Posts Tagged Historic Preservation

Restore or Replace – Part 1

When I bought this humble bungalow (over a year ago!), one of the features I found most interesting was the distorted glass in each of the original wood windows. “Wavy” glass is an understatement. When I really study them, there are bubbles, circles, lines, and other imperfections in every piece of glass. I still remember the 1st or 2nd time looking at the house with the realtor, how beautiful the light danced on the walls through the imperfect glass. Of course, the deterioration of the windows and the rattling glass was one of the scariest features. While the whistling of the wind and drafts around each frame this past winter was an expensive feature.

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Working in the field of downtown development, I’ve been lucky to attend dozens of workshops and training events about the importance of building preservation and wood windows. I’ve heard them use the fancy phrases, how wood windows are part of a building’s historic fabric, the vast difference between old growth wood and dimensional lumber available today. And more recently I’ve experienced how downtown revitalization grants can help with almost every aspect of restoring a historic building facade, but the Historic Preservation Office is adamant that grant funds will pay to have wood windows restored- not replaced.

So over the winter months — as I was reluctantly turning up the thermostat, putting more of my paycheck into the “heating” budget, and watching the shrink-wrap plastic flicker from the cold air blowing in around each window — I began seriously researching the best option for my house.

I do advise CAUTION here – only begin typing the word replacement, vinyl, fiberglass, aluminum clad, or easy-to-clean in any internet search engine and the only results will be replacement window companies – hundreds of them claiming that all of my home’s energy problems will be solved if I toss the old windows into a dumpster & install the cheapest vinyl windows on the market. Others claimed I could stand on the windows (before installing them I assume?), $99 window sales, solid vinyl sash frames, one finger open & close, multiple warranties, and even custom colors for the exterior to match any decor.

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But then I searched for an answer to my real question, “wood windows restore or repair.” The results were countless forums, threads, magazines, blogs, and even energy efficient building research. They all said the same – wood windows, when restored correctly with the right materials, adding a mix of original and modern weather stripping, and with a quality storm window- will match or even outperform replacement windows in energy efficiency. Add to that the embodied energy already in the existing windows, the un-matchable strength of 100+ year old lumber, and the compiled data of historic home sales that show original windows add significantly to home & neighborhood values. Or do a little more online digging and read how 5 of the largest US replacement window manufacturers were recently charged with class action lawsuits against their false & deeply exaggerated “statistics” of energy savings they claim their windows will achieve. Eventually these 5 companies settled with the Federal Trade Commission to delete the language from their advertising when they can not consistently prove the numbers to be true.

Last summer I had 3 different window salesmen stop me while working outside or mowing the lawn. They tried their hardest to come inside, sit down and talk about their products, the “50% – 55% energy savings I could experience.” When one salesman revisited this spring, I asked him a simple question:

“These windows have lasted almost 100 years; Can you sell me a replacement window that will last that long?”

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The answer is no. Many of the highest priced residential replacement windows offer only a 20 year (and very limited) manufacturers warranty. Even then the warranty is often for only the mechanical operations of the window – NOT on the low E gas seals, air-tightness, or their bold energy efficiency claims. And all the research I’ve read from professionals in the historic preservation world say property restored wood windows can last another 100 years (although with painting & glazing repairs in the middle at least once).

I read every online article, blog, and discussion thread I could find. I watched YouTube videos late into the evenings, trying to take notice of the slight differences from one professional’s process to the next – mostly minor, or they each have a different favorite method for steps such as removing paint, making repairs, etc. But the process is the same – remove all paint, remove all glazing, carefully remove glass. Sand, re-glue, prime, reglaze, paint, and re-install.

But I still had so many unknowns and fears about taking this on by myself: the details of weather-stripping (bronze? silicone bulb? vinyl flange? brush.., foam.., felt??) And what are the differences between the many types of glazing compound. Is that the same as glazing putty? And where do I find replacement sash cord that won’t stretch over time, or combination lift/sash locks? Oil or latex primer and then paint?

