100 year Window EP 9 New House Old Soul

New House, Old Soul – Ep. 9 – 100-Year Window

Foreword by Ian Thompson, Editor

Windows are the eyes of our buildings. They add a lot of character and serve an important function both physically and ascetically. When I built my current home, I was able to use recessed windows because my external walls are a minimum of 300mm thick which I feel is a great look. In contrast, most houses built today use thin stick walls, making this window style difficult to accommodate. As a result, windows have to be stuck on the outside of the wall, which, to me, is less visually appealing.

What mystified me was that our local building consent department in Auckland didn’t understand how recessed windows worked. They requested more information, which delayed our project. This was not only disappointing, but also costly. The fact that nearly all our windows historically were recessed shows another aspect of our building heritage that has been lost in time.

Anyway, my advice is to think about your windows at the outset of your design. Make sure you can incorporate the windows you want to use into your build. Don’t skimp on quality and don’t be afraid to import your windows from countries that build really good quality, high performing windows that stand the test of time. I recommend Europe as a good starting point. With fairly little difficulty, you can source better quality, more durable, and better functioning windows a lot more affordably – even after factoring in international freight.

In New Zealand, where I live, standardization is considered a dark art, meaning you can’t go and buy a good window or door off-the-shelf. Nearly every window and door is made to measure, which adds considerable cost and time. In a lot of cases, the quality is questionable. To me, this is absolutely nuts, but that’s the way it is here. Do your own research and talk to your council to check if there are any potential issues using better quality imported windows. Normally there isn’t, you just have to show that your preferred windows comply with a certain manufacturing standards, which in Europe they exceed pretty much every standard everywhere else.

Anyway, enough of me. I’ll now pass you over to Brent for his latest installment of “New House, Old Soul”, Episode 9, Windows.

“100-Year Window” New House, Old Soul – Ep. 9

Video Transcript:

Today, we’re going to talk about Windows. We’re going to talk about their history, how they’re put together, what’s going on with them, how to think about them today, and why windows are so important as you’re building this house that has a narrative and has a story. If you really wanted to have an old soul, good windows are a key part of making it right.

Build Original Series hosted by Brent Hall, New House Old Soul, sponsored by Stellar Floors and the Unico system.

Okay, guys, so Windows, really, the window that we’re using today—okay, let’s just say a cloud window from one of the big production companies—is a window that’s been developed in the last 30 years. Okay, so I don’t know if you guys remember it, but I first started building in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The true divided light insulated windows were the rage. Right? That we are going with insulated glass. But as a true divided light, it’s a big old thick mutton. It looked ugly. It was terrible. And so today, we have the simulated divided light with the glue-on wood muttons that go over top of those windows. That’s really a product of the last 30 years. And so when we think about Windows, we think about the breadth of our houses. Where’s windows in this conversation? What’s really going on? So we’re going to talk about the history of those, and once I explain some of these things, you’ll begin to understand why it matters. Why is true divide light so important to the look of the house? What’s going on there?

So if we go back to the Colonial period, really glass has driven the technology of Windows as much as anything else. Glass is still the weak point in window Energy Efficiency today, especially with a wood window. Glass and glass size was a big deal originally. They would make glass from a round sheet called sometimes called crown glass, something called table glass, where guys would actually have these tubes. They would blow glass in the tube, they would cut it open, and then they would spin it. And through centrifugal force, you get a big glass cylinder like this, and they would cut pieces of glass out of there. Those typically, the crown or table glass piece, was only about three feet wide. And if you’ve ever seen the bullseye glass, that’s where the rod was snapped off when they were making the glass. And sometimes you’ll see those in colonial houses above a door because it was a cheap kind of a throwaway piece of glass. But still allowed light to come in.

So already you’re seeing, you know, these windows and doors and why glass is so important. One of the reasons why historic Windows pre-1850, okay, maybe 1830, are small panes is because glass didn’t get very big. They went to what’s called cylinder glass. And cylinder glass was the same concept but instead of spinning the glass and having it stretch out, they threw the glass. And so they would be up on these benches, and these guys would actually swing down, and it would just lengthen these tubes. It ended up with six feet, eight-foot tubes that they would cut open and get glass. Now, what that means is that the defects and striations and bubbles and all those things are part of the heritage of that glass and part of the charm of that glass. Cylinder glass lasts up and through almost to 1940. In the ’20s and the ’30s, the big machines came down, and instead of having a guy hand-blowing and throwing the cylinder glass, they’d have a big machine that would make up and pull up these huge tubes of glass that were 30 and 40 feet tall, laid down, cut open, and you still had striation and defects. But glass was everything up until about the ’40s. That’s when we developed float glass. And the reason why ranch-style houses have been a big plate glass windows and stuff, because we finally had the technology there to make large pieces of glass.

