Replacing Broken Window Panes with Salvaged Glass!

“You know,” our neighbor said on our fourth day in the house, “you ought to put in smaller windows.” Max and I had been out working on cleaning up the yard, and he and his friend had walked over to introduce themselves and dispense some free renovation advice.

“Smaller windows?” I asked.

“Yeah, for heat,” agreed his friend. He leaned in over the fence and dropped his voice. “Here’s what you do. Rip out those old windows and replace them with some smaller ones. But don’t throw those away——put them on eBay. Make sure you put something about how they’re from historic Kingston. Some sucker will love that. I bet you could get a few hundred bucks a pop.”

“Yeah, historic Kingston,” the neighbor agreed, “don’t forget that part. And say how it was the first capital of New York. People are into that stuff.”

“I’ll definitely consider it,” I told them, suddenly overcome with the desire to embrace each one of our newly-acquired 150 year-old windows and whisper softly to them, reassuring them that they were safe with me.

“I’m sure you got a lot of work to do on that place, but you’re gonna want to do it before winter sets in.”

“I’ll try to squeeze it in,” I said, looking back at the house, trying to think of a way to redirect their attention. “Right after, uh, we take care of this lawn. Grass, you know??”

It probably took these well-intentioned gentlemen roughly 0.0 seconds after meeting us to deduce that homosexuals had bought the vacant house down the street, but they’d failed to put two and two together. Homosexuals love old windows. They love old moldings and doors and floors and walls, too. I, for one, would do all sorts of things before I’d tear my old windows out, including but not limited to going bankrupt from heating costs and freezing to death in my sleep.

Admittedly, friendly neighbor might have a point, kind of. Advances in window technology over the past century have made windows more energy-efficient—what with double and triple insulated panes and more airtight seals. And smaller windows mean more solid wall, which means less heat loss. Hell, maybe just get rid of the windows altogether! Who needs ’em, am I right?

But not only are old windows almost always more beautiful, they can also be pretty efficient when well-maintained (especially with decent storm windows). Even windows in terrible condition can usually be restored in a few simple steps and with a few inexpensive products. And while new production windows (vinyl, aluminum-clad, or wood) normally fail and have to be replaced after a couple decades, old wood windows can literally last centuries. My buddy Anna gives me a lot of hope when it comes to fixing up my old windows.

We have a lot of windows in this house (somewhere around 30…I’m too afraid to count), and all of them need some love. But that’s OK, because they’re super cool six-over-six double-hung sash windows that are original to the house, and almost every pane of glass is original and wavy and incredibly beautiful. The glazing on the exterior of most of them is in various states of disrepair, paint on the interior is chipping and falling off, we have broken sash cords, cords that have been replaced with chains, sash locks covered in too many layers of paint, top sashes painted or nailed closed, areas of rotted wood, broken panes…pretty much anything that can go wrong on an old window can be found somewhere in our house. Something tells me I’m going to be a pro at restoring old windows by the time we’re done renovating…50 years from now. Luckily we have storm windows on almost every window, so keeping those closed should help a little with the draftiness and offer some protection from the elements to slow further deterioration until I can really address things more comprehensively.

brokenwindows

Just to scratch the surface, though, it was really important to me to replace two shattered panes of glass. The one on the left was sadly broken a couple weeks ago (we’re guessing by some asshole neighborhood kid…ugh), and the one on the right has been broken since before we even saw the house for the first time. Aside from the the obvious concern of having gaping holes in our home when winter is just around the corner, it’s also just our responsibility as homeowners to stay on top of this stuff. It isn’t good for our house or the neighborhood to have obvious signs of disrepair and neglect on the exterior of our house, even if we’re working our butts off on the inside.

tools

Here’s my arsenal of tools!

1. A straight-edge for cutting glass. You can obviously have your glass cut for you (Lowes does it), but I wanted to try it out for myself and I had some glass on hand. This straight-edge is actually a metal transition strip for flooring because I’m disorganized.

2. A carpenter triangle, to ensure that the straight-edge isn’t set at an angle.

3. Window glazing putty. In the past, I’ve used the type that comes in a plastic tub, but I decided to try this kind out. The plastic tub kind has a play-doh-like consistency, whereas this stuff is much more liquidy. I found the other type easier to work with, honestly, but neither are super-difficult.

4. (not pictured) A heatgun for softening old glazing putty.

5. Measuring tape or ruler.

6. Glazing points, which hold the glass in place.

7. A razor blade.

8. Glass-cutting tool.

9. Glazing tool.

heatgun

To get the old glass out, I used a heat gun on the lowest setting to soften the old glazing, and my glazing tool to slowly peel it off. It’s tempting to turn the temperature up, but not only could that create lead vapors if dealing with lead-based paint, you also run the risk of overheating and cracking the glass further. This is obviously something you want to avoid if you’re just trying to redo the glazing and save the existing glass!

My pictures of the actual glazing process are horrendous (this project was particularly hard to take pictures of in-process…the lighting was a mess, and Max was busy!), but Alex at Old Town Home has a terrific run-down explaining how it’s all done. I stupidly skipped priming my sashes before applying new putty, but because the glazing on all of the windows really needs to be redone at some point anyway, I’m not going to sweat it right now. When I have the time to restore the windows for real I’ll fix it, but for now I’m just glad the glass is fixed!

newglazing

For the first window (the bottom corner pane of one of the big living room windows…boo-hoo), I thought I’d be super clever and reuse glass that I’d saved from the vestibule wall “windows.” It totally worked and looks totally fine and the dogs are clearly OK with it, but…

newpane

See that? See how the surrounding three panes of glass are all wavy and look like a Dalí painting, and the new one is super crisp and clear?

Screw you, dumb neighborhood kid.

I didn’t think it would bother me. I’m generally OK with new repairs looking like new repairs, but this is an instance when I don’t feel OK with that. It bothers me. I mean, it’s better than being broken, and I’m sure I’m probably the one person out of a thousand who will ever walk in this room and notice that one pane out of 54 in the entire room doesn’t bend the light and the view the same way that the others do, but still. I want my old beautiful glass back.

Before moving on to broken window pane #2, I was complaining about this with my friend John (whose AMAZING house tour is on Design*Sponge today!) over text message. John is a beautiful, wonderful person with terrific style who has been renovating his nearby 1723 (!!) home for the past five or six years, so I knew he would sympathize. Not only did he sympathize, but he offered to let me dig around his old window hoard in his basement to salvage some old glass! Because what self-respecting old-home renovator doesn’t keep old windows around for  a rainy day or a neighbor in need?

sparewindow

BOOM, old window. I see old windows like this ALL THE TIME at junk stores and architectural salvage types of places for practically nothing, but I’ve never really felt possessed to buy one. People are often quick to rip out perfectly good old sash windows instead of repairing them, often with the original glass and sash locks intact. John was after the sash locks, so he didn’t mind me taking some glass off his hands.

glazingremoved

I quickly went about carefully removing the old glazing with my heat gun and glazing tool. Once I felt confident that the glazing had been sufficiently removed and I’d found and removed all the old glazing triangles, I gently pushed on the backside of the glass. It popped out of the window frame pretty easily and intact. Yay!

glasscutting1

Cutting glass is really very easy, I found out. I just measured the size of the opening to figure out what size I needed and drew two small lines demarcating the width on either end of the glass. Then I used my triangle and straight-edge make sure I had a straight line to cut against.

glasscutting2

I was skeptical about how well this little glass cutting tool would work (it’s less than $4!), but it was great! Wearing protective gloves, you just run the wheel down the straight edge. Don’t be afraid to use some pressure—you only want to make ONE continuous pass, and you want to score the glass well to increase the chance of a clean break.

glasscutting3

It’s hard to get a good picture of the score line, but I hope you can see it to the right of the straight-edge? It’s subtle.

glasscutting4

Turn the glass so that the breaking point rests on the edge of a table or countertop. Apply firm, even pressure on the off-cut, and the glass should make a clean break! This is definitely easier with thinner glass like this, but the same method can work for thicker glass as well.

oldglass

It’s hard to get a great picture, but the “new” pane is the one in the top left corner! See how it’s all wavy and pretty and matches super well? I’m so pleased.

We have several more broken panes throughout the house (not shattered like these two, but with large cracks running throughout), so I guess I’ll start buying up old windows for future repairs. When I do a full overhaul on that first window and replace all the old glazing, I’ll probably go back and use this same method again. I know I’m a lunatic, but I really do think it’s worth the extra effort to maintain what I see as one of the house’s best features.


92 Comments

  1. My face right now is like. Seriously, Daniel, seriously, you fixed glass, then found better glass and refixed it? You’re making everyone else on the planet look lazy as sin. I need to stop being surprised by your epic house fixing sorcery.

    That is to say, I have 2 circa 1826 French doors with broken glass that need fixing. Come on up!

    • Yup, precisely – “You’re making everyone else on the planet look lazy as sin.” Everytime I read a new post, I wonder if there will be anything left for you to do in your thirties? forties? eighties?

      Always been like this? (or did you get bitten by a marvel comics super-bug in your late teens/ early twenties? ;)

  2. When we moved into our rental, it took me a full three months to realize that one of our panes was completely missing from the kitchen bay windows. I’m sure if we didn’t have storm windows I would have noticed sooner? I swear I’m usually the guy that comments on your new haircut.

    • Same thing happened to me! The way the light hits the window makes it tough to see. At least I’m not the only one that missed it. Window guy has been here twice and is confused about what he’s supposed to do…

  3. Great post! We should definitely save all our old windows. They’re so much more beautiful and in keeping with the history and style of these beautiful spaces. My family has a small collection of wavy glass saved for repairs just like this at our cottage. I learned that it is wavy because they were produced by blowing glass into an even cylindrical shape, cutting it down one side, and then laying the rectangle out under a warmer to allow the glass to settle flat. What an ingenious process! I love to look of it! The windows become dynamic features in the room (scattering the light, and changing as you move around the space), rather than passively utilitarian. :)

    It’s a shame that your glass doesn’t match – I’d be bothered by that too; however, it’ll do the job. Also, thank goodness it’s easily removed!

