Restore, Don’t Replace Your Antique Windows!

Removing windows for repair

If you live on Capitol Hill your home probably has the original windows. You know it, because as winter approaches each year you put up sheets of plastic, frame the sash edges with clay insulation, or do whatever else it takes to keep the cold air from blowing in. And at some point you’ve probably thought, “I wish we could just get our windows replaced!”

But it’s not quite that simple. 

If you live in the historic district the District’s Historic Preservation Office (HPO) must approve a permit to replace your windows. HPO requires most replacement windows to be configured exactly like your antique ones. According to the guidelines the replacements should be either wood or certain approved types of wood-look fiberglass. Custom replacement windows that mimic your existing ones are expensive to have manufactured and installed. And because they’re made of fast-growth plantation lumber, they may only last about 15 to 20 years before they need to be replaced again, adding to already overflowing landfills. 

But there’s a better and much more environmentally sound source for great windows: your existing ones. These were most likely made of old-growth lumber, which has already lasted at least a hundred years. With some TLC they may last another hundred. If you’ve got the old wavy glass, that’s a bonus – it’s considered quite rare and valuable. 

There are window restoration specialists in the DC area who can bring your windows back to their original state – or better – for less than the cost of getting custom replacements. These craftspeople will remove the many layers of paint that have built up, taking care to avoid lead contamination, repair the wood, fix the hardware, reglaze the glass, add appropriate weather-stripping, and make them as beautiful and functional as they were when new. 

If you live outside the historic district you have more options, but note that most vinyl replacement windows are not very durable, so the lower initial cost may be more than offset by their shorter lifespan.

Whether you live in the historic district or not, if you choose to replace your antique windows please don’t send them to the dump! The Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) can put you in touch with window restorers who would love to take your old windows and reuse the parts. Repairing or restoring your windows doesn’t require a permit; nor does adding stormers. 

CHRS is happy to answer your questions about your windows or any other part of your home. Just send us an email at CapHRS@aol.com or visit us at www.chrs.org. You can find HPO’s guidelines at http://planning.dc.gov/DC/Planning/Historic+Preservation.

Broken quarter round
Ready for install
Removing glass
Repaired quarter
Restored Alexandria windows
Restored casements
Restored quarter round windows
Restored window hardware
Stabilizing repaired window

Lisa Dale Jones is president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society.


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