One of the things we also forget in this Modern Age is how important windows were to the comfort of a home. And that the double-hung window was a great system. You’d raise the lower sash in the front of the house and lower the upper sash in the back, and you create this convection air through the house, natural air conditioning that we obviously don’t use anymore in the ’50s and ’60s, after air conditioning became a part of most houses. But the working inoperable double-hung window is a fantastic way to heat and cool a home and to create natural Comfort. The reason why this is so important is I see a lot of new houses with just a big sheet of glass into the window frame, no divided light, nothing movable, nothing operable, and it’s the cheapest, quickest way to get a window in a house. But what ends up happening, especially with historic preservation, is that when you take the windows out of a house, you’re really poking the eyes out and all the scale and dimension and beauty of the house. Windows are the most important thing on historic houses, and that still should be true of your new house with an old soul. That if you want that old soul, one way to get it is to go back with the divided lights, is to go back with smaller panes, is to go back with this look that reminds us of the past.

The other interesting thing that the glass does is it creates a sense of scale. It helps us read just like these windows in this room to help me read how big everything is, especially on the outside of a house. That divided light pain really adds a sense of scale and proportion that helps us see the beauty in these historic houses. So one of the things that architects really love and freak out about on these historic windows is this deep shadow line you can see in this mutton bar, that single-pane glass putty glazing, that this inch and three-quarter sash, about an inch of it, maybe an inch and an eighth, is this profile. And so here on the side of the window, as you look at it, you get these deep shadow lines. Now, why doesn’t that work on a new window? Because what’s happened is this piece of glass, because it grows almost three times, sometimes even more, this window mutton bar has to lose, you know, lose some of its depth. And so you end up with kind of a flat, you know, lifeless mutton bar because it doesn’t have that depth and natural architectural Beauty.

One of the things that we have evolved, and look, I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and about five years ago, we had an epiphany, okay? That the new windows that are being built today are not as good as the historic windows that were built a hundred years ago. And what was happening is on our build jobs, we were putting in a production window, and after 15 years on one of our jobs, the windows literally rotted out. The knob actually came out of the wood, and the wood was completely rotted. How now was that possible? Because we were also working on historic courthouses and schools and Depots, taking historic windows out of these buildings, restoring them, putting them back in, expecting them to last another 50 to 100 years. Wait a minute, why are those windows lasting so long and these windows don’t last anymore? What we think is the most important feature of a new window is quality wood and wood that isn’t going to rot and fall apart in 15 years. We believe windows should last 100 years, just like they did before. And we’ll get into more of that later.

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Really, what there is with windows is a great tradition, a great practice, and really, from the 1840s, 1850s, all the way up into the 1940s, about a hundred-year period of time, historic windows looked like this, right? Historic windows had pegs where the joinery, there was joinery where there was three mortise and tenon that came together, this quality construction happened for a hundred-plus years and really created a tradition. And if you want to create a new house with an old soul, part of that is installing some of those memory pieces that take you back to another place in time. So when we look to the Past, right, when we look at these historic windows that we’re restoring, all their time, there’s a number of features that help them to perform and really, this is that lost art of building, guys, that we’ve forgotten how to build. And so many new manufacturers today will make a window with a flat sill, right? It doesn’t last very long. Historically, those window seals were always pitched. It reminds me that, gosh, guys, if we could just pitch a windowsill, we wouldn’t have to resort to Azek and concrete and all these other newfangled products that are out there that are not supposed to rot, not supposed to ever fail, but if we just remembered how we used to build and did it with good wood, we would have things that would last a very long time. As we look to the past, right, when we look at these historic windows that we’re restoring, all their time, there’s a number of features that help them to perform and really, this is that lost art of building, guys, that we’ve forgotten how to build. And so many new manufacturers today will make a window with a flat sill, right? It doesn’t last very long. Historically, those window seals were always pitched. It reminds me that, gosh, guys, if we could just pitch a windowsill, we wouldn’t have to resort to Azek and concrete and all these other newfangled products that are out there that are not supposed to rot, not supposed to ever fail, but if we just remembered how we used to build and did it with good wood, we would have things that would last a very long time.

So really what there is with windows is a great tradition, a great practice, and really from the 1840s, 1850s, all the way up into the 1940s, about a hundred-year period of time, historic windows looked like this, right? Historic windows had pegs where the joinery, there was joinery where there was three mortise and tenon that came together, this quality construction happened for a hundred-plus years and really created a tradition. And if you want to create a new house with an old soul, part of that is installing some of those memory pieces that take you back to another place in time. So when we look to the Past, right, when we look at these historic windows that we’re restoring, all their time, there’s a number of features that help them to perform and really, this is that lost art of building, guys, that we’ve forgotten how to build. And so many new manufacturers today will make a window with a flat sill, right? It doesn’t last very long. Historically, those window seals were always pitched. It reminds me that, gosh, guys, if we could just pitch a windowsill, we wouldn’t have to resort to Azek and concrete and all these other newfangled products that are out there that are not supposed to rot, not supposed to ever fail, but if we just remembered how we used to build and did it with good wood, we would have things that would last a very long time.

