Posts Tagged ‘window repair’

The Reality of Window Replacement

May 21, 2010

Ugh. There it is again. A newspaper article in the home section advising you to replace your windows: “The days of painting exterior wood windows are gone. Look for low-maintenance vinyl or aluminum windows that come with a factory finish that should last for years.” Heck, they might even last for 10 whole years.


they could even last for twenty if you don’t mind fog

The article does not address the issue of energy savings, since the article is about low maintenance, but it is worthwhile to review the four pillars of replacement window mythology:

Energy Savings: Heat rises, it doesn’t go sideways. Insulate your roof and you have saved 80% of all the possible energy savings. Replace your windows with brick walls and you only have 20% to play with.

Oh, but they are double-glazed, you say. LIKE EVERY WINDOW DESIGNED FROM 1860 to 1928. Every Victorian and early modern building constructed in a climate that includes winter was double-glazed. We just got rid of a lot of those storm windows because we didn’t like the maintenance.

Cost: Yes, a vinyl or aluminum replacement window costs less. So it lasts less and performs more poorly over time. A repaired original wood window will last another 75 years. Most replacement windows have a 10-15 year warranty: the max is 25, which means they need to be 3 times cheaper than restoring your original wood window to compete over time.

Installation: A tight new window will do NOTHING for heat and AC loss if it is improperly installed. Most air infiltration goes through the frame, not the sash. About a quarter of new windows are improperly installed. Conversely, caulking the exterior brickmold on an existing window, installing jamb liners and fixing putty lines can often save as much as a new window.


Ease of use. My knees will rebel against my staircase LONG before my elbows and shoulders will have any trouble opening and closing my 112-year old wood windows (each sash is 3 feet wide and 3 feet high). If they get sticky, I rub some candle wax in the jamb and put a drop of oil on the metal sash cords.

Maintenance. The context of the article is keeping home maintenance from ruining your weekends. Yes, a real window will require some painting and maintenance now and again. But it CAN BE FIXED. In an hour or two.

A replacement window can’t. It needs to be replaced. That is why they call them REPLACEMENT WINDOWS – because you have to KEEP ON REPLACING THEM. It is a FANTASTIC business model because of this planned obsolescence. These guys will be in business eternally because you have to come back to them every 15 to 20 years.

The article also talks about other low-maintenance home improvements. It notes that cement fiber siding panels “are all the rage, ” come in 20 colors and is competitively priced against vinyl siding. This is like saying that pleather trousers come in 20 colors and are competitively priced against polyester. The real angle is “the panels will last 25 years or more,” but the reality is that goes double and triple for the wood siding and stucco they want you to replace. They can last over 100 years if you aren’t allergic to maintenance.

nice pants, dude

SPOILER ALERT: EVERYTHING REQUIRES MAINTENANCE. If you want a home that DOESN’T require maintenance, well, start emptying your bank account because I also want to sell you hair-loss products and eat-what-you-want diets THAT REALLY WORK.

You can shovel this stuff into any kind of pile you want, but it still smells.

Check previous posts on this issue here. and here. and here.

Window replacement numbers

October 31, 2009

Pharmaceutical use in the United States has increased threefold in the last ten years, not because there has been a threefold increase in disease or diagnoses but simply because in 1999 pharmaceutical advertising was deregulated.

I don’t know the exact numbers, but window replacement has gone up dramatically in the same period, and for the same reason. Advertising.
windiw mailers
When my wife and I bought a single-family home in 1996 I received AT LEAST three mailers and one phone call each week urging me to buy replacement windows and siding. I always responded “I don’t believe in that” which threw the telemarketers right off their script. But just as countless television ads for drugs have convinced people that they need them, today every American gets out of bed in the morning convinced that they must replace their windows.
depsto window clsS
The recent economic stimulus that gave tax breaks for replacement windows along with other, more sustainable things didn’t help. It followed the marketing bandwagon, which promotes waste.
depsto window detS
The irony here is MASSIVE. I am concerned about global warming so I throw out all of my windows and put in plastic ones that will be in a landfill in 15 years. Do you know how PVC is manufactured? Do you know how it burns in case of fire? Do you know how it degrades in landfills? The landfills you already stuffed with your historic windows?
stack of wdws
Let’s look at some numbers. First, a radical thermodynamic principle as it applies to the planet Earth:
HEAT RISES. Sure, it is obvious, but you would think heat goes sideways with all the concern for replacement windows. Once you have insulated your attic, you have saved 80% of all the energy bills you are going to save. Thoroughly caulk your window and door frames and you save the next 10%. Replace your windows with brick walls and you still only have a 10% savings possibility. Besides, many new windows – tight as they are – are not installed properly, so the heating or cooling just squirts around the window FRAME. The homebuilders themselves admit that over 20% of windows and doors in NEW houses are installed in such a way that air infiltration still happens through the FRAME.

