Historic Wooden Windows

window imagaes

There are many resources out there that can explain the  facts and myths of the replace vs. restore historic windows debate. Despite the bad rap windows account for only 10-15% of energy lost through mostly air filtration. One thing to do is to make sure your windows fit tightly by repairing them and adding weather-stripping, interior or exterior storms and interior window treatments.

According to the Weatherization Tool Kit by the Division for Historic Preservation, they suggest avoiding replacing historic windows with new windows. You may find asking yourself why bother because of all the extra time and effort it takes.
But here are some reasons that will encourage you to restore your historic windows:

  1. Replacement windows are often more expensive, they have a limited life span.
  2. Replacement windows can change the character of your historic home.

If you live in a Historic District in Albany you should check with the Historic Resources Commission (HRC) to follow their suggested protocol. It is important to be aware of what we talked about way back in the first post. Check with your local agencies!

Here is a diagram of common windows to historic buildings found through NY State:


The key component is to think about each individual window. Creating a survey system of each window and door will be really helpful. Simply rate the windows (poor, fair, good, excellent) Once you have a survey of each window you can account for the individual circumstances of each one.

Common Problems with historic windows:

  • Sticky Windows/ Loose Windows
  • Replacing Glazing and Putty
  • Sash Cords and Weights
  • Cracked Paint: If your house was built prior to 1978, trim and window elements likely contain lead. See Environment Protection Agency for regulation

Here is a diagram from the Division for Historic Preservation NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation of where the air infiltration occurs most often:


A. Weather-stripping should be installed at the jambs, the sill, the head and the meeting rails. Use a thin putty knife to slip behind the stop and lightly pry off. This will allow you to remove the sash and install spring bronze.
B. Spring bronze is a good choice for the jambs. The strip is nailed to the jamb channel along the interior side of the stop or parting bead.
C. An interlocking strip is best for the meeting rails. When the window is closed, the strips close off any air gaps. The sash lock pulls the meeting rails tight.

Here is six minute video from Mac Bagala called Window Restoration 101. The video outlines the process involved in restoring a historic window. He has even included a soundtrack for your enjoyment. I really enjoyed seeing the entire process and while we often just want to get our windows un-stuck and opened, I can now see the patience and craftsmanship involved in restoring old wooden windows.

In addition, John Leake a Maine preservationist has a great resource on the web as well as a book called Save America’s Windows that is a very useful guide.

Here are further resources for your use:

Embracing Energy Efficiency
PRESERVATION: Closing the door on vinyl windows
What Replacement Windows Can’t Replace
Seven to Save Endangered Property List, 2006 Original and Historic Wood Windows Repair and Preservation

Brochures & Guides

2008 Window Tip Sheet, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Historic Resource Commission Ordinance, Windows
Wood Window Repair Handbook

We have a list of local specialists in Albany that we’d be happy to share with you.
Please contact us if you have any further questions.



  1. Wooden Windows Surrey

    Fantastic article. I think a lot of people think about exchanging old historic wooden windows to new one. There might be lot of different reasons why people change old historic windows for new one in similar style, one of them ,might be minimizing energy lost.

  2. Historic Albany Foundation

    Thank you for your comment. Yes minimizing energy is critical. This is a common misconception. We have seen first hand with many historic homes over and over. 1. It is cost effective to fix and repair your historic windows and 2. Studies have indicated that in most cases [15 to] 20% of heat loss in a building is through the windows. The remaining 80% is through walls, roofs, floors and chimneys. Following this model, reducing the heat loss through windows by 50% will only result in will only result in a 10% decrease in the overall heat loss in the building.

    Most heat loss from a window occurs from air infiltration between the sash and the window frame as indicated in the diagrams above. Homeowners will gain better energy efficiency by maintaining the caulk around a window and using a properly- fitting storm window (R factor 1.79), than with a double-paned replacement window (R factor 1.72). To put it a different way, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air- conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), an historic wood window with storm transfers LESS heat per square foot of material (known as U-value), than replacement windows on vinyl tracks with either a double-glazed wood sash or a double-glazed metal sash.

    Keep posting your comments! We love discussions like this!

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