Thursday, October 1, 2009

New Windows for a Mid-Century House

November 2008
Originally uploaded by white_chevy

When I purchased my house, it had the original wood 4 lite windows. These windows were cold and drafty in the winter and the storm windows did little to help the situation. Soaring utility bills encouraged me to seek more insulation in the attic and new windows (I mean really, should my utility bills be as expensive as my parent's, when my house is half the size? I don't think so). My search for new windows was quite a lengthy process. First on my list was that from the street, the windows had to look like they were original. This required being able to custom order the grills to recreate the 4 lite design so popular in mid-century homes. I looked at vinyl windows that could be custom ordered with the correct grills, and they would have been fine, but I felt they were of flimsy build and quality. If I am going to invest the money to upgrade the windows, I want something that will last. I dreamed of new wood windows to keep the original appearance inside the house as well. I read an advertisement in our local classifieds paper for the local Pella Window representative. This got me in the thinking of "only the best for my house!" He offered vinyl windows, which could not have the grills custom ordered, Pella Impervia windows which are incredibly strong fiberglass windows which could have custom grills and beautiful wood Pella windows. The estimates came back without including pricing for the custom grills. First off, since I was replacing all 10 windows in my house, I had to rule out the wood windows. In a perfect world, they would be in the house right now. I really liked the price of the vinyl windows (somewhere in the $2400 range, if I remember correctly), and the Impervia windows came back at a price of approximately $3800 - $3900. I asked for the price of having the grills customized in the Impervia, and was quoted a price of $18 per window. I felt that in the long run, I would be much happier if I spent the extra $180 to get the look that I really wanted.

Still put off by what I perceived to be flimsy vinyl windows (please don't hate me if you have vinyl windows, I know that they are good windows, I just was not impressed with them), I bit the bullet and ordered the Pella Impervia windows which you can see in the picture. I have never once regretted buying these windows. I really feel that the extra investment was worth it, especially since I plan to be in this house for a long time (unless the perfect house comes on the market, which I haven't found yet - and I've kept my eyes open to current listings). The hardest thing to get used to was the fact that the wood was gone on the windows and the frames on the inside are now white.

Such a pricey window may be overkill for such a small house, especially one that probably wouldn't see the return on the investment if I were to sell it, but I don't regret the choice. If you are looking to replace your windows in your mid-century house, I recommend the following. 1) Check your original windows over carefully and see if there is a way to make them more energy efficient, such as adding new storm windows. 2) Take your time and look at many different windows. It took me a long time to pick the windows that I have. This is an investment for the house that will most likely outlast you, and it should be a good one made on well-informed decision making. 3) Do everything that you can to retain the original look and character of your house and the original windows. The original windows are part of the character of your house and should you replace them, you want to retain that character.

Whatever you choose for your house, you will most likely be living with the choice for a long time. Sometimes it is better to wait and save up for what you really want instead of rushing into purchasing something. You will be much happier in the end. Good luck with your restoration!


  1. Augh, windows! We've been dealing with similar issues with our 1913 house. None of the windows are even close to standard modern size. Plus they are beautiful (groups of 3 tall, narrow double-hung windows all over the place) and we just want to replace them, not restyle everything. We were buying one group at a time, custom wood windows from Caradco, but then Caradco got bought out by Jeld-Wen and the price leaped up. The worst are all replaced now and the rest are just going to have to wait till this house's second century, I'm afraid.

  2. I so agree on your insistence on trying to retain the original character of the house. Seems so many people are seduced by "new" and vinyl windows in general, and they just look so wrong to me on older homes. People look at me like I'm crazy or stupid when I say I'm not looking at replacing our original windows any time soon!


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