The eyes are the windows to the soul
The original windows of the old Laguna Beach houses confirm not only the age of the dwelling, but also the craftsmanship and care taken in its construction. They say, “I have integrity. I have protected and sheltered generations. I am respected. My people love me.
But there are those TV commercials that try to convince us that replacing windows is the right and conscientious thing to do. Why are they hitting on this? Because providing discrete portions of the construction process pays off. Building and renovating is a difficult task, as most of us who have lived through building and repairing homes know. Builders must understand a myriad of tasks that are required to build a house. They are constantly solving complex problems, from those posed by discoveries in the structure to new ideas proposed by the owner. It is a process that requires the personal attention of experienced and skilled people, a process difficult to replicate on a large scale. But if there is a modular part of repairing and building a house, a part that can be repeated house after house; something that a company can train installers to do reliably every time, now there is something that is lucrative and can be scaled up. They’re garage doors, and they’re windows. Whether you need it or not.
Let’s look at their messages: energy saving? First of all, in Laguna climatic windows the windows can be opened most of the time, most of the year. Too much incoming heat? This can be controlled by blinds and blinds. More heat loss in winter can be reduced by insulating the attic than by replacing windows. Architect and engineer Keith Haberern has written extensively on this subject and cites studies that conclude to pay “For your replacement windows, your energy savings would take 68 years. He adds that old windows are made of old, long-lasting wood and designed to be repaired. They last 100 years, while typical replacement windows last 15 to 40 years and most cannot be repaired.
A discussion last week at the Administrative Design Review hearing confirms this. The replacement of the windows of a cottage in South Laguna was considered. When the current owner bought the house 20 years ago, it already had replacement vinyl windows. He wanted to replace them with another set of vinyls. Why? They were fleeing. Yet other homes with original 1930s wooden windows continue to serve if well maintained.
Then there is the waste of “embodied energy”. It is the amount of energy that has gone into producing a house: mining, logging, manufacturing, as well as carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. All of this is wasted with the demolition and scrapping of the components of a house. Even more energy is needed to manufacture and install new components.
The details of most old windows are unmistakably beautiful and practical. They are built into the walls with a real window sill and framed by moldings. Many new ones look like plastic frames applied to the outside of the walls. (No wonder they’re running away!) Many older windows feature narrow and delicate mid-stiles between the panes, and not the split-light imitations made with metal bands inside the double panes that some newer windows feature.
Often, when the original windows are beyond repair, they can be replaced in kind, and if the replacements reproduce the originals, this is the best solution. However, I made replacement mistakes with the best of intentions. I was not familiar with the narrow middle stiles or what happens to window design when double glazing is added. I replaced the wooden windows in my historic office building, thinking it was the “right thing to do” to reduce noise. When they came with mullions over an inch wide, instead of the original 3/8 “, I was told” this is how we do it now. “When the double panes leaked and filled with fog and even an inch or two of water the supplier said it was the painter’s fault.Finally I had to replace the double glazing with laminated glass which is just as effective to reduce noise. Lots of learning and new windows still not quite as nice as the original ones. Some of our smart local craftsmen will know better.
Want to “improve the look of your home”? Beware of advice from the home improvement industry. If you have any original windows on your classic Laguna home, they may only need repairs or can be replaced in kind. May her soul continue to shine.
Ann is a landscape architect and former mayor of Laguna Beach.