a circa 1900 Culture of Health

The original gymnasium at Rhodes Hall

The original gymnasium at Rhodes Hall

It’s always been a bit of mystery, why this room on the 3rd floor of Rhodes Hall is called the “Gymnasium.” It resembles nothing of a gym today and even so, wouldn’t heavy exercise equipment be more suited to a basement? One of our volunteer tour guides even speculated on the regular that he believed it was a reference to the German “Gymnasium”—an academic grammer school. This theory that it was used as a school room could be justified by the fact that the Rhodes grandkids (Rhodes and Wilmotine Perdue) lived here for a time and visited frequently when their mother (Louanna Rhodes Perdue) remarried.
In previous attempts to research the matter I’ve come up empty-handed but recently I’ve visited both the Biltmore Estate and the Carnegie Mansion in New York and the realization that both of these grand homes for retired wealthy gentlemen at the turn of the century had private gyms encouraged me to delve back into the matter.

CULTURE OF HEALTH
The notion that we take responsibility for our own health—by eating right, breathing fresh air, and getting enough sleep and exercise—has been around for much of human history, since Hippocrates published books on regimen and the Greeks started the Olympics (from “Excercise is Medicine: a Historical Perspective”. The emphasis on exercise and health has fluctuated in importance, resurfacing it seems, during eras of prosperity, when humans had time to step back from basic survival and develop more philosophical pursuits and high individualistic ideals, such as during the Renaissance.

1866 London Gymnasium, in the German model

The Industrial Age in Europe and America brought about more economic prosperity and further advancement in medicine, which at that time was mostly focused on preventative health. In Germany, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, “the father of modern physical education as we know it today” was “a fervent German nationalist, and believed that the best kind of society was one that had established standards of physical strength and abilities. The first Turnplatz, or open-air gymnasium, was opened by Jahn in Berlin in 1811, and the Turnverein (gymnastics association) movement spread rapidly.”(<a href="http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Physical_education">New World Encyclopedia)

In America, the importance of physical education seems to have gained significant ground in the late 1800s. By the 1880s, the "physical education" movement led to the formation of a professional group, the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education, signifying renewed attention on the importance of maintaining personal physical health in the field of medicine.

With the social movement of physical education, it should come as no surprise that the well-read and wealthy philanthropists of the Gilded Age would have taken an ardent interest in their own health as well. The ideals of social reform for these leaders were not limited to the masses, they maintained high expectations of themselves and their family members as well. Responsibility for one’s own health fit perfectly with the individualistic ideals these men and women set for themselves and society at large.

The earliest evidence of a private gym in America might be the gym at the c.1870s Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle, Illinois (I’d never heard of it either). One self-described fan of 19th century physical culture described it:

The mansion was built during the 1870s and the gym was part of the original plans. It’s a large space, 35.5′ x 17′ and the ceilings are roughly 25′ in height. Along with a collection of 35 wooden dumbbells and 4 large Indian clubs hanging from racks on the walls, it also houses the remnants of a Victorian rope-and-pulley weightlifting system, two large gymnastics ladders and support platforms, a horizontal bar of adjustable height, a set of parallel bars, “flying rings” hanging from the ceiling, a c1920 electric exercycle and miscellaneous bits of sports equipment (wooden stilts and skis, etc.) (ArtofManliness.com)

Biltmore gymThe gym at George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Mansion (c.1895) is also located in the basement next to the indoor swimming pool. Swimming pools at this time were also strictly for health and sport, not the leisure and play we mostly associate with pools today.