So really what there is with windows is a great tradition, a great practice, and really from the 1840s, 1850s, all the way up into the 1940s, about a hundred-year period of time, historic windows looked like this, right? Historic windows had pegs where the joinery, there was joinery where there was three mortise and tenon that came together, this quality construction happened for a hundred-plus years and really created a tradition. And if you want to create a new house with an old soul, part of that is installing some of those memory pieces that take you back to another place in time. So when we look to the Past, right, when we look at these historic windows that we’re restoring, all their time, there’s a number of features that help them to perform and really, this is that lost art of building, guys, that we’ve forgotten how to build. And so many new manufacturers today will make a window with a flat sill, right? It doesn’t last very long. Historically, those window seals were always pitched. It reminds me that, gosh, guys, if we could just pitch a windowsill, we wouldn’t have to resort to Azek and concrete and all these other newfangled products that are out there that are not supposed to rot, not supposed to ever fail, but if we just remembered how we used to build and did it with good wood, we would have things that would last a very long time.

So really what there is with windows is a great tradition, a great practice, and really from the 1840s, 1850s, all the way up into the 1940s, about a hundred-year period of time, historic windows looked like this, right? Historic windows had pegs where the joinery, there was joinery where there was three mortise and tenon that came together, this quality construction happened for a hundred-plus years and really created a tradition. And if you want to create a new house with an old soul, part of that is installing some of those memory pieces that take you back to another place in time. So when we look to the Past, right, when we look at these historic windows that we’re restoring, all their time, there’s a number of features that help them to perform and really, this is that lost art of building, guys, that we’ve forgotten how to build. And so many new manufacturers today will make a window with a flat sill, right? It doesn’t last very long. Historically, those window seals were always pitched. It reminds me that, gosh, guys, if we could just pitch a windowsill, we wouldn’t have to resort to Azek and concrete and all these other newfangled products that are out there that are not supposed to rot, not supposed to ever fail, but if we just remembered how we used to build and did it with good wood, we would have things that would last a very long time.

So Styles, you have double-hungs, you have casements, you got an in-swing casement, you got an outswing casement, there’s all kinds of screens and storms that we’ve kind of forgotten that they used to build with wood storms and wood screens that would exchange out between seasons and the depth of those things versus the flimsy aluminum pieces that you get from some companies today really is one of those layering pieces that will make your house more beautiful and will give it an old soul. So I want to go out to the shop, I want to show you how we’re building our 100 Year window, how we’re infusing the past into it, and our thinking about getting something so it lasts 100 years. So let’s go check it out. I think we’re gonna have fun. Thank you.

Okay, guys, just wanted to show and share our 100 Year window. This is a sample that we give the Architects and people who are specifying our window because it really explains and shows the heart of it, the guts of it, and the magic of it. Like why is this window special? I mean, the quick answer is that we’ve copied the path to a point that we know that those historic windows from the courthouses, and the Depots, and the schools that we’ve redone, we know those windows last a long time. What’s the secret sauce? And the one Secret Sauce is wood, and we’ll talk about wood real quick. But the other one is the design details that go into this window that make it special, that make it interesting, that make it perform really well.

If we take our sash out, right, the step in our seal right here, right, all of these little steps here, we discovered that when we tested our window, that one of the ways it passes the air and wind water infiltration test is these steps because, truthfully, water in a high wind will actually run uphill, and it will run uphill and actually come inside your window. These steps stop that. The pitch here is 11 degrees, right? We know that if it goes down to seven degrees or less, 11 to 14 is kind of the magic spot of the degree pitch in the sill so that it performs well. Notice that we have a step in the bottom of our sill so it sits down perfectly right in there, makes a really snug fit.

The weather stripping’s a big deal, okay? We do not use cheap weather stripping. We use this groove weather stripping that again, all of the details that we’re putting into this window are done because we’ve seen them perform so well historically. And this groove weather stripping is kind of another piece of the secret sauce that we have a Groove here and that when this sash sits inside here, we’ve got a very tight fit. When it gets tested right, we know that it performs well because that weather stripping stops the air infiltration.

The way we’re making our weight pocket right, that we’ve got a divider in here. Why do we have a divider in here? The divider on the best historic windows that McKee and Medium white used to design in the turn of the century had a divider inside that divided the weight Pockets because the sash sometimes will clang, sometimes they’ll hit each other, sometimes they’ll get hung up on each other, and this divider bar was put in there so that the weights never hit. We don’t see really details like that on Windows after 1930, but if we’re going to look at the best Windows from the past, they always have that divider, so we’ve always got to put it in there.

