Has anyone replaced newer windows with old salvaged ones?

drybeanAugust 16, 2012

Our house is not old by many of your standards-1951. But old enough. The previous (original) owners replaced the windows with vertical aluminum ones in the 1980s.

I'm wondering if it is possible to replace these with old salvaged windows. FWIW-we live in an area that mostly values older homes, and there are lots of salvage/restores available. Plus the bounty of CL.

I'm guessing the issue will be whether we can find enough matching windows to outfit the whole house with the same style? There aren't a ton in the house, less than 30 total I would guess.

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I think your guess is mostly accurate. On the plus side, the quality of historic windows is far superior to what is available today. But fitting a window is an exacting thing unless you live in San Diego. Did your original windows have weights (probably not by '51), if not, what type of mechanism? What about the trim/stops? I am not saying it can't be done, but you'll first need a lot of research to determine exactly what you need, then a lot of patience to find it, and lastly some skills to install them.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 6:38PM
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Make friends, even offer a bounty to, the boys that do whole-house window replacements (spawn of Satan that they may be). Give them an idea of what you're looking for and maybe they will call you with a full set.

One issue may be the lead-paint one. I have heard references about rules that don't allow re-selling or re-transfer of lead-coated window sashes. Where I am in NY you can still buy old sashes readily at salvage places, but that may be an issue for you.

I have one window in my first floor that was replaced in the early 20th c with a large picture window. Luckily, I found a pair of sash that exactly match the other ones on that elevation (these are very large, Greek Revival-style sash from before the Civil War). Since it's just one window I will simply make a new framing and jamb and trim to match the others. Doing a whole ouse would be daunting unless you were lucky enough to score not only the sashes but the frames, too.

there are some companies that make new wooden sash, and probably also window frames. Perhaps that's an option for you. Don't buy any with finger-jointed materials, though.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 10:21AM
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Thanks for the replies. Clarion-I'm not sure what you mean by the caveat about san Diego? I live in L.A., if that matters with regards to the window fittings. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the original windows looked like. They probably weren't remarkable, but they would be an improvement over the ugly ones there now!

Liriodendron-that's a great idea about getting some window bounty hunters. I see lots of houses being flipped and the old windows being torn out little regard.
Lucky you finding that Window! It sounds like it was a great find.

I admit I'm still quite ignorant about all of this-trying to learn. Why is the finger jointing undesirable?

There are tons of salvage places around here selling al manners of peeling, likely lead-based paints. So don't think that would be a hindrance.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 7:08PM
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By San Diego I meant the mild climate! Not a very big deal if your windows are a little leaky in such a climate

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 7:49AM
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Ah, got it! I don't think we will have to worry too much either. Feeling lucky to be in such a mild climate now after living in new England!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 6:13PM
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I think its highly unlikely you would ever locate 30 windows - 60 sashes in all - of the size to fit exactly - everything was custom back then so not unusual to find some really goofy odd ball sizes in eighths of an inch. You could though easily get sashes custom made by a woodworker and then have someone put in the glass or learn how to do it. Or maybe you could find a few and then have the rest made to match. I wouldnt bother with weights and ropes either, as much as I love them. Id use the Pullman spring pulleys.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 1:02PM
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Circus Peanut

I did it. Best project I ever undertook on my bungalow. Found the sashes at junkyards, salvage places, Craigslist. You can learn to resize sash, as well, so that's not as crucial -- surprisingly to me, I found that the widths are usually standardized (24", 31.5", 34", etc) and if your house is from the 20th century, this is likely to be the case. If you're lucky, the replacement gorillas left the pulleys intact, so all you'll need are a good supply of Sampson spot cord and lots of new parting bead from a good lumberyard.

The white vinyl windows we inherited, which looked dreadful once we'd stripped all the trim down to the original fir:


The frame and pulley holes:

Almost done:


A comparison, for anyone who doubts the advantages:

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 8:40AM
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Circus Peanut

Continued --

As the second stage of the project, we made (and had made) storms and screens for them, and after a winter I can attest that our old single-pane windows plus wooden storms are MUCH warmer and draft-proof than the old vinyl ones ever were.