However, it is Andrew Carnegie’s gymnasium that most resembles the gymnasium at Rhodes Hall. Andrew Carnegie, like Amos Rhodes was a self-made businessman. Both men built their respective “mansions” late in life, a retreat on the northern reaches of their respective cities from which they could still conduct business in their retirement (though Carnegie did raise a daughter here, she wasn’t born until he was in his 60s). Their mansions are extremely modest in comparison to the Biltmore which was built for hosting guests, partying and raising a young family. Perhaps for this reason, the addition of a swimming pool was just too extravagant, and their gymnasiums were located in the privacy of the 3rd floor.

from the Cooper Hewitt Museum at the Carnegie Mansion, New York City

from the Cooper Hewitt Museum at the Carnegie Mansion, New York City

Of course, the 3rd floor at Rhodes Hall was also home to Mr. Rhodes’ billiard table and a smoking room, it seems the household amenities of the wealthy over a hundred years ago are not far from those of today.


Atlanta’s Central Library debate

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Last night I attended a “Social Studies” talk hosted by the Center for Civic Innovation and Creative Loafing. The discussion and points made went well beyond the simple but helpful Poll Curbed did a few months ago and voices were not raised during the panel discussion. The talk was interesting and enlightening with multiple views: the preservationist/architect-afficionado, the library system itself, the politician with a driving desire to see a long-dreamed-of plan go into action.

THERE IS SO MUCH I WANT TO SAY ABOUT THIS!! but for now I’m going to leave it at a brief recap of what each panelist had to say.

DR. GABRIEL MORLEY: brand new Director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.
Position: Neutral
What he brought to the table: an honest look at the library SYSTEM and where libraries, including this one are going in the future. He’s spent some time thinking about this and working on this in Louisiana. He made a good point that the library will survive and work with whatever buildings they are given. As a public institution whose mission is to provide access to information to the public, the future of the library is beyond the physical building itself. No longer should the MAIN focus of libraries be about bringing people into the building, it should be about making information accessible to the public wherever they are. He even pointed to a program that was beginning this summer in Louisiana where library books could be delivered to you when and where you need them (uberBooks?). He’s all about rethinking and while he stayed clearly neutral on the preservation of this particular building he did say that building big new central libraries at this point in time seems misguided, the buildings themselves, if anything, need to scale back so the focus of the Library can be on making information accessible.

DEAN BAKER: Friends of Central Atlanta Library (FOCAL), preservationist, historian, lover of Atlanta (from what I know)
Position: Save!
What he brought to the table: Dean brought up a lot of great counter-points to former councilman Rob Pitt’s argument. Besides pointing out that Atlanta already has pretty much the most iconic library we could ask for, he has respect, appreciation, and probably genuinely LIKING the blocky concrete Brutalist building. Beyond the architectural perspective, he circled back several times to the rehab what you’ve got vs. demo and new construction options or even rehab vs. new construction elsewhere and put the Breuer (can we call it that now?) to another use. He pretty much made the point that it would be far more economical for the City, the Library system, and beneficial to the community to rehabilitate THIS iconic building rather than building a new Central Library anywhere else.

MELODY HARCLERODE: Architect and Past President of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
Position: Save the building!
What he brought to the table: Melody made the point that the architecture is beautiful, iconic and worthy of preservation. She loves it architecturally and wants to see it remain. She was clearly open to other uses for the Breuer building or bring additions/change to the building just so long as it retains its original architectural integrity. Preservationist values. She noted that she voted yes on the referendum back in 2008 that is listed below, presumably she understood at the time that that meant building a new central library. I was unclear on how she feels about keeping the Central Library at the Breuer building.

ROB PITTS: former Fulton County Commissioner, also served on the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Board
Position: New Central Library!
What he brought to the table: It may seem personal but it’s not. The voters have spoken.

thanks to Kyle for posting the bond referendum as it appeared on ballots in 2008!

thanks to Kyle for posting the bond referendum as it appeared on ballots in 2008!

