Windows are the eyes of a building. They are both functional and expressive. Windows admit natural light, permit views out and allow ventilation. They contribute considerably to a structure’s visual interest and character, tell us about when a building was constructed and hint at its interior functions. The mullions, muntins and number of window panes add to this character and reveal the period of construction. They have “depth” that is difficult to replicate in modern replacements, particularly those of synthetic materials such as vinyl.
Hand-executed window details convey a sense of craft. While wooden reproduction windows can be true to an original in every detail they are often made of softer woods than that of earlier windows – which are generally stronger and more resistant to decay than reproduction windows. With a bit of care and expertise the life of historic wood windows can be prolonged for decades to come.
Wood window conservation has many benefits for both building-owners and the environment. Wood windows with energy-saving upgrades — storm windows and/or weatherstripping for example — have been shown to be as airtight as modern replacements and to have comparable insulative value. The payback period of replacement windows exceeds their useful life in many cases. Wood windows are endlessly repairable, materials are largely natural and emissions from production are far below those of vinyl or aluminum. Not to mention that windows from synthetic materials eventually end up in the dump most of the time.
Retaining historic wood windows is simply good conservation practice. The Standards and Guideline for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, a pan-Canadian standard for assessing conservation treatments, recommends “ retaining sound and repairable windows, doors and storefronts” and does not recommend “removing or replacing windows, doors and storefronts that can be repaired” (155). It specifies that “peeling paint, broken glass, stuck sashes,loose hinges or high air infiltration are not, in themselves, indications that these assemblies are beyond repair.”
For all of these reasons Heritage NL requires conservation of wood windows and doors in its designated properties and encourages conservation – rather than replacement – whenever possible on all of the province’s historic structures.
Heritage NL can provide information and tips on the conservation and care of historic windows – such as the safe stripping of old paint and putties, the sourcing of products for repair and recommended paints. As well, we can provide the names of individuals across the province who have training and experience in historic window repair.
A number of tradespeople and professionals completed a course in wood window conservation we offered in 2019 in partnership with the Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Trust. Through this training the following individuals acquired knowledge necessary to advise on or carry out window conservation projects: