• 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.

  • Get our retrolicious free newsletter.

    Newsletter-sign-up-2NMAS

    Comments

    1. Nina462 says:

      no, no, no! I replaced my windows (65 ranch) and while they are good & nice, I regret it! I actually cried when they were put in. I placed my old ones in the basement for safekeeping.
      A couple weeks after having them replaced I took a class on window repair and found my mistake in replacing them. For the same amount of money or less, I could’ve had them taken out & reglazed and put back in.
      The reason I cried is because they had to remove some of the woodwork trim.
      My recommendation is to search out someone who does restoration!
      Also the sales peeps kept telling me it would be a resale feature – I’m never selling my home. Seems that is a line they give everyone -

    2. Nina462 says:

      Another issue that was brought up in my window class “older windows were meant to be repaired, not replaced”.

    3. I love my new windows on my 1960 ranch.

    4. Hi Kathy! We’re in CT too (Clinton, where are you? If nearby, that would be great)…. We were faced with same challenge. Kept the original windows.

      Even the high-end windows we looked at didn’t come close to the craftsmanship on our originals. (Pam…. I will send in photos sometime soon!)

      With the screens and storms on hooks for changing 2x year. We just couldn’t give up the amazing windows in our 1953 house. We did decide to have insulation blown in, and we will find out next window if that saves us on heating bills. We’re hoping a lot better spent than on new windows.

      Good luck to you!

      • Yes, we are in Wallingford. Clinton is not far at all. I still have not hit the “buy it now” button for those new windows. The molding was taken off of one, in prep of two new ones to start and my husband threw it away. I was so upset I cancelled the window order of 2. Now, I have new molding on that one window. He still wants to do all the windows. We are at an impasse…He is bringing it up again now that Winter will be here soon. I am rereading these again

    5. Resist if you can. On another note, Pam, would you consider placing a ‘share’ icon on your blog posts? My DH doesn’t spend time on the web, but there are often articles I’d like to email him for his “leisure” reading…like your excellent response to this topic! Just a suggestion from a long time fan!

    6. Our house was built in 1950, and we replaced the original black iron windows a couple years ago. It was a tough decision. When I first moved into the house, both my husband and I were dead set against replacing the windows, despite many family members saying that we should replace them.

      First of all, the windows were painted shut with many, many layers of lead paint. On one window, we stripped and scraped the paint off, which took weeks. It was very difficult work, and not all of the paint would come out of the crevices. After that, the window still looked terrible and they still wouldn’t open. With a dozen more windows to go, this seemed impractical and potentially hazardous.

      Secondly, we have big picture windows in our house. The wavy glass and multiple panes prevented a good view.

      That’s when we decided to go ahead and get new windows. Over night, we suddenly had clean windows that opened and crisp, clear, open views.

      I think it was the right choice for this house, but usually, I am against replacing windows too! We are shopping for a new house, and having original windows is one of my must-haves in most cases! The quality and character is there that seems to be lacking in most of the homes that have replacement window.

      – Tonja

    7. I’m a residential architect, specializing in restoration and renovations …

      ABSOLUTELY 1 over 1. The “divided light” look is inappropriate and usually looks really cheesy.

      Good luck with your nice home!

      • Robin
        Are you near New Haven CT area at all?? To my husbands dismay, I still have not ordered windows. Ours do not open have lead paint and the screens and storms are not functional. But, I have not ordered. Maybe, these can be restored to be as good as his “new” ones he wants

    8. vintigchik says:

      I hate the replacement windows in my ’68 house. There are some originals that are awsome, but it is cold here in northern Utah and I can understand why they did it. I also hate the vinyl siding they put up!! My next house I want to be all original. That way I can decide what stays and what goes. If can’t find a house like that then I want to build one and do it using nearly everything orginal to the 50′s. I think that would be so fun :)

    9. I have those same exact windows on my house. Soo…. I guess I’m at a complete loss on why you want to replace them. Mine work perfectly. Wish I could say the same for the crappy vinyl clad Pella window on a 80s addition that doesn’t ever close properly.

    10. scarolina says:

      I replaced the windows in my 1954 house, and it was a great decision. The old ones were drafty and many were painted shut. This winter was brutally cold, but my heating bill was significantly lower.

    11. Sabrina says:

      I am coming to this discussion quite late, but it sure is food for thought! Just last week, the sliding glass door in our 1957 mid-mod-ish home decided to stop sliding, and after attempting unsuccessfully to find a replacement handle for the same door that would fit it, we figure finding the correct rolling mechanism (sorry, I am no contractor, and I don’t know the right words for these things!) would be similarly fruitless. It (and all the windows in the house) are single pane aluminum frame, and neither the sliding glass door nor the giant picture window (which is just 10 inches off the floor) is tempered glass. And we have 3 daughter under the age of 7. We had estimates last year for replacement that made us want to puke, so we decided instead to coat the sliding glass door with safety film, and the big picture window, which is west-facing, looking out at the San Fransisco Bay, with safety/UV film. Now we face a problem with the sliding glass door. We had replacement estimates (Holy Cr@p!), and we’re back to finding someone who can repair it.

