROI. What matters to me is I actually save money every month, and window replacement in Los Angeles does exactly that.

Kurt said...

Most of the windows that are 1930's or older were made of cypress. This wood will last hundreds of years. I have been restoring old homes for 20 years and have never used replacement windows. For a little less money than a historicaly correct replacement window I saved my windows for another 50-100 years and weatherized them. Go to www.oldhouserestoration-stl.com to learn more.

Mac said...

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