  4. Great post and tutorial. Maybe I will try this one day, now that you taught me how ;)

  5. Wow, I thought broken glass would be a pane to deal with. You are good at everything.

  6. I saw historic preservation guy Bob Yapp speak a few years ago and he talked quite a bit about how to work with your existing windows to make them just about as energy efficient as new ones (rubber gaskets/weather stripping was involved). Anyway, I love my wavy glass and I’m glad you’re keeping yours!

  7. I’m stopped at a halfway point painting my tiny, relatively low ceiling because ow, my arms … I respect the sentiment (if one is wavy, all should be wavy) but I don’t know that I’d be able to make myself go back and re-do all that. Looks beautiful and wavy and period-appropriate!

  8. You are neurotic perfection, sir. Fixing the same window twice to preserve the spirit of the house is commendable. Love it

  9. http://www.indowwindows.com/

    a possible solution to explore?

    • Huh, that’s really cool! I’d love to do something like that, someday. Right now we have aluminum storm windows (probably at least 40 years old), so there’s no huge rush to replace them ($$$), but maybe when we start to tackle the exterior we’ll start to think more seriously about storm alternatives and replacement options. Even if we just did the front of the house or something…dreams! The exterior storms provide a nice little added bit of protection for the old glazing right now, but once I start to really repair the windows, I’ll feel sad that they’re so covered up by the storms!

      • Full and complete disclosure: I work for Indow Windows and stumbled across this post. We are actually an *interior* storm. Our CEO formed the company in 2010 because he felt the same way as you – exterior storms were clunky and ugly, and replacements were just way too expensive. This solution preserves the beauty of the original windows but gives you energy performance comparable, and sometimes better than, a replacement window.
        Anyway, I just absolutely love the company and sought them out for a career because I saw it as an innovative idea that was sustainable and preserved those beautiful original windows.
        Off my soap box! Wonderful article and I love seeing that rippling glass preserved! Very nicely done.

      • Thanks, Kristina! A commenter above linked to Indow–so very cool! I think interior storms would be an amazing solution for our house, someday! Right now the exterior storms aren’t so bad, since they’re helping protect our messed up sashes until I can restore them, but old triple-track aluminum storms aren’t going to be ideal in the long run!

  10. This post makes me happy, happy, happy! I’ve never understood people who don’t love old wavy glass. It is beautiful! Thanks for the pick me up :)

  11. This kind of triggered my PTSD with our 30 sashes we reglazed. I could smell the slightly melting glazing putty and bubbling old paint while I was reading. In the end, the windows all look fabulous – every one of ours was cracked or had small holes from BB guns or pebbles – but the process was not fun. Bad shape, but reglazing was certainly less expensive than new windows – ours are 7′ tall too – big guys. Our windows are 1-over-1, not 6-over-6, so the glass panes are huge and much harder to find. We used quite a bit of new glass, and it’s not the same, you are right. But still – it’s better than cardboard! (That’s what we had up the first winter we lived here. Classy.)

    In my work I’ve done lots of historic renovations for tax credits, and the good news is the historic replicas (energy efficient ones) get better and better looking. In the past, the trouble was always the meeting rail – the top of the bottom sash and the bottom of the top sash. In old windows the meeting rail is much thinner than the newer windows that are holding much more glass. We specified interior storms in many cases – particularly on the Victorians with decorative carvings and profile details that would have been lost / covered with standard aluminum storms.

  12. Daniel, you are a renaissance man! Color me impressed!

  13. ^ Agreed. “epic house fixing sorcery” indeed!

  14. I suspect your helpful neighbor and friend were consultants on the the various home *improvement* projects you and Max have been busily undoing. Yeah, rip out those priceless old windows and replace ’em with with some vinyl — great idea, guy.

    I have never been enamored of wavy old glass but now I can see its appeal.

  15. I literally just said to myself today, “Crap. I need to get this broken pane fixed. I wonder if you can DIY this?” And then the heavens parted and this post appeared.

  16. I used my collection of old windows by adding them to a new fence we put up. We have a double lot and one of the fences that runs along half of it (a normal lot length in our neighborhood). We wanted a tall privacy fence but also something that was interesting from the street. Lightbulb! I finally had a use for all of the old windows that I would never put in our house because its a 1940s cape cod. But, yeah old windows come in handy and I have found most of ours for wicked cheap or even free when they are torn out of old houses.

  17. My favourite thing about this whole post? Little Linus face in the window… I’ve fallen hard for that sweet face & triangle ears, he’s my most loved dog on the internet!

  18. Apartments are constantly being renovated in Berlin, and if you check on Ebay they sometimes put up ads for these old windows (for FREE). So one time, we went and procured an assortment of 7 foot stained glass windows that were once in a 19th century stairwell.

    I know this is a complete humble brag. But I fucking love old glass, and this post made me giddy. :D

  19. Fantastic! In my borough of London (well, not mine, but the one I live in) they give grants to people who want to have their original sash windows repaired or restored. I love that they do this, because I love old windows too! And I’m not even a homosexual!