It takes a lot of time and patience, quality window putty and tools, a lead-safe working cubicle, adequate masks and protection, and a hearty local supply of old window sash, weights & pulleys, but it is SO SO worth it.

You also need to have the luck that the original frames were left intact by the window replacers, and hopefully they used caulk rather than epoxy to affix the new ones. We had one window where the latter was the case, and the trim was almost irreparably destroyed during removal. But even that can be re-carpentered with a little skill.

Free sash from the junkyard:

After my rehab, ready to install:

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 8:51AM
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circuspeanut, your work is a joy to behold.

My wife and I spent the first 3 years of our new Victorian disassembling every sash (150 of them!), stripping, repairing, reassembling, reglazing, re-finishing, re-rigging (ropes/pulleys), and then new storms. The result is beautiful, but I would never have the energy to do that again! 3 years, non-stop. It was awful.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 6:20PM
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Existing single pane glass is usually allowed to remain with storm windows added but single pane glass replacement sash would not be allowed by code in the northeast nor would most people want the additional cost to heat.

I've seen existing old sash modified to take new double pane glass and the sash weights modified to take the additional weight as well.

I've also seen new wood windows with double pane glass that could not be distinguished from old windows because the counter balance mechanism is hidden in the jamb of the sash. ("concealed balance" from Boston Sash & Millwork). This window is far superior to any window made in the past.

Here is the concealed balance with a parting bead. The sash is single glazed only because it is a historic restoration.

The only way to see the balance mechanism connection is to lower the upper sash all the way down.

Here is a link that might be useful: Boston Sash & Millwork

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 4:44PM
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Renovator8 , I respectfully disagree. Counter balances have long been hidden in the jamb. That's old school, not new.

The quality I speak of is the wood. There is absolutely no comparison to the wood available today with that of the old-growth woods used 75+ years ago. Just take a look at any wood windows from the last, say, 30 years. Not pretty. Mine are 125 years+ and still have another 100 in them. Not possible with today's cultivated timber.

As for double pane and all the gases et al, -also prone to failure. I'll take my single pane and a quality storm any day. Just how many double pane windows do you think will still be in service 100 years from now?


    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 6:38PM
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"existing single pane glass is usually allowed to remain with storm windows added but single pane glass replacement sash would not be allowed by code in the northeast.. "

Then I'm glad I'm in the Mid-Atlantic & would never consider asking permission (pulling a permit) as to what strength glass I can use to reglaze my ancient windows. Perhaps new windows are held to this standard but custom repair work or the sale of used sash? Really???

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 7:29PM
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Circus Peanut

That's news to me as well, antiquesilver, and I live in the far Northeast.

In any case, I can attest that our restored single pane sash, appropriately weatherstripped with copper and mohair or bulb fin, plus a new wooden storm, are noticeably more airtight and warmer than the old vinyl double-glazed windows we threw out. About 9 out of the 15 were partially broken, stuck, fogged up, or completely nonfunctional when we bought the house - previous owner had put them in only 7 years prior.

I will also agree with the quality of most modern wooden sash -- unless you pay a ransom for custom work in mahogany, etc, you are getting softer wood that just won't last in the weather like the sash made of old-growth wood.

Those concealed balances look interesting, Renovator8, but I think I'd prefer a non-proprietary pulley system that's easy to find parts for replacement through the years. I don't mind the look of the sash cord at all (Samson spot cord rocks!), and you can do metal chain in a number of finishes if you prefer.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 10:14PM
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Wow circuspeanut! What an amazing transformation. Those are just beautiful.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 11:41PM
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I wouldnt bother with double e glass in my interior sashes and futzing with the weights. You can just have e glass put in the storm windows instead and call it a day - you really can have the best of both worlds, the beauty of the authentic original windows PLUS some insulating value if you need it.

And re Circus Peanut's window makeover - WOW is all I can say!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 1:37PM
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Circus Peanut

Clarion, that is truly a labor of love. It does get easier, but not necessarily less tedious, eh?

Thank you all so much for the kind comments. We absolutely adore the "new" windows. They are lovely and incredibly durable, we expect them to last another 100 years.