      That said, if I had the $60,000 dollars it would cost for someone to come in and replace all of my windows with aluminum-clad wood windows, I would probably do it. I hate the aluminum frame windows. They conduct all weather directly into the house. They are ugly. The casements are all warped and don’t close properly. I’d gladly trade them in, but the money isn’t there.

      That said, if I had wood-frame windows, you bet your bottom dollar I’d have them restored rather than replaced.

    12. I’m in a similar quandary, and also in Connecticut.

      I have a 1940 transitional/cottage-y sort of house with the original steel casements. I love the look but it’s freezing in winter, even with storm glass affixed outside. I looked into getting them refurbished but it was extremely expensive and it would still be cold. I hate to do it but I think it’s time for new, regular, plain-old, vinyl sash windows. (Anyone want to buy some casement windows so I can pay for the new ones? :))

    13. goldie harvest says:

      There are many websites where you can learn to make very pretty interior storm windows that are as efficient as new replacement windows.

      • pam kueber says:

        Thanks for the tip, Goldie. I have read concerns about interior storms causing too much condensation between the interior storm and the window and then causing rotting… ?

    14. Adrienne P. says:

      I too am stumped as to what to do with the windows in the house i’m trying to purchase. Its a 60′s style custom ranch that has a fabulous bow window on the front of the house. With it being the only real window in the space what do I do about ventilation? How to I replace it with a “like” with “like” design. Its the most appropriate but I don’t want it to be a 10k window. Below is the link to the photo’s of the “potential” house. I will be looking forward to help with the blank slate in the near future.

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/61966521@N07/sets/72157627327482446/

      • pam kueber says:

        What a FANTASTIC house, Adrienne. I hope you realize you are on a blog where we would tell you: Don’t change much!!!! Why would you want to change the bay window?

        • Adrienne P. says:

          Well I guess I really don’t. I just wish there was a way to open for some cross ventilation. Really I think this is a true feature window and can’t wait to showcase it with a proper window dressing

    15. I am in the replacement camp. We replaced out 70s vintage alum frames with PVC. Where we live near the ocean, (Oxnard, CA) the salt air is brutal on all metals. Many windows and the patio door were slow, sticky or would not move at all.
      We also have a late 50s house in Prescott, AZ that will need replacement windows; they have much colder winters and they all leak like crazy.
      We are looking for some advice on the exterior of that house; it currently is covered by large shingle-like pieces of some early composite material, probably containing asbestoes. What are the alternatives? Vinyl siding?
      thanks

      • Adrienne P. says:

        Dear DN….

        Fiberglass windows are also a great “non vinyl” and “green” alternative for window replacements in lieu of the standard vinyl windows out there. With out seeing your siding mentioned in AZ, IF it is asbestos style siding…it can be painted and left as is. Its very common and takes paint so well it would last a long time, assuming you can deal with the existing texture.

      • pam kueber says:

        If you think you have asbestos — consult with a professional. In fact, I recommend that any time you start to mess with / disturb any original surface, you make sure you know what you are dealing with first. Consult with a pro.

      • There is a cementitious product out there that replicates the historic asbestos shingle siding but doesn’t contain the harmful asbestos. It will maintain the look if you want to replace. [pam edited comments here about how to handle asbestos siding. please folks: consult with a professional ]. If you’re having problems with air exchange remember the historic houses are built to breathe… but you can always add blown in insulation, sometimes this helps as does adding insulation and weather stripping around windows and doors.

    16. I have followed this thread for awhile now hopeful that someone else is in my quandry…

      I am in Ohio and my 1959 house came with Jalousie Windows…

      I have 20 windows JUST on my main floor. Replacing them will probably cost me a kidney and an arm I think…

      The are mostly in good shape except for the main picture window in the front room. It has become cloudy. So its first up on replacement. We are debating to just replace the glass OR replace the entire window, setting off what will most likely be a chain reaction of replacements…

      The Jalousie Windows are not practical for Ohio, however, I love the way they look with the house…They are a total pain in the rear though. Every time the seasons change we have to take out the screens, bolt the windows shut because they do not close tightly then put up the storm windows. THey feel sound when we use the storm windows, but in reality, no matter how much we like the look, they arent exactly user friendly…

      Does anyone out there have similar windows in a similar climate?

      I am totally stumped weather I should replace or just repair…And if I replace, what else could match the look of a Jalousie window?

    17. I am glad to hear people understand the importance of preserving the historic windows. However many times, in the case of metal two over two windows, their functionality isn’t up to par because they haven’t been taken care of. Replacing windows will FOREVER put you in the cycle of replacing them. Every 20-30 years you will spend that money over and over and over rather than just spending $100-200 to have them repaired every 20-80 years depending on the level of the work, location, sun exposure, climate, etc. Replacement windows have a place, on new construction, additions, detached garages, and even some new openings but always opt for the original if you can salvage them. They will not only save you money but preserve the character and vibrancy of your home. You can never get back something once it’s gone – respect the building, it’s history and original design – keep preserving!!!

