Replace or repair windows?

Discussion in 'Remodel Forum & Blog' started by ayawi, Apr 6, 2008.

  1. ayawi

    ayawi New Member

    Apr 6, 2008
    Central Wisconsin
    We recently bought a house that is in need of a lot of work. One of the biggest things is the windows. The previous owners had broken many of them and just put cardboard up.
    We want to use the original windows, the wood is still in decent shape. We were hoping to clean them up a bit and then replace all of the glass with plexi.
    This would be the ideal route, but now we were told by a friend that the windows have to use real glass, and that double paned windows are a better option.
    What I am wondering is if anyones knows the legal issues with using plexiglass in windows, and which option would be more energy efficient.
  2. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Sep 1, 2004
    Yakima WA
    I don't know what legal issues there might be, but I can give you some thoughts on the rest of the question. Plexi glass is really just plastic and will never be as clear as real glass, and it will scratch. It will be less likely to break, but unless you live in a war zone this shouldn't really be a problem. Single pane vs double pane? Double pane wins for energy efficiency and sound deadening, but obviously will cost more. Local weather and climate conditions would enter into the decision.
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  4. shag_fu

    shag_fu New Member

    Feb 25, 2008
    Work for contractor
    One option you might try is replacement windows w/o the fin. They are made to fit inside an existing window frame. Installed properly they work great. Otherwise it might be cheaper to just replace the old windows with new as rebuilding the old windows might take more money and time than they are worth. I just noticed you live in wisconsin. You will definately want to get more efficient windows in if at all possible. Plexiglass and single pane windows will leak heat like they werent even there.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2008
  5. statjunk

    statjunk DIY Senior Member

    Jun 28, 2007
    The first house I ever worked on I was faced with this same decision. I decided to refinish the windows. Bad idea. They still didn't work all that great, didn't look that great and of course they weren't as energy efficient as a replacement window.

  6. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Aug 31, 2004
    San Diego, CA
    I cannot think of any code issue with the plastic. But don't use plexiglass....the color is wrong and it is hard to keep clear and unscratched. Use Lexan......excellent optical and physical properties.

    Plexi will cost about the same as glass; Lexan will cost more. All in all, I don't see why you don't just use glass!
  7. RRW

    RRW New Member

    Jul 15, 2005
    If the frames are solid I highly recommend replacement window kits that fit in the original frames. They are easy to put in if you measure properly before ordering them. To install, first strip out old sashes and parting strips, remove any weights and seal compartments, then staple metal cleats too each side. Plastic tracks with foam liner for seal and acts as spring are then popped onto metal cleats. Finally the windows are popped into the tracks and you are done. You may have to paint if you order wood sash windows. The windows are so tight that there is no draft at all. I would also get the low E glass if that is an option. Good Luck, RW
  8. AnthonyL

    AnthonyL New Member

    May 4, 2008
    real estate management
    Providence, RI
    Save your old windows!

    Replacement windows are nowhere near as good as your old wood windows!!! Sure, they're easy to install and no maintenance. But they're ugly and overrated! I own a 1926 house that had its original windows intact. Rehabbing them is a very, very, very ardous task. Performing a proper mechanical restoration will make them function extremely well. I can raise and lower my sashes with barely the push of a pinky anywhere along the rails. There are many arguments about their energy efficiency . . . you can make your window EQUALLY energy efficient by adding a good quality storm window that has a very low air infiltration rating . . . now you have a large pocket of stagnant air between the storm pane and interior window pane. The absolute best insulators are (from best to worst) a vacuum, heavy gases, then stagnant air. Thickness of this pocket is your next best friend. Essentially the greater the thickness the more insulative the situation. Dont let anyone tell you otherwise, Im an engineer with pretty extensive knowledge in Heat Transfer. Tightening up the windows (essential in ensuring the air pocket remains stagnant) includes using spring bronze along the casing sides and adding sealing strips along the bottom rail of the bottom sash, along the meeting rails, and the top of the upper sash. Voila, windows are sealed quickly and easily!