Though he had not before, Mr. Pitts acknowledged that the Breuer building is iconic and architecturally significant, even ‘beautiful’ to some people. He also said point blank that he’s hated that building since it was built (and he remembers that, he’s been in Atlanta politics a long time). So his pushiness for a new library and who-cares-what-happens-to-the-Breuer-building is personal but he’s a politician and knew how to spin it so that we could tell it WASN’T personal. It was all about the voters. As he said repeatedly, the voters voted in 2008 to allocate funds specifically for a new central library, not a rehab, but NEW CONSTRUCTION. He knows politics, he said, and you can’t backtrack when the voters have spoken, the city’s hands are tied. Ok, you CAN backtrack, educate the public on the options again, take it back to the table, back to the ballot box and see if the voters will allow the funds to go toward a rehab or something rather than ONLY new construction, but that is politically dangerous, you do that and voters don’t trust you anymore. I was still skeptical on whether the voters REALLY DID speak specifically for allocating X funds for specifically a brand new library or if it’s something the Commissioners did (and therefore could undo), you can see the ballot measure below. ‘The voters have spoken’ was his primary argument and in fact, this was the ONLY thing he had to stand on to argue for a new central library building.

For this audience member, that all-about-the-voters/public spiel was not enough in the face of all the other evidence.

I suspect the audience was fairly pro-preservation, and even pro-rehabbing and keeping the Central Library here, but maybe there were more current politicians or Library Board members, I would’ve liked to hear from the folks who WORK at the Atlanta Central Library speak to the current pros and cons of the library (iconic architecture aside), I would like to hear more from the people to actually USE (or live near enough to use “if only…”) the Atlanta Central Library and how it could better serve them.

view of the Breuer Central Library from Peachtree St. (exit the south end of Peachtree Center Marta and there you are!) from the Atlanta Preservation Center.

view of the Breuer Central Library from Peachtree St. (exit the south end of Peachtree Center Marta and there you are!) from the Atlanta Preservation Center–there’s actually a lot more windows than you think.

meanwhile, some more reading on this issue:
Creative Loafing: Library system debates downsizing — and iconic Central branch is caught in the middle
Kyle Kessler for CL: Central Library doesn’t need replacing, it needs boosting
ArchPaper.com Future Uncertain for Breuer’s Central Library in Atlanta
Overdue! Metropolis article from 2009, architectural significance and changing libraries
Waiting for the Internet – great images of the interior

this just in from the real journalists: Curbed’s report on last night


570 Candler

There’s not many 2-story houses in Candler Park that aren’t new construction (and at the moment there’s precious little of that thank goodness), so I was shocked when this tall yellow house I’d never noticed appeared between the winter trees just off the bike path. Turns out it was 570 Candler St., an 1898 Queen Anne and it was for sale!

570 Candler-11

Candler Park at first glance seems like a fairly architecturally homogenous neighborhood, identifiable by the quaint craftsman bungalows marching up and down the hills in perfect little rows. But the neighborhood didn’t acquire that Candler Park “look” until well after it was annexed into the City of Atlanta in 1903, before that, the late 19th century community of Edgewood was centered here.

Significant settlement in the Edgewood area didn’t begin until after the Civil War, but growth must have been slow as the town was not formally incorporated until 1898, just 5 years before its annexation into Atlanta at which point it experienced a housing boom and began to take on the architectural and layout features we know today. Before it became a typical-looking early 20th century subdivision, the Edgewood area probably looked a lot like other small Southern towns with Victorian era Queen Anne houses and cottages (some plain, some graced with frills and ornamentation) spaced graciously on large lots (pecan trees, cows, and even vineyards between). Pockets of blue collar housing, near the railroad or industry just south of the railroad, and pockets of African-American residences, smaller and closely spaced, were mixed in with the wealthier white residences. More on the biracial history of Candler Park can be found at the Early Edgewood-Candler Park BiRacial History Project here.

These development patterns are evident in Candler Park’s housing architecture today. Among the Craftsman bungalows of the teens and 20s (actually, those were infill), a few plainer and a few grander homes are mixed in. Just past the Old Stone Church for instance, are a row of narrow houses on narrow lots and while they’ve been built out significantly, their original identity as humble and cheap shotgun houses is evident. Along Whitefoord south of the railroad tracks, several Victorian houses sit on lots clearly wider than their neighbors and occasionally, deep backyards can be glimpsed behind them where I guarantee you’ll find a grid of pecan trees.

