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Wood Window Restoration

Jeff Ediger, owner of Oak Brothers, presented a special seminar on Wood Window Restoration this past Wednesday at the South Shore Cultural Center. 85 attendees learned the Why's and How's of restoring original wood windows—an issue of concern for many bungalow owners who are lucky enough to still have their original windows.

If you weren't able to attend, you can find all the handouts and info presented here!


The Presentation: (download PDF)

During the presentation (see link above), Jeff gave some product recommendations:

for temporary sealing board-up as a "mothballing" technique. Temporarily seals gaps that you will permanently deal with later. Peels right off, just like the name says! Can also be used to seal drafty windows (as an alternative to unsightly plastic coverings). Another alternative for sealing window cracks is rope caulk.

GE Silicone Caulks

for exterior caulking, including window frames. Jeff recommends GE Silicone I* All Purpose Caulk if your frames match their color options. If your frames don't match their color options, use GE Paintable Silicone Caulk, which you can paint to match your frames.

glazing compound for windows which are cured indoors.

glazing compound for windows which are cured outdoors. Jeff does NOT recommend DAP Glazing Putty.

the "safe" stripper Jeff has found to be most reliable. However, no single chemical stripping agent can be recommended for all situations:

another effective chemical stripping agent. However, beware of the slight bleaching effect of this chemical stripping agent.

Jeff's top two picks for methaline chloride stripping agents, which are more heavy-duty, and therefore more toxic, chemical strippers that need to be used in a well-ventilated space.

TIP: Always apply chemical stripping agents from the bottom up when stripping wood in a vertical position.

for exterior wood varnishing.

Pratt & Lambert 38 Varnish (available in quarts only at Crafty Beaver)

for interior wood varnishing. According to Jeff, this varnish is the closest in appearance to shellac, which was the standard finish of choice for vintage homes. Jeff does NOT recommend polyurethanes as a wood finish because of their plastic appearance, resistance to touch-up without "flashing" (high sheen of patch to lower sheen of original finish being touched up), and difficulty of removal. "The rule-of-thumb in preservation/restoration is that all work should be reversible," Jeff said.


Handout #1: Top Ten Reasons to Restore or Repair Wood Windows (download PDF)

Top Ten Reasons to Restore or Repair Wood Windows

1. Because your windows fit your house.

Quirky as they might be, your older windows fit your house. Care was taken to match the weight and style of windows to the building, the trim, etc. They have expanded and contracted with the seasons. With proper weather stripping they can be made to fit and seal even better. Replacement windows have a rigid structure that fits within your window openings. Old houses move and shift over time and frequently the gaps that open up around replacement windows and the window openings result in more drafts than the original windows.

2. Because you appreciate good craftsmanship.

The true mortise and tenon construction of antique windows is incredibly strong and even when it begins to weaken is easily repaired. Many unique window shapes were created because of the craftsmanship with wood joinery. Antique windows were built to last and not land in landfill.

3. Because you value good materials.

Antique wood windows are constructed of old growth timber. The wood is much denser and more weather resistant than today's tree farmed softwoods. Delicate profiles are possible because of the density of the wood. The reason these windows are still around, even with years of neglect, is because the wood is of very high quality requiring no cladding or additional materials to give them weather resistance. Minus all the ugly paint your wood windows are usually quite beautiful, graceful, and strong.

4. Because you love the character of antique glass.

Even the glass in antique windows tells a story. It may be roundel or cylinder glass, each indicating a certain era of manufacturing. Old glass has varieties of color and texture that are a delight to the eye. Two layers of glass are between than one, and in an antique home that second layer of glass should be the storm window that protects the original window.

5. Because you think a warranty should be more than 20 years.

Chances are your windows have done their job for fifty or more years already. Sure, they may be a little creaky and may not be as attractive as they once were, but it's a far better investment to repair a proven performer than to sink money into a new window that only has a 20 year warranty at best. With proper maintenance your antique windows should last another 100 years. Heck, even without maintenance they may last that long!

6. Because you want to avoid vinyl.

Poly vinyl chloride (PVC) is becoming one of the greatest concerns in the building industry. Not only does the production of it create an environmental nightmare, but the gases it emits over time are becoming a concern. Heaven forbid your house catches fire, and PVC burned will release toxic amounts of dioxin. If you are concerned about lead, please understand that it is used as a stabilizer in the manufacture of PVC. If you are concerned about our planet's health you should read up on efforts to reduce the use of vinyl.