You can just have e glass put in the storm windows instead and call it a day - you really can have the best of both worlds, the beauty of the authentic original windows PLUS some insulating value if you need it.

This is what we did - used double glass in the new wooden storms. Wonderful solution.

As luck would have it, we're moving this week into a new old house with (wait for it) 24 unrestored windows. That's 48 sash with muntens, plus screens, plus storms. Gulp. This winter's project!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 8:45AM
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Yes, a true labor of love. No other words for it! Our windows were really bad off. The joints were largely rotted out, so we didn't have a single sash that didn't have to be disassembled, then reassembled using West System

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 8:46AM
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On the positive side, disassembling the sashes made the paint removal a bit easier. I think the glass broke about 40% of the time, despite our best efforts, so all that glass had to be replaced. Fortunately (?) our house had been a boarding house since the 60's and was very abused so that there was little of the original wavy glass left, which would have been heartbreaking to loose.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 8:52AM
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We had 3 years of window sash everywhere, in all their various stages

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 8:55AM
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The glazing and painting were the real time killers. Plus we went with an out door color and an indoor, which really slowed things down.

We got a great tip early on from a firm here in Providence that specialized in building new replacement sash as exact duplicates for historic windows. We were having a lot of trouble with the glazing compound. It took forever to dry and was difficult to apply and level out. The owner laughed and said "Try a good quality caulk". He said the caulking today is way better than the old glazing compound and he uses caulk exclusively.

Well, he was sure right. Application was far easier, and the weather seal seemed to be far better to us than the glazing. We never looked back. One application of caulking to bed the glass in, then a 2nd on top nicely leveled and beveled with a small scraper.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 9:05AM
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Once disassembled, we ran the rails and stiles through the planer to get about 50% of the paint off. It's attached to the shop vacuum system, and 10 years later we show no signs of mutation from lead paint.

Then each rail or stile went into the bench vice and a heat gun was used to remove the remaining paint.

Our house is enormous, aproximately 8000 sq ft, and so yes, we really did have around 150 sashes to do. No way in the world we could have afforded to do it any other way.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 9:15AM
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For those of you with really nicely restored original double hung windows how quiet are they compared to a modern dual pane? I just moved into an old house from ~1914 and the upstairs windows that face the street are in very poor shape. The upper glass must have fell out amd was wind replaced withplexiglass and they dont even seal at the bottom. The wind and noise just come right in. The downstairs has jeld-wen wood sash replacements that look nice. I gotta have a quiet bedroom. Short of moving to the back room of the house what can i do to make the windows really quiet? I have a quote from a window restorer to do them for $1000. He will rebuild them to better than original he said and use brass weather stripping. Only the lower sash has the original wavy glass. Not sure how much jeld-wen sash replacements cost.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 11:26PM
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Typically with the original older single pane you would pair the window with a storm window. In this instance they are then just as quiet as anything else.

As always, check to see if he has done this work before, and if so, references. Might even have him do 1 window first as a trial. How many windows are we talking about?

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 4:57AM
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His work is recommended by other old house owners in the neighborhood. It is just two large windows in my room that need fixing although i might see if i can get him to seal up the two casement windows in the room for that much. One of the casement windows is missing hardware and they face away from the breeze so i wouldnt open them anyways. If im feeeling up for a challenge i suppose i could remove the window myself and board up the hole while i work on restoring it....

There is just SO much to do since i just bought it. Needs new gutters, repair other gutters, down spouts, drainage, some plumbing work, remove upstairs knob and tube and rewire, clean out old insufficient attic insulation and blow in new insulation. Minor roof work, rebuild the upstairs wrap around porch, remodel the kitchen, turn basement into rental unit....it just wont end!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 11:43PM
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Circus Peanut

In my case, the newly restored wooden windows WITH storms installed were noticeably quieter than the newer vinyl dual-panes that preceded them.

If your restorer puts pile weatherstripping on the edges of the sash, too, they will be even smoother, tight and quiet. Hope that helps!

Here is a link that might be useful: mohair, mole-hair, pile weatherstrip

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 12:29PM
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