1911 Sanborn Map fo Daley St. (now Candler) where the Daley House and the yellow Queen Anne house built for their daughter still stand.

1911 Sanborn Map of Daley St. (now Candler) where the Daley House and the yellow Queen Anne house built for their daughter still stand.

On the north side of the area there was at least one farmhouse that dated to 1855, the Daley House, located at the north end of Daley Street, now Candler. Which brings us to 570 Candler, a house which the Daleys built across the street for their daughter when she married.

570 Candler Street is not grand or presumptuous, its builders were not fancy people and lived several miles from the grand mansions of Peachtree St. in Atlanta. The 2-story house is a typical simple Queen Anne style house with Folk Victorian details. Technology in the lumber trade, and the subsequent ubiquity of mills, made mass production of milled ornamentation easy and cheap. Railroads, meanwhile, carried these pieces and patterns across the nation. Simple it may be but 570 Candler Street is a perfect encapsulation of its time.

The interior is remarkably intact aside from an addition here for bathrooms and another addition (split level?) on the back dating to the 60s or 70s for additional bedrooms and sunrooms. The 4” pine floors are just like the ones in our house, the mantles are comfortingly ubiquitous in the neighborhood as well as the interior trim. It once sat at the corner of Albemarle and Daley (now Candler) but all the houses to its left and rear were bulldozed in the 1970s to make way for the Stone Mountain Freeway, also another story.
570 Candler-9  570 Candler-2

Candler Park is a neighborhood whose value is highly aesthetic. The aesthetics of the historic architecture drive the sense of place and community. However, nothing protects these character-defining amenities and not everyone recognizes what holds this sense of place together, so with every house for sale I fear for the neighborhood as a whole. Best of luck to this prime piece of real estate.


Understanding Historic Masonry

I have no first-hand experience when it comes to masonry but I know the advice to give: “Repoint masonry with the correct mortar mixture!” “Test and match the historic mortar!” and “Don’t use Portland cement!” (which, Mr. Chimney-repair-person, is NOT a brand, but only the most common type of cement used in mixes).

While it might look nice at first, the wrong type of mortar can cause much worse deterioration of the masonry and/or structure, I know that, I’ve seen the evidence and been convinced; but when it comes to repointing deteriorating mortar in stone or brick what is really the deal? I mean, how likely is it that all the historic mortar that needs repairing will be mixed like in the olden days? What materials are practical and reasonable for masonry repairs in 2016? What can we expect/demand from our mason, and what is critical?

There is a house in metro Atlanta that dates to the 1840s and its 2 chimneys are built of field stone (mostly gneiss) held together with a lime-based (soft) mortar. But carpenter bees are making homes in the mortar and snakes are finding their way in through the gaps. Patches of the intervening years are insufficient, unsightly and may be causing more damage, it’s time for a thorough overhaul, knocking out the loose mortar and repointing the entire chimney.

I found I didn’t really know what to advise beyond the rhetoric, so I put in a few calls and went waaaaayyy down the stone-lined rabbithole. I came back with something of a better education and a collection of good reads that I’d like to pass on.

Simply Put:
Besides the obvious needs of making a watertight and structurally sound wall, your primary concern should be the softness of the mortar in relation to the brick or stone. Mortar should ALWAYS be softer than the masonry units so that water vapor, particularly from the inside will pass through the mortar as it dries out. If the mortar is harder (less absorptive) than the individual masonry units, water will be forced into the brick or stone causing them to expand and spall. The appropriate mortar will flex with the changes in climate and settling of materials. This is especially important with soft historic brick (pre-1890)

How bricks and mortar work, and don’t. Illustration from Old House Journal.

