Everything You Need to Know About Restoring Old Windows

Kristin Luna
Written by Kristin Luna
Updated December 8, 2021
The exterior of a cream brick house with white vintage windows
Ursula Page / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • The cost to restore old windows averages $358 per window

  • If the glass is cracking or the frame is rotting, you'll want to consider restoring or replacing

  • The best time of year to start a restoration is in spring, when the weather is temperate

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Perhaps you bought a century-old Victorian, and air is leaking in through the window due to the sheer age of the structure. Or maybe there’s a crack in the glass, or the wooden frame is rotting. No matter the issue, taking stock of whether it’s worth restoring or replacing old windows is important for the longevity of your home. You can add value to your home and benefit from more efficient windows by familiarizing yourself with the following facts.  

How Long Do Windows Last?

In general, according to HomeAdvisor, windows should be replaced every 20 to 40 years. However, older construction methods, which used hardwood and steel framing, were meant to stand the test of time themselves (whereas more modern-day windows are usually plastic or vinyl). If you’re willing to do routine maintenance—and perhaps a restoration of the original product if the previous owner did not—windows can last against the elements for multiple generations with ease. 

The melted silica that makes up glass is as strong as rock. The seals and framing, common failure points for windows, require a diligent eye. If you keep up with the caulking and paint in these areas, your windows will stay in great shape for years to come. 

Can Old Windows Be Restored?

Before you break out your woodworking tools, the first thing you need to evaluate is whether to restore your old windows or if it's better to replace them entirely. A careful look at the sash that the window sits atop, the seam along the edge of the glass, and the framing against both the exterior of the building and the glass itself will tell you everything you need to know about the condition of your old window. 

Routine failure along the bottom edge, where moisture and rot coalesce, is perhaps the most important spot to check when inspecting an old window. If the wood is spongy or if the metal has rusted beyond normal surface wear, you’ll want to reconsider restoration. There are products used in historical work that address these issues and that you might be able to use for a DIY window project, but you’ll need to carefully research the process as skill is required. 

According to HomeAdvisor, restoring old windows in homes that are more than 70 years old can double or triple the overall project pricing. Many variables go into this increase in price, including: 

  • Non-standard-sized windows that require custom pieces 

  • Repairing or replacing rotted or broken trim

  • Meeting any historical architectural requirements 

  • Ensuring your window repairs meet current code standards

  • Filling empty areas with insulation

  • Quality level of trimwork 

  • Extra protection for other elements of the home

When Do I Need to Restore an Old Window?

While old windows can last for as long as you live in a house, there are a few reasons you’d want to restore them:

  • If the seal is broken

  • If the glass is cracked

  • If the mechanisms are failed or failing

  • If the wood frame is rotting

  • If the glazing is separating 

Which Lasts Longer: Wood Windows or Vinyl?

If you have vinyl window frames, it’s only a matter of time before they become brittle and faded, so evaluating the state of the windows is something to look at when purchasing a home. Metal and wood windows last longer if the homeowner keeps up with routine cleaning and maintenance, like oiling or painting the exterior portions every other year. 

Restoring Old Wood Windows

Old wood windows have a certain charm and are known for their durability, but they can easily fall into disrepair if not cared for (or if the previous homeowner didn’t keep an eye on the exterior conditions). Damage from moisture and mold will eventually cause old wood windows to rot and attract pests that love to eat wood like beetles and termites. 

Exterior coatings are essential to the long-term health of old windows. Whether it’s applying paint, oil, stain, or powder-coated metal, keeping these vulnerable entry points into your home clean and fresh is essential to their longevity. 

Depending on when your house was built, your windows may not provide thermal efficiency, meaning it likely gets very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. You can remedy such issues by installing storm windows, which create an ad-hoc air chamber between the old windows and the exterior, thereby preserving some heat.

Restoring Old Vinyl Windows

Restoring old vinyl windows is a lot of work, but it can be done. If the finish has deteriorated to a powdery substance—or if the color has faded into the yellow spectrum of colors—you have a few options:

  • Clean the window vinyl as best you can and hand-paint every exposed piece with a small brush. You’ll want to use vinyl-specific paint as there are adhesion issues with commonly used latex exterior paint.

  • Tape and mask each window, then paint them where the window meets the wall. Oil-based spray paint adheres very well to clean vinyl. Be sure to wear a respirator.

If your vinyl window frame is damaged, it's typically easy and budget-friendly to replace on your own because of material availability at many big-box stores and online services that custom-make every window shape based on your measurements. Vinyl window frames are designed to slip in once you’ve cut around and removed the old window with a reciprocating saw. Repairing your window frame will prevent air leaks and provide better insulation.

If this all sounds like too much—and, indeed, restoring old windows can be a daunting chore—you might want to consider hiring a professional

How Much Does It Cost to Restore Old Windows?

The interior of a sun room with restored old windows
Ursula Page / Adobe Stock

The cost to repair windows typically runs $164 and $553 per window, with an average cost of $358. Factors that affect the cost of restoring old windows include the size, window type, and any broken parts.

Historic window replacement cost can be more expensive than newer windows, running $400 in materials alone; of course, if you decide to hire labor, the cost may be as much as double at $800 total per window

Fixing Cracked Glass

If the problem with your old window is a glass crack, you’ll want to evaluate if the glass is worth saving. Doing a DIY window repair for the glass costs an average of $270—or $3 per square feet—depending on the size of the break and the quality of the materials you buy. You’ll also need to purchase or rent a heat gun, which you should add to your overall budget. 

If the glass insert isn’t particularly valuable, it’s worth looking at replacing it entirely. A local glass repair or custom glass company may be able to match the appearance, style, and dimensions of the damaged one at a more affordable price than outright fixing the crack. Hiring a pro to install the new glass panel will run you between $40 to $75 per hour.

Are Restoring Old Windows Worth the Cost?

Restoring windows (or replacing them) is a project that’s almost always worth the price. According to HomeAdvisor, you’ll get approximately 70% return on your investment when you sell your home; plus, repairing old windows can make your home more energy-efficient, thus saving on electric bills.

When Is the Best Time to Restore Old Windows?

The best time to remove and restore old windows is during temperate weather. Late spring and the early onset of winter are ideal seasons. While summer has its challenges (e.g., bugs, heat, and dust), it’s also a good time to do restoration work. 

No matter the season, removing windows is a fairly invasive project. Manage the soon-to-be messy workspace by moving furniture and belongings, laying down plastic sheeting to protect your home from sawdust and dirt, and preparing for a gaping hole in the wall until the window restoration is complete.  

Performing the restoration work without removing the window is another option if you have good access to the exterior. It can be difficult to sand and repair failed paint from this position, but many house painters have the skills to pull it off. 

Should I DIY My Window Restoration or Hire a Pro?

Should you hire a window repair handyperson to do the job for you? That depends on the severity of the damage, your skill level with wood or vinyl, the complexity of the job, and how confident you are that it’s something you can manage. 

If you don’t feel like tackling this project yourself, you can find local window repair professionals near you.

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