Historic homes deserve special care

Beth Hendrickson is a Sacramento resident who spends her spare time and money restoring her 1923 bungalow

Historic homes in Sacramento are being defaced, and their owners are paying through the nose for it. Contractors are ripping out irreplaceable period single-pane windows and replacing them with double-paned junk. These new windows stand out on the facades of the now desecrated historical homes like plastic pimples. Face it folks: Those phony “divided light” inserts aren’t fooling anybody.

Why would anyone deface a historic home? The customer is promised big energy savings, with the windows paying for themselves within a few years. In fact, the replacement-window industry is taking consumers for a very expensive ride. Windows can be the source of up to 25 percent of the heat losses from a house; however, the actual radiant and convective heat loss through the glass of single-paned windows is less than 5 percent of the total energy lost. Most energy loss is due to air leaks.

Single-pane windows can be made almost as energy-efficient as double-paned ones for a fraction of the cost. According to a scientific study of different window-renovation strategies in Vermont, the average cost of restoring and weatherstripping a “loose” window was $75, while replacing sashes with low-emittance double-glazed inserts ranged from $250 to $550 per window, depending on the sash material. The average heating-cost savings per window was $15 per year for a restored window, as opposed to $20 per year for replacement sashes. Thus, even at the low-cost end (vinyl frames), the “payback” time for replacement vs. restoration is 35 years, much longer than these sashes can be expected to last.

Another claim is low maintenance. However, 20 years from now—perhaps sooner—these windows will be thrown into a landfill when, inevitably, the seals fail and the panes fog up or when the vinyl or fiberglass frames fall apart. The warranty will have expired, and the owner will have to pay to replace them. Broken pane? Try several hundred dollars to replace the whole sash rather than a few bucks at the hardware store for a piece of glass and some putty.

Spending thousands of dollars to replace the windows in a house just doesn’t pencil out as a good investment, especially with our relatively mild weather. Restore, and keep both your house’s character and your bank account intact!