Hello all!

My wife and I are starting to plan for the warm season and the associated opportunities for working on the exterior of our foursquare farmhouse. We are in need of advice from people who love old houses for their charm and durability, as I don't trust a lot of the "common sense" the local contractors have to offer :-)

We have 22 windows in need of replacement. The previous owner bought the "replace your windows" lie and took out all but four of the original windows (mercifully leaving the four leaded glass windows) and replaced them with absolutely horrid stock size vinyl new construction windows from Menards. I estimate the windows are 5-7 years old and they are completely falling apart. Besides this, they are improperly installed and not the original sizes (the original windows were tall and narrow, the new vinyl ones are just as narrow but 12 inches shorter). In several rooms the PO installed one window at the top of the old window frames, and the other at the bottom. Needless to say, it is hilarious and sad all at the same time. The PO opened up the inside plaster and outside cedar clapboards with a circular saw, removed all of the original framing and weight pockets for the original windows, kinda sorta framed out the holes with 2x4s, and patched it all up with plastic sheets stapled over chipboard, leaving no siding to replace what he chopped off. Not kidding. When he was done he threw all the window trim and the windows in the burn pile and had a BBQ. There is no trace of the original windows left.

The original windows will be rebuilt (they are rough, too!!) and original style wood framed storm windows will be made. But what should I do about the other 22 windows? Normally I am a staunch fan of keeping the original windows, but they are gone. As I see it I have two options:

A: Either learn how to build or find a craftsman to build new old style double hungs. There are a lot of Amish in my area and someone suggested they might be a good source for custom windows. I have not looked into this.

B: Buy modern wooden replacement windows in the original sizes.

Either way I will have to recreate the exterior window trim, and I plan on making old fashioned wooden storms for the windows regardless of which option I take: until I plant my Norway Spruce windbreak I need as many ways to seal up my windows for winter as I can get!! Plus I don't mind ladders, and it is only twice a year, right?

Any advice or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance!

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I'd suggest you do a bit of learning the ways of the local Amish community, and then approach one of them to ask if any build window sash.  If none do they might well be willing to provide you with the name and address of an Amishman nearby who does.

I'd begin with an Amishman who mills lumber as he is likely to sell the material to the man who builds windows.

Honestly a window isn't that difficult to construct once you've learned how it is put together.  Any decent trim carpenter in 1950 was able to assemble the half dozen or so boards into a casing that fit the sash.  Since you're replacing you also might want to look into systems other than weights to position and hold the sash when open.

Has anyone built old fashioned double hungs from scratch? Are there any good books on the subject? I've looked at John Leeke's website, but his book appears to be for restoration of original windows, not building them from scratch. The fact that I would never have to replace the windows would be a big benefit of old fashioned windows (strong possibility I'll be in this house for the next 50 years). However, if factory made windows will be as visually satisfactory I wouldn't be opposed to them.

Any other ideas or opinions?

I have been through all aspects of window repair and replacement and the right answer depends on both the budget for your project- and your personal fortitude and patience.  If the frames are in good condition, having new sash made is an option- and you can upgrade to insulated glass, simulated divided lites, or even stay with authentic, single, putty glazed sash.  If you did compromise and switch to an effecient glazing, you may be able to forget the storms.  We manufacture complete custom DH windows for restoration projects using a concealled balance system, as well as historic true weight and chain windows- fully weatherstripped to fit any climate.  It's not an inexpensive product, but we provide windows all over the country and people do see the value in the product.  You can find more info on our website- www.heartwoodwindowsanddoors.com - or e-mail me and I'd be happy to share advice. 


The frames are in rather poor condition as they were removed and then burned. Any window option involves me starting at bare studs.

I will certainly check out your website! I love to work with wood, but up until purchasing this house I have had precious little opportunity to do so. I think I would enjoy building windows but have just enough sense to realize that with limited experience I may not be able to do so. I don't want to get into a project at which I am doomed to fail.

So far I've had two people vote for building new old-style windows. Anyone out there think that this is a foolish idea, and I should go with decent modern factory windows?

>>I've looked at John Leeke's website, but his book appears to be for restoration of original windows, not building them from scratch.

You are right, the book focuses on repairs and restoration. It does show the traditional way of making sash by hand, step-by-step, but there are not enough details in that topic for the reader to actually do it.

>>The fact that I would never have to replace the windows would be a big benefit of old fashioned windows (strong possibility I'll be in this house for the next 50 years). However, if factory made windows will be as visually satisfactory I wouldn't be opposed to them.

You will be hard put to find factory made windows from the big well-known manufacturers that could be counted on to last 50 years. Just look at their warranties (one to ten or twenty years) and realize that they have admitted in courts of law that 4% to 6% of their windows fail within the warranties and they only provide service on 2% to 3% of those claims. I wonder how many more of their windows fail and no claim is made. It looks like a 1 in 20 bet to me.

There are some smaller outfits and shops with true craftspeople who make good traditional windows with traditional long-lasting quality. Of course, you have to pay for that quality. One is Justin Smith at http://www.smithrestorationsash.com Where are you located?



