In With the Old: Retrofitting Old Windows

January 8, 20152026987732_aa8fd1f36b

Carrie Sturrock shares her thoughts on how to keep those beautiful old windows and keep OUT the nasty cold without buying new ones!

Why, I wondered as I pressed a blouse for work, did the New Hampshire family I was house sitting for have such a creaky, rusted ironing board? Never in my years growing up in the shiny midwestern suburbs had I seen a household tool that rickety. The family who owned this restored 1790 farmhouse could clearly afford a gleaming new ironing board.

That, I would later learn, was beside the point.

The “new is better” message is powerful and ubiquitous: new clothes, cars, furniture, kitchen gadgets – all of it is better new. That message even extends to windows. Rippled glass windows that gently warp the outside view can be drafty and deeply uncomfortable to sit near as the weather turns cold. So the predominant message is: rip them out and get new ones!

That’s where the “ironing board” mentality can save us: if it still works, why replace it just because it is creaky and worn? It’s why you might resole shoes instead of buying new ones, fix a broken chair instead of junking it, or admire an expertly re-glued vase. It’s especially important to appreciate the beauty of historic old windows. Many are made from old growth wood and were designed and built to be disassembled and repaired. They’re often the focal point of the house, it’s soul in a sense. Throwing all that embodied energy (not to mention historic character) into a landfill is unnecessary. It goes against the ethics of keeping a rickety item, even if you are dealing with cold drafts and desperate to reduce high energy bills.

Residential dwellings account for roughly 20 percent of total U.S. energy use and carbon dioxide emissions, and the vast majority are single-family homes where energy is mostly used to heat and cool, according to the report Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab. Windows, the report notes, play an important role in the energy efficiency of a home and “cumulatively represent $17 billion in annual U.S. household expenditures on heating and cooling.”

It’s tempting to replace the windows but retrofitting the existing ones will give you the performance of high-end replacement windows at a fraction of the cost. And almost every retrofit option offers a better return on investment than fully replacing existing windows. The report found that upgrading single-pane windows in Boston generally produced the highest return on investment of any of the regions studied (Portland, Chicago, Atlanta and Phoenix) due to the high utility costs and heavy heating loads.

One upgrade is interior storm windows such as Indow inserts. Edged in silicone, they press inside window frames and allow people to preserve their existing windows, worn and beautiful as they are, while achieving energy efficiency. The U.S. Department of Energy released a study this spring that showed Indow inserts reduced energy use in a Seattle home by more than 20 percent. A separate study by Portland State University’s Green Building Research Laboratory found similar results: four Portland-area homes reduced their heating energy costs by an average of 19 percent after installing Indow inserts. Other measures for upgrading existing windows include: insulating cellular shades, exterior storm windows, interior applied surface films, and weatherstripping.

Retrofitting old windows is a great eco-friendly solution for balancing the artistry of an old house and the current winter chill. Appreciating the beauty of old windows can save you money and save the historic character of your house -as many New Englanders are well aware. Have this be a resolution for 2015…whether it has to do with cars, ironing boards, or your home: “Out with the new, in with the old!”

-Carrie Sturrock (Company Storyteller for Indow)

Photo Credit: Flickr/Allen McGregor

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