Village Matters: Window Racket

By Ann Christoph

By Ann Christoph

There was some racket at last week’s Heritage Committee meeting in the council chambers.  Historical consultant Jan Ostashay spoke to a roomful of residents concerned about the status of their properties that have been on the city’s heritage structures inventory since a historical survey in 1981. Ostashay has been hired by the city to update the inventory.  She explained that she and her team will be visiting and researching the buildings designated on the 30-year-old list and making recommendations on whether or not each one is still a historic resource.

There were questions well asked and well answered, but the “racket” seemed to focus on the issue of windows. Speakers from the audience were frustrated with the prospect of not being allowed to replace the windows on their historic buildings with some type of modern window.  “What kinds of windows can I use? We’ve been getting confusing answers,” they complained.

Most of our historic buildings pre-date 1940; that makes them 70 plus years old by now.  It’s no wonder a delicate and movable item like a window might be worn out at this point.

There is the urge to modernize, weatherize, climatize, aluminize and vinylize when replacing the old wood windows, an urge promoted by the window replacement companies and aided by the emphasis on saving energy and thus protecting ourselves from climate change.

It seems to me that 70 years of service from a wood window is a pretty good run and way better than the limited guarantee I got on some double pane windows we bought for our historic office building.  Here I thought I was doing the right thing—replacing the worn out wood windows with wood double pane models.  The double panes were to provide sound buffering and insulation. But what they didn’t tell me when I ordered the windows was that the muntins (the narrow strips between the window panes) would be twice as wide as those in the original windows.  When I objected after they arrived, “Oh, we had to make them that wide to put in the double panes,” as though it was no big deal that the new windows now didn’t match the unreplaced windows elsewhere on the building.

But not only did we have to accept windows that didn’t really match, they proved to be defective.  After a year or so the new windows started leaking—the gap between the panes of glass began to mist up.  Water collected between the panes.  I joked I could have my own aquarium in my windows.

“Sorry, the guarantee is only good for a year.” the window company said.  We replaced all of the leaking panes at our own expense. It wasn’t long before those began to leak too.  Finally, I replaced them all a second time with laminated glass. So far, so good.

Is it any wonder I view the modern-window replacement business as a racket, causing unnecessary expense for homeowners and damage to historic buildings? For Laguna Beach, where our windows are open for breezes the majority of the time, the energy savings of the modern windows are minimal. Wood windows have passed the test of time; my 1933 house still has the original wood windows and they are still sliding up and down with their rope and weight system.  Will the new-fangled windows last longer?  Maybe, but my experience says probably not.

There are craftsmen who duplicate the historical wood windows. Let’s give them the business, keep our buildings looking and functioning just as they have since Laguna’s early days.  And don’t worry. Having your building on the city’s heritage list is an honor, and for us, with two buildings on the Historic Register, it has provided nothing but benefits. It is a privilege to be one in a chain of property owners who have appreciated and enjoyed these unique and character-giving buildings over decades, and who want to pass them on for owners and Laguna lovers to enjoy far into the future.


Former council member Ann Christoph lives in a historic bungalow in South Laguna and works in another historic structure on Coast Highway. 

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