Windows are one of the most important features of a home—they open up the living space to a much larger experience (especially if you own property with a view), allow natural light indoors, and keep weather out. In historic buildings especially—which is where my focus lies as a master craftsman—windows should have an architecturally appropriate look from the interior and exterior, including how they’re trimmed with moulding. 

Windows have a lifespan, so deciding whether to repair or replace them is an important question. With an overwhelming amount of information and products available on the market today, it can be confusing to know what choices to make and who to trust to help you make these choices. Today, I’m walking through the most common questions and factors in deciding whether to repair or replace your windows.

This is just a starting point. As always, do your due diligence! Each home is different.

cracked paint in historic window

Identify Your Home’s Age

The homes of each era are marked by a different window installation technique: for instance, a traditional mid-century modern open concept home has windows custom built into the structural members of your walls, requiring a custom approach to glass replacement. The homes of each era are also marked by different window values—repairing historic double-hung windows in an early century home could enhance its historical value, while replacing them could make it feel more modern. Knowing how old your home is and any modifications that may have been made to its windows can help you understand whether you should repair, replace, or simply maintain, and will alert you to any limitations around repairing and replacing.

Keep these concepts in mind: 

  • Windows that typically need the most repair are on the weather-facing side of the house, especially on homes that don’t have eaves
  • New windows don’t last as long as historic windows; you’ll have to replace new windows four to five times in one historic window lifespan

Identify What You Want to Do With Your Home

When it comes to homes, there’s always an element of “have tos” that limit choices, like we have to replace our roof. Sometimes, windows are a “have to.” A good way to determine whether windows are something worth taking care of is considering what you want to do with your home. Here are a few things to ponder as you get started:

  • How long do you plan to live there?
  • Is historic longevity important to you?
  • Do the windows open? Are the windows painted shut? Is the paint peeling? Is the exterior trim sound or is it decaying?
  • Is energy efficiency important to you?
  • What is your budget? Is it more cost effective to repair or replace?
  • Is adding monetary value to your home important?  
  • If you’re replacing, what type of new windows do you want?

These questions can help you decide whether to maintain and repair your historic windows or replace your historic windows. Either way, it’s important to keep your windows well-maintained.

Maintaining and Repairing Old Windows

If you have historic windows, most can be repaired or rebuilt to their proper, original operation. Keep in mind that if you just need to get through another year before repairing or replacing them, you can employ a low-cost solution with high-grade caulking and primer. Don’t worry about operation or fret if the application is a little rough around the edges; the purpose is just to keep moisture from penetrating into the wall cavities until proper repairs can be made.  

The risk of ignoring maintenance is deep rot and decay—an expensive problem that can be avoided. Remember: antiques have value. If you have antiques that work, there’s monetary value and historical value. If you maintain your historic windows properly over time, you’ll save money in the long run, increasing the return on your investment.

should you repair or replace your historic windows

Replacing Your Windows

Depending on your budget, you can replace your windows in twos and threes—or half now and half later. Before you start, come up with a master plan: continuity is key. Make sure you know what your end game is. Make sure the brand—and the specific line—will be around for the duration of your project so you don’t have to change part way through. 

If your budget allows for it up front, replacing all your windows at once is less expensive in the long run—the contractor only has to come out once. This also means the disruption in your life is only once, and all your windows will not only be the same style, but the same age. New windows can also save money by increasing energy efficiency.

Maintaining New Windows

Once your new windows are installed, wash them regularly—and don’t forget the screens. Keep aluminum cladding clean, and inspect paint and caulk joints every year for any necessary repairs. With exterior painting and caulking, remember to use a high-grade paint, the right caulking, and the appropriate number of coats and amounts.

This is just a starting point for deciding whether to repair or replace your windows. Feel free to reach out with questions, or visit a Dunn Lumber window showroom for first-hand advice.

Dunn Lumber window showroom