7. Because you want more light.

Replacement windows are set into the window opening, and the sash is smaller than the originals. You get less viewing area and less light. Who wants less light?

8. Because windows are a functional part of your house.

Weights and pulleys are the best balance systems ever invented. These is a prevalent myth that a lot of cold air comes in through the weight pocket. If there is cold air in the weight pocket it's generally because there is a gap between the outside trim of the house and the siding. It may also indicate a poor seal at the floor joists. Replacing easily serviceable weights and pulleys with vinyl jamb liners or invisible balance systems means installing a system that has a maximum life span of 10-20 years but generally fails in less time. You can't believe how joyful it is to open and close windows easily with one hand when everything is restored to the way to was designed to work!

9. Because you really can save 30-40% on heating costs.

According to the Field Study of Energy Impacts of Window Rehab Choices conducted by the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, the University of Vermont School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering laboratory the estimate first year energy savings between a restored wooden window with a good storm window vs. a replacement window was $0.60. Yup, less than a buck. In their conclusions section they noted "The decision to renovate or replace a window should not be based solely on energy considerations, as the difference in estimate first year savings between the upgrade options are small." Broken glass, failed glazing, no weather stripping -- these small and repairable items are what really effect energy efficiency in windows.

10. Because the greenest building is the one that is already built.

Replacement windows are touted as a way to save energy. But when evaluated from the perspective of the entire production, shipping, installation and removal process replacing windows consumes a whole lot of energy, or viewed the other way an older building has a great deal of embodied energy. If the total energy expenditure to manufacture replacement windows is considered the break even period stretches to 40-60 years. In the words of Richard Moe, President of the Nationals Trust for Historic Preservation "We can't build our way out of the global warming crisis. We have to conserve our way out. That means we have to make better, wiser use of what we have already built." Repairs and restoration work are done by local craftspeople paying local taxes. The use of a minimum of materials and resources and a maximum of labor. Restoring windows is the best use of existing materials and the best way to support the local economy.

11. Because you don't care to air condition the neighborhood in the summer.

Properly weather-sealed original windows not only keep the cold out in the winter; they also keep the cool air inside during blistering summer days. Although the loss of cold air isn't as easy to detect as a cold breeze blowing through your windows in the dead of winter, it remains a factor in favor of restoring original windows.

"Top Ten Reasons to Restore or Repair Wood Windows" is a reproduction of a listing provided by the Window Preservation Alliance.


Handout #2: Window Restoration Resources (download printable PDF)

Window Restoration Resources


Save American Windows by John Leeke

This book discusses methods and materials of window restoration. This is a how-to book providing instructions the average homeowner can follow to restore their original windows.

The Window Sash Bible by Steve Jordan

Similar to Leeke's book, but more thorough.

How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand

An insightful and entertaining book that suggests a building acquires its own wisdom, suggesting how it wants to be altered. A good sources of inspiration for anyone wanting to plan out a thoughtful addition or alteration that is respectful of the original design of the house.

Online Forums:

Otherwise known as Old House Online. This forum is about Old House Restoration and Repair Advice. This site is the authoritative source for old house restoration and repair. Features extensive How-To's, Product Directories and User Forums.

A forum with a group of long time restoration enthusiasts and old home owners to help with any old home advise you need.

The name is just what it says. You can find a link for anything you need to know at this site.

Here is a new site -- a community discussion forum for home improvement and repairs. Although not geared to historic homes, it is a resource for general house repair questions.

A great resource. Helping owners, tradespeople, contractors and professionals understand and maintain their historic and older buildings.

Supplies Sources:

A source for most of the specialty materials and hardware needed for restoring original windows.

Another source for vintage hardware. Generally speaking, Kilian Hardware has higher quality; House of Antique Hardware has cheaper prices.

Double-Hung Window Diagram:

Questions to Ask to "Seal the Envelope"/"Dry-In" Condition:

  • Is the roof watertight?

  • Do the gutters retain their proper pitch and are they clean?

  • Are downspout joints intact?

  • Are drains unobstructed?

  • Are windows and doors and their frames in good condition?

  • Are masonry walls in good condition to seal out moisture?

  • Is wood siding in good condition?

  • Is site properly graded for water run-off?

  • Is vegetation cleared from around the building foundation to avoid trapping moisture?


Handout #3: Murphy's Laws of Home-Work (download printable PDF)

Click here to read Jeff's "Murphy's Laws of Home-Work" and see what seminar attendees added to the list! | 872.666.5478 |

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