  20. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people put cheap replacement windows in old houses. Our house has two-over-two windows and we have four careless children, so we have several windows with three wavy panes and one crisp, new one. I’d love to try to replace the new panes with salvaged glass, if I ever get my hands on some. We’re having a real window crisis right now because we got our house painted this summer and recklessly told the painters to throw away the horrid aluminum triple track storm windows. The house looks gorgeous without them but winter is approaching and we have nothing to keep the drafts out.

    • Patience, did you see cpjc’s comment above? Looks like a very cool product. Seems like there are a lot of good storm options these days, although I’m sure outfitting the whole house with new storms is a big investment…

      • Thanks! I just checked it out and it seems much less hassle than exterior storms. This may be our solution!

  21. Daniel,

    WHO ARE THESE FUCKING NEIGHBOURS?

    Sure, they don’t need to worry about how the glass looks, or whether your house will be cold, because they’re not going to be invited over for drinks anyway, are they? No.

    And a solution in older houses in winter? Good slippers, good undergarments, and an extra thick wool jumper.

    I’ve said it before, and I’m going to say it again: Daniel and Max, that house is so lucky to have you two.

  22. Love it! Have you read Bill Bryson’s book AT HOME? It’s an interesting look at houses through history – like why rooms have certain names and how each room’s use has changed over time. He is a humorous writer and he also talks about his own old house, which is a Victorian parsonage in England. ANYWAY – he talks about the French invented plate glass, which was made by pouring molten glass over a smooth surface. It took 10 days to cool! That gave it the wavy look we all love. Sheet glass wasn’t invented until 1838, but I’m guessing it was still a bit wavy.

    My parents once owned a house in upstate New York that was built in 1835. The house had those awesome wavy glass windows, and on one of the windows in the lower pane where a few names and signatures etched into the glass of what I can only guess were previous residents of the house. It was so cool and was my favorite part of the house. You just can’t replace stuff like that! :)

    Anyway, I’ll stop rambling now. Well done, sir! LOVE that photo of the puppies!

  23. Our 1926 house when we bought it had about half the original windows and half horrid replacements that were already a couple decades old and mostly failing. We restored the old ones, but hadn’t decided what to do with the others- any new windows I would have been OK with putting in my house were way too expensive. Then some neighbors down the street with an identical bungalow to ours got new windows- so I went and talked to the installers. I told them I was an “artist with a project” and could I have the windows they were removing? The guy thought it was great that he wouldn’t have to take them to the dump and had his crew stack them on my porch. Two days later when they were no longer set up down the street (I was a little embarrassed) I switched out all the “new” ones for new old ones. The sash weights were still in the walls even, so the only thing I had to buy was cords.

    People think I’m crazy when I tell this story. Oh well!

    • That’s amazing, Katie! I don’t think you’re crazy at all——good for you!

    • This is genius. Some U.S. government agency relating to housing or preservation has done a study that says old windows properly maintained plus storms is more energy efficient than the replacement windows. And not only do the replacement windows look horrible but as you say they fail so quickly and then cannot be fixed, only thrown out. I hate them! Unfortunately our 120 year old house had awful replacement vinyl windows when we moved in, and they were warped. They looked closed but they weren’t closed. We made it through three winters with plastic wrap (weather stripping) you buy at the hardware store. Now we have new metal replacement windows, unfortunately. If we had $100,000 I’d redo the facade, put in custom made single pane windows exactly as they were made with, and storms. I think though the plastic wrap was actually warmer than the new windows. But of course you couldn’t open or close the window, which is inconvenient.

    • Katie,

      I don’t think that is crazy at all. I think it is lovely and dedicated and shows just how much you love your house!

      Daivd! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I read your post and did a bit of additional research and was able to replace two pains in my mud room this weekend! It is already so much warmer and my landlady is so thrilled that she doesn’t have to hire the glasure that came out and just wanted to replace the windows. The house is 163 years old and other then the couple of busted panes the windows are in excellet condition. I think the glass guy just saw $$$ because of the windows large size.

  24. Well-done.

    I’m thinking old woolen Hudson Bay blankets or something like them as coverings in the winter, with old leather straps to hold them up. Sort of Roman shades-like? You might get some insulation there. Every bit counts in a cold winter.

  25. Thanks for the mention in today’s post. Glazing and using salvaged or reproduction wavy glass is near and dear to my heart! I have several large two over two windows that I need to completely strip and reglaze coming up, so needless to say, I’ll be getting my practice in very soon.

    Your glazing lines look quite nice and crisp, well done.

    The only thing I can add when talking about working with salvaged glass is the extreme importance of using a sharp/new glass cutter. I was working with a dull one many years ago and ended up ruining multiple salvaged glass panes. I almost had a complete blowup over that one. If you suspect your cutter is even thinking about getting dull, pick up a new one and you’ll save yourself a world of frustration and money by not wasting the salvaged glass.

    When you get to the point of reglazing or doing a larger job, don’t bother with the crap in the caulk tube. Get yourself a gallon bucket of Sarco Dual Glaze. It’s more expensive, but it’s well worth the cost in how long it will last and how much better it is to work with. And when your glazing cures and you apply paint to the exterior, don’t use tape, just your brush and your arm. Using tape will end up pulling up the paint and your glazing job will go bad when water gets behind it.