I am located in southern Iowa, very near the factory for Pella Windows, in fact. I had not heard those numbers about warranty claims before, but I have no trouble believing them. I am very much unimpressed by the quality of most modern building materials. My wife and I were talking the other day about our experiences in our house so far; it is our first home, and her first restoration project (I was raised in fixer-uppers). She said that she is glad we are doing what we are doing, but she isn't sure she would have the desire to ever restore another house. I said that, after seeing the quality of our home and others like it, I'm not sure I could ever do anything EXCEPT buy another old house. We'll just have to avoid the fight and not move...

I also wonder how many windows fail with no warranty claims. Most people just seem to assume that since they are new they are fine, even if you can feel drafts between the sashes, etc. The son of the PO of my house came over and was bragging about how great it was that all of the windows are "brand new" and therefore I don't have to worry about them. What good is being brand new if you can fly a kite indoors on a windy day? The plastic over our windows look like the sails on the USS Constitution...

>>A: ...learn how to build ... new old style double hungs.

If you already have some woodworking skills this is a real possibility. See this discussion at my website on making windows:


>>Buy modern wooden replacement windows in the original sizes.

It is not at all likely that a window made for the window replacement market will last 50 years. You may have heard that the following is a joke, but it is no joke: The window industry itself calls them "replacement" windows because they will be replacing them sooner rather than later. They are designed and built to wear out and need replacing, they admit this when they say they are "maintenance free," meaning they can't be maintained. They admit themselves that they replace their own windows every eight to fifteen years. This has been seen by many people working on buildings and windows since Andersen came out with the first replacement window units in 1981. Steer clear of any window called or labeled "replacement."

I grew up in a family with a love of run down bungalows, so I have much construction experience, but precious little fine woodworking experience. I do believe I can learn these skills, and I have the interest and patience to do it. I do have some older friends who are experienced cabinetmakers, I wonder if I could convince them to help me...

The above link didn't work for me, John, but I am searching your website for building sashes. What a plethora of information!

Thank you all for the information and advice you've given so far! Three in favor of old fashioned double hung windows, anyone in favor of new windows? I would love to hear any arguments going the other way, as well, though I'm certainly being swayed in the "build new old windows" direction.

I know my opinion is not a popular one but I am enjoying my vinyl windows.  I replaced the windows in my 1860's home 3 years ago. I had several bids from companys for wood windows but the price was more than I paid for the house, no really but it was over $1000 per window.  The old ones could not be saved.  Most of the meet rails were gone and they fell apart totally when I removed the nails holding the sash in place since 1940. I live in Iowa and the wood windows were swollen in out humid summers and in the winter they shrunk so much rodents could come in around them.  I had snow on the window sills after every breeze.  I had all the windows replaced for less than $200 per window, installed.  I can open them with ease and when I close them the cold air stays out.  My monthly heat bill went from an average of 285.00 to 106.00 after they were installed.  If I could have saved my old windows I would have but since I couldn't I'm happy with what I've got.  I could always replace them with wood again if I have to.  Lair

Iowa is quite the place for relative humidity, isn't it? August feels like a steam bath and January like a freeze dryer...

Sometimes you have to be pragmatic, if the price for the windows are more than what you paid for the house, it just doesn't make sense. I am in a similiar circumstance, although I am going with wood windows and they are costing me $1000 a piece.

I bought an 1884 house in a Historic District for 45k earlier this month with the understanding it cannot be occupied, per the city, until I replace 10 (out of 11) windows and the front door with historically-accurate wood units. This is because the seller tore out and replaced all the original windows, with a hodge podge of second-hand and builder's overstock vinyl units and a steel front door, without pulling a building permit and without conforming to Historic District guidelines. He got an unannimous city council decision against him to deny his after-the-fact building permit and consequently the house cannot be occupied until the windows and front door are restored to wood units.

The windows I install will be double hungs for 7 of the windows but the 3 bedrooms will get casement windows to meet current fire codes, w/ detailing added to make them look like double-hung windows from the exterior. I have 90 days to complete this work and I'm going with custom-made but factory-made units, either Jeld-wyn or Pella, I think, but I haven't made the final decision on which bid to go with as of yet, I'm actually getting a third bid done this week.

This is going to cost me, with the front door and transom, more than 1/4 of what I paid for the house and honestly, I would be hard-pressed to break even if I tried to sell the house anytime in the near future. I don't plan to move again anytime soon, but you can never know what the Lord has in store for your future.

I read the posts about Amish-made and hand-crafted windows, but I have neither the time nor the money to go that route. My new windows will be beautiful and energy efficient.

I bought this house with cash from a small, one time, inheritance, by the time I get the windows/door done, movein and get setup, that money will be gone. I'm a single mom living on a fixed income due to a disability and this is going to set me up for very low overhead, much less than renting. I'm blessed.

The high-quality windows which will last 50 years talked about in this thread would be ideal, in perhaps another home at another time, for me, at this time, in this home, the factory-made windows will MORE than suffice. I'm anticipating they will be beautiful!!!


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