    Depending upon how detailed you wish to go regarding restoring the windows aesthetically decides how long and arduous the task. Personally, I save as much original glass as possible. If you have broken panes, replace them with glass! It is very inexpensive to have new panes cut. My 6-pane sashes cost about $4 per pane. You can use single or double thickness glass. I think single is fine for small panes but double is advisable for large ones. There are even resources for antique glass if you wish. Now, personally I stipped the windows to bear wood and brought the interiors back as stain-grade. The outsides I use an oil based primer (as the glazing compound is oil based) The glazing takes about a month to cure. By the way, working with glazing takes getting used to!!! Be sure to lubricate your puddy knife with linseed oil or the compound wont adhere properly!

    Sorry to be so wordy :( a couple last thoughts, (1) careful stripping old paint! Im starting to use a homemade steamer box check out:

    Its a GREAT resource for old window restoration. Finally, Ive found doing an initial homemade preservative application of 50/50 mineral spirits/linseed oil on ALL parts (sashes, casing, parting beads, etc) before priming works great! After priming, painting and staining everything I apply several coats of poly to each part and then apply a liberal coat of paste wax . . . LOTS and LOTS of work, but oh my gosh they look like a fine pieces of furniture upon completion!!! Hope this helps . . . and dont succumb to the replacement window insanity! Remember those old wood windows can last hundreds of years, life span of replacements hahaha!
  9. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

    Nov 8, 2005
    Hansville, Washington
    After that narrative, I'd love to see a couple of before/after pictures of your windows.
  10. shluffer

    shluffer Member

    Apr 23, 2008
    The original windows will look better. Its a significant time issue though. We live in an area where the "cheap illegal" labor has pushed out all of the quality labor, so we were forced to do the work ourselves. If you are careful, once you get the hang of it replacement windows are not difficult to put in. There are many options available on the market. There are replacements available which will look very close to your originals. They are expensive though. Yes you can get wood, aluminum or vinyl. We went with vinyl for cost reasons. If you are hung up on the way the windows look and you frames are in good shape, look into sash replacements. The new windows will save you significantly on energy.

    One last thought. As with everything astetic, find someone who is willing to do the first couple with you that has done it before and knows how to do a good job. You should also do the ones in non-visible areas (such as bathrooms and the attic) first. That way your mistakes will be on windows no one sees. There are tricks that help the windows seal better and look better. Check with the state. They may have low interest loan programs or grants to help you with the cost. We were able to get a low interest loan. Our loan payments are less than the decrease in our heating cost.
  11. MG

    MG New Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    Illinois - Near St. Louis
    To each their own I guess...

    I haven't seen any storm windows other than the old school aluminum framed ones like what we had on our house. They were butt ugly and let air through them BADLY. The replacement windows look much better.
  12. Billy_Bob

    Billy_Bob In the Trades

    Apr 2, 2008
    New double pane argon filled Energy Star windows can save a lot on energy costs. Windows can be the biggest source of heat loss for a home. And energy prices are not going down!

    So if you are planning to live in this house for a long time, I would recommend doing things which will reduce your energy costs.

    As to plastic windows, in case of a fire, I would want to be able to break the glass to escape. So plastic is probably not a good idea.

    More energy saving tips here...
  13. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

    Nov 8, 2005
    Hansville, Washington
    There's also a big acoustic advantage -- outside noise is greaty reduced when you install multiple-pane windows. We've got triple-glazed on the side of the house facing the lake, and the noise from boaters and (especially) airboaters is no longer the problem it used to be.