    Anyhow, great job on using the correct approach to make your house love you.

    • Thanks, Alex! Those tips are great to keep in mind, thank you!! We have lots and lots of sashes that need fixing, and several more panes that I should probably replace in the process…it’s going to be a long haul for these windows!

      (I picked up a bunch of plaster washers this weekend!!)

  26. My father gave me a priceless phrase to use when people volunteer how I should do something. “Now there’s an idea”. You’re not saying it’s a good idea or a bad idea or even that you’ll do it but you leave them with the feeling that you will and they’ll leave you alone. I’ve used it with great success many many times in my life. When I gave my daughter (now 25) the same advice her eyes grew wide. She had heard me use it many times and never realized. Try it on the clueless neighbors and see how it goes. BTW, the thought of replacing those gorgeous windows with new, smaller ones makes me feel ill. Thank goodness you and Max own that house and not those idiots.

  27. I had an energy audit done a few years after we bought our house, a 1925 masonry brick colonial revival bungalow. One of the auditors gave me a spiel about replacing all my windows , we have 24, with vinyl. He even told me how women love the vinyl replacements so much because the panels tilt inside for cleaning. I polighttly kept my mouth shut until he left, but there is no fucking way I’d replace my original in-swing casement windows with crappy vinyl single hung windows. Our house has a twin next door and I’m worried that someday the owners will replace the windows.

    I can’t wait until I can get rid of the triple track aluminum storm windows, but I want to make sure the new storms/screens are proper wood ones. I am trying to find someone near us that can make wood storms with inside removable glass and screens. That way in the winter we can have a clear view with out a screen, and in the summer the screen can fill the entire window.

    Great job on the glazing. Best part about old wood windows is that you can do those repairs yourself after the neighbor kids break a pane.

    • “women love the vinyl replacements so much because the panels tilt inside for cleaning.” FACEPALM. It sounds like your auditor was from 1950? Misogyny aside, that’s really sad that an energy auditor gave that kind of advice at all in an age when we know better! Don’t be afraid to talk to your neighbors, too——so many people just don’t know. I’ve had friends tell me I should replace the windows, too (before seeing the house, but still!).

      I hear you on the storms! We have the same ones. Replacing them is just nowhere near the top of our priorities list right now, but someday I’d love to. Seems like there are all kinds of good options these days!

  28. I’m SO HAPPY you’re using old glass and putting the wave back in the window. So many people (like your neighbors…) rip out the old windows and put in new, ugly, modern windows with ZERO character.

  29. Last week I found some sweet old 1940s tennis racquets on top of a neighbor’s trash pile. When I walked into my house with the racquets and told my husband where I found them, he shook his head and muttered, “What the hell is wrong with people?” And he wasn’t talking about me. I’m pretty sure he’d say the same thing about your neighbors!

    I love that new/old wavy glass!

  30. I love you Daniel. I really, really love you! Your blog is so fun to read and you’re also highly talented. I’m loving how you’re transforming this old beauty!

  31. Regarding your neighbors’ well-intentioned remarks about heating costs and drafts, I can recommend that you look into installing honeycomb shades and curtains to help increase your R-value. They may not be your design aesthetic, but they’re super functional. Our heating costs were reduced significantly after we installed blinds on all of our first floor, and a few of our older windows on the second floor (some of the windows were already gone by the time we got the house, so we really only ‘needed’ the blinds on the older windows). We got a package price, and a discount from Lowe’s or somewhere for Levelor cordless honeycomb blinds. When closed they blend in pretty well with the mouldings, and at night, or when it’s particularly cold, you can close them to help block the transfer of heat/cold for a more comfortable experience. It’s a reality in older homes with gorgeous original windows (even with storm windows) that you’ll experience unpleasant drafts, but if you add window coverings you can mitigate a lot of that, and keep the beauty of the home intact. Good luck, and great job on the windows!

    • Yes, we’re definitely considering our window-covering options! I don’t want to rush into anything, but we’re definitely planning heavy curtains in a few key areas to cut down on the drafts. With all the rooms in such a state of chaos and limbo, it’s tough to think about that stuff right now! But it is important, you’re right!

  32. beautiful! i love, love, love old windows. our house, built in 1922 and expanded in 1947, unfortunately only had 2 original windows, both with cracks. had a roomful of windows from 1947 that just weren’t pretty and were SO small/short for the space – all the rest had already been replaced. when a tree fell on our house a few years ago, that was the end of our 2 original windows. sad day. we now “upgraded” to all vinyl, and they ARE more energy efficient, actually open – haha, etc. they actually do look better because we replaced the 1947 windows with much bigger windows that suit the house and space better, tying together 1922/1947 a bit more seamlessly. none the less, while i saved all the originals, i do miss the beautiful glass. good on you for saving yours – your windows are gorgeous!

