On a crisp, bright, Duluth spring day, a group of homeowners gathered at an old telephone exchange building currently being rehabbed. The goal of the day? To learn how to restore old wood windows.
With a long history of settlement starting with the Chippewa and Sioux, Duluth has grown to become the fourth largest city in Minnesota. Its long history in conjunction with its location on Lake Superior has given Duluth a unique sense of character in its built environment. From large mansions to small cabins nestled along the lake shore, Duluth holds quite the range in home styles. The city also boasts at least 42 buildings and structures on the National Register of Historic Places. With a wealth of beautiful old buildings, the city faces a need for more education on how to maintain these properties, a part of which is learning to restore old windows.
About the Instructor
Joe first began learning the trade of
window restoration over a decade
ago as a homeowner of a 1916 home
in South Minneapolis and has since
worked in the field with a variety of
restoration professionals. He finds it
refreshing to give homeowners with
an ethic for renewal a lasting and
affordable option for maintaining their
original windows. Before restoring
windows full time, Joe worked as a
Montessori elementary teacher. He now
loves sharing his love and knowledge
of old windows with anyone willing to
For many at the workshop, the restoration of their windows seemed to be a daunting task. What is a sash cord and weight? Does an old window have to be drafty? Can I glaze a window? At one point the answers to these questions may have been passed down generation to generation. These days, as instructor Joe Hayes points out, the window industry has promoted the notion of “discard and replace” and has encouraged homeowners to throw their sturdy original windows in the trash.
Joe’s business is to repair and restore old windows. Along the way, he teaches homeowners about the benefits of repairing and not replacing. As an owner of an old building, you may have considered replacing your old, drafty, dusty, immobile windows. Yet, these words don’t have to describe your windows.
About the Building
Our workshop venue, 1804 E. 1st Street,
was originally a telephone exchange
building. In the mid-1990s, the building
became RecyclaBell, a venue for local
musicians. The stately three-story
brick structure has lofty ceilings, big
windows, and views of Lake Superior
from the top. Mike Poupore, the building
owner, contractor, designer, a Heritage
Preservation Commission member, and Duluth Preservation Alliance board member, is currently rehabbing it and transforming it into apartments. We were excited to use the building for a workshop, and we’re even more excited to see it come to life again as living space.
At our class in Duluth, Joe outlined how learning simple window repair techniques can be cost effective, increase home energy efficiency, and work to maintain the historic character of a home. Joe then demonstrated common repairs like sash cord replacement, paint and glaze removal, glazing, painting, simple epoxy repairs, and window weatherizing.
Recent studies support repairing windows instead of replacing. “According to the Field Study of Energy Impacts of Window Rehab Choices…the estimated first year energy savings between a restored wooden window with a good storm window vs. a replacement window was $0.60.” This finding works against the notion that window companies are touting: new windows are inherently more energy efficient.
Joe also pointed out that old windows are made of old growth wood with high-quality, traditional carpentry techniques. He also noted their unique character, operability, longevity, and ability to be repaired with inexpensive parts. Often, traditional old window problems such as draftiness or poor operation are due to lack of maintenance, rather than an old window having fundamental quality issues.
The skills taught during Rethos's window rehab workshops are both restoration and maintenance oriented, providing building owners with the tools to keep their windows working and beautiful. Although window restoration can be daunting, most building owners can easily be taught the skills showcased this class. If anything, knowing how to restore your windows can help you communicate what your window needs are. There are, of course, more advanced skills that may be needed for extensive restoration such as replacing parts of a window or cutting glass, but rest assured there are still experts like Joe to help with that process.