Alright, replacing windows in an old home is quite the project. I am not going to tread lightly here. Although this piece of our farmhouse reno may have started as our least favorite project, in the end it is our most meaningful and beneficial. Getting to that end result was not easy, however…
When we purchased our farmhouse (built in 1890, originally an apple tree farm) almost five years ago, we fell in love with the windows. We researched and researched until the cows came home and found a local restoration business. We learned a lot, but mostly our biggest take-away was that we probably did not want to keep the old, charming windows. I had a funeral in my head for these beauties, knowing this would change the scope of our overall project/home. I was a bit stunted in the inspiration realm at kick-off, so I drove around forever with my eyes peeled and sought the help of trusty (those of whom style I love) family and friends. One day, I received a text from a friend who was on a walk with a picture of a farmhouse-style home. The home had double-hung, two-over-two style windows. She said in her text “this style window would look so nice on your house!”. So, I started pinning pictures, ideas and inspiration from all around and eventually came to agree. Now that we zero-ed in on a style window, we had a lot of planning ahead of us.
We started by finding a contractor. We went to our local hardware/lumber yard store and asked for referrals. They gave us a few and we met with them, receiving estimates from each. We chose our window contractor (who has become our contractor for many other projects, in fact) and we were off to the races. (Side note, finding a contractor that would even sign up for this job was not easy. We found that a lot of contractors are not interested in renovating older homes, especially replacing windows. This is because there are too many “what-ifs”. Once they start to open up the walls, the project may become more complex and more costly. This sometimes leads to the disagreements among the homeowner and contractor. Luckily, my husband knows a lot about construction, so he was able to work well with our contractor and we were able to keep an open mind throughout the demo and reno).
The next step was schooling ourselves on replacement vs. new construction windows. Originally, we thought it would be best to go with replacement windows, mainly because they are cheaper and the labor isn’t as involved. Replacement windows are installed within the existing frame of the window. If your framing is not solid and drafty, it will remain that way if you use replacement. They are faster and cheaper to install, however, the windows themselves tend to cost more and the window size is decreased since it will only fit in the existing frame. New construction windows cost less than replacement windows, but are more expensive to install. The bonus in this option is that you can standardize or adjust window sizing to fit the need of the space. Also, new construction windows may require new window trims. There is a lot to learn in both of these options, so doing research ahead of time and deciding what fits your home and your budget is definitely necessary.
Our particular house and our particular project called for new construction. It made way more sense for a few reasons. One reason is that a lot of our windows were crooked. From over 100 years of the house settling, the windows shifted as the foundation shifted, hence leaving the alignment off and leaving the windows to look uneven. Our dining room, in particular, has two windows on one wall. They are fairly larger windows so it was obvious that they were not level with one another. Another reason we chose new construction over replacement was because we thought spending the extra few hundred dollars on each window helped ensure less of a draft and really helped insulate our walls. While each of the window cavities were open we shoved extra insulation in them for extra protection and warmth! It prolonged the construction period, but how happy we are today that we did this.
We had the local hardware store send someone for a measure. A measure is an additional cost, so we had them measure the entire house (all of the windows, even those we were not looking to replace during this project). This way, when we do change our minds or decide to replace additional windows we will have the info and not have to pay an additional measuring fee. Once the measure is done and you are ready to place your window order keep the following in mind:
- What type of window will work best – double-hung, casement, fixed
- What type of style panes will work best – two-over-two, a more traditional six-over-six?
- Take note of which companies are best and which of their window categories will stand the test of time – ie: Marvin vs. Anderson
- Wood vs. vinyl
- What type of cladding, if any?
- Color choices (yes, there are color choices!)
- Washing function – are they a tilt open? It may be worth spending the extra money here for ease and accessibility, especially for windows on second and third floors
- Choosing a standard size window (rather than custom) cuts on the cost and makes it easier to get replacement parts (like screens) if/when needed
- The more windows you order at the same time, the greater the discount you will receive.
If you are a farmhouse romantic, fixing broken glass pains and restoring old windows may be your route of choice. It can be done. Just note that this option is pricey in and of itself due to repair costs (this is becoming a “lost art”) as well as the loss of insulation which can make your heating and cooling bills higher in the end. Our windows were in such bad shape – they had been painted over many times until they couldn’t even open! Sometimes we would break a window pane by simply attempting to open the window. It was then we realized that we needed something more functional and less costly over time. Now our windows are safe, aesthetically appealing and functional. Worth the hustle, worth the money and worth the stress! Welcome to farmhouse living.