  33. Aaah yes, the well-intended suggestions! I had a friend suggest a drop-ceiling for my gorgeous apartment from 1910 (in de centre of Barcelona) with gorgeous high ceilings, pretty plaster moldings and all. As if I would even THINK of covering those up!! And no replacing my fabulous French windows with paper-thin wavy window panes either! :)

  34. Thank you for a wonderful post and a brilliant blog. I’m afraid I don’t know what would be typical for the period in your region, but I know a few tips from my native Scandinavia, where we are pretty used to old houses and harsh winters. :-) The easiest, and period appropriate, way to insulate windows here is to glue inch-wide strips of paper over the seam between the window and the wall. As long as you use the same stuff that you put up period-appropriate wallpaper with and non-textured, unbleached paper, and remove it with warm water as soon as spring comes, it doesn’t leave any marks and still stops the draft. The other option, which admittedly is a lot more laborious, is to include double glazing in the way we have done it since the late 1700s: you build a second frame with a glass, and close to each corner you put in a simple swivel that when rotated keeps the second window pane in place. This way they can be removed and stored when not needed, and you don’t have a single mark on the orginal window frames. I don’t know if this makes any sense to you or if any of my descriptions were comprahendable – I was just trying to say that there are lots of old and appropriate ways of keeping the draft out in a harsh winter – and that you are doing a great job!

    • I think that makes sense, thank you Anna! For this winter, I think we’ll be relying on the old storm windows that we have (aluminum-framed glass mirrors that are pretty permanently attached on the exterior of the house), and we’ll see how they do. I’d love to find a better option eventually, though…and preferably one that doesn’t cost as much as the house did! :)

  35. You make Michelangelo look lazy.

  36. What are these “decent storm windows” you speak of?

    My house is a young whipper-snapper (1928) compared to yours and still has the original wood double-pane 3 over 3 windows, almost all of which work (still need to replace a few sash cords). However, it also has those horrible aluminum thumb-buster storm windows where you have to slide two tiny, invariably stuck in place, plastic thingies to open them. Besides risking permanent disfigurement every time the seasons change, they make it impossible to really clean the windows not to mention that the outside of the wood windows haven’t been painted or reglazed in decades. I hate them with an abiding passion!

    Last year, I never got around to closing them before before it got cold and I have to say, didn’t notice any difference in the heating bill. So far, it seems like that all there is on the market for storm windows, rather than complete replacement which is a non-starter. And I don’t have the space to keep the screen/glass that’s not in use for the Indow (but it is a clever idea). Tell me I’m not a bad person if I don’t replace them when we tear off all the crappy siding next year. Did I mention I hate them?

    • First of all, I get it! And I don’t think you’re a bad person for tearing them off, particularly if they’re not effective! I have no idea how much ours really do or don’t do…I guess we’ll find out!

      As to alternatives, some of these comments above might have suggestions that could work for you…but I think having something visually unobtrusive that isn’t removable for storage reasons might be tough. I don’t know! I’m SO SOOOO far from being an expert on this stuff…my best advice is to google around! Even without storms, though, can still make your old windows MUCH more energy-efficient and less drafty but repairing and maintaining them.

  37. Kudos to you guys for keeping your original windows. You can’t get that kind of workmanship anymore, let alone the old growth wood. I’m doing a large scale renovation in Phoenix, am keeping my original double hung windows and opted for storm windows to keep the heat out. I plan to use this guy’s storm windows, and my local Historic Preservation office has approved them: (He also has them installed in Historic Federal buildings)

    http://www.spencerworks.com/

    A little pricey (approx $350 ea + shipping) so if out of your price range consider fabricating a simpler storm window to fit in the sash of your double hung. If you outfit it w/ low-e glass you’ll get extra insulating benefits and you can remove them in the summer to allow the heat in.

    Also, the government website is shut down right now, but if you want to learn more (lots, lots more….) read the National Park Service Preservation Brief on Window restorations.

    Love your blog. And your spirit. Keep it up!

    JoAnna

  38. Oh, Lord, how I wish I could’ve had windows like those in the house I grew up in (1922): six over one, gorgeous wavy glass, beautiful smooth sash operation.

    Unfortunately, I bought a 1948 cottage that had the worst-of-the-worst replacement aluminum windows from the 1950’s, and beaverboard siding to boot. Everything came out and off and was replaced three years after I bought the joint. It looks better now, is considerably easier to heat and cool, and the siding I had put on isn’t too painful to look at.

    Y’know, Daniel, if you do only two windows a year, you’ll be done in only a decade and a half! Just wanted to point that out.

  39. It’s lovely that you want to keep your lovely old windows!

    I am told my sash windows had the glass replaced some time I the past… From original 3mm to 4mm… Who knows why. I had a handyman install draught proofing on all of them which has made a huge difference – no more rattling and no draughts! I also built I door storm windows a few years back (google it there are lots of DIY tutorials) and these have been brilliant. Here in the UK storm windows aren’t super common. It may not be very cold here (based on raw temperature) but with the dampness it feels BALTIC in deep winter so anything that helps cushion the cold outside fro the heated inside is very welcome. You might consider some rough inside storm windows for any windows that are really draughty as A temporary measure. And that front door – well I’d put up a tension rod and some heavy (wool) fabric – I know it blocks the light but for a season it’s a tiny investment for a little warmth and savings.