    I like the idea of replacing just the sashes if the wood frames are in good shape. We had aluminum everywhere so replaced everything with vinyl.
  14. Lakee911

    Lakee911 I&C Engineer (mostly WWTP)

    Aug 23, 2005
    I&C Engineer (mostly WWTP)
    Columbus, OH
    Kudos to you! That's great. I wish I had my old windows. They're all vinyl now and I felt so bad replacing them, but my original ones were so so very bad. :(


  15. BigLou

    BigLou New Member

    Nov 7, 2007
    Don't know who told you that little lie.
    The biggest energy loser in 99% of houses is air leakage and its pretty easy to stop old windows from leaking air and plenty of new or poorly installed windows leak lots and lots of air

    the whole LOW E argon thing does make a difference but in the end unless you are buying $1000.00 + per unit windows it really does not make that big of a difference. Old windows with decent storms will give an R value of about 2. Standard issue vinly replacements with argon and low E will give you an R vaule of about 2.5 The best windows are only about R5. No matter what you do windows are still a big hole in the side of your home allowing heat to pass in and out

  16. Oberon

    Oberon New Member

    Nov 20, 2007

    There are no codes or laws that prohibit you from using either polycarbonate (Lexan) or acrylic (Plexiglas) or other plastics in your windows. Many people have done so in the past and many will do so in the future.

    There are some inherent problems with using plastics in windows, however; including significant loss of visibility due to scratching, lowered energy performance when compared with glass, and significantly increased sound propagation thru the material when compared with glass – about “twice as loud†as glass at the same thickness. If the plastics were not been manufactured using a UV inhibitor (some are and some aren’t), then they will eventually turn yellow and become brittle in just a few years.

    Many people don't realize that the dual pane window was originally developed in order to match the energy performance of a single pane window / storm combination in a single, rather than two-piece, construction - i.e. to achieve the same level of performance in the window unit alone without needing the storm window as well.

    So to say that you can match the energy performance of a dual pane window by restoring the original and then adding a storm window is really backwards. It is really more correct to say that a basic dual pane window should be able to match the performance of a well constructed and maintained single pane window / storm window combination.

    Ultimately, I would suggest that the real comparison should be the performance of the original window before and after the restoration - how much does the restoration improve window energy performance? Adding plastic in place of glass is not a good trade-off from an energy performance standpoint.

    And as was pointed out in a previous post, the plastics will not match glass in clarity, color, or tint – you will notice the difference. Obviously, if the glass is missing and it was replaced by cardboard, then the windows probably are a very significant factor in energy usage and any change would be an improvement.

    Your desire, as stated, is to attempt to restore your original windows to optimum performance condition. Any home (or any other structure), is ultimately a complete working system that performs best when all components of the system work in harmony with one another. One could easily argue that harmony with the home environment is an aesthetic consideration as well as an energy performance one, and one could also argue that keeping as much of the original system intact as possible is in harmony with the what the home is.

    Heck, if someone wants to achieve the maximum possible energy efficiency, and damn the aesthetics, then close off every window in the home with layers of insulation and that will achieve maximum energy performance - and it will be much less expensive than either replacement or restoration - and it is much simpler too.

    A very extreme approach of course, but one that will work if a person is willing to box themselves in, and I strongly suspect that just about everyone reading this has seen examples of the "less windows / smaller windows" idea in some new homes (especially those built during the 1970's energy performance era) and in older homes that were modernized at some time in the past - certainly less extreme than my example, but they out there none-the-less.

    A couple of considerations:

    First, when the "restoring versus replacing" argument comes around to the energy performance differences between the restoration window and the replacement window, they will eventually be lost in the rhetoric of the aesthetic reasons for restoring versus replacement. And these are often very valid reasons by themselves.

    Second, because no matter what the numbers show about individual unit performance, ultimately the individual window is still part of the overall structure of the home and its performance as part of that overall structure is what is important - not necessarily how well does it perform in the lab environment.

    I happen to really like classic older windows. I believe that they are often so much a part of the charm of an older home that it is worth every possible effort to try to save them. And while I very much understand the appeal to some folks of replacing older windows for the potential improvements that replacements will bring in energy consumption, comfort, and the potential ease of maintenance; I also understand the desire of many people to try to do everything possible to save the original windows in a classic home.

    There are a lot of misconceptions about old windows versus new windows and many opinions often based on feelings and not on facts that come up in discussions like this one.

