One of the decisions that comes with the re-use of an existing building is what to do with the windows. Windows do more than just provide light and air circulation within a space; they are also a character-defining feature, contributing to the overall proportion and style of the building. Whether to keep or replace your existing windows should be given careful thought, with both the pros and cons weighed and taken into consideration.
A primary benefit of keeping existing windows is the cost savings during construction. Window replacement can be expensive, especially for high-performance or multi-pane options. Clients can save thousands of dollars in the short run by opting to leave existing windows in place. This is also beneficial if the windows are in good condition and there is no need to replace them.
It can also be very difficult to replace windows that have a unique design or characteristic, both in terms of aesthetic and size. When it comes to windows in a historic building, a historic committee may intervene and restrict your options. In these instances, it may be easier to maintain and repair the existing window rather than completely replace it. Simple repairs can go a long way in making an old window look and perform like new. Keeping existing windows can also save on the carbon-emission cost of manufacturing new windows.
On the other hand, sometimes it is easier or necessary to replace older windows. Windows that are damaged or have degraded over time may be too damaged to save, and window replacement is the only viable option. It may also be a necessity when it comes to performance. Windows with poor insulative properties can allow too much air to escape from within a space, leading to thermal breaks between the building’s interior and the exterior elements. This makes it very difficult to regulate the temperature in the space, leading to high utility bills and poor climate control within the building. You may be able to get away with replacing only the glazing and keeping the existing frame in place, but sometimes full window and frame replacement is the best option.
Another performance-related issue is in geographic areas with extreme weather conditions, such as areas like the Southeast that are prone to hurricane-force winds. If your existing windows are not compliant with local code for these conditions, you will have to replace them during construction.
Finally, window replacement is an option to achieve a certain look or organization of the space. While repurposing your building, it can be impossible to achieve the space use, aesthetic, and image you need without moving and/or replacing windows.
While it is beneficial to keep existing windows in many cases, the same can also be said for replacing or upgrading them. There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to dealing with each unique project and building. A good rule of thumb is to look at the condition and performance of your windows before moving forward. If there are issues or concerns with this, window replacement can be a viable option to help solve these issues. Each project requires its own careful consideration and insight to make the best decision for your project needs, and these are decisions that we at JL Architects can help you answer.
-Jeffrey Wilkinson, Architectural Designer