Replacing Wood Windows: Cost of Restore vs Replace

Category: Restore & Repair

I had a decision to make about our windows. Did I want to do the restoration myself or pay for replacements? With everything else that needed to be fixed on the house, I'll admit it, replacement windows were awfully tempting. However, as I mentioned in this post, I'm cheap and picky about details. So, I had to figure out the best deal.

I did the lead abatement and repairs on seven of our forty windows in 2005 before we had Grace. This gave me a fair idea of what it would take to restore a window, as well as some baseline costs. I posted about those adventures here, here, here , and here. And we had a few sashes which had been sliced in half by the previous owners recreated by a local window maker.

The bottom line? It cost me much less to restore versus replace the windows, and I will be able to recoup my investment in a shorter period of time.

cutin2.jpg

When I started this whole project, I had never restored a wood window or done any glazing. Ever. I had a book (Working Windows by Terrence Meany) and I followed the windows crew around as they coaxed open windows that hadn't been opened in years. It was a great learning experience and it gave me a lot of confidence to try it myself.

I had also intended to restore just over 25 of the windows and replace the rest, but it ended up that I pressed on and did all 40 windows.

raw-win.jpg

How did I calculate the costs?

Here are some assumptions that I worked with:

  • I don't have to take a loan to pay for this work (otherwise I would add in the interest that I would pay over the life of the loan as an additional cost.
  • Whichever windows I choose, they will last without fail until I have recouped my investment in them. Otherwise, I will never be able to recoup my costs! So, the cheapest vinyl options are out.
  • Potential yearly energy savings:

    Our heating cost for the first full year in the house (2004) was $2100.

    In addressing the windows issue, let's say I would be able to reduce our heat usage by 25% or $525 yearly (that is super optimistic).

    Restoration costs for 40 windows with storm windows:

    Approximately $220 per window or $8800

      This included:

    • offsite lead abatement of 52 sashes and 25 storms (11 storms were fine),
    • replacing 4 storms,
    • creation of 7 sash replacements from cypress wood,
    • integral weatherstripping,
    • reglazing some windows,
    • insulating around the jambs and in the weight pockets, and
    • having someone else replace all ropes with chains.

    If I had replaced the ropes myself and hadn't had to recreate the cut-up sashes, my average restoration cost per window would have plummeted to an average cost of $165-170 per window plus storm, or between $6600-6800, with a majority of that cost being the offsite lead abatement.)

    Window replacement costs:

    Window replacement prices were very varied, ranging anywhere from $300 per window to over $1000 per window, installed. Let's choose a $400 window near the bottom of the range for comparison. That would be $16,000 for replacement.

    How fast would I recoup my investment?

    If I restored my windows at a 25% energy savings, I would begin to recoup my investment after 16+ years. ($8800 divided by $525 is 16.7)

    If I had been able to restore them without recreating any sashes? I would have recouped my investment after 12+ years! ($6800 divided by $525 is 12.9)

    If I replaced my window with $400 windows, I would begin to recoup my investment after 30 years given the assumption that the replacement windows would operate without fail for 30 years.

    Other variables:

  • If I chose to restore, I would have to repaint the wood windows every ten years or so.
  • If I chose to restore, I could repair anything that fails on the wood windows myself.
  • If I chose the replacement windows, I would have to do the extra insulation around the jambs myself.
  • If I chose replacement windows, I wouldn't have to paint the windows. Just clean the vinyl.
  • If I chose replacement windows, I may have to refit the exterior and/or interior trim.
  • I'm cheap and picky. I have more time than money. I elected to restore the windows.

    How long will my restored windows last? Well, the windows I have right now were installed in 1914. They have lasted for 93 years so far. Restored? Perhaps they will last for 93 more, who knows?

    outside_windows.jpg

    Is everyone going to make the choice to restore versus replace? Probably not. But if even five more people make a more informed choice about whether to restore or replace, I'll be happy.

    If four people decide to invest in a higher quality replacement window instead of using a cheap vinyl replacement, that would be very cool.

