Every historic house, with its historic windows being one the most important architectural features, is part of the original, irreplaceable, historic fabric that defines our older Sacramento neighborhoods.
The Character of Historic Windows
Taking a good look at the windows of a historic house, it is easy to understand just how important a role they play in its character. Windows were an integral part of the original architectural design, and the way they were built reflects depth within their frames, and relief and texture in their wood sash and muntins. Bungalows especially made use of natural materials as an important element in their philosophy of reconnecting with nature after the industrial age. Many windows, especially those looking onto the street, featured patterns of glass panes divided by wood muntins. Original window glass, with its distinctive waviness, reflects the craftsmanship of early hand-rolled glass techniques.
Quality of Materials & Workmanship
The quality of materials and workmanship with which historic windows were built is something that is not easily replicated today, especially with mass production methods and materials. Fine-grained old growth woods were used in the construction of historic windows, with assemblies secured by mortise-and-tenon joinery. The windows were built right into the wall by skilled craftsmen, and were solid and stable, with tight tolerances. Operation was easy and smooth – the weight and balance system of the double-hung windows is still the best around.
Many of the historic windows in Sacramento are approaching 60 to well-over 100 years old, and may be encountering problems understandable for their age. Windows may stick or rattle, have broken or missing parts, cracked or broken glass, wood that has become exposed and deteriorated, or may simply no longer be airtight. This is not a sign of inferior quality – this is only a sign that they could use some attention! All these types of problems can be fixed.
Ease of Repair
Historic windows were designed so that individual parts could be removed and repaired or replaced as needed. Stock window sills, sash cords, weights and pulleys, hardware, and standard wood sash are readily available at certain local hardware stores. Non-standard parts can be ordered or remilled by wood shops. Old wood window sash can be removed from the window openings, paint and putty buildup stripped, missing or damaged parts repaired or replaced, weather-strip installed, and the sash reinstalled to work the way the originally did.
If damage is extensive, it may be more practical to purchase new wood sashes which can be installed into existing frames. More often than not, windows can be pragmatically repaired, or just fine-tuned to operate correctly and be in good working order for another hundred years.
Environment – Saving Energy & Resources
Historic single-pane windows can be made almost as energy efficient as double-pane windows, and usually at a fraction of the cost. Windows can be the source of up to 25 percent of the heat loss from a house; however, the actual radiant and convective heat loss through the glass of single-paned windows is less than 5% of the total energy lost; most energy loss is due to air leaks. Wood is also a much better insulating material than vinyl or aluminum, which conduct heat and cold. Historic wood windows can be repaired, weather-stripped, and fine-tuned to look, operate, and be weather-tight as they were originally meant to be.
Double-pane windows are the standard for modern housing today, and appropriate in a modern context. Modern windows on a historic house, however, not only detract from its character, but can never be expected to last well-beyond 100 years as historic windows can with basic maintenance. As for the environment, dumping historic windows into the landfill, followed by a cycle of discarded vinyl windows with failed seals and fogged panes every 10-20 years, is not an environmentally-friendly approach, nor does it make economic sense. Not only is such a cycle non-cost effective, it diminishes the look and value of the house. A historic house with its character intact, especially in the setting of a historic neighborhood, is much more desirable than one that has had its character “modernized.”
Historic wood windows have stood the test of time, both in terms of character and durability. Considering how important they are to the look and value of the house, how easily they can be repaired, and how irreplaceable they are, retaining them with proper care is an excellent investment in one of the most important things a historic house can have – its historic character.
Historic Windows Resources
Helpful websites for home and window restoration
- Working Windows: A Guide to the Repair and Restoration of Wood Windows by Terry Meany
- What Replacement Windows Can’t Replace: Real Cost of Removing Historic Windows by Walter Sedovic and Jill H. Gotthelf
- Sash Window Secrets by Old House Journal
- Creating Windows of Energy Saving Opportunity by Home Energy Magazine
- Historic Wood Windows from The Old House
- Respectful Rehab: Keeping your house historic – Viewpoint, 11/03
- Weatherization Guide for Older and Historic Buildings
- Weatherization Tips & Strategies
General window repair & restoration:
- Loren Woodworth Construction: 209 662-4529
- Bill Harms Restoration: 916 451-7815
- Larry Cannon / Home Repair Service: 916 607-1527
- Wes Brown / Brown Construction Co.: 530 367-4447
- Martinez Glass: 916 453-0861
- Bob’s Glass: 916 739-8244
- Larry Cohn / Bub’s Handy Guy: 916 224-9547
Leaded glass repair & restoration:
- Mickey Abbey Custom Glassworks: 916 955-7026
- Dale Barden / English Tudor Cottage Glassworks: 916 486-1354
Wood window remilling:
- Valley Wood Windows: 916 452-0432
- Burnett & Sons: 916 442-0493
Window restoration & whole house energy specialist:
- David Clark: 916 498-1570
Historic house & window restoration specialist:
- Rurik Kallis: 209 754-1027
- Working Windows: A Guide to the Repair and Restoration of Wood Windows, by Terry Meany
- Save Your Wood Windows – Practical Restoration Reports Series, by John C. Leeke
- Repairing Old and Historic Windows: A Manual for Architects and Homeowners, by New York Landmarks Conservancy
- Old House Web: How To / Historic Wood Windows www.oldhouseweb.com/stories/How-To/Windows/Historic_Wood_Windows
Hardware suppliers (glass, putty, parts, etc.)
- Central Valley Hardware / 1430 28th St./ 452-3658
- East Sac Hardware / 4800 Folsom Blvd. / 457-7558
- New Home Bldg. Supply / 5310 Franklin Blvd. / 455-3057
- Broadway Hardware / 1708 Broadway / 442-3482
- Killian Hardware of Philadelphia / www.kilianhardware.com