A Brick and Mortar History:
This “Short Course on Historic Mortar” from Old House Journal tells it best:

Until the mid-19th century, bricks were produced by hand-packing molds sprinkled with sand or water, depending on the desired finish. When combined with small-scale firing, where bricks at the rear of the kiln often received insufficient heat to initiate the sintering process, this process tended to produce bricks that were quite soft. By the late 19th century, however, extruded, wire-cut bricks were replacing even the machine-packed and kiln-fired brick that dominated mid-19th-century construction. To be safe, it is reasonable to assume that if your house was constructed after 1890, it is very likely to have been built with relatively hard brick. If construction was completed before the 1860s, the brick is very likely a soft brick. Paralleling this period of brick production was the availability of hard Portland cement. First produced in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania in 1871, Portland cement quickly began to supplement and later supplant lime mortars. From about 1880 to World War II, mortars were likely to contain both lime and Portland cement. By the second half of the 20th century, most bagged masonry cements contained Portland cement and sand with little or no lime.

The contractor (John Wesley Hammer) working on the Peters Mansion in Atlanta, “used lime, a small amount of portland and aggregate dug up on site consisting of clay, mica, sand.” This aggregate mix helped match the historic mortar in color and texture which was necessary for the small joints in this Victorian home.

Stone is a different story. First you need to determine what type of Stone you’re working with, granite, found a lot in Atlanta, is one of the hardest stones, a rock of the igneous family, and generally is fine with hard mortars. In my research I found that Type N mortar mix, which was used on Rhodes Hall recently, is probably a reasonable bet, read up on mortar mixes at US Heritage Group. Field stones are very common and can be a mix of stone, though, in North Georgia this still involves a lot of granite and gneiss (also pretty hard). Identify your rocks here: Building Stones

previous patching

previous patching

deteriorating mortar joints

deteriorating mortar joints

Final Notes:
For starters, mortar joint deterioration is not the end of the world, like a house needs new paint, mortar joints will eventually deteriorate (though a good job could last 50-100 years), ideally the mortar deteriorates before the bricks or stone do!

It would be most helpful if you found a contractor with an understanding of historic masonry, however, after some good research (see below) and what you know of your building’s history, you should be in a good position to discuss the most appropriate formulation.

and: “Don’t be afraid to insist on a softer mortar.”

RESOURCES:
“Short Course on Historic Mortar” from Old House Journal.
– Preservation Brief 2: Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Brick Buildings
Mortar Mixes: A Quick Primer from Eldorado Stone


“Unpacking” my own Manuel’s Tavern

IMG_9724Mom had never been to Manuel’s Tavern. Or Man-WELL’s as she insisted on pronouncing it, possibly correctly. For the brief period that she and Dad lived in Atlanta she knew of it but never actually went. Dad, a Georgia Tech graduate, was familiar enough with Manuel’s to stop by on his bike on the way home from work on Fridays to pick up a quart of beer (in a milk carton?!) for him and mom to share in their new old house in Candler Park. (I picture them sitting on the front steps watching neighbors pass by or leaning against a wall in a bare room on halfway refinished floors.) It was the 1970s and the 20-year-old Manuel’s was already an acclaimed institution. I can only wonder that Dad never took her there–I guess there was always next time. Nearly 40 years later, Mom confessed this to us when she and P came over for a wedding in November of last year. There wasn’t going to be another “next time” so after the wedding on a cold Saturday night, we got a ride to Manuel’s for a late night beer. It was nearly midnight when we breezed in the back door in our wedding clothes and slipped happily into one of the wooden booths by the bar.

I never lived close enough for Manuel’s to become my own go-to bar, but I have known it since my days in Athens and later living in Atlanta. Squeezing into the packed bar on a weekend night was daunting, finding a spot to sit at Carapace required planning ahead, but there were less crowded weeknight meals of chickens sandwiches or casual gatherings in the Eagle’s Nest. And there was always plenty of beer. To me as to most anyone who went there, Manuel’s, despite the layer of grime that every dive bar has, always exuded a special sense of place that was hard not to respect.

