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Old Windows vs. Vinyl Replacement Windows

January 16, 2012

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In a previous post, Plaster vs. Drywall, I battled the snob appeal regarding plaster and lath walls. In this post, I’m once again picking up the sword and combating the “old windows versus replacement windows” argument. As an old house owner and a person who has lived in old homes all my life, I’ve had my share of old windows experiences. Most of them have been bad. Yes, people, I HATE old windows. New windows rock.

I love old stuff as much as anyone. My favorite old house style is Federal style, so you know I’m an old house lover. My own house, a Greek Revival, was built in 1855. I have researched the history of the building and its original owner (and owners after that). I know that of the original windows to my house, only two remain. Both are in terrible condition.

Garage Window

One of the original 9/6 windows, behind a storm window.

The other windows to the house were replaced in 1910 or so. Most of those windows are still in place. They are BARELY in place, but they are all still here. The house has a total of 15 windows, and only two windows had ever been replaced since 1910, the kitchen got an aluminum replacement window in 1972 and the upstairs bathroom window got a crank-style Anderson window in the late 1980s.

When we moved here, we could only afford to get 5 windows replaced, the ones that were broken or cracked. We got very inexpensive vinyl replacement windows. They’ve been in place since 1997. Even though they were the cheapest window we could get and even though they are over 14 years old, I LOVE THEM.

Yet among the “old house experts,” old windows are somehow superior to new ones. Old house folks are always saying that old windows are better than new ones because… well, just because. Old windows look better, they say. They say there is no difference with heat loss between the two, that old windows are more historic, and they are just “better.” I say: BAH.

So I’m here to debate the “old window” snobs. I think new windows are great, and old windows — especially MY 100+ year old windows — need replacing. And there’s nothing wrong with replacing old windows with new ones.

Snob appeal says: When it comes to insulation factors and heat loss, old windows play a small part and do not lose THAT much heat.

Reality Check: What planet are you from?!

My old windows rattle, shake, and leak. Cold air in the winter and hot air in the summer blow through the holes all around the frame. True, the glazing on parts of the window is flaking off (another problem with old windows) so air leaks through some of the windows (but glazing is not the problem with some of the others). Old windows are made of glass– thin, 1/8-inch thick glass. This house has 15 windows that are 32 inches by 62 inches– that’s 13.78 square feet of windows for the entire house. Which means that approximately 207 square feet of the walls here was covered by 1/8-inch glass. Brrr. Just yesterday with temperatures falling into the single digits, the old windows were caked with a thick layer of ice. The ice melted during the day and water was everywhere. I have to lay a towel on each windowsill to prevent the water from running all over the floor. Even with storm windows on some of the old windows, we still get thick ice on the glass. So for me, ALL my old windows, the ones that have storm windows and the ones that do not, develop thick ice on the glass when it gets cold. None of my vinyl replacement windows have EVER developed ice, not ever.

oldwindowicile

My old window. Don't let the snobs tell you there's no measurable heat loss difference between old and new windows!

Vinyl replacement, on the other hand, has two panes of glass in each sash. When we installed vinyl replacement windows in our dining room, the change was remarkable. Before, my hair would blow around at the dinner table on a particularly blustery day; new windows stopped that. Before, we could almost hear our neighbors in their homes discussing with each other how to kill my flower gardens and hack at my trees; after the new windows were installed, I live in blissful ignorance of their schemes. Windows will never really be very good at keeping out the extreme temperatures, no matter what kind of material they are made from. But vinyl replacement performs better than the old glass. That’s a fact.

Now let me temper this argument with a few points. YES, storm windows installed over old windows help reduce heat loss. YES, vinyl replacement windows will most likely not last 100+ years. Old wooden windows were *usually* made from “old-growth” wood, the hardiest and strongest part of the wood. I don’t know if the original builder of my home made his windows from old-growth. This home was always a “middle income” home in a “middle income” community. The biggest expense the owner made was to install black walnut trim in the living room (which, incidentally, had to be removed because it was soaked with lead-based paint from other owners who had painted over the wood!). Everyone’s mileage may vary because everyone’s house and windows and weather is different.

But in my experience, I have noticed a considerable difference between the old windows and the new. The old windows would stick in the summer and freeze up in the winter. The glass is thin. In all the windows, the glass is so old that is has melted and has drooped from gravity and weather changes. Some people like this kind of “character,” but I don’t. I like to SEE out of my windows, thanks.

Snob appeal says: Old windows look better than vinyl replacement windows. It’s better to keep your rotten old wooden windows than replace them with vinyl windows.

