Historic windows are both lenses and frames. These vital architectural features can define the character of whole neighborhoods and help us see our community in a whole new light. Newly restored window at the Kensington Mansion Often, damage to historic windows is superficial—someone painted them shut, the sash sags, they’re...
Windows are both lenses and frames. These vital architectural features can define the character of whole neighborhoods and help us see our community in a whole new light. Help us insure that they remain protected.
A perennial topic in the conversation about historic preservation in our city revolves around windows.
Is it better to restore or replace? Here at Historic Columbia, we strongly agree with the vast majority of preservation professionals and energy experts that historic windows should be saved. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing examples of the most impressive historic windows in Columbia, stories of successful window repair in our historic neighborhoods and some helpful tricks for the DIYers out there. We hope you'll join us on this exploration of historic windows! Follow #FramingHistory on social media stay updated.
Woodrow Wilson Family Home
We were able to join Lois Carlisle at the Woodrow Wilson Family home to ask her a few questions about the house's historic windows!
In terms of the economic argument, almost any cost benefit analysis for window replacement proves that recouping the costs is very unlikely, if not impossible. Most modern windows—whether wood, vinyl, aluminum or clad—are made with materials that will not last as long as historic wood windows, and most vinyl windows are warrantied for no more than 20 years because their life expectancy does not exceed that. Historic windows—like the ones in the buildings managed by Historic Columbia and the ones in other historic districts—can last hundreds of years.
Preserving original windows is considerably greener than installing “energy-efficient” vinyl windows. As development of our city continues, owners of historic houses are often encouraged to replace original windows with new energy-efficient models. Companies selling new windows regularly make claims that old windows are inefficient, cause houses to waste energy and contribute to excessive heating and cooling bills. Replacing historic windows is touted as the “green” choice, but this is a misrepresentation. Historic windows, with proper sealing and maintenance, offer comparable efficiency, with a much smaller environmental impact overall.
There is no question that people are drawn to historic buildings and districts—to restore those buildings and neighborhoods and then to spend money in the businesses that occupy those restored spaces. Main Street and the Vista are cases in point. People are drawn to the sense of place and to the defining conservation features that they possess. Again there is no shortage of non-historic and even old buildings out there to own and redefine however one might want to, but the ones that we've seen fit to preserve are protected for a reason.
Want to know more about the benefits of keeping your old windows around? There are plenty of resources and good reads to help you get started! Here are a few:
- City of Columbia Dec. 2017 Preservation Newsletter
- City of Columbia Historic Incentives webpage
- National Parks Service guide to repairing historic windows
- "Home of the Future?" by James Hadley (from Architecture Boston)
- "Historic Windows & Energy Efficiency" by Sarah Donahue Wolff (from Preservation North Carolina)
- Tim McKeough on window restoration (from The New York Times)
- Saving Old Windows by John Stahl (from This Old House)
- Window Preservation Alliance
Some of our favorite historic windows: