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Heritage Windows: The Eyes To A House by Deanna Freer

Someone once wrote that a window is the eye to a house. Like an eye, a window gets its character from the detailing around it. Size, shape and spacing, type of sash, number of lights, and the ornamentation surrounding the window, are designed to give character to a house and complement the architecture. For example, look at any house built prior to 1920. Most windows have panes of glass that are long, rectangular and vertical. After 1920, there was a period of construction that emphasized horizontal rather than vertical windows. The reason that many of Revelstoke's historic homes have these uncomplimentary horizontal windows is because past homeowners wanted to keep up with the architectural trends of the 1920s and had horizontal windows installed. As a result, the scale and proportions of the building no longer flow.

Presently, the change from vertical windows is still being practiced. The trend, though, is for practical windows that can be easily opened, require minimal maintenance and conserve energy. There are two main types of windows found in older homes: double-hung and casement. Double-hung windows refer to windows that have an upper sash that slides down in the frame and a lower sash that slides up. A casement window is a sash hung on hinges that opens sideways like a door. A homeowner who has trouble with heritage windows does not always have to replace them with modern windows. Sometimes all it takes is a little TLC to maintain an older window and frame.

There are a variety of reasons why a double-hung window no longer works. Reasons can include: sash may be painted shut, sash cords or ropes may be frayed or broken, hardware may be missing, the putty deteriorated, or the wood has rotted away. These problems are easy to fix and do not need replacement of the windows to solve the problem. In most cases, you just need a putty knife to loosen the sash from the sill. If the hinges are worn out, casement windows will drag across the sill. They can be made to fit better by tightening the screws on the hinges. If that does not work, another solution is to adjust the casement lock's striker plate.

If one compares the two different types of heritage windows, double-hung is the most energy efficient and are the best type of window for airflow. For example, in hot weather, warm air rises to the ceiling and flows out the top sash opening and the cool air comes in the bottom sash opening. This causes a natural air flow.

Traditional wooden storm windows are inexpensive, durable and provide adequate insulation. Storm windows also compliment the look of heritage houses and protect your older windows from the elements. The only draw back is taking them off in the spring and replacing them in the fall.

If the problems with your heritage windows are too great, replacement of the windows should be closely matched to the historic ones. Replacement windows frames should be of the same material (wood for wood) using the same sash and pane configurations and other design details. But remember, retrofitting or replacing windows should never be a substitute for proper maintenance of the sash, frame and glazing.

by Deanna Freer