Reality Check: I don’t care how ugly vinyl windows look, rotten wood windows look worse.

It’s true that most “old house” building materials were build with better quality than the trash manufactured today. But there does come a time when you just have to say goodbye to certain things. Moldy plaster and rotten windows are some of them, in my opinion.

I KNOW! I KNOW! I am going against the entire old home snob community when I say these things! But please realize that I am addressing the 99% of us who are middle-income and who own non-state-historic-site houses. We just don’t have the cash to pay for elaborate repairs to old windows or spend millions on new custom wood windows. Those days are gone. For most of us old-house homeowners, vinyl replacement windows are terrific. They are more weather-resistant, easier to clean, have screening, and open and close easier.

Snob Factor: Vinyl replacement windows might look ugly and out of place in an old home. Old windows have more character and appeal.

Reality Check: Character and appeal are code words for “expensive” and “high maintenance.”

I am all for curb appeal and beauty in an old home. But just because SOME replacement windows look ugly, it doesn’t mean that ALL replacement windows are ugly. I have seen some wooden windows installed improperly and look horrible. Just because a window is wood or old doesn’t make it beautiful by default.

I think that my vinyl replacement windows look great. If a millionaire dumped brand new, gorgeous wooden windows into my lap, I’d take it. Heck, yeah. But that hasn’t happened, and I have some kids that need to eat. So we buy vinyl replacement windows and they look pretty good!

DiningRoomNewFlooring

My 14-year old vinyl replacement windows still look fabulous! This photo taken after we had gutted and were restoring the room, in 2010.

 

Snob Factor: Removing painted old windows contaminates the house with lead dust.

Reality Check:
Painting new coats of paint does not cover the lead, it chips off and exacerbates the lead problem.

Lead paint removal is a touchy topic. Every state regulated lead-based paint in old homes differently. Here in New York State, a homeowner can remove lead-based paint articles VERY CAREFULLY from the home. If you hire a contractor, expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the high-tech removal and disposal system.

I have tried both methods: leaving the old windows with their lead paint AND removing them for vinyl replacement. Removing them — WHEN DONE CORRECTLY and SAFELY — is much, much better than keeping the toxic articles. I sleep better knowing that those old time bombs are out of my house and far away from my kids.

Most windows in old homes were painted with oil-based paints that contained lead. You try to slap new paint onto those old windows, that paint is going to come off in no time. And every time you open and close the window, the paint is scraped and lead dust goes into the air. I don’t care what the “experts” say– all that opening and closing the window removes the new paint and just makes dust spew everywhere.

I personally believe it’s best to get rid of the stupid things altogether. No more dust, no more peeling, no more painting every couple of months…. Old windows that are coated with lead-based paint are best removed, in my opinion. The windows MUST be removed safely, however. Make sure you know your local regulations. Some towns even offer financial aid for the removal of these toxic items.

So if you decide to replace your crummy old windows with vinyl replacement, I say good for you. Don’t let the Window Snobs influence you! Shop wisely– get high-quality windows from a reputable company and install them properly. They will last a long time. Mine have.

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I’d Say They’re Smart!

September 11, 2011

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Funny Captions - Did you know that dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish?

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Find the Forlorn Kitty Friday 3/18

March 19, 2011

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Poor Livvy. Photo taken two weeks ago, when we had a snowstorm that dumped 22″ on us. It took the kids ALL DAY to shovel. It was wet, heavy snow fueled from the Gulf of Mexico, not the delicate lake effect snow that we usually get. Livvy was a wreck that day. The house was soooo quiet. She sat by the back door, waiting for the kids to return.

Livvywaitingforkids

OK OK I know I’m a little late (again) with the Find the Kitty this week. I just can’t seem to catch up on my schedule. I’m struggling to maintain all that I have to do AND still cook and clean. Unfortunately, the cleaning has had to go. My house looks like a tornado hit it. It’s unnerving, because I am a neat freak. I’ve never had such a messy house. :-p I’m seriously thinking of hiring a band of housecleaners for a few weeks.

We never really got settled in after the renovation. We just dumped all the boxes and furniture back into the house and left everything there. I have been waiting for a few days off to be able to organize everything, but it just ain’t happening, folks.

Oh well, spring has only just started… here’s hoping I can squeeze some time in!

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The Mangled Mailbox

February 2, 2011

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“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” is the old postal proverb. Those mailmen must be in tip-top shape delivering mail, but my poor old mailbox has seen better days. You see, the snowplow has been through.

My mailbox actually fared pretty well than some others this year. Some poor folks have their mailboxes ripped right off of the posts by the sheer force of the snowplows roaring by.

