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Little-Known Facts About Window Making

Windows are something we rarely think about until one breaks or becomes exceptionally dirty. You may not realize it, but there is more to the glass and frame that make up a typical window than meets the eye. A lot of science goes into designing modern windows that offer spectacular views without sacrificing energy efficiency or structural integrity. Indeed, today’s windows are much different to the windows of the past.

 

1. Glass Production before Windows

The first historical record of human glass production dates back to about 1500 BC. The document describes a process of heating the necessary materials and forming it into various shapes by twisting, bending, etc. However, it is possible that the earliest stages of glass manufacture go back as far as 3000 BC. Windows were rarely used in the structures of the day, and when they were installed, they were covered with animal skins or left entirely open.

It was not until about 30 BC that glassmakers began making products to cover windows. However, the available technology did not allow for flat and transparent panes that make looking out a window ideal. Typical panes were thick, barely translucent and not uniform. Those who wanted a view from their windows left them open.

2. Glass Meets Windows

By the 14th century, glassmakers had figured out a process of creating windowpanes known as broadsheet. This process created larger, flat panels of glass that were used for windows and leaded lights. By the 17th century, makers were using a new process to create crowned glass, a process that mostly solved the transparency problem and enabled thinner panes to be created. Both methods were limited in terms of the size of panes they created, resulting in large windows made up of multiple panes placed in a framework.

3. Glass Mass Production

German engineers came up with a new way to produce broadsheet glass in the early 1800s that increased the size of the sheets and the overall quality of the product. This process was so efficient that it ushered in an era of mass production that made glass windows commonplace. The process remained continuously in use for nearly 200 years.

4. Early Sash Windows

The earliest sash windows manufactured during the 17th century utilized heavy leaded glass and window frames consisting of several layers of smaller panes. Although these windows were effective, they were rather heavy and awkward to open. Engineers made the task easier by attaching counterbalance weights on either side of the sash.

5. Windows as a Sign of Wealth

The Victorian era ushered in a period in which the windows in one’s house were an indicator of wealth. Those of greater means chose windows consisting of only one or two panes of glass while lower-class homes still had windows composed of six or nine panes. The smaller panes were cheaper because they were easier to manufacture and ship.

6. Casement Windows

During the early 1900s, window makers began looking for ways to solve the draftiness of sash windows, especially in colder climates. They began developing casement windows made of wood or steel, discovering along the way that such windows could be mass-produced at a much lower cost than their sash counterparts could. By the end of World War II, casement windows ensured the doom of the traditional sash.

7. Energy Efficiency and Building Codes

Today, traditional sash windows are all but extinct except for specific cases of history preservation. The need for greater energy efficiency combined with strict building codes makes sash windows both impractical and much too expensive to use. Though history lovers lament the transition to casement windows, it is what it is. The job of the modern preservationist is to replicate the look of the old sash window while still maintaining efficiency and code compliance.

Now you know a little bit more about window making. Next time you are looking out one of your windows at home or the office, keep in mind there was a day when that would not have been possible. Thanks to some very smart people with some excellent ideas, today’s windows make life a lot better.

4 Challenges of Maintaining Historic Properties in the 21st Century

Those who appreciate the importance of preserving history and the lessons it teaches wince whenever another historic property is lost to progress. The more of these properties we lose, the weaker the connection to our past becomes. It is for this reason that history lovers work so hard to make sure historic properties are maintained whenever and, however, possible. Yet doing so is not easy. There are plenty of challenges in the maintenance of such properties in the 21st century, especially with ever-evolving technology and architectural standards.

We have identified four key areas in which historic property preservation is especially challenging today. Overcoming these challenges is all about learning how to adopt modern technologies and practices without harming preservation goals, a task that is not always easy

1. Window Design and Installation

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As the eyes are the window to the soul, a historic property’s windows give us real insight into the character and integrity of the building in question. Technology has altered window design to improve energy efficiency at its core, without necessarily worrying about historic preservation. Thankfully, there are ways to accomplish both goals. For example, there are numerous examples from around the country of original glass and window sashes having been used to create new windows that are both code compliant and true to history.

2. Exterior Paints and Stains

It is much harder to find appropriate paints and stains for the exterior of a historic building than to find similar products for the interior. Exterior paint and stain must be able to withstand the weather and environmental pollutants and, at the same time, remain true to the past in terms of color, shading, and texture. In some cases, this can mean having paint or stain custom-made to be accurate to a particular period or local neighborhood. Lastly, exterior paints and stains need to meet government regulations without appearing to look like modern products.

3. Replacement Roofing

Replacing the roof of a historic property may be the biggest challenge of all. A big part of the problem is that the architects and builders of the past utilized roofing materials that may not meet modern building code requirements. Untreated wood is but one example. The challenge is to find contemporary materials that meet regulatory standards yet still look like the products of the past. This makes roofing an expensive proposition in terms of both materials and installation.

4. Communication and Coordination

The fourth and final challenge of maintaining historic properties has nothing to do with building supplies or materials. Rather, it is the challenge of communication and coordination between all of the players. At center stage is the entity tasked with ensuring historic preservation – whether that entity is at the local, state, or federal level.

Far too many projects become bogged down as a result of a failure to communicate between preservation authorities and contractors. Such communication problems can be made worse by subcontractors who were not necessarily preservation-minded, and who rely almost entirely on contractors to make sure they know exactly what needs to be done. If preservation authorities and contractors are not communicating well, it is nearly impossible for those same contractors to adequately communicate needs to their subcontractors.

