Historic Windows CAN BE Repaired and Energy Efficient

by James Hamilton, Boston Edison Historic District, Detroit, Michigan

Historic preservationists face a daunting informational deficit on windows: so many historic building owners simply do not know that their historic windows can be repaired and can be as energy-efficient as replacement windows. Replacement advertisers are what they hear.

Building owners need to know:

  • what to do,
  • how to do it, and
  • who can help.

I have assembled hands-on demonstrations, as well as comprehensive guidebooks, on two web sites. Wherever possible I have included videos.


Believe it or not, windows are not the main source of heat loss in our homes. Most heat loss is through the roof! When old windows leak, there are straightforward fixes. Many are inexpensive. Examples include:

  • Exterior caulking is need everywhere around the window frames and sills.
  • Interior weather-stripping around window frames and sash will seal them and stop drafts.
  • A good storm window is essential to finish the job.

The web site demonstrates how to caulk and weather strip windows.


Window ropes are broken, windows are painted shut, glass is cracked or broken, the glazing is failing, wood is rotted, steel is rusted, paint is peeling. Fortunately, windows rarely need all of these repairs at once!

The web site shows repairs for each of the different specific repairs.

Owners need a goal for deciding how much to repair. For historic preservation, windows only need the minimum repairs necessary to be protected and preserved. If a window never is opened, then repairs for operability can be postponed. Rotted wood or rusted steel can be repaired without repairing an entire window.

Sometimes, however, the goal is a thorough restoration of an entire window. Restoration mostly involves just doing a lot of these specific repairs at the same time. The demonstrations show this.

Do-It-Yourself: Save Money

Most of the steps in weatherization and repair are simple things, using low-cost materials and ordinary household skills. Windows with many problems usually don’t have harder solutions: they just need many simple things done.

With the information on the weatherization and repair web sites, an owner who is able to Do-It-Yourself can spend time to save money.

Owners who use contractors will benefit from the how-to information, because they will understand what contractors need to do and how they should do it. This knowledge will assure you that your contractor really knows how to make the necessary repairs.


Fortunately, there are more and more skilled specialists in window repair, restoration, and weatherization. Use them. Many contractors don’t know how to repair windows. Not knowing how, they will tell you that it can’t be done. But it can!


Note: The 2014 issue of the MHPN’s Historic Resource Council Directory, complete with listings for window contractors and other building trades professionals, is Now Available! Check it out online today.


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2 Responses to Historic Windows CAN BE Repaired and Energy Efficient

  1. RJ Casey says:

    Thanks for this encouraging and practical post, Jim!

  2. Wow! Its really great.Thanks for sharing this wonderful information on how historic windows can be repaired as energy-efficient.

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