Pushback from Historic Replacement Market?

Christina Lewellen
May 26, 2010
THE TALK... | Aesthetics & Style

Survey Results for 05/26/2010:

For most older buildings,

Upgrading existing windows is the best option.

  

 

76%

New products can provide authenticity as well as modern functionality and efficiency.

  

 

24%

I knew when I asked about historic preservation as it pertains to windows and doors, I’d be inviting some good discussion. We actually celebrate that in-house...Good “Talk” topics that generate a lot of emails warrant bragging rights among the Window & Door staff.

But I knew I was in deep this week when my inbox was flooded with opinions, mostly from historic preservationists around the country who were alerted to this poll and invitation for comments through the National Trust’s listserv.

So I should clarify that, based on the emails I received this week, our poll results are significantly skewed toward the restoration enthusiasts. The Talk tends to be an industry conversation, so I think it’s important to point out that the results this week are not indicative of an industry-based sample set.

Having said that, I will share a few comments I received because I think it’s important for us as an industry to understand niche views in the marketplace. I will say that I was taught that honey attracts more flies than vinegar so I had to excuse some contributors for “shooting the messenger” and acknowledge that they’re very passionate about their viewpoints. Industry readers will remember that, years ago, I wrote a column about my father’s historic home, even including a picture of the original gorgeous wood door he refinished AND the brand new (and historically-appropriate) storm door he purchased from a national window and door manufacturer. This issue isn’t black-and-white, nor is it “new windows” versus “old windows.” As with all window and door decisions, it’s often project-specific and buyer preference.

So from the preservationists’ perspective, a few comments:

“I fear we have entered a way of life that has no problem throwing something away for something newer which will be discarded for the next new thing. What is wrong with repair? Repairing a window that has lasted for 100+ years will allow that window to last another 100+ years with some periodic maintenance. … We might want to consider the impact of the loss of the ability to fix things on the general American psyche. Repair often requires one to think creatively and innovatively. These are skills that we seem to be losing. Try finding someone who can fix a radio. Try finding a cobbler. Try finding someone who can fix a clock - either the analog or digital variety. These skills and trades are disappearing in this throw away world. Windows are a micro-example of that great loss that is facing America.”

“With all due respect there isn't one new window out there that can replicate the look of an old window. …We preservationists are not against new windows, just new windows in old structures.”

“We have had great response from homeowners wanting to learn how to care for their property so they don’t have to rip out original materials and replace with new that only have a 15 – 20 year life. I would like to see the independent studies on the long term energy efficiency of these products and evaluate them against 80 – 100 year old windows that if repaired properly and maintained can last another 80 – 100 years. You can bet the window replacement industries won’t touch that with a ten foot pole.”

“I sit on a historical commission, and am surprised at how little factual information is presented on this topic. I have had window salespeople promise, in front of our commission, that by replacing the windows on a house, the owner would save 60 percent to 80 percent on their heating bills. When I asked if they would guarantee that in writing, none would guarantee any savings at all. Lest you think that I'm someone who is simply in love with all things that are old, I advocate for people to use fiberglass replacement columns on their porches, I advocate for composite materials to build weather-exposed ballustrades, and I don't even have a problem with shutters made out of plastic (as long as they are installed the way original shutters were installed).”

And a few industry folks weighed in as well:

“I work on a lot on projects requiring historic replication. I have met with historic societies to get approval for certain products. I truly believe that we have the capability of preserving the past in appearance, while at the same time improving performance, operation, and, at times, safety. Historic Societies seem to ignore the cost of maintenance as well as energy, and usually it is because they are not the end user and do not have to burden the expense. At times products are turned away based on perception of the materials in question and suppliers are not given the opportunity to provide mock-ups to dispel those perceptions.”

“Do the folks that live in these period homes still sit in the parlor with starched collared shirts, ties, wool pants or long skirts and play board games and engage in proper eloquent conversations, or are they shod in jeans, t shirts, and sneakers joking together while enjoying their large screen flat televisions? Are the modern TVs plugged into two-prong non-grounded wiring? I am sorry but one of the basic elements of life, along with taxes and death, is things change. …What the proponents of repairing lead paint encapsulated old wood sash do not realize is even though new windows’ ROI sometimes is not immediate, most people buy new windows to be comfortable and to never climb a ladder again. Time is the issue with most American families today. We promote storm windows and most people we install them for can’t wait until they can afford to replace them. The world has moved on, why not move with it?”

“The best scenario is for any installer working on a historically-sensitive job is to be a) a certified Installation Master, b) be made aware of all conditions/requirement prior to installation, and c) work with a supplier that has the experience and expertise to see the job through to conclusion. In this way you will satisfy the aesthetic requirements of the preservationist camp while at the same time provide more cost effective products to the owners.”
 

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.

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