    18. My parents replaced about half of the old single-pane aluminum frame windows on the 1940s-1960s (original house from the 40s, addition from 1965) I now share with my 9-year-old son. In addition to being kind of a house-restoring fanatic (this will be my 4th restoration, and my 6th house), I’m a purist when it comes to architectural styles. Of course, my retired government employee dad replaced the old windows with the cheapest, ugliest, most inappropriate, poorly-made, vinyl-clad windows he could, because he just didn’t care about that kind of thing. The old windows on the porch were double awning windows; he replaced them with double-hung. They kinda look the same, but the old ones were way cooler, especially wen opened. Of course, the wood trim that replaced the original trim isn’t as nice either. So I want to replace all of the windows, but nobody seems to sell appropriate awning windows to get back the look of the originals. I am looking at replacing with tall aluminum-clad casement windows, to replicate the look of the original aluminum sliders, in the rest of the house — should I have the same windows all around the house?

      I’m with everyone who says to repair or better insulate your existing windows — but since half of the originals are gone already, I’m leaning toward replacing them all with American-made, solidly-constructed, wooden framed windows with an appropriate look. I’ve been looking at Marvin windows (made in Minnesota!) but they don’t have anything that’s quite right for mid-century modern homes. On the other hand because part of the house was built in the 40s, cottage-style windows won’t look completely out of place.

      Any suggestions?

      • pam kueber says:

        Hi Zoe, I have not done enough research on this subject to advise on the best replacements. The first place I would likely turn is Consumer Reports, to get advice on the best quality for the dollar. The other place I would go is to GreenBuildingAdvisor.com (I think that is the site). They have done stories about high-energy-saving windows that really might be worth it. A name I remember is “Serious Windows.” If I were going to all the trouble to replace my original windows — I would likely view it as an opportunity to jump straight to the 21st century and go for PROVEN high quality high energy efficiency windows. But, there is a TON of malarky out there; serious homework required. Like I have said previously in other stories and wrt windows too: My 1951 Anderson windows are Original to my house and I see absolutely no reason that they will not last forever, with attentive maintenance; I would expect “forever” performance from a replacement, too. That is NOT ASKING TOO MUCH.

    19. An older thread but a lot of good reading material here. Thanks to all the posters.

      If anyone still is around here – I have a sort of similar problem. I’ve made up my mind to restore my interior wood windows in my 1950s Wisconsin ranch home.

      However, I’m struggling with whether or not to replace my aluminum frame storm windows (they are storm/screen combos where there is a window on top, screen on bottom and in winter an additional window “snaps” in over the screen) so they are not aluminum track windows.

      I am thinking of replacing with the new triple track aluminum storms.

      Any opinions on storm replacements?

      Why am I thinking of it? The storms clip in the window frame and don’t really provide a good seal/protection, in summer with the window out there is no protection,previous owner glued the screens in the frame, some of the frames come apart too easy, when I bring up the snap in windows, I have to be careful the windows doesn’t fall out of the frame. Better protection for interior windows because the new triple track let me close the window over the screen in poor weather and they would also be more sealed in the window frame.

      Why am I hesitant? I think they are really cool storms. I don’t mind putting the window part in for winter, they are hinged at the middle so if I need to crack open a couple of inches I can just push out so I don’t have to remove the window for ventilation in winter.

    20. Marie Harnish says:

      One type of window I have not seen mentioned in the posts is the double pane windows in my 1950′s brick ranch house. The builder loved to have many, big windows in his houses. My husband wanted to replace them all because he hates to refinish the wood where the water sits on the sills in the winter. After he accidentally broke a window, I discovered that they are all one piece, i.e. like a glass thermometer, with no way for moisture or anything else to get inside! The window service person said they are much better than the newer double pane ones with metal in between the 2 panes. He said he spends most of his time replacing the new ones because of moisture condensation inside the panes. They stopped making these windows because they were too expensive.

      Sanding and varnishing the windows every few years will not be as costly as replacing them. We also put up plastic on the inside during the cold months and that keeps the condensation out completely, just like a storm window.

      From all my research on windows, for the thousands of dollars of replacement costs needed, there are a myriad of ways to weatherize your house that will save more money in the short and long run. For example, insulating the space just about the foundation wall, insulating the attic, caulking windows outside,… I signed up with our local electric company in Indianapolis to have a free energy inspection of the house. He was here for two hours and gave me a detailed list of what to do to reduce energy consumption for FREE! He said his services, plus using a blower to check for leaks costs around $300. Check your local electric or gas company for the same services.

      Now for the metal basement windows that are in bad shape, I will have to figure out how to take care of them!

    21. 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.

    22. 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).

    23. 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!

    Leave a Comment --

    If you are under 14 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate.
    Here are the full legal terms of use you agree to by using this comment form.

    (required)