• October 1, 2004

Replacing New Windows With Old

Reusing salvaged windows to achieve a period perfect look for less

Restoration Diary


When you think of replacing windows it is often replacing old “drafty” wood windows with something new. We are doing just the opposite. We think wood windows have been getting a bad rap and we love our existing ones. So much so, that as part of the exterior restoration we are removing the 4 new aluminum windows that the previous owner put in the bedrooms and putting in old salvaged wood windows.


This opening was originally a window that was turned into a door when our house functioned as a duplex. Right before we bought the house the previous owner removed the door and put in a window. When the aluminum window came out we realized that there was no framing around the window, just drywall on the inside and a piece of plywood on the outside.


Long way down…


The “new” old window. This window came from a salvage yard. It is quite large but it fit the old door opening perfectly.

Comments { 15 }
  1. Leah

    Hi Heather,
    I’ve been reading your site for months but haven’t posted until now – you guys are doing such great work and I love checking in to see what you guys have been up to.

    So besides how wonderful they LOOK, I am interested to know if there are any benefits to putting in new “old” windows. I am 100% in your camp, but my husband insists that old windows are drafty and that new windows are just better. I could use a testimony from an old homeowner like you to convince him that they’re not just beautiful but FUNCTIONAL (i.e. not drafty). I salvaged 5 old divided light casements from the side of the road the other day, and I’m having a hard time convincing him to use them on the SHED he’s thinking of building, let alone on the house!

    Any first-hand info would be much appreciated. You can view our window dilemma (among others) at http://www.raisetheranch.com.


  2. kelley

    First off Heather and David great site!!!


    If I may add my two cents my husband and I are having this same discussion right now and I think I have begun to change his mind. He was all for replacement and I for repair. The main reasons for me is our shirt waist (1910) is still all original and worth the restoration for our sake, the neighborhood, and resale someday. Also the best argument is cost, sooo much cheaper to repair than replace. If you take in consideration, custom size, professional installation, and high quality, replacement windows can get very expensive.

    If you need some more fodder here is and excerpt from my bible book Restoring Old Houses by George Nash:

    Old double hung windows are anything but airtight, and aluminum storm windows sacrifice beauty for utility…
    Old windows can be replaced piecemeal, as budget permits, But it usually makes more sense and costs less to rebuild your old windows than to replace them, especially for a historic house. Your local millwork or cabinet shop can make replacement sashes to match the original. Retro fitted weatherstripping reduces air leakage .

    Hope that helps:)

  3. merideth

    Hooray for old windows! We replaced our back-facing windows with new milgard double-hungs that i’m in love with, but are repairing and keeping all of the original front-facing windows.

    Leah, and others, check out this little jimmy jam: http://www.windowrenu.com/main/default.asp for fixing up old windows. I just ordered a set of these to try and my neighbors down the street swear by them.

  4. Nathan

    Leah, here’s an answer that’s not only sensible, but might appeal to you husband’s spirit if he’s the kind to build his own shed.
    Replacement windows are made in factories of proprietary and patented parts, making them virtually impossible to repair. If you’ve got a $600 new Anderson (good windows) and the sash stops lifting properly in five years, or the frame swells in the casement, etc… you are in for another new $600 window. Similar problems on an older window can usually be fixed by a competent DIYer. Wouldn’t your husband rather take that swollen frame out to his workshed for an hour or two than just junk it?
    There are a couple points as to weathertightness:
    Contrary to popular “wisdom” around now, you do NOT want the house to be completely airtight. A house needs to replace inside air a few times a day or the air will become stale and actually polluted. Most modern houses have significantly worse air qaulity indoors than the outside. Old windows can EASILY be retrofitted with innobtrusive (often invisible) weatherstripping that will stop all drafts and greatly improve efficiency… almost up to the levels of new windows. If you want to save on heating bills, etc, concentrate on making your ATTIC tight and well-insulated~ because of air convection caused by rising heat, that’s where most loss occurs.

  5. heather

    Hi Leah! There is a recent thread on American Bungalow magazine’s online forum (http://www.ambungalow.com) about original wood windows vs. new windows. Here were some interesting points that people brought up:

    -Same discussion on oldhouseweb.com – many of the folks there have houses pre dating the Civil War and still have their original windows. From what I understand new double paned windows have an average failure rate of about 10 years (so you have to keep replacing them-no wonder many of these companies push their products so ferociously-built in obsolescence) as compared to single pane where many have lasted lifetimes. The issue of energy inefficiency pertains mostly to the areas around windows, so if you insulate the voids, add window coverings, and add appropriate weather stripping your old windows will have almost an identical R value as new double panes.

    -I don’t know about anyone else but every metal window I’ve ever encountered has been colder then say a wood which insulates. Now I may just be dealing with cheap windows but no matter where I’ve lived with those metal frames they’ve had frost build up on them. This should have warning bells attached to them but this has happened in numerous homes I’ve lived in. That’s just my opinion but I’m pretty much over those metal framed windows and going wood.

    A great article on windows is posted on a “What Old House Owners Should Know” site (http://www.geocities.com/monkeyfacechew/index2.html). The article outlines replacement window myths and the visual impact of windows. It is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the topic.

    When we where looking for a house we passed on several were all the old windows had been replaced. One home had the most beautiful wood moldings and an ingle nook but the homeowner been “advised” by her realtor to make improvements to the home in order to get a higher sell price. She had replaced ALL the original wood windows just a few days before we saw the house. She had also added a second bath off the dining room in order to get a second bath in the house. My guess is that she was told that people won’t buy a house with only one bathroom.

    It made me feel so bad for this woman, the house was her life savings and she was selling it to retire. I believe she would have gotten much more for the house left in it’s original state. As beautiful as the woodwork in the house was, the window replacement was a deciding factor for us and we passed on the house.

  6. Nathan

    The really shocking ignorance of so many supposed professionals in housing just depresses me. I don’t know how we even begin to fix the problem. It’s just SO depressing.

  7. jason

    Don’t know if anyone has ever watched ‘Painted House’ on HGTV or DIY, not sure which it is – may not even be the right name, actually. Happened to catch a horrific 1/2 hour of it the other night, when the host somehow convinced the homeowners to paint over all of the exposed wood trim and paneling in their turn of the century house (looked to be a rowhouse or something.) As someone who just paid to have wood refinished in his 100 year old house, I sat screaming at the TV as this guy, obviously not WANTING to paint the wood, just let the host dictate. You could tell he was really unhappy and his wife was trying to convince herself AND him that it was SO much better. Sometimes people really don’t get it.

  8. heather


    A few years ago I watched an episode of “Trading Spaces” where a beautiful bungalow was absolutely butchered. The “designer” took a sledge hammer and knocked out original built-in book cases on either side of the fireplace. She then proceded to cover the fireplace with pink grout and broken up pieces of mirrors. The ceiling was painted hot pink. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, she covered the walls with STRAW!!! Just glued straw right on the walls. I have never seen anything like it. In a word…AWFUL!

  9. Meredith

    I’m a lover of old windows as well. My partner and I are about to close on a 1927 bungelow in Dallas, Tx that has the majority of the old windows painted shut.

    We would like to restore them to their original gradeur. Have you found any resources on the specific process?

  10. heather


    Hi! Look for “Working Windows” by Terence Meany. It might be out of print but you can probably pick up a used copy on amazon.com. It’s a great resource.

    Best of luck with your new house!

  11. Passin

    sad the dis respect shown in the window replacement photo . the old lumber thrown on the ground is not replaceable . the old fir forest are 75% loged in the past 100 years and it took 250 to 350 plus years to grow those trees …. the replanted forest are a monsanto ” GMO ” forest grown for pulp with turmanator genes that kill the soil : research : youtube.com/silentforest , there are a few for you to watch there …. also : youtube.com/badseed … hope you carpenters will show the trees who gave there live for us to build houses on our overpopulated plant more respect in the future … Any one doing that on my job would be fired and black listed at the lumber’stores for a bad carpenter .

    • Heather

      Wow, judgmental much? This comment really irritates me.

      1. The wood that you see lying on the ground was not original lumber, nor original to the house.

      2. The wood you seem to be so concerned with is plywood and 2×4′s circa 2002

      3. Our house was converted into a duplex in the 1950′s-1960′s, before either my husband or I were even born, when a second story window (the one you see in the photo) was made into a doorway. Tons of original wood and materials were lost during this process. Did I mention this happened before I was even born?

      4. Around the year 2000, the previous owner removed the exterior staircase leading to the second story, which had been built in 1950-1960, because it was rotten and a safety hazard

      5. When we purchased the house in 2002, in order for the sale to go through the previous owner had to remove the 2nd story doorway and put in a window. In the state of California it is considered a safety hazard to have a working doorway on the 2nd story that opens and a person could theoretically walk out the door and fall 2 stories.

      6. The previous owner was selling the house and went with the cheapest solution possible…an inexpensive aluminum window that wasn’t even properly framed. When it rained, water leaked in the house and caused us to lose the ceiling in the first floor room located below this “upgraded” window

      7. Our carpenter is absolutely wonderful

      8. Maybe request more information before stepping onto that soapbox. Most people that end up spending years and thousands upon thousands of dollars restoring a home do have an appreciation for original materials and craftsmanship. We might not do things exactly the way you would do them, but we have tried very hard to do right by this house.

      9. And, guess what? It is our house. We get to decide how our money is spent and how we repair our home.

  12. Cari

    Howdy Neighbor!
    I’m restoring my 1910, and I’m finally getting to do some work that is visible, and not in the belly of the house. I’m getting salvage windows from another neighbor and local salvage yards, but the guy who was going to do the installation(my friend’s neighbor and handy-man/painter/carpenter), is too busy to consistently return my calls or book a date to work, so I’m thinking it’s time to find someone more available. Especially since it’s winter and the indoor rescue cats knocked out a few more panes of the 1960s louver glass…
    Do you know anyone who gets what we’re trying to do and knows how to reinstall old windows?
    One more question, my gas floor furnace circa 19whoknowswhen is misbehaving and the two people I’ve brought out to fix it haven’t figured it out yet. Did you/do you have a floor furnace? Any repair people you know of??
    Thanks for a great site! In case I didn’t say this before, your site was very influential in my decision to buy in West Adams, so credit yourself with one more house saved!
    Proud Owner of a Historic Contributing Structure in the Jefferson Park HPOZ

    • Heather

      Hi! I can’t recommend anyone for your furnace, but contact Juan Reyes about your windows: 626.793.7091

      Best of luck with your house!!! I am always so happy to hear about any of the wonderful old homes in our neighborhood being restored.

      • Cari

        Thank you!!

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