    If three people who want to replace decide to tackle the restoration of their windows at the front of the house instead of replacing the windows on all four sides? I would be thrilled.

    And if I inspire just one person out there to attempt the restoration of one of their wood windows and they gain all sorts of confidence from that experience? I will consider all of the hours writing for this blog justified.


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    Comments

    I really appreciate all of your research and the time it took to share it with all of your readers. I'll have to let you know when I start restoring my windows!

    Thanks for the window tutorial. Who did you find to do your lead abatement on the windows and what did it cost?

    When I started restoring our windows I used a technique I'd seen in an old apartment I secured the side stops with brass screws and collars. I drilled the holes through the stop slightly oversize. Now, by simply loosening the screws I can adjust the clearance between the stop and the sash, ensuring a tight fit.

    Great series of posts. Thanks for all the research and work you put into this series (and your windows!).

    At some point soon I'll be posting about our window decisions on both of our houses. In short, on our house we replaced the side and back bedroom windows (which were painted 3-4x with lead paint) with aluminum-clad wood window sash replacements that we're extremely happy with. The others (in the living areas of the house) aren't painted on the inside, so there's not as much worry about lead and I'm working on restoring those.

    On the Sheridan House, the windows were all too far gone and we had to replace all of them. There too, we opted for different windows on the front of the house than the sides and back.

    This is definitely a hot topic among housebloggers (and readers) and it's at the top of my list to post about the decisions that we made. Thanks again!

    Thank you for your fascinating description about restoring old windows. We are in the process of doing that right now...my husband is outside doing the final sanding of the windows and trim (he stripped off all the old paint already). We are having all of the windows worked on to unstick them (they were painstakingly and purposefully sealed shut by previous owner), with new ropes. And the same folks (Cherry Creek Windows, Seattle) have fabricated beautiful storm windows for the whole house (there were none here when we bought the house since the climate here in Seattle is pretty mild). The inside windows will just get a new paint job. The old windows (installed in 1918) are FAR more beautiful, in my opinion, than anything new. And they will last, hopefully, another 90 years. I believe it's important to save whatever we can...the craftsmanship and materials are hard to match. Thank you for your inspiring stories! (I grew up in the North Park neighborhood and North Park church--Eloise N. is my mom--and the previous owners of your house were my Scout leaders! So I know the house you are restoring...the old windows are a very important visual element in the original design of your house. The original architect/builder would be delighted that you value their work so much!)

    Your window tutorial has been very, very helpful. Restored windows are more energy efficient than I previously thought. Thank you!

    Well, if we had the original windows in our house, you would have had me sold! (Maybe not dear hubby, {right now I could sub out dear.}) As it is we have crappy replacement windows from the 80s from Sears I believe and they will need to be replaced. Slowly. As our budget has been blown.

    I am so sold on restoring my windows - I have a small townhouse in Manhattan, and we have these amazing wood windows, all original to the house. On the back end of the house, almost all the windows were painted in dreadful ways, and the glass has been replaced with various kinds of non-matching frosted glass (most of the back windows are in bedrooms), but you can still see the chains for the weights and the windows do open and close. One window fell apart between signing on the house and closing - right now, it's boarded up, and I obvoiusly have to replace that one (it's completely rotten).

    But in the front of the house, we have these amazing wooden windows. The frames, the sashes, the handles, the pocket shutters are all there in many of the windows, and where things are missing (mostly the pocket shutters), it realy should be possible to replace and repair them.

    I am going to be doing a gut renovation on this place sometime in the next 10 years (I started out thinking it would be sooner - like two years - but now I'm leaning towards later - like five or six), and my architect who is helping me at this stage thinks it's a foregone conclusion to replace the windows. So does every other expert I've spoken to. But they are beautiful and I haven't given up on them yet. Unlike you, however, I am not going to be able (or willing, if I'm honest) to spend the time and sweat to restore them myself. I would love to find a restoration minded contractor here to help me with these windows, to decide what to do with them and then, if they are to remain, to help me restore them. I know you're in Chicago, but if any of my fellow fans of your blog know of good window contractors in NYC, I'd be thrilled to hear of them.