  40. You might look into low e film for your glass. Ive seen do it yousel kits for sale online and it looks super easy. That could really help insulate them

  41. We have a guy in our town who specialises in re-doing old sash windows. Without replacing. We got him in for a quote, and there’s three options:
    i) insert seals (brushes) into the existing sashes to properly weatherproof/ somewhat noiseproof;
    ii) he can actually remove the old glass (not wavy round here) and replace with thin-ish double-glazing;
    iii) for hardcore double glazing that is too thick to fit in the the frame of the original sash, he uses an old retired guy who will make a new, slightly thicker, replica of your existing sash. No off-the-shelf, close enough. No. Handmade to copy the original exactly. I love it.
    We’ve been meaning to take a combo of options (i) and (ii) (for different rooms) for a bit. When we have the cash.

  42. An owner of an Italianate he is rehabbing says he was told he would get satisfactory energy results/comfort if he would caulk and install storms to his original windows. Btw, unless you have reason to believe you have a neighborhood Ernest T. Bass, your windows could have been broken by errant debris slung by a riding lawn mower. Happens all the time.

  43. Who knew salvaged glasses can be useful.Thanks for this post!

  44. Hi Daniel! While I can quite appreciate the beauty of the “old wavy glass” – I don’t know if my sense of balance could take it! I think I would have to take Dramamine or something :) It’s like looking into another dimension.

    Hey! Here’s an idea…how about if you invent “wavy window film” – cover your pane of glass with it and BADDA BING BADDA BOOM! Instant old wavy glass. You’re welcome.

  45. Well done Daniel! That’s one thing bothering me about this house. Fabulous wavy windows almost everywhere except for the two rooms where, for some reason, the previous owners freaked out and replaced the beautiful sash windows with horrible faux sash double glazed. SO now I feel rather happy that I’m not the only crazy person on this continent ditching the faux for the real. :)

  46. Such a cool post, you are a brave soul! I got the same “you should replace those windows” advice from several people when I bought my house, (which has 57 windows, all original and custom made). AS IF! Yes, I do spend about $500 more per year on heating, but it’s a small price to pay for walls of glass and year round sunlight. Not to mention that replacement windows would probably cost me $40,000. People just don’t know what they are talking about.

    • Good for you, you are so right. Replacing 57 windows would be a bit more than $40,000. We just replaced 15 and it was $12,000, including the install for low- to mid-range metal frames. The quote we got for a brick to brick installation of 15 wood Marvins was $30,000. Preservationist and author Jane Powell calls replacement windows a huge scam — you can see why!

  47. A study conducted at the Oakridge National Lab found that, given a wind speed of 7mph, single-paned wooden windows lost 565 BTUs/hour vs. 644 BTUs/hour for double-glazed. When storm windows were added, heat loss dropped to 131 BTUs for single-glazed vs. 256 BTUs for double-glazed. When the single-glazed window was weatherized (squaring up the frames, reglazing, caulking, new sweep and sash lock, etc., but with no storm), heat loss actually increased to 256 BTUs. These were crappy aluminum storms, for the record, but they still prevented heat loss better than weatherizing OR double-glazing. I believe it’s something to do with the extra insulation provided by the larger air gap between the window and storm? Anyway, something like 80% of heat loss is through the roof, so it makes more sense to devote resources to insulating your attic (which will not diminish the beauty of the house, at all). You’re doing the right thing by your house.

    • Um, sorry. That comment didn’t seem quite so crazy-nerdy when I wrote it…

  48. So you will be the sucker buying the old windows from “historic kingston” :D
    LOVE that you put so much effort into this!

  49. I’m sure I read somewhere that all glass behaves like a liquid and will eventually react to gravity and droop. Which would mean maybe not you but several owners down the road would not notice the difference between old and new panes.

  50. Hi – loving all the updates on your great old house! I abhor – yes, abhor – seeing people put in smaller windows! Then, they fill in the gap with a piece of painted wood or some nonsense – awful. Ruins the grand proportions inside and outside. Half my windows (in the old houses we had) were a wreak and we just lived with it. But, I have seen up close and personal some amazing work done on old windows – a young guy in our town bought a huge old house and fixed all the windows good as new. He said he just worked on each window – one by one – he even removed all the old paint! – replaced any too far gone hardware – did all the ropes and pulleys, which turned out to be not as difficult as I thought – I was really impressed. Also, he got all the new storms, in a custom color, from a place he found online -this company, of which I cannot remember the name , makes custom storm windows for all sorts of historical places – I’m sure you could find it – he said it is very reasonable and you can get a inside mount?????? – great for upstairs! Great progress on your house!

  51. Daniel – anyone – if you end up using glass from an separate, old window sash to replace a broken pane, it’s well worth considering possibly [partially] stripping off the paint on separate, old sash and definitely replacing the old glass in the sash with mirrored glass. Use the refurbished sash as (1) a mirror in your home or, (2) sell it on Craig’s list or a flea market and make some cash.

  52. I love love love old windows and in fact was garbage picking some last night. I’ve started to make projects out of them and repurpose them. Last might I took some awesome smaller ones and left a big picture window that had about 20 individual panes. I thought for 2 hours about what I could have one with the big one, but by that time it was gone. I told my husband not taking that one will haunt me until the end of my days.

