Repair Or Replace: Options For Restoring The Windows In Your Antique Home

12 September 2016
 Categories: Construction & Contractors, Articles


One of the main concerns for homeowners when it comes to older homes are windows that are original to the home. These windows could have seen years of abuse, including cut cords, missing weights, paint that seals the window shut, or broken panes and sashes. Antique windows are made with superior craftsmanship, but modern home buyers are concerned about energy efficiency and ease of use. Here is a guide to help you know if you can repair your old windows or if you'll need to replace them.

The Case For Repair

Old wooden windows were built to last. Generally, with a little handiwork and elbow grease, an old window can perform quite well. In fact, while new windows will sometimes save you a little on your bills, the up-front total replacement cost is hard to recoup in energy savings. While a new window can cost several hundred dollars, repairing antique windows costs an average of about $50 or less per window. 

You can opt for replacing window parts or repairing old windows and see great improvement. Typically issues like condensation or draftiness are caused because antique windows need to be repaired. Before jumping to the replacement conclusion, check your windows to see if they are good candidates for repair. Your windows are worth repairing if:

  1. the frames and sashes are still in good condition. You can check the condition of the wood by gently scraping away decades of paint to see if the wood below is clean, hard, and dry. Scraping off layers of paint can be a challenge, but with a little work, you'll expose the aged hardwood of the original frame.
  2. the glass is cracked. Window replacement companies can provide new glass to fit in old frames. 
  3. the cords are cut or missing. You can restring old windows so that they open easily again.
  4. they get stuck when you try to open or close them. Old houses settle, and this can sometimes affect how a window fits. Gentle sanding to help the window fit better will fix this problem
  5. they rattle in the frames, get frosty during the winter, or seem drafty. These symptoms are signs that the windows need to be reglazed (sealing the space where the pane sits in the sashes or grills) or the window itself needs to be weatherstripped. 
  6. the windows are unique to the home and difficult to replace with modern alternatives. Examples include windows in special shapes or that contain stained glass. 

While old windows are often blamed for draftiness and energy loss in old houses, other issues are often much more at fault. Old attics might be under-insulated, old basements have little to no insulation, spaces around doors and windows may not be sealed properly, or ducting and plumbing tracks are not sealed off. 

The Case For Replacement

The above information lets you know when windows can be repaired. However, there are definitely some old windows that sadly cannot be saved. Old windows are too difficult to repair when they have been affected by water. Generally, the wood swells and warps and is no longer able to support panes. Moldy wood is weak and difficult to paint. Dry rot affects frame and sash stability. Small areas of dry rot can be repaired with wood filler and epoxy, but too much rot will cause the window to lose structural integrity. Insect damage from termites or ants can also mean there is little hope for old window repair. 

When looking for replacement windows for an older home, you can still find windows that go with the home's original style and charm. Look for wood or composite frames that look like wood to have the most authentic effect.