You’ve invested in one of the most beloved antiques, your historic home, and now you’re debating whether you should restore or replace your windows. Walking around the neighborhood, like on the east side of Milwaukee, you notice some houses have replacement windows while others have restored windows – which one should you choose? Let’s look into whether vinyl replacement windows or restoring your wood windows could be the best investment for you!
Window Restoration and Vinyl Windows Offer the Same Amount of Energy Efficiency
For both restored and replacement windows, multiple panes of glass account for their energy efficiency.
Vinyl windows offer 2-pane, sometimes 3-pane, options for glass. The 2 panes of glass are in one frame. Argon gas is placed inbetween those panes to help with energy efficiency, but at some point that gas leaks out. When the gas leaks out the energy efficiency is greatly reduced, and there’s no way to fix it, so you’ll need a new replacement window. Losing that argon gas also allows for moisture to enter between the panes resulting in fog and dew. Since you can’t separate the panes, there is no way to clean that interior space.
Original wood windows usually have one pane of glass on the interior and one pane for the exterior storm window. Combination storm windows don’t need to be removed at any point, making them a low maintenance way to keep the historic integrity of your home. There is also a benefit to having separate layers of glass. With wood interior windows and storm windows, you are able to remove and clean each window.
Another way you can make your wood windows more energy efficient is by weatherstripping. Adding this layer around your windows is an inexpensive way to save on utility costs because it seals most areas where air could leak through.
Wood windows have the same energy efficiency as vinyl windows. Whether you’re restoring the windows on your old home or replacing them with vinyl, they both use one similar material, glass. Just like the glass on your car, it attracts the cold so there won’t be much of a difference with the amount of cold air coming in.
Which Material is More Durable: Wood or Vinyl?
The wood windows on your historic home are not made from any type of wood you could grab at Home Depot, it’s old growth lumber that has lasted on your home for at least a century, if not more. Wood windows can be restored. If your wooden window frame cracks or rots after 10 years there are solutions. There are ways to treat and repair rot. Sometimes, your original windows only need a bit of sanding, epoxy, and a fresh coat of paint.
Vinyl windows are made from plastic and plastic, over time, becomes brittle and breaks. With vinyl windows if one part fails or cracks, the only solution is to replace the whole window. Single parts on a vinyl replacement window are unable to be restored or repaired.
Replacement vinyl windows are not meant to last like wood windows. Plastic has a shorter life span than wood and isn’t a material you can repair when it breaks.
The Fit & Aesthetic of Wood Windows vs. Vinyl:
Since wood and vinyl are quite different materials, they will interact with the rest of your old home differently. Both vinyl and wood warp, but vinyl expands and contracts at a higher rate than wood. With temperatures fluctuating drastically in Wisconsin, the vinyl can become malleable and warp enough to lose some of its energy efficiency.
Vinyl being a less durable material, you will need more of it to support the glass that it holds. This means there will be less viewing space and light. With wood windows, the material is stronger and can hold more weight, so the frames can be smaller allowing for a larger viewing space and more light.
Wood Frames are 1-2”
Vinyl Frames are 3-4”
There could also be a downfall to having less glass space. The Technical Preservation Services states that “attempting to conserve energy by closing up or reducing the size of window openings may result in the use of more energy by increasing electric lighting loads and decreasing passive solar heat gains”. The size of your window frame can end up impacting the energy efficiency.
Vinyl windows are new and have a clean, modern look to them, however there are limited options for color. If you decide to paint your vinyl windows, sometimes the warranty will no longer be covered.
Original wood windows can be stained to keep the natural wood look or they can be painted any color. They can even be color matched to go with the initial color theme of the home. Wood windows were built with the house’s design in mind. While they oftentimes have been neglected and look like they’ve been exposed to the elements for over 100 years. After the restoration process they can feel and look brand new!
Looking into the Future of Your Home for a Greener, More Economic Option
Vinyl windows are manufactured from PVC. According to EcoWatch, PVC can be a difficult product to recycle, so a lot of times it will end up in landfills. If you ever need to replace the frame or section of a vinyl window, it could end up discarded improperly.
In the same way the vinyl is discarded, throwing out wood windows could end up in the garbage or go unsalvaged. Restoring your original wood windows is a greener option because it’ll be a lot less waste.
Vinyl replacement windows and restoring original wood windows can be a big investment. Any time you invest in making your home a more livable space, you will increase its value. It’s important to assess where you live and the history of your home. If your home is on the historic registry and located in a historic neighborhood, like the East Side or Shorewood, you could get tax credits for restoring your windows.
Overall, there are benefits to wood window restoration and vinyl replacement windows. It’s important to take time to assess which option would be best for you and for your home.
Inquire about our window tuning & restoration process:
Preservation Resource Center
Technical Preservation Services
EcoWatch Photos: Canva