Wood or vinyl, midrange or upscale, window replacement remains a solid home improvement upgrade based on cost recouped, according to REMODELING's annual Cost vs. Value report. But just because replacing outdated or inefficient windows is an obvious choice for some homeowners doesn't make it the right choice for everyone. Some new window replacement alternatives make sense in other cases — particularly for historic homes or those with unique window styles.

A year ago, Portland, Ore.–based Neil Kelly Co. began offering Indow Window, an interior storm window that helps solve multiple problems associated with inefficient windows. "People who have older houses want to preserve the historic qualities of those windows, but they're not really that comfortable," says Chad Ruhoff, home performance manager for Neil Kelly. "There was a big push in the '70s for storm windows. They help, but they don't look good."

Available in three colors to match interior trim, Indow Windows feature a spring-bulb gasket around the perimeter. This allows the Indow pane to fit tightly inside the existing window frame, sealing out drafts without needing mechanical fittings.

In terms of cost, Ruhoff says that replacement windows could cost as much as $100 per square foot, while Indow Windows cost just $20 per square foot. "It's still an investment," he notes. "But it's also an opportunity for us to upsell. A lot of homeowners think of windows as the first way to improve energy efficiency. If they come to us asking about Indow Windows, we can talk to them about other upgrades they can make in the home. And if they come to us for a different project, we can suggest Indow Windows if it's appropriate."

System Restore

Window restoration has also gotten increased attention recently. For remodelers concerned about lead-safe work practices, products such as the Speedheater Infrared Paint Remover can help improve window finishing results and keep restorers in compliance with the Renovation, Repair and Painting rule. Using low-level heat (ranging from 380 degrees F to 580 degrees F), the Speedheater separates the paint from the wood. Of note for lead-paint removal projects, the Speedheater only heats paint to a maximum of 400 degrees F, well below the danger temperature at which lead vaporizes. Several restorers and construction professionals have found the Speedheater to be highly useful on a range of projects from window restoration to paint removal from wood siding. "If you're restoring windows on a low-production basis, it's great," says Tom O'Brien, a longtime restoration contractor and contributing editor to THE JOURNAL OF LIGHT CONSTRUCTION, a sister publication to REMODELING. "I try not to remove paint if I don't have to, but the Speedheater works really well for that. It's also fantastic for softening up the glazing when you have to reglaze the windows."

Dixon Kerr, owner at Richmond, Va.–based Old House Authority, has also had success with the Speedheater, both on window frames and on the jambs from which the windows were removed. Though little recent data exists to identify cost comparisons between restored and replacement windows, Kerr and O'Brien agree that a properly restored window (with the benefit of good glazing, weatherstripping, and storm windows as necessary), can function with a high level of energy efficiency.

"If you can save an old window, it makes your house more valuable because it's part of the fabric of the house," Kerr says. "With the right tools, you can bring back the old-growth wood and the mortise-and-tenon construction like new, and those materials and techniques were much better then. An old window will last 100 years if you maintain it." —Lauren Hunter, senior editor, REMODELING.

This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the June 2012 issue of REMODELING.

More REMODELING articles about historic windows:

Saving Old Windows: An alternative to new replacement windows for historic properties  
Preserving Old Windows — Repair and maintenance, not replacement, may actually make sense  
This Old Thing? The trouble with historic windows