Gordon Bock is co-author of The Vintage House: A Guide to Successful Renovations and Additions. As an architectural historian and former editor-in-chief of Old House Journal, Gordon is an expert on how people can preserve what is essential in their vintage home while making it work for the needs and demands of modern life.
Below is the second of a two-part Q & A we did in advance of the Window Hero Webinar he did with Indow.
Q. What is the biggest mistake people make when dealing with their old windows?
A. In our lifetime people have forgotten that windows in a vintage house were meant to be maintained and designed to be repaired. And they repair very easily. When people buy a house, they see flaking paint or a broken sash and they think the window is shot. It doesn’t help when they can’t find anyone who can fix it. The days of the local handyman who will do everything and fix the glass in your windows are making a comeback, but it can still be hard to find someone.
Q. What about achieving energy efficiency?
A. Lately, we’ve been wringing our hands over increased energy and fuel costs for heating and cooling. Old windows get a bad rap and become the lightning rod for energy and comfort issues. When people step back and get an energy audit of their house and see where they’re losing heating and cooling dollars, they often see they’re losing the most energy through a poorly insulated roof.
If you have a limited budget for improving the energy efficiency of your house, first look at the roof and tune up your heating system. If you have clogged filters and old belts, this will be the easiest way to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Maintain your old windows to keep them in good condition and use simple techniques to stop drafts like storm windows on the outside or inside of your windows.
Q. You write in your book that people have replaced windows for a long time. What’s different about the window replacement you see going on today?
A. In the 1850s, people advocated changing windows for aesthetic reasons: to get more modern windows with bigger pieces of glass. In the 1950s, the message was that you wanted to upgrade your windows for mechanical reasons so they were easier to use and clean. Now the message is energy efficiency.
Q. How should someone properly maintain their old windows?
A. Most people have double-hung sash windows with a corded weight system. Don’t paint the cords – they get stiff and break and the sash stops moving. People sometimes mistakenly think the window has reached the point of no return because it’s dirty and stuck. People with vintage houses have faced this myth for years: that the windows can’t be repaired since no one knows how to do that anymore. It’s baloney! People are making reproduction parts for windows and all aspects of vintage houses. There are more resources than ever before.