Those older win­dows will leave you feel­ing cold

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - ARI MARANTZ

QUES­TION: Here’s a ques­tion rel­e­vant for many Win­nipeg home­own­ers. What is the best way to pre­serve old sin­gle or dou­ble-hung wood win­dows? Can they be made more en­ergy ef­fi­cient, and what kind of storm win­dows can be used to com­ple­ment them? There are so many char­ac­ter homes in Win­nipeg that just don’t look the same when new vinyl win­dows are in­stalled and new wooden re­place­ments seem to be quite un­rea­son­ably priced.

Thank you, Sherri MacKen­zie

AN­SWER: I agree with you that re­plac­ing older, wooden vertical slid­ing win­dows with mod­ern vinyl win­dows may sub­stan­tially change the look of a home, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I will of­fer some sug­ges­tions to make your older win­dows more air­tight, but the small im­prove­ment in ef­fi­ciency can­not be com­pared to that of full re­place­ment.

The prob­lem with most older, sin­gle or dou­ble-hung vertical slid­ing win­dows is that they are sin­gle pane with poor qual­ity or miss­ing weath­er­strips. Th­ese two qual­i­ties com­bine to cre­ate very in­ef­fi­cient units when it comes to heat and air loss. Be­cause the sin­gle pane of glass has very lim­ited ther­mal re­sis­tance, a large per­cent­age of heat loss in older homes can be at­trib­uted to win­dows. This is com­bined with ad­di­tional en­ergy wastage from warm air leak­age through and around th­ese units. This dou­ble whammy is the main rea­son that home­own­ers in older homes com­plain about them feel­ing cold and drafty.

Re­place­ment of your older win­dows will be a costly up­grade, but will make a sub­stan­tial im­prove­ment in com­fort and en­ergy sav­ings. This is pos­si­ble due to the im­proved ther­mal re­sis­tance from the sealed units of glass in­te­gral in new win­dows. Th­ese can be fur­ther en­hanced by or­der­ing win­dows con­tain­ing in­ert gas be­tween the panes or low-e coat­ings. All of th­ese fea­tures, whether dual or triple pane, will pre­vent sub­stan­tial amounts of heat from es­cap­ing the liv­ing space of your home.

While the sealed units are im­por­tant, a more dra­matic im­prove­ment in per­for­mance may be in the com­po­si­tion of the win­dow sash and weath­er­strips. Most vinyl win­dows have sashes and frames de­signed with mul­ti­ple cham- bers that trap air and pre­vent con­duc­tion of heat or ther­mal bridg­ing, com­mon with wood frames.

Also, the in­te­grated weath­er­strips in new win­dows, es­pe­cially case­ment and awning mod­els, seal very tightly when closed. This pre­vents much of the air leak­age com­mon with your old wood mod­els and is fur­ther im­proved when the cam locks, present on most mod­els, are closed. Th­ese locks not only im­prove win­dow se­cu­rity but also pull the win­dow sash tight to the frame elim­i­nat­ing all but the small­est open­ings for air leak­age.

If the cost of up­grad­ing win­dows is pro­hib­i­tive, and you do wish to pre­serve the orig­i­nal look of the home, sev­eral fac­tors should be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. The first is the over­all con­di­tion of the wood frames and sashes. If there is any vis­i­ble rot or mois­ture dam­age in any of the win­dow com­po­nents, re­place­ment may be the only op­tion. It is not prac­ti­cal or cost-ef­fec­tive to re­pair or re­place dam­aged wooden com­po­nents of win­dows ex­cept for stops, in­te­rior cas­ings and brick mould­ings. Th­ese items are nor­mally in­stalled over the frame with fin­ish nails and may be re­placed rel­a­tively eas­ily if rot­ten.

If the older win­dows are in good con­di­tion, over­all, some in­ex­pen­sive ad­di­tions may make them bet­ter at pre­vent­ing heat and air loss. The main thing to keep in mind when in­stalling the fol­low­ing items is that stop­ping air leak­age should be your main con­sid­er­a­tion. Any­thing that pre­vents air from leak­ing through or around the win­dows will pre­vent drafts and im­prove com­fort, while sav­ing money on en­ergy.

This can be ac­com­plished pri­mar­ily by im­prov­ing two prob­lem ar­eas in your old win­dows. The first im­prove­ment may be made in seal­ing of the win­dow sashes with new weath­er­strip­ping or re­mov­able plas­tic sheath­ing. Th­ese can be in­stalled on the in­side of the frame and weath­er­strips added on the ex­te­rior where the storm win­dows fit in. Th­ese junc­tions are where much of the air leak­age oc­curs. There are nu­mer­ous types of weath­er­strip­ping kits avail­able at home cen­tres and the rule of thumb is that the more you pay, the bet­ter they will work and the longer they will last.

The next area to ad­dress is that around the win­dow frame, it­self. The sim­plest part of this next re­pair is to in­stall a good bead of caulk­ing around the ex­te­rior be­tween the win­dow and the sid­ing. Also, us­ing paintable caulk­ing at joints be­tween the ex­te­rior brick mould, stops and the ac­tual win­dow frame will help.

The more dif­fi­cult, but more use­ful, por­tion of this ef­fort will re­quire re­moval of the win­dow cas­ing on the in­te­rior. This may be ac­com­plished without dam­ag­ing the older trim by care­fully us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of a util­ity knife and thin pry-bar, to pre­vent dam­age to the walls or wooden com­po­nents. If you are suc­cess­ful in re­mov­ing the trim without dam­age, the fin­ish nails may be pulled through the back side of the cas­ing with box pliers to pre­serve the sur­face of the cas­ing.

Once the cas­ing is re­moved, you may be sur­prised to see the large amount of empty space be­tween the rough fram­ing and plas­ter and the win­dow frame. There may be a small amount of older in­su­la­tion stuffed in this gap, but this should be eas­ily re­mov­able.

Once the open­ing is fully ex­posed, fill­ing the cav­ity with low ex­pan­sion, blown-in foam is the next step. This ma­te­rial is read­ily avail­able in small aerosol cans and is eas­ily in­stalled us­ing the long plas­tic straws in­cluded, to reach the back of this open­ing. Once this area is filled with foam, and any ex­cess dry ma­te­rial is trimmed, the cas­ing may be re­in­stalled.

While the sim­ple im­prove­ments sug­gested for your older, wood win­dows will pro­vide some re­lief from air leak­age and heat loss, noth­ing will com­pare to re­place­ment with mod­ern units. It may take many years to re­cover the cost of up­grades in en­ergy sav­ings, but im­prove­ments in com­fort will be im­me­di­ately felt. Also, newer ad­vance­ments in PVC frames al­low more ver­sa­til­ity in colour se­lec­tion, which should min­i­mize the im­pact of the aes­thetic changes re­quired when up­grad­ing win­dows.

New win­dows add charm and warmth.

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