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Preservationists' new cry: Save the windows!

AP News
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Posted: Oct 20, 2010 6:44 PM
Preservationists' new cry: Save the windows!

There's no need to tear off the shutters and throw out the sash in the name of energy efficiency, say groups that are seeking to preserve the historic look of buildings.

With federal tax credits for installing energy-efficient windows set to end this year, vinyl replacement window installers are anticipating a rush of orders in the next few months. But the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance wants property owners there to reconsider abandoning their old wood-framed windows.

The group recently included historic windows statewide on its annual "Seven to Save" list, which typically features buildings or landmarks it considers threatened. Windows made the list because while they are among the most visible and defining features of historic buildings, property owners often are quick to replace them because of the growing emphasis on going "green" and energy efficiency, said Maggie Stier, the alliance's field service representative.

"We're not trying to save every window, but we want to make sure as many people as possible have the information to make good decisions," she said.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation hasn't included windows on its annual list of endangered sites, but it has promoted weatherization tips on its website. At least two other preservation groups, in Alabama and Philadelphia, have included windows on their lists, though John Gallery, director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia said he hasn't seen a great rush to replace windows.

Stier and other preservation advocates argue that with proper storm windows _ some of which also are eligible for the tax credits _ old windows can be just as energy-efficient as replacements. They point out that older windows are built with high-quality materials, often were made to fit a specific home and include pieces and parts that can be repaired and replaced over the years.

The preservation alliance generally defines "historic" as anything more than 50 years old, but Stier said preserving any well-built window would be a "greener" option than replacing it.

"We find that people are trying to do the right thing in terms of being energy-efficient, but there's a lot of misinformation out there about energy savings that can be realized through replacement windows," she said. "We'd like to counter a lot of the advertising that's out there."

Vinyl window retailers say their customers are looking for windows that are easy to clean, open and close in addition to being energy-efficient.

Ted Castonguay is the co-owner of Rite Window in Portsmouth, which has installed about 120,000 replacement windows this year. He said he agrees that adding interior and exterior storm windows to a 200-year-old building can boost energy efficiency about as well as replacement windows and would make sense for homes in historic districts. But he said for most of his customers, energy efficiency is just one of many reasons why they want new windows.

"The reason people replace their windows is not exclusively energy efficiency, but rather they have a perceived pain that falls into the category of operational effectiveness, maintenance and comfort," he said. "The energy efficiency is kind of like a byproduct."

A common refrain is, "I'm sick of these windows and we are doing something about it," Castonguay said.

New Hampshire's "Seven to Save" list also included a theater in Laconia, a dam in Durham, an Odd Fellows Hall in Warner, a tower in Rye, a print shop at the Mount Washington Hotel and the research and development buildings at the former Brown Paper Company in Berlin.