Victorian Home Restoration: Why Keep Wooden Windows

Contractor Hank Handler was finishing up “routine maintenance” on the original windows at Woodlawn, an 1805 home in Alexandria, Virginia, when news came that Hurricane Sandy would strike within 24 hours. Suddenly, their home restoration took on new significance.

“We restored the wood windows and replaced all the broken glass, but nothing we did was really hurricane preparation,” Handler says. “We did have all the windows screwed shut, but really, once you do these basic things like clearing debris off your roof, there isn’t much you can do to prepare your home for such a big storm.”


Once part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, Woodlawn was nearly destroyed by an 1896 hurricane—but not this time. Carefully maintained by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Woodlawn suffered only minor landscape damage due to Hurricane Sandy. (Photo: Woodlawn in 2003 by William Thornton, image public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


As Handler points out, any home, no matter how well-cared for, may shatter under the force of any strong storm if at the storm’s epicenter. But because Woodlawn survived the “superstorm” with minimal damage, Handler’s experience suggests that simple home restoration and “routine maintenance” might be the key to saving your historic home–even its vulnerable wooden windows.


Why You Shouldn’t Replace Wooden Windows

If your windows have ever broken, you know first-hand that debris will flow into a home through even the smallest crack. But beware: replacing your Victorian home’s original windows with modern ones will not necessarily make your home better enabled to withstand the next storm.

Historic windows were constructed on-site by local builders, measured precisely to fit the home’s window openings and built in local styles. Modern windows—even historic reproductions—are mass-produced; you may not be able to order windows that fit your window openings’ depth, height and width. An incorrectly sized modern window will create leeway between the windowsill, casing and jamb that can allow water to seep into your home.

Moreover, more than 50 percent of today’s windows are made of vinyl. Though scratch- and rot-resistant, Victorian homeowners will find that vinyl windows have inherent practical drawbacks. Unlike wood, vinyl expands during hot weather and contracts during cold weather. Therefore, vinyl windows warp over time; if you paint a vinyl window a dark color, it will absorb heat, hence expanding and warping even faster. And warped vinyl—unlike rotted, cracked or burned wood—can’t be repaired.

To learn more about Victorian home restoration and storm preparation, Keep reading our post or articleo.


by Elaine K. Phillips

Sources: The National Park Service, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Hank Handler of the Oak Grove Restoration Company, and Working Windows by Terry Meany.



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