    As always, your blog is charming, insightful, full of useful information, and probably bears a good deal of responsibility for the fact that I now own this house that will require me to pass through some portion of the pain (and hopefully a good part of the joy) that you have been through. I really appreciate your putting this together, and houseblogs.net as well. I've had some ups and downs over the last year and your "virtual company" has been an enormous pleasure - thank you!

    If I had lovely prairie style windows like you have in your house, I might consider restoring ours rather than replacing, but as it is, ours are just plain vertical bars, nothing really artistic, so I'm opting to replace them with vinyl clad exterior/wood interior sashes with a prairie style grill. We'll see when the budget allows for that. Meanwhile, I'll be removing the lead paint myself, since it's all flaking off in chunks anyway. Thanks for all the info! It has been very helpful in making the decision in our situation too.

    It is because of your blog that we decided to restore our wood windows. We have just begun the journey but so far we are very excited with the results. Our windows are not very fancy but windows that you would expect in an old farmhouse. I have to admit the first window was painful (broke all 3 pains oops I mean panes of glass) but by my second window I seem to be getting the hang of it. I think we may even be converting some people who thought we should have had them replaced. Thanks

    I WISH the previous owners of my bungalow hadn't replaced the original windows! They didn't care at all about keeping the style of the house original. The replacements don't have the detail that the original windows did. I will now have to replace the replacements in an attempt to bring the house back to its original character.

    Thanks for taking the time to weigh out the pros and cons - I gave up on blogging really quickly :-)

    Around here (Ottawa, Canada) people in my 'hood replace the windows in our 1945 homes. I don't know of anyone who has refinished them and I am wondering why.

    I assumed I had to replace mine as there is some broken glass - the windows do open and stay open but can't be very energy efficient and I will be redoing the siding on the house soon so thought I'd do the windows at the same time.

    Now I'm thinking... :-)

    so interesting to read about your restoration work. i have a house of the same vintage -- a two family, built in 1912 -- and also opted to save the beautiful large windows. the windows didn't need stripping; i have slowly repainted some of the exterior sashes and the interior sashes were never painted, fortunately. the problem i am facing now is the sills and the sides with cracked parting beads -- all covered with flaking paint. how did you deal with this? i have 45 windows in the house which makes for a beautiful, bright living space, but a huge restoration project.
    thanks for all the info and encouragement in your postings.

    Wow. Hi all! Thanks for reading the blog.

    Dina--I replaced the parting beads. They are so cheap to replace (they sell parting bead stock at many lumber yards) that it wasn't worth my time to strip them. I just bought new stock, stained it and installed it new when I replaced the windows.

    Sometimes the lumberyard calls this "parting stop" versus "parting bead". But if you take one into the lumberyard, they will point you in the right direction. All you need is a chop saw or a little miter box and you are good to go!

    Ok, you have convinced me to try restoring one window in my house in the hopes of gaining enough confidence to try more. :) What really sold me was the fact that you have 40 windows - I have 41 and the cost of replacement is waaaay beyond my reach.

    One question: Working Windows is out of print. Used book sites are selling the book for anywhere from $90 to $190. Are there any in print books you'd recommend?

    I don't see how you do it. I just don't have that amount of time right now. the best I could do was start ordering some interior storm windows to stop the drafts. After finding your blog I am interested to learn how I can make the windows weather tight again (I have an infiltration problem) without having to replace them. I just don't know when :-(

    PS...do you happen to know how much it costs on avg per window to pay someone to do the restoration for you? Also how much time did it take for you on average per window?
    Thanks!

    well I am glad to see that I am not the only one crazy enough to attempt to maintain the wood windows for my home!.. I am building NEW.. and have chosen th re-use salvaged sash for ALL my windows.. all 59 of them..I have stripped all of them to bare wood.. what a job !.. removed all the old glass.. and then painted them BEFORE re-installing new glass in them. I discovered that an easy way to remove the fossilised old putty is to soak it overnight in paint remover.. I was required to use 2x6 exterior walls in the new home so have had all the frames remade new..to the exact specifications of the old, using cast iron pulleys instead of the cheap stamped tin ones, and will be replacing the glass with 6 mil low iron plate with a 1 1/4 " bevel on each of the 300 + individual panes.. This entire process including the new glass will cost me aprox $10.000 for all of them!..better than the almost $60.000 for equivalent new wood ones..as for energy efficency I too will use storm windows..although I could leave all the windows open all winter for years before I use the difference in cost in heat!

    Hi all!
    Nice site!

    G'night

    Goodness, Godfrey, my hat is off to you. What a project! But the character your new house will have is enviable.

    One thing to consider when discussing the cost-benefit ratio of rehabbing windows (and especially storms) is that in addition to a pure cost-of-window vs. cost-of-heat equation, there is also the more difficult to quantify difference in comfort experienced in the house over the time you get to enjoy your rehabbed, properly stormed windows. I like to sit in a windowed corner of the living room, and the difference each fall when the storms go into place is incredible. You can't put a price on 'cozy.'

    Thanks for the great information contained herein, and good luck in the crusade!

    I'm going to be faced with a window challenge this spring when we move into our new home(!!!). As we both work full time, I'm wondering if it's possible to hire someone to refinish my windows for me. I value having wood windows really highly, so I'm thinking that it might still be cheaper to refinish than replace (the new wood ones seem to run right through the sky as far as price goes...). Do you have any recommendations on finding someone local who I could trust to do the work?

    I do really like the idea of trying to escape the fallacy of our throwaway culture. Thanks for sharing your experience. :)

    I have a 1917 Victorian which is long and narrow. It has 64 double-hung, rope and pulley windows ranging from 32"X 54" to 36"X 84". The openings might even be slightly bigger. The 15 bay windows on the front consists of 9 curved-glass bay windows and 6 flat glass bays. The glass is beveled on the lower half and leaded(zinc)clear/beveled on the upper halves. It is in eastern PA where it gets cold; therefore energy efficiency is important. Where do I start? I to am cheap, not by choice, but by my stage in life, to hire the best restoration companies. The housing market in the area is very poor, so it will be more a labor of love for this 1917 6,000 sq ft Victorian built by my grandfather. Open for suggestions.

    High quality timber windows from the Benlowe Group will look much better than vinyl

    I just stumbled upon your window series. I'm so torn between restoring the wood windows on our new-to-us 1941 colonial or going to easy route and buying replacements. Thanks for such a great series.

    great stuff here--very inspiring. curious about the offsite lead abatement costs. i assume you stripped the windows onsite, and then transported the waste to a facility? tough to find a lot of info about this subject, but want to follow the best protocol. thanks!

    Thanks so much for the post. I'm looking for someone in Northern California who can do window restoration work.

    I want to mark this blog posting because I'm in the initial stage of determining whether to replace or repair my c. 1940's windows.

    Having worked in a Historic Commission, I know that repairing older wooden windows is my first choice, but my budget has the final say.... Thanks for sharing your story, the house looks beautiful!

    Love all the opinions expressed here! How is everyone? Love how everyone expresses whatr they feel :)

    Nice!! Great Ifo. Great People. Great Blog. Thank you for all the great sharing that is being done here.

    You can complement different types of accessories for your wardrobe for a party or evening event. Usually includes jewelry, elegant as a necklace, bracelet, earrings and much more. On the other hand, you also need something to wear, and evening bag is a game.

    Neat blog layout! Very easy on the eyes.. i like the colors you picked out

    I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it's rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.. :)

    Kudos to you! This is a really good blog here and I love your style of writing. How did you get so good at blogging?

    I would like to start my own blog one day. This was a really nice blog that you made here. Keep up the success :P

    Neat blog layout! Very easy on the eyes.. i like the colors you picked out

    Kudos to you! This is a really good blog here and I love your style of writing. How did you get so good at blogging?

     

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