We’ve got on the inside, we’ve got an adjustable stop, right? Why did we do an adjustable stop? Because weather changes, we know that it gets hot and things swell, and it gets cold and things shrink. If you’ve ever had a sash rattle or be too loose or be too tight, this adjustable stop here, we loosen that up with the screw, this stop will move back and forth, and I can micro-adjust my windows so that they perform excellently. Right, where do we get this? Oh yeah, we looked at the past. This is kind of those best Windows from the late 1800s, early 1900s had this adjustable stop. So we’re kind of taking the Cadillac of the early 1900s window and building it again.

The other piece of this thing is if you compare this window to a new window, all of a sudden, all the parts and pieces start shrinking, and the shadow lines, the depth, the architectural beauty is gone. It’s lost. Another piece of the secret sauce is finishing the design details that are different. If you look at a new window, the blind stop, which is this piece that kind of holds in the Sash on the outside, is about an eighth of an inch. It’s shrunk down. This is three-quarters of an inch, right? That difference adds to the depth and is a subtle deal.

Our windowsill at the bottom is an inch and an eighth, right? We’d go from a two-inch material down to this thinner piece. That too is kind of one of those beefier details. We can do our bottom still as a two-inch piece, just like they did back in colonial America. So we are building the window from the early 1900s, copying the past, making it awesome.

One of the things that always comes up with Windows, especially when we’re building a new historic window is Energy Efficiency, right? What do we do about Energy Efficiency? The truth is that if I’m going to build a window that lasts 100 years, I can’t put in a product that’s only going to last 15 or 20. One of those things is the insulated glass. We use single-pane glass because this is a thousand-year product, right? Glass never breaks down. It never fails. But insulated glass does, and sadly, the whole window industry has gotten to a point where they’ve built obsolescence into their product, so that if this window has insulated glass and fails, they want you to replace the whole window. It’s very wasteful and it’s bad.

So there are things to overcome with the window, for instance, my single-pane glass has an R-value of one, okay? An insulated piece of glass in a production window is an R-value of two. But the problem is if you look at the energy statistics, only about 30 percent of our energy loss goes out when windows and doors. You’re not calculating a 50 percent increase in Energy Efficiency over 100 percent of your house. It’s a very small part of your house. So it’s much more efficient to build an envelope that’s really tight and then put in a window that’s going to last a long time because the insulated glass is the Achilles’ heel of the modern window, right? It is the problem. It’s the thing that’s going to fail, and you’re not getting enough energy efficiency boost by going to insulated glass because of the beauty you’re losing, because of the longevity that you’re losing, it just doesn’t make sense.

Now, in the South, where the median temperature in Fort Worth is 68 degrees or 62 degrees somewhere in that range, single-pane glass isn’t a problem. In the South, we have a heat gain problem; we don’t have a heat loss problem. You know, single-pane glass in California, Florida, Arizona, Texas, all along the South to the southern border, this should be the window that everybody uses. But when you get up into England, you get up into Minnesota, you get up into those areas where they do have a very cold climate, what we would suggest instead of doing the insulated glass is doing the Pilkington Spacia glass, which is the glass that is vacuum insulated. Now, most insulated glass is sealed, but it’s not vacuum sealed. The Pilkington is vacuum sealed, and therefore, it goes from an R-value not of one but an R-value of between four and seven. So now you’re really speaking about an appreciable difference.

The other great thing about the Pilkington is that you aren’t relying on a rubber gasket on the outside of the window. Those glass pieces have been brazed together, and because they’ve been brazed together with glass, it’s a long-lasting seal. Right? It’s not going to fail. So there are solutions, right? Another solution, another historic solution that they did originally was they would use storms, right? Storms in the winter and screens in the summer. These were hanging on the outside of your window. They would sit right here, and then you have a cavity gap, right, a gap in your window of almost three inches as opposed to an eighth of an inch with insulated glass. So much more efficient way of sealing up your windows with those historic storms, historic screens that really share the character of the house, you know, the beauty of the house and really make it special and wonderful.

The last piece is the wood, the wood quality. We use sapele, we use mahogany, we use akoya, we use proven long-lasting historic woods. We know that if the wood’s bad, this window won’t last. So our wood is the best long-lasting wood that we can find that we know that’s available to make sure that this window lasts 100 years. What is the key, guys? If you can get the wood right, you solve a lot of problems, you solve a lot of the challenges that are happening with windows that are rotting out way too soon. Windows are key, right? Windows are one of those, maybe the most important architectural feature on the home. If you can get that right, you really have done yourself well. We think the 100 Year window is the solution for the new house that wants an old soul.

Thank you.

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