As most everyone knows now, Manuel’s is undergoing renovations and a massive development of the surrounding land- and possibly overhead air-space. They closed on December 27, 2015, but promise to reopen, bolstered for a new generation. Thanks to rather incredible documentary project they say the interior will boast the same finishes, wooden booths, bar and, much to most folks’ skepticism, the same photos and stickers, pennants and memorabilia on the wall in the exact same places. At least, they say they CAN recreate it, I’m not really sure they’ve promised to.

IMG_9716The project to preserve what amounts to a “harbor of memories in an ever-changing city” is being carried out in a [mostly] Georgia State University project called “Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern.” A recent article in GSU magazine goes in-depth on the project, an awesome piece of digital preservation, a collection of histories and memories that anyone will be able to “walk through” and, as they say “unpack.”

So while my own unpacking of Manuel’s will go unrecorded (besides here) if you follow there facebook page you’ll find a few other memories, people are eager to share and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ll be looking forward to the “Unpacking” project’s release as much as to the reopening of Man-WELL’s.

One for the Road, GSU magazine, Q1.16 IMG_9730


Midtown Boom

Curbed’s visual of current development statuses in Midtown Atlanta Forty Projects Leave Few Block Untouched in Midtown

Not at all surprisingly, Curbed beat me to it. I wanted to write a post after I’d had a chance to compile a complete catalog of Midtown Atlanta’s low-rise 20th century commercial structures. I should know I do not have time for that. However, I can at least keep up a casual documentation of midtown’s historic and mid-century buildings via flickr tagging.

Midtown Atlanta is changing fast. While there is plenty of development to be happy for—infill construction where surface parking has snaggled-toothed blocks for ages—the loss of ever more of Midtown’s few historic resources are saddening.

The former low-rise corner of 14th St. and West Peachtree is slated to become 1163 West Peachtree

The former low-rise corner of 14th St. and West Peachtree is slated to become 1163 West Peachtree

The rate of destruction became truly alarming to me after the disappearance of the cute little commercial block (formerly home to an Einstein’s, a Zip Car office and Carolyn’s Gourmet) on the SE corner of 14th and West Peachtree the Checkers at 10th and Spring.

Midtown has always shown an array of eras, grand houses on Peachtree, slightly less grand on the flanking streets, followed by early 20th century commercial cropping up at crossroads such as 10th. In the mid-20th century midtown shifted away from residential and tear-downs gave way to single story mid-century office and retail buildings, in the 60s and 70s we get a few larger, often 2-story commercial structures and later came the towers, and more towers. I love seeing a house among the office towers, remnants of past eras strewn here and there in the heart of a bustling office district. But with all this new development, while a few Landmarked buildings will remains (Rhodes Hall, the Wimbish House…) we are in danger of loosing almost every one of those [more ordinary] links to each of Midtown’s pasts.


the Great Window Debate

Since M started the blasphemous discussion of tear-downs and window replacement in my house the other night I have been lying awake thinking about it. I can see that double-paned glass is more energy efficient than single-paned, I know you can feel the difference. I know energy efficiency is environmentally friendly, in fact I hope that environmental friendliness will save the world, but I also know the enormous environmental costs of demo and new materials, that any salesman will inflate energy loss/efficiency numbers to their advantage, and I have seen how very restorable older windows are vs. the short life span of replacement windows.

I know Preservationists’ biggest argument is often about “the historic character” of something but we have to acknowledge that many people just don’t give a damn, and that’s, well, that’s fine.