It was perfect timing to learn about a hands-on wood window workshop taking place in Columbus back in March, hosted by a new historic preservation group somewhat affiliated with the organization my workplace is involved with. Two days, hands on learning, BYOT (bring your own tools), and learn the entire process working alongside 3 professionals. Sign me up.

In Part 2 I’ll describe the workshop in depth, and the basic tools, methods, & products the professionals there taught us – based on each of their 30+ years in this work. But one blog I have found to be very helpful – and exactly step by step in line with the teachings from the workshop – is The Craftsman Blog. The writer is owner of a historic home restoration company so of course the entire blog is a very full resource for old home enthusiasts. But his specific posts detailing window restoration are almost a printable instruction guide. Thank you Scott for all the incredible content you share, I have learned so much from your blog!

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Weekend Tripping

This past weekend I stole away on a short trip south, into Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Just south of Cincinnati, this small but beautiful town is a short 10 minute drive from Newport on the Levee which has a multitude of its own attractions. While there, I spent the weekend with a longtime friend who recently relocated there after taking a full time position with a large company. We spent the weekend sight-seeing, exploring his new neighborhood, and taking in some great food!

Fort Thomas was actually originally a Civil War fort and training camp for Union soldiers. The area with the water tower and oldest fort buildings are now located in what is called Tower Park. We walked through the park while catching up on the  the last few months. The park is full of older buildings, with some of the oldest houses renovated into private homes. There were other buildings, not quite as old but larger and more beautiful, that were sitting empty. On a secluded cul-de-sac in the back of the park, there must have been nearly a dozen large brick houses overgrown and rotting away. As a historic preservation buff with a passion for all old buildings, I couldn’t help but take a ton of photographs.

It actually felt kind of creepy; all these abandoned houses in the back of a park, I don’t think I saw any other people while we were walking there and taking photographs. I could easily see a horror movie being filmed there. This sign didn’t help me feel any more comfortable.

The building that originally served as the Fort’s mess hall has been preserved and now functions as a Community Center. As a banquet hall, it can seat over 680 people. Although we couldn’t take a look inside, judging by the exterior the inside must be a beautiful hall.


I think it’s great to see a community preserving its history by saving its buildings. A great example of how a historic building still has purpose and can be a community and financial asset.

We also toured the history museum and learned more about the town’s military importance from its role during the Civil War to how it now houses a VA hospital for senior citizen veterans as well as a PTSD treatment center for recently returned veterans.

The following day we spent the latter part of the afternoon at Newport on the Levee before seeing a film at the cinema. One of the many shops and attractions was a small gallery of of work by local artists, ranging from photography, paintings, pottery, and jewelry. I spottted these early in the gallery, and walked through the rest of it knowing I wanted them.

A set of 4 plates (only 2 in the photograph) and small platter, made for sushi and wasabi. I enjoy a good sushi outing every now and then, but wouldn’t make something like that at home. Maybe for entertaining, for appetizers or hors d’oeuvres. I just saw these handmade plates and knew I had to have them. I love the two tone turquoise-gray background with multiple textures, the thickness of the glazing in some areas (lead-free so they are food safe), and the crazed surface of the plates.

They are almost flat, with slightly raised edges. I was excited when I bought them and like them even more now that I have them home. I could see myself designing an entire kitchen inspired just from these plates alone, I like them that much! The artist is Aaron “Wolf” Milavec, a local Cincinnati artist with an impressive art background.

A short trip to IKEA rounded off my weekend, my only purchases there were the zig-zag LACK wall shelf for myself and the DUKTIG vegetable play set for my neice.

They carry a whole assortment of these plush fabric toys, from veggies and fruits to breakfast and dessert. The best part is that they are entirely machine washable, so my sister can just pop them in the washing machine when they need cleaned. Although I do find much of IKEA’s inventory unappealing, I think their DUKTIG line of children’s toys are such a refreshing change of pace from the plastic trash that seems to be the new norm of Fisher Price and Mattel these days.

And I leave you with a photo of me and my Cincinnati friends, two of which had just graduated from UC the previous day, after a fun game of darts and a round of Killians Irish Red (further proof that I am some sort of giant):

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