    I would offer a few for consideration:

    FACT – if a homeowner was to opt for top-quality custom replacement windows, he or she could get them made in any style that they wanted in wood, fiberglass, aluminum, steel, and yep, even that old villain – vinyl. There are available styles that would fit their home and that would be virtually indistinguishable from the original windows in the home – and, these windows could last every bit as long as the home. But note that I said "top-quality custom" - potentially spelled $$$$$$$$.

    FACT – a low end replacement window doesn’t come close to meeting the same sort of standards as does a top-quality product – from the materials used, to the glass used, to the hardware used – it could be like comparing a Yugo to a Ferrari (and whatever happened to Yugo BTW?) – and from a performance standpoint a good restoration will almost always be a much better investment of time, trouble, and money than changing to a junk replacement.

    The guy in the Sunday paper who promises to replace every window in a home at "$99.95" with his "super-dooper-highest-quality" vinyl or aluminum window likely has neither the highest quality window nor does he have the homeowner’s long term interest at heart. He needs to get in and to get out – and what happens in five or 10 years? That’s no longer his problem.

    A very common comment from folks who favor restoration over replacement is that restoring a single-pane window and storm window combination will result in energy performance numbers that are comparable to any new window on the market regardless of any glass coatings or gas used with the new window.

    Fact – the newest dual or triple pane windows made with LowE2 or LowE3 coated glass and argon or krypton fill are substantially more energy efficient than old windows – single or double pane. A triple pane window with LowE2 coating on surfaces 2 and 5 combined with krypton gas infill and a low conductance spacer system can achieve energy performance numbers as much as 10 times better than an original single pane window and as much as six times better than a single pane with storm (or a low-end dual pane window as well).

    R-values aside, since they measure only conductive thermal transfer, and any discussion of windows has to include radiant performance (60% plus of total window performance), the primary advantage of multi-pane windows over dual panes is the ability of a multi-pane window to include LowE coatings. The coatings improve both conductive and radiant performance of the window over clear glass.

    If one wants to discuss R-values in window systems, then the current leader in the field has a measured R-value of 20. A good triple pane window with LowE2 coatings on glass surfaces 2 and 5 and inert gas infill can achieve an R-10. A dual pane with a single LowE on surface 2 and gas infill can achieve an R-6. But, again, that is only a measure of conductive performance and it is not the full story.

    Comment – old windows may have lasted 50, 75, 100, or more years and new windows will always fail in short order only lasting 5 or 10 years.

    Fact – quality products will outlast non-quality products no matter when produced. For all of the older windows that are on homes today and that deserve the chance to be around even longer, there are tens-of-millions of windows that were made in the last few centuries that didn’t make it into today’s world for a wide variety of reasons – including simple window failure – often as a result of poor or non-existent maintenance. The ones that have made it thru are often the best that were produced and they likely had a good bit of maintenance at some point. These are all very good things that make the idea of keeping them around even longer worth serious consideration.

    Ultimately, older windows have lasted as long as they have because they are of simple, uncomplicated construction that has had the distinct advantage of using a material (old growth lumber) that is no longer widely available. The pyramids will easily outlast a modern skyscraper – that doesn't make a pyramid inherently superior than the skyscraper - it is simply different. Old growth lumber can be worth preserving if only for itself.

    The better, newer, dual and triple pane window systems now on the market and installed all over Europe and North America should easily reach 50 years life expectancy - many will go well beyond that time. There are vinyl windows in Europe that were installed over 50 years ago that are performing flawlessly today.

    Fact – many old houses have their original windows and some of these windows (if they have had adequate maintenance for their lifetime) are in very good shape. And some are also in very poor shape, most are somewhere in between. But, they have all made it this far and if they are worth restoring, then by all means that should be considered as a very definite option. Again, most (but not all) older windows are made with old growth lumber which is better than almost any lumber readily available today.
  17. RRW

    RRW New Member

    Jul 15, 2005
    My wood (which I painted myself) replace in original frame windows are now 20 years old. They are probably the best improvement I have made to the house. Absolutely stopped drafts, and the fact that the windows no longer frost up in bitter winter weather is worth the price of admission alone. Now I must say that I also have aluminum storms but they didn't do much to stop drafts or frosting prior to the new windows that I put in.
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