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

    The inside trim came off, I panicked, cried, the trim was thrown away, the one window ordered. I still panicked. I cancelled everything and my husband, almost walked out. But, the original windows are still here. I have a restoration firm willing to restore, like new. More expensive than new. And, a company that will re- stain, paint and try to weatherstrip them more. Ad, a company that re-does all the glass, to current. I bought some time, by doing many projects my husband wanted. Will take updated pics to show you. Driveway being redone this week. This, has appeased him for the moment about all new windows.

  2. David says

    Old thread, but great info. We are replacing our 1950 single pane windows, for a number of reasons. Besides the increased energy efficiency we’ll get, they were not in good shape – I think only 2 or 3 of the casements even open anymore, and we get airport noise so are hoping for better sound protection as well. Anyway we are going with fiberglass replacements and are replicating the original grids, and casement style. We really considered aluminum replacements as we wanted to preserve the profile as much as possible, the fiberglass is a little bulkier than aluminum but better than vinyl. Did not ever consider vinyl as it would just ruin the look of the house. It was important for us to replace it as close to the original as possible. Also another issue we ran into is in replacing the bedroom window we ran into egress issues with the new codes so keep that in mind (we had to convert double casements to a large single one).

  3. Melissa says

    How about finding the 1950s window cranks? I am keeping my windows, but the cranks to draw the windows closed are worn and not all working properly. Any idea where we can find these parts?

    • pam kueber says

      Melissa, I do not know the answer to this one… although I tend to think it cannot be that complicated. Do you know the name of your window manufacturer? They may still be able to help you. I have original Anderson Windowalls – and they have documentation and parts!

  4. Melanie says

    Love this thread! My dilemma, I have an aluminum door with a jalousie window, and LARGE (nearly floor to ceiling) aluminum awning windows in my 1940’s breezeway. We had custom screens made, but some of the cranks are broken, and one of the windows is coming off the track, so we have it bolted on the exterior, so we can no longer open it. The pros of these windows are how breezy and awesome they are on warm, dry days. The downside is they are really draft, and they gunk up with pollen and dirt frequently. Birds also have flown into them after a cleaning, because the high reflection. I live in the woods of NH and humidity can be really high also. I want to be able to use the space a little longer into the colder season and help cut down on moisture/humidity. The home is insulated enough, but with the drafty windows (sometimes the wind whistles through them), and no storms, I’m limited. I thought of replacing them, or fixing them. If I keep them, how do I address the dilemmas?

  5. says

    I also am in the restore or replace boat. I am not shocked to see this thread taking on a couple years worth of comments and questions. I live in central Florida and my home has all the original 1951, 12 pane each, double hung windows that are all aluminum with good old fashioned glazing, a lot of which leaks. Because there is so much metal in them though, the thermal loss is horrible. I am a HUGE proponent of keeping things original but I am really torn on this one. There would indeed be a savings if I switched to a newer more efficient set up but I just can’t pull the trigger. Unfortunately, reading all these comments did nothing to help. LOL. I am getting ready to paint the house and I have already stripped the paint and loose glazing from the windows as my intention was to just reglaze and paint them and keep them. The other part of the issue why I am not opposed to replacing them is because I am adding some decorum and color changes to my house to give it a more mid century modern feel and look, the 12 pane windows are a more traditional colonial look. If I replaced the windows I could go with a cleaner more minimal look. …..I don’t know what to do…..

  6. 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.

  7. sharon says

    I was going to also replace my windows in a 1940s home but after reading your article decided against it, so thanks.

    I have another home on the same street that has a metal roof, what a difference in the AC bill in the summer and it is more comfortable all around, and no the roof is not at all noisy. I shall do the same with this cottage to save on utilities and to make the home cooler in summer and warmer in winter. So check out metal roofs.

  8. Deborah says

    Finally!

    I have been blessed in having an unaltered 50s ranch. I can’t tell you how many times I have been advised to tear out “those old wood windows” and “update” them. I told the last guy I didn’t like the looks of the new windows.

    My house does need some pretty big repairs. This website is a Godsend and encourages me in keeping my house authentic.

  9. says

    I am just seeing this post from a couple years back.
    I want to keep my windows from 1964.
    Are there companies to re-window them or six a latch that doesn’t close properly? Can the aluminum be spruced up?

    • Kathy says

      Yes, two here in CT. Bi glass of CT.. Marlowe restorations LLC…and olde window restorer in New Hampshire….or go to historic preservation.com. If you look, you can find a restorer, in your area. I bought myself some time by having four done so far. I keep pointing out to my husband, the 25 k saved for new windows can go towards his mustang super snake he wants, or Hellcat charger, for his midlife crisis…

  10. Lorie says

    My issue is my sliding glass door. It has a oxidized metal frame and is original to my 1964 2 story ranch (is that a oxymoron?). It’s got a wonderful latch (boomerang shaped!) but it often goes off track and in the 109+ summers in Dallas leaks cool air like crazy.

    Also, this is the widest opening in my home and the movers barely got my fridge through the door (they had to take one of the doors off!). So, I’m also thinking about replacing the sliding doors with french type (but no dividers) to get a larger opening when needed–but wasn’t sure if that would go against the 1964 vibe.

    I’d love to replace it with NOS (wishing!) but have found nothing. In absence of that, I would like to replace it with something similar. Most of what I find online at the big box stores is plastic (or fiberglass) and just looks cheap. I’m not sure if wood is right (all original windows are aluminum and have issues too…) for my house though and for the driving rain we get in Dallas.

    Anyone have any specific brands that might look better than what the big box stores offer? I have also checked out Andersen and Pella and haven’t found anything I like there either. (perhaps I’m too picky?) The area I have to work with is too small for folding doors too and there’s no area to grab from to make it work.

    It seems that it’s an under-served market item.

    Thanks!

    • Melanie says

      Lorie — could you have the doors you want custom made? A friend had an atrium door put on the back of his house and had to have it custom made because of low 7 ft ceilings. You can’t find 6 ft doors in the stores. It looks beautiful, wood, with the large insulated glass.

      • pam kueber says

        Yes, I was thinking custom made as well. Sometimes, it can be more affordable than you think.

        That said, I think my brother found a source. I will ask him.

        • Lorie says

          I honestly hadn’t considered it, thinking it was just too expensive. But what a good idea! I have no idea where to start though, so any leads are appreciated! I’m in the DFW area if that helps.

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