Replacement windows for a 1950s house

1950s houseShould you install replacement windows in a house from the 1940s, 50s, 60s or 70s? And if so, what style? Reader Kathy writes to ask:

I am at a crossroads. I must order in the next few days. I have a 1200 sq foot  custom ranch. It has original windows single pane and  aluminum storms. My husband does not want to restore them as I do. He wants all new windows. I have agreed to Andersons again. “A” series and trying to get them to be the same. 1 horizontal muntin in each sash. The glass will be low E though as that is what you get now. Originals are clear. The carpenter said get 6 over 1 on top sash none on bottom. I am thinking that the 1 over 1 will feel more correct as this house is on a horizontal look. Clapboard and low profile are horizontal. What do you think??? Here is the house now before remodel. The one kitchen window is new and no grilles. It replaced the 3 tiny vinyl ones the former owner put in. We are in CT.

1950s house

Adorable house, Kathy — it looks just about perfect. And thank you for your question. This is not the answer you want to hear, but: I am very anti-replacement windows, if the windows you have a basically sound, and if you have done your homework relative to lead in the paint and how to do deal with that issue. My thoughts:

  • Do replacement windows make financial sense? From what I know: Probably not. During the last several winters, I did a lot of online research about home improvements and energy conservation. Based on what I have read, it does not make financial sense to replace solid, existing windows with new windows. The cost for a decent replacement window is at least $200, and that is before installation, which can cost about that much, or more, per window. The “payback” in terms of money you will save on your electric bill is likely just not there. In addition, it is not “green” to send good, existing windows to the dump and to inspire the manufacture of new windows, which requires additional carbon-intense use of resources. Finally, there are lots of reports of new windows failing much sooner than those old windows ever did, or will. For example, manufacturers that warrant their windows for 10 or 20 years? You have got to be kidding me! A window should last a hundred years, or more, if maintained. See this story with a link to the National Trust for Historic Preservation on replacement windows.
  • A comment on “why payback is important.” To me, this is a critically important issue. We only have so much money to spend — personally and as a nation. If we are concerned about energy conservation, that means putting our money on those things that make the most sense, in the “right” order. Based on my research, the “big 3″ in terms of payback are: High-efficiency furnace (run it on natural gas, not oil!), air sealing, and attic insulation. Wall insulation, too, if you need it. Until every house in America has these basics covered, government incentives on way-down-the-list “solutions” like solar cells don’t make much sense.
  • Lead paint: I recently read a warning that seems to have come from National Institute of Health research — about risks of fine-particle dust from even routine opening and closing of windows painted with lead paint. Sorry, I cannot seem to find the NIH source document. But here is a press release from a window replacement company that references the new research (? Their link to purported research not working…). Meanwhile: Here is the EPA’s homepage on lead paint in houses. Consult with an expert!
  • If after consulting with a pro relative to the lead paint issue… and if your windows are okay on that front… my recommendation then would be to “restore” the old ones and use good storms in the cooler months.
  • If you do decide to replace your windows, I recommend you right quick get an online subscription to Consumer Reports. I have one. I jumped into their database and can see right away that they have tested a variety of windows and identified several “Best Buys.” Here’s a blog post from CR that mentions windows with regard to energy efficiency – it also points out that if you have single pane windows, you may be able to keep the original frame and only replace the sashes with double-pane.
  • If you are going to spend the money — and if you are going to do it for energy efficiency — I am also very personally interested in super high-efficiency replacement windows, like those from Serious Windows. I believe there are a handful of other such high-efficiency brands. I am not sure if Consumer Reports had reviewed them yet. Again, I don’t think the financial payback is there, but if you have the money to throw at the problem, this might be a good thing to throw money at.
  • Regarding “original brand”, I wouldn’t care if the replacements are Anderson or Pella or whatever — I’d make the selection based on quality-energy efficiency-price.
  • Finally, relative to the design of your windows and in particular the orientation of your panes: I would tend to replace like with like. The “original” style is the “authentic” style and my sense is that, in most cases, the original windows would have been chosen because they were consistent with the aesthetic of the house. Or, they were what was around and affordable at the time, I guess… I tend to replace like with like also because: It’s the easy choice. No agony. Hey “it’s authentic.” In the case of your house, Kathy, I agree that the horizonal lines of the single mullion-over-single-mullion seem right and appropriate. In my experience, though, you are going to pay a lot for that replacement, especially if you want the mullion to go through the inside to the outside of the window (rather than be snap-on decorative.) Those snap-on decoratives drive me nuts. I did it in my two bathrooms, and I pretty much hate them. Cuz I know they’re fake-o. I kick myself whenever I dwell on them and think, why didn’t I just spend the extra $150 on each window and get the real thing. (I replaced vertical casements with narrow double-hungs. I ordered “real” mullions, the fake-o’s came by mistake. I was only charged for the fake-o’s. Got a further discount at the time, to keep them rather than send them back. I was feeling spent-out, literally and figuratively, and took the money and kept them. Should not have.) Continuing on your windows: On the other hand, though, I don’t think the six-over-one would look bad. I just paged through Royal Barry Wills’ 1954 Living on the Level, and I see the windows done all sorts of ways, including six-over-sixes (more so than six-over-ones). In your Connecticut location, the old-timey colonial look would be just fine — very suited to the vernacular architecture. Finally, I don’t think plain double hungs – which will be the least expensive — and which I see at least one reference for in RBW’s book — would look all that bad, either. Haha. Not. See the decision agony if you don’t just get what was there before? There is no “right” answer.

Readers — I welcome your thoughts. Good luck, Kathy. Methinks I didn’t really make your decision easier.

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Comments

  1. Kathy says

    So far, my husband re glazed re glassed as needed and repainted two just to humor me… For the upcoming winter. Then, when they “don’t work,” I will have to order something. It took him 8 hours each window. He was not happy. But, he is proving a point to me. If, they do work, being redone, then it will save us 25 k for new.

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