We’ve often heard home buyers say,

“Don’t worry about checking the

windows - we’re going to replace them

all.” But if your budget is tight (as it

probably will be with that new

mortgage), and you are concerned

about preserving the look of the house,

and  committed to reducing your carbon

footprint, you may want to think twice

about replacing the original windows.

    New replacement windows are a great

way to go if the old windows are beyond

repair. If you’ve lived with older windows,

you’ll be amazed at the lack of maintenance

required for the new ones. The exterior

portion needs no glazing - the stuff that holds the glass in place and dries up and falls out over time - and  no painting, as they are clad in aluminum or vinyl. They require no storm windows, so the yearly hassle of taking down wooden storm’s is eliminated. Most openable new windows tilt in for easy cleaning - no more climbing a ladder to the second floor. Newer windows seal tightly, eliminating drafts and heat loss from the home.

    But a properly maintained, old, wooden sash window, with good weather stripping and a wooden or aluminum storm window, has an R-value, or insulation value, roughly equivalent to a new double glazed replacement window, sometimes higher. (The energy efficiency of windows is actually measured by U-value, which relates to R-value, but R-value is generally applied.)

    Even if you do improve the efficiency of the window by 50%, which isn’t likely, only 20% of the heat loss in the house is through the windows - the rest is through roofs, walls, floors and chimneys - and this would result in only a 10% decrease in the overall heat loss of the building. Adding more insulation in the attic is a much better, and less expensive way to reduce the overall heat loss.

    New windows are hardly a “green” option. Vinyl replacement windows contain poly vinyl chloride, and the manufacturing process creates toxic by- products. The energy used to produce and ship any new windows will also impact the environment.

    We’ve all heard “vinyl is final”. This is a myth. According to studies, some vinyl has a life expectancy of as little as 20 years. The plasticizers in cheaper vinyl windows will evaporate over time and eventually the vinyl gets brittle and subject to crack. Vinyl can warp and colored vinyl can fade. On the other hand, old wooden windows were made to be repaired. With regular maintenance, the life of a continually painted wooden window can be 200 years!

    The seal on double glazed - or thermapane - replacement windows, can fail, and often does in cheaper windows. You are left with a fogged up window that can’t be cleaned, and replacing the replacement  window is expensive and often impossible,  requiring custom made parts and  sometimes requiring a completely new window - sash, frame, the works! Even the more expensive wooden replacement windows, with the exterior portion clad in aluminum or vinyl, can in time suffer from some of the same problems as the vinyl windows.


    The beauty and integrity of an old house can be ruined by replacement windows, if not done properly. To find new windows that work with the original look of the house is often very difficult, and should be a consideration, along with the expense.

    While making the old windows work can be a painstaking, time consuming project, it is one that can be done at your own pace, one window at a time. Lots of information for repairing damaged wood, replacing broken glass, re-glazing, adding weather stripping, rehanging weights, or replacing worn sash cords can be found online or in publications available at the library or any of the big box home stores.

Campbell and Davies LLC    201 Dey St Suite 211 Ithaca, NY 14850   

607 216 0036    fax 607 216 0402   


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