Original windows

Window Replacement Dilemmas

The original windows are in good shape on the main floor
The original windows are in good shape on the main floor

I’m in a dilemma. What should I do? I’m talking about windows here. Our house is 101 years old this year and still has all the original windows plus the storm windows. I think that’s pretty neat but my happiness at being able to say this is tempered with reality.

Old houses, such as the 1912 four-square that we live in, were designed to allow summer breezes to cool rooms naturally.  Builders did this by installing windows in rooms across from each other so that the air could flow uninterrupted.

Previous owners enclosed the porch with these kinds of windows.
Previous owners enclosed the porch with these kinds of windows.

The problem arises when one or more of the windows is blocked which is exactly what is causing us some problems.

Two windows on the west side of the house have been blocked due to the  previous owners’ decision to enclose the upstairs porch. They created a frame with sheet plywood and nailed old single-pane windows to this frame. Because these windows don’t open any cooling breezes are stopped dead.

You know that warm air rises naturally, so that, plus blocked air flow makes for a very warm second story – especially in my office which is already toasty warm thanks to the heat pumped out by my computer’s fan.

I’m afraid I am also just plain tired of the maintenance these particular windows need. Each fall we have to replace all the caulking and insulation strips with new ones. Doing this from a second-story ladder is no picnic either.

It takes a significant effort install the storm windows to get a good seal – all to no avail. As soon as it’s colder than -15 degrees Celsius the frost builds up and we can’t see out of the windows until it warms up. 

Original windows
No need to replace original windows on the main floor.

We have been doing some research into new windows for the second floor only. We have no problems with the main floor windows so those we will keep for sure. Our house is not designated however it is on the historic inventory.

TIP: Before enclosing any porch consider how it will affect the air flow in your home.

Do you have any tips or experiences you’d like to share? If you replaced old windows were you sorry you did?

14 thoughts on “Window Replacement Dilemmas

    1. Yes we had considered that but the type of window we ended up with perfectly matched the original and was much better insulated. If we’d had beautiful windows with bevelled or leaded glass, your suggestion would have been the way to go for sure.

  1. Hi Johanne…Yes, its a difficult decision. Loewen makes some pretty good replicas…and I believe they will also do custom work. Their windows are wooden sashed as well, and energy efficient. We put in some double hung windows, as the massive picture window in the front of the house had no air circulation at all. So we replaced it with windows that we could open for summer air flow. Loewen sets the industry standard as far as I can tell. We are very happy with our windows and with the warranty. We chose clear Douglas Fir for the frames to give our 1980’s bungalow an older feel. Check them out and see what you think.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Well we finally did it. One thing that was very interesting to me is that, even if you wanted triple glazed windows, they are not available for double hung windows because of the thickness of the double windows when they stand side by side. If another layer of glass was added it would make the window thicker than the window frame or 2×4. So, you either get the look or the better insulation. We went for the look because two of the windows are visible from the street and we wanted them to match the old window. Actually you can’t tell they were replaced. And yes, it is warmer and quieter.

  2. We are experiencing the same dilema! We are in a 100yr+ home in Riverdale. All the windows are still original poured glass sash style. We are looking at some options for installing permanent storm type windows on the exterior side of the old windows. There are some great web articles on old house restoration and window solutions. (sorry, didn’t keep the url.) Like you, we had a house energy assmt done a few years ago and were advised that there were other options that would provide greater bang for the buck re energy savings, such as attic and wall insulation, doors etc. than replacing the old windows. Still haven’t made a final decision, and would have a hard time parting with the old glass.

    1. I love the wavy old glass too. In spite of our best efforts to seal the windows with caulking and insulating foam edging the windows frost up almost completely when it is very cold. Insulating walls wouldn’t make a difference unfortunately to the windows. I have to feel ok that 85 per cent of the windows are original I guess….

    2. Yes I felt bad about the wavy glass too but the panes were cracked so we would have had to have them replaced with new glass anyway. We replaced upstairs windows (these are usually behind lace panels) but we have all the originals on the main level. I’m sure you will make the right decision when the time comes. Either way it is important to replace like with like if your home is on the historic inventory. Replacing an original window with a style that never would have existed on a house originally will change the complete character of the house and may affect the house’s placement on the inventory (if that is important to you).

  3. Speaking as a real estate professional updating windows is often a very positive move from a resale perspective. It will add value to the house. If the style you choose is sympathic to the original its even better. A local appraisal company in Edmonton produces a report that shows the likely return on investment for all manner of repairs, renovations and alterations etc. I can email a copy to you if you wish.

    1. Thanks Neil. I was undecided because I do believe that having original windows on a heritage house is better. I have been told by an old house expert that original windows and their storms can be made to be as energy efficient as new ones. The thing is that these windows need a huge amount of work. Scotch tape over cracks (here when we bought the house) don’t exactly keep out the cold! I’d love to have this report you speak of. Thanks for the offer.

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