Historic Real Estate Guide: Windows

 

If you’re looking at purchasing a property in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti’s historic districts, or have preservation of historic aesthetic as a priority for a home you’re renovating there are some considerations you should make with regards to windows.

Replacement or Restoration?

Oldies can still be goodies!

A lot of historic homes in Ypsilanti and the Ann Arbor area still have original, wooden double-hung sash windows. Knowing a reputable and experienced finish carpenter will be very helpful in determining whether a window’s sashes and panels are restorable or whether they have been neglected to the point of needing to be rebuilt or completely replaced. In many cases homeowners may find that the historic lumber used in previous construction eras is of a higher quality and a tighter wood grain than more modern lumber styles, so sashes and frames may be a bit more forgiving than their initial appearance might suggest. Restoring these double hung windows is also popular in DIY circles, with many historic preservationists on YouTube giving detailed step-by-step instructions on how to re-glaze and restore these windows for yourself. In our experience we’ve found specialty carpenters who focus in the restore of double hung windows can cost more, less, or roughly equivalent to newer replacement windows.

 

Leaded & Stained Glass Windows

Leaded or stained glass leaded windows can also still be found today, eg in certain commercial, industrial, or religious or historic educational buildings. Since restoring leaded glass windows usually involves soldering and glass cutting we would recommend leaving this endeavor to the professionals. Specialty carpenters who restore leaded glass windows are few and far between, it really is a dying art, but there are still historic preservationists practicing in metro areas like Detroit and Chicago who can restore these to near perfection.

Efficiency Considerations: Interior Storm Windows

From what we’ve seen, historic windows can be restored and re-glazed so as to approach modern efficiency standards, but for efficiency and draft concerns an extra measure can be very helpful: Interior storm windows. Interior storm windows can be built on a lower-end DIY budget for about $200 or $250 using either glass, vinyl, or even shrink wrap-style plastic or bubble wrap. Bubble wrap should be mentioned as an option for an absolute zero-budget DIY improvement simple enough for grandma, don't believe us, Google it. Local carpenters can often build custom interior storm inserts, local contractor Ypsilanti Restorations in town quoted about $315/ea in 2019 for them to fabricate interior storms out of wood. There are also online outfits like https://indowwindows.com/ where you can measure and order vinyl interior storm inserts to be shipped to your door from online. In addition to eliminating drafts, increasing your energy efficiency (to take the edge off those winter heat bills), interior storm windows are also great for reducing noise transmission if your property is located in a downtown area or along a more heavily trafficked street. Only downside would be that the inserts would need to be simply removed and re-inserted anytime the homeowner wants to open their windows. Since interior storms are temporary inserts and do not require exterior modification to the property, they usually won’t be regulated by historic committee like replacements often are.

I can’t/won’t/don’t care to restore these windows. So who makes the best replacements?

For historic properties in districts subject to historic committees or councils, homeowners may find that those committees want to retain as much of the original window frame and sash style and appearance as possible-- so for instance if a homeowner wanted to replace a double hung original wood window they may have to replace it with another wood double-hung window (and a full frame replacement rather than re-framing a new window into an existing, older frame) of the same material or a similar material. Some committees, like ours in Ypsilanti, may approve replacing a wood window with a metal-clad window of a similar style but not any vinyl replacement windows of any style whatsoever.

And the Winner for Best Replacement Windows Goes To...

Our favorite brand for historic committee-approved replacement windows is the Marvin Window Company - www.marvin.com - particularly their Ultimate Magnum Double Hung series since the rail and stile parts of their sashes create a thinner profile where more glass is visible in the window, which provides for a very close (if not identical to untrained eyes) match to the original double hung windows we see all too often dating back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Example of Marvin Magnum Double Hung Windows from their catalogue.

From Marvin’s Product Catalogue: Magnum Double Hung Windows

 

We’ve also seen historic approvals for wood-clad Andersen and Pella brand windows, however, consumers going thru committee approvals should expect to be required to select the highest-end lines from either company. Last we checked that would be the Andersen A-series or the Pella Architectural Series, we respect both manufacturers for having been known to produce quality windows and are deserving of mention.