Retrofit or Replace? How to Handle Historic Windows When Renovating

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Renovations of historic homes and buildings require special consideration for the windows. Although the original windows are an integral part of the architecture of any historic building, they are much less energy-efficient than modern windows and are often less functional. Here’s what those planning to renovate this type of property should know about striking a balance between the utility of new windows and the beauty and character of the existing structure.

What are Some Retrofitting Options?

An open living room in a historic house

Contrary to widespread belief, many historic windows can be retrofitted to increase their efficiency and function without damaging their unique qualities. The retrofitting route is worth considering if the windows are a defining feature of the building or if replacement windows may detract from its appearance. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether retrofitting or replacement makes more sense. Options include adding storm windows, insulating shades, and interior panels.

What Are the Benefits of Retrofitting?

Replacing historic windows won’t necessarily save money on energy costs in comparison to retrofitting, according to reports from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In addition, restoring existing windows is often a more environmentally-friendly option than installing replacement windows. The latter requires significantly more materials, which create an environmental impact through the manufacturing, transporting, and disposal required for these materials.

Retrofitting allows homeowners to take advantage of the high-quality construction of original windows. The original wood resists rot and insects and can easily be painted or stained.

What Are the Downsides of Replacing Historic Windows?

Not only do original windows add irreplaceable character to the building, but it’s also often nearly impossible to replicate their look and feel with new windows. The size and shape of the building’s windows likely don’t match those available in modern window styles, so the opening will need to be changed. This can create drafts, distort the proportions of the home, and even increase the risk of lead paint exposure. Older windows are also made of separate parts that can easily be repaired, as opposed to new windows that must be completely replaced when they malfunction.

Trust MLM Incorporated for historic restoration and renovation in the New Orleans metro area. Fill out our online contact form to request a quote for your residential or commercial project. Browse the project gallery to view our dedication to preserving the unique architecture of our region.