Historic Windows and Restoration Projects

by Osman Parvez

I had the pleasure Monday night to attend a panel discussion on possible conflicts between the Green Points System and the Historic Preservation Program in Boulder. Bearing the cumbersome title, Historic Preservation/Environmental Sustainability Integration Project, an ad-hoc panel composed of a couple of architects, a window specialist, an energy efficiency expert, and an associate of Amory Lovin's Rocky Mountain Institute discussed a key area of conflict for the two programs.

What's the conflict all about? Primarily, it's about windows. And, according to some homeowners we know who've gone to bat on this issue, getting the windows upgraded, restored, or repaired on a historic home can be challenging.

First some background.

The Green Points Program applies to all new residential construction, additions, and remodels larger than 500 square feet. This program requires building permit applicants to earn "points" by selecting green building measures in order to receive a building permit.

According to the ordinance, "The purpose of these standards is to encourage cost-effective and sustainable residential building methods to conserve fossil fuels, water and other natural resources, to promote the reuse and recycling of construction materials, reduce solid waste, and to promote enhanced indoor air quality." FYI: If you're interested in Green Points and perhaps becoming a certified professional, there's a workshop on Wed. March 22.

The first in Colorado, Boulder's Historic Preservation Program was established in 1974 and today covers 9 Historic Districts and about 1,200 properties. As with most historic preservation programs, any exterior changes to a property including the windows requires approval by the program. According to James Hewitt, City Preservation Planner, most Landmark alterations applications take about a week to process and add no additional cost to the project.

Back to the conflict.

What's the big deal about windows? With rising energy costs, there's more interest in energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. The quest to lower Winter heating bills often leads a homeowner to consider making repairs or replacing exterior windows.

According to the panel, the majority of builders will push for full replacement as a measure of reducing the unknowns in a project. However panel experts insisted that other alternatives deserve consideration, especially if the preservation of historic materials is equally important as preserving historic appearance.

Typically, the options can be boiled down to:
1. Add Storm Windows
2. Add Second Interior Panes
3. Install New Insulated Glass in Existing Casements
4. or Full Window Replacement

In many cases, according to panelist Mark Wernimont (owner of Colorado Sash and Door), repair can be cost effective when the project deals with many windows at once. However, this varies on a case by case basis.

But before you get excited about how much you'll save in the long run with new or restored windows, you may want to consider the thoughts of one panelist. According to Larry Kinney, Ph.D., most of the homes in Boulder are very wasteful with respect to energy. With an energy audit, it's routine to see 50% reduction in energy expenditures using simple techniques that don't cost an arm and a leg.

Despite their challenges, historic homes tend to be highly attractive properties and tend to sell quickly when they come on market. If you're considering historic property and and would like know more about the market including available properties and recent sales, don't hesitate to contact us. And if you're thinking of undertaking a serious restoration project, we highly recommend expert advice and would be glad to provide you with a referral. Give us a call at 303.746.6896.

And if you're looking for older/reusable materials for your restoration project, be sure to check out Resource 2000.

Finally, here are a few technical details about window energy efficiency we learned:
Single Pane Windows - Obsolete and rated R1
Double Pane Windows (untreated) - Obsolete and rated R2 (still 100% better than R1)
Double Pane with Treatments - R3 to R4 (300 to 400% better than R1)
Double Pane with Ionized Silver Gas between panes + Glass Treatments - R6 to R8 (600 to 800% better than R1) This last option is very cutting edge and apparently not available on the market as yet.

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The ideas and strategies described in this blog are the opinion of the writer and subject to business, economic, and competitive uncertainties.   We strongly recommend conducting rigorous due diligence and obtaining professional advice before buying or selling real estate. 

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This document contains forward-looking statements. You are strongly cautioned that investment results are subject to business, economic and other uncertainties. There are no guarantees associated with any forecast and the opinions stated here are subject to change at any time. Always consult your financial advisor before making an investment decision.