Did you know that in most municipalities, the snowplow operator is not responsible for damage to your mailbox, even if he used it as target practice during a dull night of plowing? It’s true; the property owner swallows the cost of replacement.

Photo courtesy of chagrinvalleytimes.com

My own mailbox has been slowly waning for a few years, anyway. When we installed the mailbox a few years ago, carefully set the post into the ground, making sure the post was level and plumb. But the post has become as crooked as Harry Lauder’s walking stick. Not sure how this happened. Either the wood warped pitifully (it looks like it’s turning around to see who’s coming), or perhaps the ground has shifted so badly that the pole is a-kilter. We get a lot of water running underground here, I wouldn’t surprised if the fish took off with my mailbox one of these days…

Anyway, it’s always a sorry sight when winter is over– the seas of snow recede only to expose the ugly gray clumps of old sand and road salt littered all over the yards… and poking up through the crusty brown snowbanks are the mangled spindly legs of all the neighborhood mailboxes– well, those that survived the vicious clutches of the snowplow, that is. Some say that we never do find out what happens to some of them…. Old mailboxes never die, they just…. fade away….

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Find the Kitty Friday 1/21

January 21, 2011

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I’ve got a tough one for you.

FindtheKittyRenovation

It was taken during the renovation, when the house was a disaster. Oh, she found such wonderful places to hide then!

Although, I can’t say the living room looks much better… it’s a room that’s half-office/school room, half living room. So it’s got a couch crammed in there with a whole bunch of desks and bookshelves, and it looks very disjointed. I am going to be converting our attached garage into a family room (either this year or next), so when that’s done I’ll have the living room entirely made into an office. I have such nice dreams— big bookshelves lined with all my books (many of which are still stored in boxes), furniture in exotic dark woods with lavish paisley prints, a nice deep red carpet… I love the dark hunting lodge look. Something like this:

Photo courtesy of HowStuffWorks.

Isn’t that gorgeous?! Yeah, that’s what I see when I close my eyes. 😀

But when I open them again, I’m back in the messy living room. And two leaky bathroom sinks need attention. And I feel the drafts blowing out from the holes in the electric outlets upstairs. But I got the kitchen done! The hardest part is over.

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Das Boot Goes Kaput

December 16, 2010

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Ugh! We’re still paying for the summer’s kitchen renovation! No, I don’t mean for the walls and floors (well, YEAH, we’re still paying for those!). I mean still paying for DOING the renovation.

tornboot

That’s the latest casualty in a long line of shoe cataclysms in the family this year. It’s my daughter’s boot. She wore them during the renovation (I would not let the kids wear sneakers, lest an errant rusty nail find their way into their tender feet), and it looks like the renovation wore them out. Can you believe that I went through FOUR pairs of sneakers and one pair of excellent boots? BLAST those nails! The sneakers were Walmart cheapies (never doing that again), with an average life span of 4 weeks per pair. I didn’t expect them to last long, but sheesh, four weeks? My son also tore his boots to shreds over the summer, and I just found out that the husband’s sole fell off his boot. Feast or famine, I tell you!

My own beloved boots died, too. 🙁 I loved those boots– a combination of hiking, work and athletic boots. I liked them so much that I got my other daughter a pair, too. Mine weren’t that old, and they were made of genuine leather, too. But last week, I walked outside into some wet, cold, slushy snow… and I rapidly realized that they were no longer waterproof on the bottom. NUTS. I must have stepped on a nail.

Oh well. I’m not much of a shoe shopper, but I did see a very, very sweet pair of Nike at Zappos.com. Zappos also has some nice shoes and sneakers, too. When they get my order, they’ll probably wonder what army is being outfitted, lol.

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Snow!

December 1, 2010

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treefirstsnow

It’s always so thrilling to see the first snow. 🙂

We got our heaters installed– hallelujah!!! They are terrific, they keep the house INCREDIBLY warm and they will cost half of what it cost us to run that forced-air furnace (and keep us warmer, to boot). The Hubs did all the plumbing for the lines– he did a remarkable job. Hallelujah, hallelujah! I feel like Aesop’s ant, finally ready for the winter. What a relief.

I’m also starting to conscientiously improve my health. It came crashing down during the renovation. I am on a high-nutrient diet, and am taking probiotics and iron and flax seed and all sorts of wonky pills. Today was the first day I started to feel a little energy creep back in. It didn’t last terribly long, but for a while there I actually felt almost healthy! 😀 It’s a big start. The renovation took an awful lot of out me. I wasn’t eating right or sleeping much, and besides the renovation I was also working my job part-time and managing the kids’ school work. But the hard part is over. The house is entirely wired with updated electrical. The water supply is new. The old furnace and toxic ducting system is out. We have heaters, we have a kitchen that works— ALL is WELL. It was so worth it.

