What is the best way to repair or replace historic wooden windows?
Wood windows are common to many historic homes in Hawai‘i. Most are either double-hung or casement style windows that contribute greatly to the historic character of the house. The preferred option is always to repair and maintain the existing windows if possible. If they are deteriorated to the point where replacement is necessary the replacement should be in keeping with the character of the original. This means that wood windows should be replaced with wood windows that are similar in appearance in terms of the number of panes and the window type (casement, awning, double-hung, etc).
Often people will look at modern materials such as vinyl or aluminum as an option for replacement. There are a number of reasons why these are not good replacements for historic wood windows. Firstly, they may drastically change the appearance of the house, detracting from its historic character. Secondly, wood windows have a longer life span if properly maintained. A historic wood window can last one hundred years, while many new replacement window materials may not last twenty-five years. Thirdly, wood windows made before 1940 are often made of separate pieces that can easily be repaired and replaced without having to remove the whole window. With vinyl or aluminum the whole window will usually have to be replaced.
While many feel that replacing their historic windows is an energy efficient option, studies have shown that it could take approximately two-hundred forty years to recoup enough in energy savings to cover the cost of replacement windows. Additionally, windows containing vinyl or PVC are toxic to produce and create toxic by-products. It is more environmentally friendly to repair your historic wood windows.