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.

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