Storm windows: worth restoring, don’t you think? Or are we crazy?

Okay, let’s begin with a great song. The video at the top of this post (admittedly rough, but it’s the only one I could find) is of John Prine, one of my musical heroes, singing an old and beautiful song of his called Storm Windows. It’s stuck with me through lo these many years probably because of one great line: “Time don’t fly; it bounds and leaps.” True, n’est-ce pas?

And that done, let’s talk about storm windows for real.

I got thinking about storm windows because it has been another cold, cold day. One recent cold day made me think of mittens on strings. Tonight, though, as I was looking out at the frigid night from a warm and toasty (and largely draft-free) indoors, storm windows came to mind.

Storm windows: does anyone still have them? Does anyone still go to the bother of putting them on in the fall and taking them off in the spring, to protect the house from cold winter weather?

We had storm windows at the Manse in Queensborough when I was growing up there. I can still remember my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, up on the ladder installing them and taking them down, and never particularly enjoying the experience. For one thing, it is a pain in the neck, doubtless; and for another, Dad would always have been happier working in a woodlot in his non-minister time than doing home maintenance.

The original wooden windows at the Manse have been "improved" with insertion of energy-efficient ones (vinyl, I think). Replacing them with restored wooden windows will be a lot of work, and costly. But worth it, I think.

The original wooden windows at the Manse have been “improved” with insertion of energy-efficient ones (vinyl, I think). Replacing them with restored wooden windows will be a lot of work, and costly.

But today, as the current owner (with my husband, Raymond, of course) of the Manse, I mourn the fact that the house’s old wooden windows have been “improved” with modern energy-saving ones. I cannot blame the Manse Committee for having put in energy-efficient windows; that’s what we’re all told to do these days, and it’s an old house, and without the storm windows (which I doubt anyone has put on since my dad did) it was probably drafty. But I (and many other heritage preservationists) are annoyed about the myths perpetrated about historic wooden windows by those who would have us replace them with something much less aesthetically appealing (or appropriate). Click here to watch a hilarious little video called “The Window Salesman,” in which a vinyl-window guy tries to convince a savvy owner of a heritage property that her wooden windows need replacing. (I like to think I’m her.)

So yes, as someone who has spent a lot of time and energy promoting heritage preservation, I long for the original windows, and the storms. And I am not alone; click here for a good New York Times story (headline: “Old Windows find a Following”) on preserving, rather than replacing, wooden windows.

Anyway, the good news is: maybe we can bring the Manse’s wooden windows back!

First, for all you doubters out there, let me tell you that there is a lot of good evidence about how original wooden windows, looked after and (if necessary) repaired and restored, are not only green (not to mention appropriate for heritage buildings), but also do a good job of keeping heat in and cold out. Google “restoring wooden windows” or some such and you’ll find lots of sites (like this one and this one), how-to advice, etc.

Great old wooden windows, stored in the Manse's garage and waiting to be fixed up and put back into service.

Old wooden windows, stored in the garage and waiting to be fixed up and put back into service.

Secondly (and this is the exciting part): some of the old storm windows are still there. Lurking in the rafters of the Manse’s back porch/summer kitchen, and in the old garage, are several old doors and windows and whatnot. We don’t think there is a full set of storms – more’s the pity; and if anyone happens to know where those old storms might have ended up (aside from the dump), please let us know – but there are some, and the ones that there are can be used as models and templates to make wooden replacements for the missing ones.

It will not be cheap to restore and replace the wooden windows. And some people will think we are nuts for getting rid of the “energy-efficient” vinyl ones.

But I feel like I owe it to the Manse. And maybe to my Dad. In honour of his storm-window exertions of four and a half decades ago

14 thoughts on “Storm windows: worth restoring, don’t you think? Or are we crazy?

  1. And whom “pray tell” will install and remove the storms. We live in a 1832 tone house and my route to conform to the heritage designation was to have custom wooden heritage windows made that are double pane energy efficient.

    • Well of course I thought of the storm-window installation and removal as a job for Raymond! But oddly enough he seems to be having none of it. However, I imagine we could find a handyman locally who would do a bang-up job for us. That said, I would love to see the windows that you had made, Gordon – I bet they are beautiful. (And I imagine they did not come cheap.)

  2. P.S. Speaking of old windows checkout Balleycanoe. The barn is filled with wooden and iron salvage of every pedigree. Truly amazing and the resident lab “Oliver” joyfully greets your arrival. Located off the 401 near Mallorytown west of Brockville.

  3. Well, we have permanent aluminium exterior storm windows plus the newfangled double-paned vinyl single-hung [double-hungs were pointless with permanent storms] interior windows. The storms are a pain [so to speak] to remove in order to clean the “outer” surface of the upper interior windows. As for the old wooden interior windows, I don’t miss them a bit.

  4. Nobody and I mean nobody likes dealing with storm windows. My father (and mother) hated it.
    The kids hated it because we had to clean the windows when the the storms came off and clean the windows and the storms before they went on. Storms are heavy, awkward, hard to deal with in a wind and on a ladder and lord help you if it’s windy when you’re on the ladder.

    I would think twice about subjecting anyone to the biannual tyranny of storm windows.

    Most people restoring an old house forgo storms for really expensive, custom made, divided light reproduction windows, thereby subjecting themselves to a lifetime of scraping, painting and maintenance in the interest of aesthetics.

    That’s a choice I succumbed to in our 1850’s farmhouse restoration. After that experience I would never buy wooden windows again, damn the aesthetics. But that’s me.

    For you I would think that vinyl widows are just the ticket. After all how quintessentially 60’s is the the urge to replace something old fashioned and of natural derivation with something modern and plastic? After all isn’t that why vinyl was invented? (In the 60’s )

    • Well I certainly see where you’re going with that, Bruce, and while I’ll all in favour of a ’60s aesthetic when it comes to home decor and whatnot, when it comes to the integrity of the exterior of an 1888 brick house I am going to stand my ground. At least until I find out that the cost is impossible – and even then I’ll probably do it anyway.

      • In that case I should hook you up with my brother in law in Ottawa who had a bunch of beautiful wooden double hung windows made with true architectural divided lights for his old stone house. Expensive but very authentic looking and energy efficient with no storms.

  5. Living in an old energy-hogging house, we feel that we know whereof we speak. We are going to have our downstairs storm windows put on hinges this spring with proper insulated stops, so that when we can open the widows, clean them and then close them and secure with a turn buckle. This will preclude taking off windows, cleaning and putting them back on. Much cheaper than replacing windows with new vinyl. If you already have vinyl, why not add the storms if you have them available? Then you have the best of both worlds. Our old windows are the old ‘wavy glass’ type and we hate to replace them!

    • Oh man, having that very old “wavy glass” would be so cool! You are very lucky to still have those historic windows. And it sounds like you’ve done all the right things with them. These hinged storm windows sound like a most interesting idea. I think Raymond and I are going to have to pick your brain (and come for a look-see) on that front.

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