While preservationists protested, a few other people were doing their homework and refuting window replacement with valid arguments. The following articles cite findings that the time it would actually take to save $$ on this big investment (replacement windows) was consistently around 30 years, more than twice as long as the time it would take to recoup the investment in repairing and restoring existing windows. Read these (non-pres) articles on the pros and cons:
The Great Window Debate
Update Historic Windows

Energy efficiency, the environment and historic preservation are all important to me, and in my world they go hand in hand. In light of that, I’ve done my best here to be a good journalist. I’ve been honing my argument and this time I won’t even mention the aesthetic appeal:

  • Yes, double-pane glass is more efficient—it was a pretty great invention in fact.
    • Before double-pane glass came around people used storm windows to achieve that insulating layer of air. Storm windows (I prefer exterior and operable for use with double-hung windows) are still a brilliant retrofit option.
    • double-pane glass has gases between it that help filter UV and provide insulation, unluckily these can and almost always will eventually leak, leaving you with permanent condensation in the middle – yuck!
  • New windows require less maintenance
    • But the material is significantly lesser quality and unless you pay for custom built, high-quality wooden windows (an option many homeowners do, one at a time, when an old window really DOES get beyond repair), you will be replacing those windows wholesale in 20-30 years. Oh nevermind, leave that to the next homeowner.
  • Exterior storm windows also offer protection from the elements.
Operable metal storm windows at our house have been in place, I'm guessing, since at least the early '90s and though the wood windows are in need of paint at this point, they are far from deteriorating despite having not been touched in at LEAST 25 years.

Operable metal storm windows at our house have been in place, I’m guessing, since at least the early ’90s and though the wood windows are in need of paint at this point, they are far from deteriorating despite having not been touched in at LEAST 25 years. This winter, the wind rattled the windows but a little piece of cardboard fixed that and the storms kept the drafts at bay.

  • Most of the heat loss in your home is through the ceiling and walls, followed by the floor, windows and doors. Percentages range from 25-42% energy loss through the ceiling, 24-35% lost through uninsulated walls and 5-15% through windows. Hence, replacing your windows might feel warmer at the window but make little difference in the room’s ability to retain warm or cool air if the ceiling, walls, and floor are not properly insulated.
  • Speaking of which, old wooden windows SHOULD NOT be drafty! if you are feeling a draft around your window, it’s not because it has single-pane glass, it’s because it’s not sealed well which is infinitely fixable! Panes may need re-glazing (the putty that holds the glass in from the exterior), weather-stripping updated and/or caulk may be needed around the frame where it fits into the wall. Weather-stripping is the easiest of DIY fixes.
  • The replacement window industry wants us to buy new windows (duh), they’ve concocted all sorts of statistics and claims to make it seem like a no brainer. But even though their best claims were exaggerated, the damage was done, much of the general public was convinced that replacement windows would solve all their problems, and also:
    • Driven by consumer demand, the Real Estate industry lapped it up and preached the replacement window gospel.
    • Contractors will probably encourage you to get new windows too whether they believe in them or not because it SO easy to demo the old and install new and less time-consuming than restoring old windows.
  • Additionally, sending all your old windows to the landfill in favor of all new material that will go to the landfill in another 20-30 years (because they can’t be restored thanks to the low quality) wins some major negative environmental points.

In short, replacing your old windows is not a pat answer to the problem of heating and cooling efficiency in homes, and it is certainly NOT the first thing you should do to improve efficiency. Although houses will be different, air leaks should be sealed (windows and doors as well as outlets, baseboards, can lights and other problem areas) and insulation added before anything else is done.

Industry jargon needs to be analyzed, whether it’s from a Realtor, the Window Industry, OR a Preservationist.

If I’m trying to improve my comfort and save $$, I would restore my wood windows hands down, seal drafts and make sure I have sufficient insulation in the attic and floor which will have a greater effect on the comfort level of the whole room. I might even install storm windows if I wanted to spend a little more money and really reap the efficiency benefits. If a window was so far gone it had to be replaced, I would certainly take advantage of double-paned glass, but get a good quality wood window custom built to match the others so that I wouldn’t need to replace all the windows in my house for aesthetic reasons.

What about metal window frames??
I don’t know much about restoring metal windows in mid-century homes, although it can be done. I do know the frame gets quite cold. So I’m not surprised that you’d feel a huge difference once the metal windows in a ranch house were replaced with new ones. In this instance replacement seems reasonable, though I’d still be sure to choose quality windows without plastic bits that break.


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