Preserving Old Windows

Keeping an older window in tiptop shape is a bit of work, but it is worth the effort.

Posted by Kevin Stevens | Oct 03, 2010
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Photo: Kevin Stevens/KMS WoodworksWhen remodeling, many people look to architectural salvage yards to find a new life for an old window. In addition to saving money on the cost of the window, you are helping Mother Earth through creative reuse. These relics may need some TLC and time to regain their original beauty, but the process is often a labor of love. One thing about old windows that has always been an attraction for me is the wavy or rippled look of “period” glass. New windows, using standard glass are very clear, smooth and boring. You can have new windows custom made with “period” glass, but these tend to be very expensive, and authentic windows are available inexpensively at architectural salvage yards.

Keeping and old window alive may be a rewarding experience for some, it may also be a headache for others. Is it right for you? Is a question that you will need to ask yourself. If your windows are heat-sucking monsters composed of single panel glass and a dull aluminum frame, the decision to replace them may be easy to make. However, If you have classic divided light panes with Victorian trim it should be pretty easy, too.

Interior Uses of Old Windows


Some old salvaged windows may not be complete, so using them as weather tight barriers in an exterior wall can be challenging. I have worked on a few houses where these old classic windows were used in interior applications. I also know of a handful of artists who have used classic old windows to create unique art objects, like one where dried flowers and grasses were sandwiched between an old window and a new pane of glass to create a natural see through sculpture. Window art like that is often made from smaller windows and hung in a larger window, much like a stained glass panel.

Sealing Up Air Leaks

If you do choose to restore an old window for use in an exterior wall, you’ll have to seal up air leaks.  A lot of old windows are drafty. This is usually due to worn weather strips or poor fit and installation. I have sealed up many with a trusty can of spray foam. If one works with care, the window’s trim casing can often be removed without damage. Gaps between the window frame and the home’s framing can then be sealed up. New weather strip can also keep the chill out. These can often be found at your local hardware store to match pre-existing strips, or you can add new seals to windows that never had them.

Keep the Water Out


Wood is subject to damage from the infiltration of water or moisture. Gaps and peeling paint can exacerbate this damage. Caulking and painting are relatively easy tasks for a homeowner to accomplish on their own. Not only can the simple tasks of caulking and painting seal your windows against moisture, they can add some great color or style to your home’s décor.

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