Now, let’s look at cost, which is another reason people choose plastic replacement windows. Some joker in Geneva sued the city for his right to put in vinyl-clad replacement windows in the historic district. He spent $70,000 on the lawsuit, but more importantly he spent $18,000 on replacement windows. I can guarantee you those windows will not last long enough to save $18,000 on heating and cooling.

The cost differential between a cheap plastic window and a rehabbed window (with insulated glass installed) can be a factor of 3. So, if you are DITCHING your house soon to another buyer or whatever, it is cheaper. If a retrofitted window costs $1500 and a replacement costs $500, well, replacements SEEM cheaper. But in the long run, it isn’t. Those replacements will be funky in 10 years and likely need to be replaced (why do you think they call them REPLACEMENT windows?) in 15, which is when the warranty for the glass unit (forget the sash) runs out. So they cost $33.34 per year. My retrofitted windows will be good for 50-75 years, which means that they cost $20-$30 per year. Plus no hassle of replacement every 15 years.

Now, the guy in Geneva with the lawsuit hobby is 79, so he will be about 94 when he has to worry about re-replacement. He won his suit, simply because Geneva’s Building Department – like a lot of Building Departments across the country inundated with requests for replacement windows – wasn’t requiring building permits for replacement windows.

It is like the doctors being lobbied by their patients for drugs – it is hard to say NO when a trickle becomes a flood. Geneva – like the doctor who learned to JUST SAY NO – has fixed its problem, but Mr. Nothing-Else-To-Do is trying to get the whole landmarks ordinance thrown out, just like that lawsuit enthusiast in Chicago. Given that landmarks laws like zoning laws have been upheld by conservatives who recognized their importance in maintaining property values, I am confident the enthusiasts will lose and have to find a new hobby, but these things take their time getting through the court system.

Heck, it could drag out for years – years measured by the warping, yellowing and offgassing of plastic windows.

How To Weatherproof Your Windows

March 5, 2009

Many previous posts deal with windows and the benefits of repairing historic wooden windows. A post from November detailed one of my do-it-yourself repairs of my perfectly square, well-functioning 110-year old windows and just this week I shared the details of my heating bill. Now, you can learn “How To Repair and Weatherproof your Windows” in a workshop of that name this Saturday, March 7, from 9-10 AM at Von Dreele-Freerksen, 509 Madison Street in Oak Park. It’s free!

In 2005 I did a panel on windows with Doug Freerksen, who brought his tools and discussed how you can repair and weatherproof your windows, so I know it will be a good seminar.

BTW, you CAN’T do a seminar on “How to Repair Your Replacement Windows.”

Insulation, not replacement windows

February 15, 2009

The Obama stimulus bill has $5 billion for making modest income homes more energy efficient. The way to do this is to insulate their attics, not replace their windows. Once you insulate the top of your house, you have completed 80% of your energy savings. The marketing by window replacement manufacturers and vendors disguises this fact, but it is obvious once you remember one principle from elementary school: heat rises.

A few hundred dollars of insulation will thus do more for energy efficiency than a thousand dollars of replacement windows. The cheapest replacement windows, under $200 plus installation, will take 30 years to pay for themselves in energy savings, and will not last nearly that long.

In the stimulus they are talking about caulk, which is good, since caulking a window frame will usually generate savings in heating and cooling. Sadly, many replacement windows are installed without addressing the significant issue of air infiltration through the frame. If this is not addressed (usually with caulk), the replacement window may simply force more air through the leaky frame and thus have NO effect on energy costs.

Also, the stimulus is supposed to be about jobs, so let’s make it about jobs fixing houses and not jobs selling plastic windows.

TWO WEEKS LATER: Hey I just got my heating bill – I was on the budget plan based on previous owner – $442 a month. Now? $158. Did I replace my windows? No. I closed them during the winter. (In US Govt study in 1996 that was the biggest variable – people didn’t close the windows). And I insulated the attic. 110 year old windows with triple tracks. Real brick house with real plaster walls. Ain’t no warping offgassing PVC windows gonna touch that.