  53. I always wondered if that little glass doohickey worked – good to know!
    And I’m with you on the ‘seeing’ the wrong pane – I would have bothered me too!

  54. When I was home on maternity leave, I watched my first This Old House since I was a kid. I was blown away when they renovated the old windows in a 300 year old house. The things you don’t know until you see them on tv! Now I wish my 1912 house hadn’t come with nice, new replacement windows. At least they didn’t make them smaller–yuck!

  55. When dealing with an old house the thing to remember is that if you remove and replace something, it i gone and ou cannot get it back. My Aunt Gainor was a lovely lady but quite modern. She managed to convince my Grandmother that she should have a 150 year old beehive oven ripped out of her kitchen in an old Greek Revival house in Maine. I almost went ballistic when I walked into the kitchen and found the beautiful old beehive oven reduced to rubble.

    AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!

    Your windows are right as they are for your house, those vinyl replacements are almost always wrongly proportioned for older houses and they just do not look right.

    A nice quilt will do wonders in cold weather, and if you have two to cuddle – even better.

    Cal

  56. “I, for one, would do all sorts of things before I’d tear my old windows out, including but not limited to going bankrupt from heating costs and freezing to death in my sleep.”

    Thank You!! That is just how I feel about my old wavy windows and that’s just what I’m going to tell those vinyl window salespeople when they come around next Sprig!!!

    • Julie, here in my very old small city in Virginia, the vinyl siding/replacement window people come calling year round! Our late 1920s home is wood clapboard and we have a ton of (original) wood windows. When the latest salesman rang the bell and told me that he how great and low maintenance his products were, I just asked him if he noticed how much wood we had and how well maintained it all is. I said that we love all of the original features in our house and had no interest whatsoever in his new crap. That was about as nice as I could be under the circumstances.

      We also removed and intentionally didn’t replace the few aluminum storm windows that were on our house. I’m with others, I’d rather look at the windows unencumbered by non-period additions and use other means of improving energy efficiency.

  57. Your DIY skills and determination are incredible. Mind bottling a bit and sending it my way? I’m handy, but not THAT handy!

    On another note but related to old windows, have you come across this? Artist couple in VA build a cabin and one full wall is old windows. Quite lovely.

  58. “Homosexuals love old windows.”

    !

  59. I love you for loving old windows. Those neighbours of yours are crazy. Smaller windows would look terrible, and really mess-up the architecture of the house. Just get some good quality storms like you mention, and what a lot of others also do is install bronze weather stripping to them. I’m always excited to see your posts. The house is just gorgeous.

  60. Daniel, some of the panes in our 1924 California bungalow were not original, and I could spot the difference right away – the old panes were lovely and uneven. Sadly, now we live in a 1958 ranch (I don’t like ranch houses!)

  61. It makes me so happy that you did this!
    It completely broke my heart when my parents replaced the original Victorian wibbly glass in my childhood bedroom sash window even though I’m adult now & don’t live there & it was drafty and cold and now the glass doesn’t shake in the frame and so loses less heat. It was not only wavy but had this kind of oval imperfection that looked so so beautiful. I loved it so much, it made looking at the world outside different. A different perspective, a kind of wabi-sabi years before I’d heard of the term.

    Also who would install smaller windows? Here in the UK new builds always have these teeny-tiny windows, it stresses me out to even look at houses like that because I know it’s tight contracters trying to maximise profit by spending less on expensive windows & because actual real DAYLIGHT is something that can so dramatically improve the quality of your life. Here where so many people have no choice but to live in small badly built spaces the least they could have is some more natural light.

    Love your house & love your blog! x

  62. My mum is one of those people who tells stories OVER and OVER again and every time we walked by a historic house with original glass (which was often as we lived in Bermuda) she would explain why the glass was wavy and exclaim loudly about how beautiful it was. I totally hated it, ungrateful bugger that I was. And of course now that I am old I stop and look at old houses and mutter about the windows, and scheme to get some wavy glass of my own…

  63. Daniel, I just stumbled across your site through Max’s blog (by way of a Design Sponge tweet…roundabout, but an interesting path). I’m insanely jealous of the beautiful home you’re nursing back to health! Good luck with it. So glad you allow yourself to be meticulous with details, because in the end, it’s all in the details! Looking forward to reading more about your adventures and experiences. Most amusing (and generally accurate) part of the post: “It probably took these well-intentioned gentlemen roughly 0.0 seconds after meeting us to deduce that homosexuals had bought the vacant house down the street, but they’d failed to put two and two together. Homosexuals love old windows. They love old moldings and doors and floors and walls, too.” Amen! The world would be an uglier place without us. ;-)

  64. My cracked singlepane window is about 20×36. it is sinsle thickness in a home about 10 years olf. From the outside it is held in with 1/2 in beveled strips that appear metal but may be plastic. Can they be removed & reused? How should I proceed/

    • I really don’t know, Jay! This post is discussing windows that are 150+ years old and were made to be easily repaired, which is quite different than modern windows. The best advice I can give is to contact the manufacturer and see what they recommend!

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