Maintaining historic properties involves a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Nevertheless, it is well worth it. Every property that can be saved is another property that enables us to keep that connection to the past. Historic property preservation should be a priority at every level of government, and among local communities as well.

Window Replication or Restoration: Which Is Better?

So, you own a historic building in need of new windows. The local preservation council insists that you either restore the current windows or replace them with historically accurate replicas. What do you do? Is it better to restore or to replicate? That depends on many things, ranging from window condition to your budget. Making a decision requires sitting down and evaluating all of the factors in play.

n a perfect world, history lovers would prefer your old windows be restored by a master craftsman who is also a preservationist expert. However, restoration is expensive work in light of modern building codes and preservation regulations. It may be that the owner of a historic building cannot afford restoration, thereby dictating replica windows be made.

5 Factors to Consider

Neither replication nor restoration is necessarily better in terms of the function of the windows in question. Both kinds of windows will do the job once the project is complete. From a historical perspective, however, most preservationists prefer to restore rather than replace. Should you find yourself having to make this decision, there are five factors you need to consider:

  1. Budget – The first consideration in any restoration project is the budget. You cannot have any work done that you cannot afford to pay for, whether it be window restoration or replacing a roof. It helps to sit down with a preservationist capable of helping you determine how best to spend your money. At the end of the budgeting process, you will want to know approximately how much you have to spend on windows.
  2. Condition – With budget established, it is then necessary to determine the current state of the windows in question. What is the condition of the wood and sash frames? Have the windows ever been stripped and refinished? Are there issues with wood rot, mold, insects, etc.? Old windows have to be in relatively good shape to make restoration worthwhile.
  3. Existing Hardware and Glass – Window hardware and glass play a role in determining whether windows should be restored or replicated. If enough of the original materials still exist, preservationists would prefer to restore rather than replace. On the other hand, a substantial lack of hardware and glass may push the decision in the other direction.
  4. Local Code – Local building codes must always be considered in any preservation project. Unfortunately, building codes often add to the cost of restoration. In cases where local building codes add unreasonably to the restoration cost, building owners can either apply for exemptions or choose the replication option.
  5. Restoration Goals – Lastly, what are your goals for your restoration project? If you want your building to be as historically accurate as possible, restoration will be your first choice. However, you may be okay with a building that looks historically accurate even if it is not in its details. For you, replication may be a better choice.

It turns out that most preservation projects use a combination of both restoration and replication. Where windows are concerned specifically, it is not uncommon for engineers to save some old

windows for restoration purposes while replacing others that are not in good enough condition to restore. The trick is to get both to match as closely as possible.

In the end, there is no right or wrong. Whether or not you restore old windows or purchase replicas is a decision that will be influenced by your budget, the current condition of the old windows, and the goals of your restoration project. We recommend you do some research and speak to a few preservationist before making a decision.

What Is the Future of Window Restoration and Replication in Cuba?

Window Replication or Restoration: Which Is Better?So, you own a historic building in need of new windows. The local preservation council insists that you either restore the current windows or replace them with historically accurate replicas. What do you do? Is it better to restore or to replicate? That depends on many things, ranging from window condition to your budget. Making a decision requires sitting down and evaluating all of the factors in play.

In a perfect world, history lovers would prefer your old windows be restored by a master craftsman who is also a preservationist expert. However, restoration is expensive work in light of modern building codes and preservation regulations. It may be that the owner of a historic building cannot afford restoration, thereby dictating replica windows be made.

Even in the midst of ongoing preservation efforts, things in Cuba rarely go as well as they do here in the US. The economics of the island still dictate that more money and effort must go into infrastructure needs than into the preservation of old buildings. This is easily demonstrated in the arena of window restoration and replication, which can be prohibitively expensive for many buildings.

Repurposing Old Materials

The primary means of addressing windows in preservation projects has been to re-purpose materials from other buildings. When an old building in Cuba is demolished, project managers do everything they can to save what can be saved. It is not uncommon to find intact windowpanes, or complete windows for that matter, taken from demolished buildings and used for preservation projects. The repurposing of these old materials is likely to continue in Cuba for the foreseeable future.

With that said, renewed relations between Cuba and the United States should open the door for more active window restoration and replication using modern materials and techniques. It may take a while for things to get going, but there is little doubt it will happen.

More Talent to Cuba

Students from the University of Vermont visited Cuba in 2002 for the purposes of studying preservation efforts in Havana’s city center. At that time, such visits were rare, given the hostile relationship between Cuba and the U.S. That has changed dramatically. We now expect more preservation groups and universities to take trips to Cuba to be involved in preservation efforts. We expect to see some of the best and brightest focus on Cuba for window restoration and replication.

Why are windows so vital to historic preservation? Because window making techniques have changed so drastically in the last hundred years that modern windows make historical accuracy difficult. It takes the knowledge and skill of a preservationist to restore or design and build replica windows that are faithful to the past but compliant with the present.

Why are windows so vital to historic preservation? Because window making techniques have changed so drastically in the last hundred years that modern windows make historical accuracy difficult. It takes the knowledge and skill of a preservationist to restore or design and build replica windows that are faithful to the past but compliant with the present.

We believe renewed relations between the U.S. and Cuba will mean great things for preservation efforts – especially where window restoration and replication are concerned. We are looking forward to any opportunities this may present to us – opportunities that may enable us to be involved in preserving some of the most historically significant buildings in Cuba.

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