Chicago 7

January 28, 2009

depsto-window-clss
Preservation Chicago released its “Chicago 7” list of endangered Chicago landmarks on Monday, and one of them was very close to my heart – the “old-fashioned” wood window. I have often spoken about the virtues of old wood windows – made of stronger, straighter, better insulating wood, and how with a little caulk and a storm window they can outperform any vinyl replacement unit. You can scroll back through the old blogs – in November I reglazed one of my windows in my 110-year old house and marveled at a project that cost a couple hours and $20, versus the hundreds it would have cost if I broke a “modern” replacement window. I even had an installation in the “Department Store” with Felicity Rich this past fall featuring old wood windows surrounded by the barrage of advertising that has made replacement windows a force to be reckoned with in the last decade. The bottom line? People replace their windows because of the advertising, not because of any value in the new windows – or any failure of the old.
st-bonfc09s
They also listed one of Chicago’s beautiful churches, St. Boniface by the incomparable Henry Schlacks. This 1902 Kashubian parish at Noble and Chestnut was closed some years ago and neighborhood activists fought to prevent its demolition, so the Archdiocese apparently decided to wait until the building was falling apart. This is called “demolition by neglect” and is the ultimate passive-aggressive move. Often it is accompanied – as it is currently at the U of I campus re” Mumford House, with plaintive hand-wringing over a building’s deteriorated condition. Huh? You mean, you owned this building and allowed it to deteriorate and now you are complaining it is deteriorated?

Two on Preservation Chicago’s list are modernist and one of those – Meigs Field Terminal – got little support from local architecture critics, and likely the general public as well. The modernist gems on Landmarks Illinois’ last list in the fall scored embarassingly low on public opinion registers despite their high architectural pedigree, including Bertrand Goldberg’s stunning Prentice Women’s Hospital.

Getting popular support for the highly abstract visions of late 20th century Modernism is an ongoing challenge. Sometimes those buildings are a conservation challenge as well, because they were built in the era of thinner structures, single-glazing, and more ephemeral materials. Not like traditional wood windows.

Window Madness

July 4, 2007



pk hotel wdws comp

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Q: What is the difference between pornography and window replacement?
A: One is a multibillion-dollar industry that exploits human weaknesses with the promise of temporary satisfaction; the other sells images of sex.

Here is a lovely side-by-side of a window replacement going on right now on Marion Street in Oak Park. The aesthetics are pretty obvious – the new window at left has quick-cut panning around the frame, pop-in mutins that look like masking tape applied to a window, and no detail. The old window on the right has curves, molding and depth to its forms. But aesthetics are nothing – many people would say the new window looks cleaner and are big fans of aesthetic cleansing. But does it have any other advantages? No.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY you scream! Scream all you want, I can see the gaps in the caulking from the sidewalk – I would happily give this building owner a nickel for every dollar saved on energy. ENERGY SAVER ratings, you bellow! BUT, they can only test the window itself, and everyone knows energy loss and drafts are largely through the frame, so the efficiency is actually dependent on the installation. Last year the Trib reported that almost a quarter of all windows on NEW buildings were improperly installed, allowing energy loss through the frame. I can SEE the bad caulking on top of the bad panning in this example. I raise my offer to a dime for every dollar saved.

There is an exploitative industry here that pounds you with moral messages about saving energy and then asks you to throw old-growth, tightly-grained wood and glass into the landfill. And just to make the morality play a little more perverse, they sell you a window that will itself need to be replaced in 10-15 years. Triple your rubbish for the sake of the environment! (Check the guarantees – Marvin and Pella offer the longest and they make some decent windows. The jokers who advertise make plastic or aluminum crap that even embarasses people in the industry.)

Let’s see, I’ve made my building uglier, shortened the lifespan of my windows, and depending on my contractor, garnered minimal savings on my heating and cooling bills for a couple years. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Yes, you have reduced the amount of light that comes in thanks to the ham-handed frame-and-sash technology that needs more structural strength to hold double-glazed units. Less window pane, more window pain. Plus, you have to close two latches instead of one for each window – I suppose if you use both hands this won’t take longer. Don’t think about why you need two latches: unlike old-growth wood, plastic and aluminum warp within a few years.

But hey, the building looks cleaner and you can advertise new windows to anyone who wants to rent or buy – just sign those contracts within five years or you are gonna get some ugly questions about why the windows are so hard to open and close and doesn’t that feel like a draft?

That’s when you start the whole process over. That is the beauty and pornography of the window replacement business model: The desire for a non-drafty, clean-looking window never, ever goes away. This is a perpetual motion machine: an expensive product that needs to be replaced every 10-15 years. (I’ve seen some downtown office building windows go screwy in 5-7 years)

It’s panned obsolescence: 1970s and 1980s windows are already a joke. The 90s windows are only a season or two away, and I am collecting photos of a batch of 2001 replacements – we’ll see which of them goes first.