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Photo Credit: Pella Corporation

There are several reasons why someone might embark on a historic reproduction project for a building. It might be a personal choice to restore a building to its original look. Alternatively, it might be required by a homeowner’s association or a historic district. Whatever the reason, renovating and restoring a building to its historic look presents a number of unique challenges and opportunities – including for windows.

Caleb Klein of Pella outlined some of the key considerations for the historic reproduction of windows. First and foremost, it is essential to keep in mind that just because the window should look like an authentic historical style does not mean it should perform like that authentic historical style.

“The challenge from an engineering perspective is making the window perform better than the old-world window and meet today’s standards, while matching certain window features that were produced 100 years ago,” Klein said.

The task, then, is finding the perfect balance between accurate aesthetics and modern performance standards.

Photo credit: Pella Corporation

Window manufacturers are developing innovative new methods to find that elusive balance between aesthetics and performance. Some historic reproduction solutions are relatively simple, like using new wood window engineering and preservation techniques that were not around when the historic style was first in vogue. But other solutions are more complicated.

At its heart, historic reproduction is about making windows look like they were assembled decades or even hundreds of years in the past, depending on the historic style in question. That can be difficult now that window-making techniques are so different. For example, in the past windows were assembled painstakingly, one pane of glass at a time, but modern windows are assembled around one large sheet of glass.

Photo Credit: Kolbe Windows and Doors

Another challenge is producing windows that looked like authentic through-stile construction without sacrificing modern performance expectations. While some historic renovations require through-stile windows for aesthetic and stylistic authenticity, it is enormously difficult to make those windows comply with modern performance standards, according to Klein. Window manufacturers must then spend a lot of time performing engineering analyses to find solutions that deliver on both aesthetics and performance.

Screens, too, pose a dilemma for historic renovation jobs. Most double-hung screens go on the outside of the window, throwing a wrench into the works for architects, builders and remodelers looking to preserve a home’s exterior look.

“They actually hide or mask or block all the important aesthetics that were in the code or requirement to begin with,” Klein said.

While the problems posed by window assembly, through-stile construction and screens can be vexing, window manufacturers devote a significant amount of time and resources to finding solutions. An architect looking to select a manufacturer for a historic renovation project will not skimp on the small details, so manufacturers have followed suit, devoting care and attention to even small aspects of the overall design to make sure their historic replacement windows are suitable.

Just as there are certain challenges to overcome, Klein said there are opportunities to incorporate extra advantages and details into modern reproductions of historic windows. These small advantages might include integrated security sensors in the window, providing an extra layer of protection without changing the look of the window itself.

“Those innovations are typically things you can’t see, because it can’t impact the overall aesthetic of the window when you’re trying to match up with something from a hundred years ago,” Klein explained.

Photo credit: Kolbe Windows and Doors

Another element to consider with historic renovation projects is that windows are often just one element of the overall project. That imposes certain constraints on windows, because they are one subsection of a larger budget. Accordingly, even though hot topics like sustainability are top of mind right now, historic reproductions of windows often cannot incorporate all the newest sustainable features because of cost concerns. Klein said sustainability is always a consideration, and the goal is to incorporate the best long-term sustainable solution for the historic building. But he pointed out that the historic reproduction of the window may be coinciding with a total revamp of the entire building, including its HVAC system.

“So do they spend more money on that, or do they spend more money on a really high-efficiency window package?” Klein asked.

Photo Credit: Pella Corporation

Ultimately, historic reproduction of windows is best when the windows are versatile. Though historic replacement windows have been incorporated into houses of many architectural styles, ranging from Victorian to Craftsman homes and everything in between, window manufacturers are best positioned when they do not commit to any one style in particular. Rather than backing themselves into a corner by specializing in Victorian reproductions alone, for example, window manufacturers can make historic renovation projects easier by offering the flexibility to customize certain aspects of the window. Architects are then able to pick and choose the parts and pieces to transform the window into a perfect replica of the style they need for any given project.

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