It's one thing to write glibly of the vast and exciting array of window choices out there for the lucky rehabber -- and quite another to choose the right windows for a particular house.
The Window Dilemma: It's a monster that lurks somewhere in most rehabs.
The house we're working on, a four-level brick row house on a hill overlooking the harbor, has 30 windows. Some of them were damaged, some of them were blocked up, some of them are historic and quaint, some of them are new. Every single one of them needs something.
Fortunately, it's not 30 separate decisions. They can be divided into three basic categories.
The first set is a group of eight windows on the front of the house. All have curved tops; on the top two floors the windows are two panes over one, on the first floor they're two panes over four, with the bottom sashes more than 6 feet tall.
All eight need scraping, sanding, new glass, reglazing, some regluing and rebuilding. There was never a question of replacing these -- they're special and historic. They'll be a lot of work, but we'll do most of it ourselves.
We've found an old-fashioned local hardware store that respects old windows and will replace the glass and the glazing for us. The store saves old glass so customers who want a historic look may be able to get a replacement that matches unbroken panes. (New glass simply doesn't look the same as old -- it doesn't have the tiny imperfections and it doesn't reflect light in the same quirky way. If you're interested in a historic treatment, it's worth seeking out a source of old glass.)
The second set is a group of nine windows on the back of the house that will be either completely different from what was there before or are going into entirely new openings. This is the group that has caused the biggest headaches, mostly because we had trouble coming to an agreement on what we wanted.
These are all special-situation windows that called for unique solutions. On the third floor, we are replacing what had been a long, blank brick wall with a window wall: Three tall double-glazed panes (two of them casements, the middle one fixed) over three shallow awning windows. This room has the best harbor view, and these windows were designed to maximize that -- and the great, fresh breeze that sweeps through the house when the windows are open.
On the second floor, a window in what will be the family bath needed a lot of masonry work, plus its location over the new tub could have caused moisture problems. The solution: A rectangle of clear glass block that starts high enough off the floor to provide privacy but still floods the room with light.
In the master bath, also on the second floor, at the back in a 1940s addition, the solitary window was tiny, ugly and in a position that interferred with good use of the space. We decided to move it over but discovered, when we were enlarging the opening, that this room also has a great view. Instead of one larger window, we decided on a much larger double-glazed, double casement treatment. It fills the room with light, captures the breeze, and will allow the owner to watch Fourth of July fireworks from the comfort of the whirlpool tub.
On the first floor at the back, where the same brick addition is being transformed into a powder room and part of the kitchen, there was only one scrawny, ugly window, right in the middle of the back wall. That window will be moved over 18 inches, to make the new kitchen layout work, and enlarged to match the size and style of the other windows along the side on that floor. The powder room gets a brand new window opening, and a special old, leaded-glass window discovered at a nearby antique shop.
On the ground floor, in that same '40s addition, a bathroom will get a new, larger, window and a new entrance to the courtyard will get a new window on the side in what was previously a blank wall.
The last group of windows, 13 of them, will be replaced with new windows as close as possible in style and size as the originals. The question here was what kind of window to use.
At first we were going to use vinyl replacement windows. They're inexpensive, energy efficient, easy to operate, tilt in for cleaning and can be custom-made to fit existing openings.
Once we started shopping around for them, however, we changed our mind. We thought the vinyl looked too modern; even though the windows are at the back and sides (in an areaway) of the house and not clearly visible from any street or alley, we still wanted something that enhanced the historical charm of the structure (and its neighbors).
Next we looked at sash packs, which are replacement windows designed to fit into old openings on replacement tracks. We liked the idea, because they are wood inside and out, double-glazed and fairly energy-efficient.