Anyway, let it snow! Let the cold come! My house is insulated and has heaters! WHAT a great feeling.

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Couldn’t Wait…

October 20, 2010

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I hung my beautiful giant clock up in the kitchen. I had promised myself to wait until the kitchen was completely finished, as a means of motivating me to keep on keeping on with this endless project, but I just couldn’t wait. I couldn’t!! The clock was BEGGING me to go up on the wall.

BigKitchClock

The thing is huge, and weighs perhaps 20 or 30 pounds. I was no mean feat hanging this sucker. Because there is no central stud on this wall, I had to cut open the drywall, insert a block of wood between the two flanking studs, and patch the drywall back in. It took about 4 days (spackle had to dry, we had to repaint the area, etc etc). But FINALLY, it is up! I absolutely love it.

It goes with the kitchen design so well, has that bronze-y finish and an “Old World” feeling. It matches the ceiling fans exactly.

Below the clock will be a long mantle-like shelf. My iPod dock will sit on it. Yes! We got an iPod dock! My Hubs picked it, and it is really high-quality. I’ll have more on that, later. And oh yeah- under this mantle shelf will go a heater… whenever we get those installed. 😐 The forecast calls for flurries on Friday! I’m a little nervous because the basement window is still not filled in, and we have no gas lines for heaters yet. :S Both The Hubs and I have been totally swamped at work, and have absolutely no free time at all. *sigh*

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Why Cats Rock

September 11, 2010

4 Comments

From LOL Cats. TOTALLY TRUE! 😀

funny pictures of cats with captions

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Moving In!

September 10, 2010

8 Comments

We are ALMOST DONE. ALMOST. Oh my word, I was starting to wonder if I was ever, finally, going to be able to say that. It has been QUITE the wild 4-month ride. We are at the brink of exhaustion now. If I don’t take the kids for a vacation after this, I am a very bad mother indeed. They have been fabulous. I still have to finish a lot of trim work, get the washer and dryer in the house, and do the dining room floor and move the furniture into that…. but we moved into the kitchen yesterday! Yippee! No more cooking in the bat-infested garage!!!

movinginkitchen2

Daughter looks happy, but so tired. Marg, we WILL take your advice and take a break soon!

I will have more photos on our kitchen setup later. I am too tired to take them, lol. This was quite the journey. We have done EVERYTHING ourselves: electrical, plumbing, insulation, subfloors, sheetrock, spackling, painting, cabinet and counter installation, appliance installations, gas lines, everything. I think the angels are singing for joy that we accomplished this, and still survived. It feels GOOD. But I am exhausted. This was a lot of work. A LOT. I took the DIY to the extreme here. And if it wasn’t for some awesome guys from my church who helped with a lot of the grunt work around here… I’m afraid to think of what condition we’d be in! I am eternally grateful to those guys, and to you bloggers who cheered us on in the sidelines. 🙂 *sigh of relief*

I started doing this myself, if you recall, because I could find no contractor who was willing to help me on such a “small” project. It started with my living room renovation, three years ago. All I wanted to do was tear down the walls, insulate, and hang new walls and floors. But the bad condition of the electrical system terrified me. I couldn’t close up the walls with the electric in such bad shape. So I spent a few days, calling professionals out of the yellow pages. I could find NO ONE who would help me– New York State is a big union state, and they want to make the big bucks. This was also during the housing boom (before it bust later), and my little project was small fry compared to the McMansions up the road. So I learned to do the electric myself.

It was an adventure, wiring was not too difficult…. but honestly, I am getting too old for this. We still have the upstairs and the downstairs bathroom to do. I think I may look into home improvement services for the difficult jobs next time, or maybe the kids will be old enough then to fully take over the jobs. I will DEFINITELY hire out for the sheetrock installation. What a job. I think doing all the sheetrock for 3-4 four weeks is what led to my fatigue. We also have to install new siding for this old house (believe it or not, it still has the original 1855 wood clapboards below a layer of asbestos-fiber cement siding!), new windows, and do the front lawn. I will definitely find home improvement services to install siding and windows. That’s just too tiresome and technical for me.

Anyway, it’s been a wild ride. Thank God, it is finally starting to slow down. I figure I have about another 3-4 weeks of trimwork and little jobs, after I install the flooring. Then, we REST. Oh boy oh boy, do we rest!

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