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I feel myself careening down a slippery slope, so I need to talk this one out. I’m “repairing” a number of windows in my house. The current windows are double-hung single-pane windows that are probably the original wondows installed when the house was built 60+ years ago. The glazing putty on most of the windows is dried out and crack to the extent that an awful lot of it is just plain missing. The easiest (cheapest) fix would be to just smear some new glazing putty on the windows and probably put on a fresh coat of paint, but there’re probably 3-5 coats of paint on the interiors already, so I had the bright idea to take the sashes out, strip them down, reglaze, repaint, and reinstall. After removing the first window, I started to wonder if it might not be a better idea to replace the windows/sashes with replacement pocket windows. The openings are all standard sizes, so double-hung double-pane vinyl replacements cost about $100 each. The new windows will certainly be significantly more efficient, so I decided that it would be worth putting in replacements. In the long run (maybe only 2-3 years) I will probably recover the investment by savings on my utility bills. OK, good justification.

Now comes the next step. I pulled off all of the trim so I can insulate around the frames, seems like a good idea as long as I’m in the middle of this project. The trim came off in good shape (only a couple little splinters and dings) so I just have to strip the paint, sand them down, prime, paint, and reinstall. The paint strips pretty well with a heat gun and I’ve stripped a few little bits of the trim down to the original wood. A little sanding and they’ll be as good as new. Then I made either a brilliant discovery or a horrible mistake. I stopped off at the home improvement store and wandered down the trim aisle. New trim (pre-primed even!) is on sale this week for just under 50¢ a foot, meaning that I can put new trim up for $4-5 per window. Given the time, electricity (for the heat gun), sandpaper, and the few minor splinters and dings in the old trim, it sounds like I would be an idiot to try and reuse the old trim. If it were nice, stained hardwood trim, I might consider putting in the effort, but it’s painted so there’s no aesthetic advantage to “old” wood. The decision has been made!

But there’s a dilemma here. OK, “dilemma” might be a bit extreme. What is the better choice from an environmental/resource perspective? Reduce/reuse/recycle points toward reusing the current old trim. By buying new trim, I am perpetuating the consumerist cycle and encouraging the continued exploitation of our natural resources. New wooden trim destroys forests, new non-wood trim is likely petrochemical in nature. The fossil fuel used to manufacture and transport the new trim has released tons of CO2(g) into the atmosphere, and if I buy some of the store’s current stock they will have to order more.

On the other hand, stripping the paint off the old trim will also require electricity, which in my town is largely generated by fossil fuels, spitting more CO2(g) into the atmosphere, causing yet another mild winter and overly hot summer due to global warming. In addition, given the age of the house and the number of layers of paint on the trim, I would be shocked if one or two of those deeper layers of paint aren’t lead-based, so any heat-based stripping or sanding will contaminate the environment with that evil harbinger of cancerous misery, Lead, the sweet Pb of death. Chemical stripping will use evil chemicals, also damaging the environment. Whatever shall I do?!

Although I haven’t done a full impact analysis, I think I’m still doing with the new trim. I suspect that the full “cost” of the new trim is significantly higher than the “cost” of refurbishing the old trim, but I also have to factor in the value of my time. That’s not a very eco-friendly thing to point out, but it’s honest. To make myself feel a little better, I noticed that the new trim specifically states that it is made from “sustainably harvested wood”. It’s written on the back of every single piece of trim. I feel great about being sustainable! Unfortunately, it also says that it is sustainably harvested “in Chile”. Hmm, transportation from Chile involves a LOT of CO2(g) and other pollutants. Arg, there’s just no way to win this one.




A lot of the windows in my new house are in need of a little maintenance. In some cases, the glazing putty is mostly rattled out so although the points are still holding the glass in place well enough, I am quite certain there are air leaks. The sashes still seem structurally sound, and the frames are in good shape, so I decided to rehab the windows rather than replace them. Just clean up the joints and smear a little fresh glazing putty on the windows, right?
My house is ~60 years old, and over the years, there were some dedicated interior designers living here. The window sashes all have at least 2 coats of paint, some have 4 or more. If I’m going to fix up the windows, I really should do a proper job of it, so I should strip off the old paint and completely redo the sashes and trim.
I’ve started the job, but I’m starting to have second thoughts. For a couple reasons. First, I had to do a bit of disassembly to get all the sashes out, and there were some pretty tight fits. When I reassemble the windows, I’m not confident that I’ll get good air-tight fits, so the rehabbed windows will be leaky. That’s not a good thing in the winter wonderland of western Minnesota. Second, I’ve managed to break a couplle of the glass panes in the process of taking the sashes apart. In addition, these are all single pane sashes, so again, the energy efficiency of the windows is not great. I briefly considered getting new double-pane glass for all the sashes. I haven’t priced this option, but I suspect it wouldn’t be cheap. Third, I haven’t tested it, but given the age of the house and the windows, I would be shocked if at least 1 layer of paint wasn’t lead-based. Stripping lead-based paint isn’t awesome; heat guns and sanding kick up lead vapor and/or particles, and chemical strippers are messy.
To get around all of these problems, I’ve decided to go with replacement pocket windows. I would do a full-frame replacement, but getting under the steel siding on the house is more trouble than I want to deal with right now. The biggest criticism of pocket replacements is that they reduce the glazed area of the window, and I might be concerned about that, but the first windows I’m going to replace are in the bathroom and bedrooms. I put insulated covers over those windows for 6-8 months of the year, so reduced light levels are definitely not a problem.
I am a little reluctant about the quality (and by “quality” I mean “price”) of pocket replacements, but again, especially for the bathroom and bedroom windows, I’m not all that concerned about appearances because the windows will be covered with insulators or blinds 90+% of the time. Since at least some of the windows are pretty common standard sizes, I should be able to get replacements for <$150 each, so for ~$1000 I should be able to replace windows in the north half of my house. Sounds like a good summer project.