Window Do's and Don'ts
Some object lessons to keep in mind when installing new windows or maintaining old ones.
Although they are recent additions to this classic Cape, the six-over-six double-hung windows in the gabled dormers don't stand out like sore thumbs because the owner made sure that the size and shape of the panes echoed those in the house's eight-over-twelve originals.
Granted, old windows are poor thermal barriers and a major source of heat loss and air infiltration. But it's a crime to conserve energy at the expense of a structure's historic character: Whenever the budget permits, splurge on storm windows that fit.
The narrow aluminum frames of these well-fitting triple-track storms and screens would almost "disappear" if they were painted the same brick-red color as the original trim.
Here, too, a little paint would go a long way toward blending new storms into the period casing.
In cases where the top sash of a period double-hung window is fixed, the best option may be to reputty the panes of the upper sash, caulk the frame, and fit the sliding lower sash with screens and storms that can be swapped out seasonally.
The homeowners have fitted every available wall space on the back of this alpine-style chalet with windows designed to capture light, air, and picturesque views: The architectural risk pays off handsomely only because every window—large or small, old or new—possesses identically sized window panes that work to create a consistent pattern.
Consistency is our friend, creating a rhythmic pattern that is pleasing to the eye. In new construction, careful window selection can make the difference between successful contemporary home design and mix-and-match McMansion-mode chaos.
When choosing windows for a renovated room or new addition, look to the original structure for clues. For a Federal-period home with traditional double-hung multipaned windows, a side-by-side pair of six-over-six windows trimmed to match the originals works much better than an oversize single-pane unit would have.
A grid that's slightly narrower than the original muntins gives away the fact that this 19th-century building's double-hung windows are late-20th-century replacements.
This round-head window is missing its original sill, a victim of a quick coverup when the house was reshingled in the mid-20th century. Restoring this key element—and giving the noble antique the paint it deserves—would do much to bring back the home's faded elegance.
When purchasing replacement sashes, multipane windows with genuine glazing bars, or muntins, are often referred to as true divided lights or lites. New windows, like these, that use wooden or metal grilles or grids to simulate the look of actual muntins are generally referred to simply as "divided lites." Don't expect anybody to be fooled—even from a distance. For a more convincing re-creation of period character, check out the new simulated divided lights, custom-made to mimic the originals in every detail.
With windows of any age, routine maintenance is the essential. Pay particular attention to horizontal surfaces, like wooden sills and lintels, which are prone to water damage. With a little TLC, the windows you've got will last your house a lifetime.