The Architectural Advisory Committee of the King William Association has declared 2013 “The Year of the Window” ... and in previous issues of the Newsletter we have discussed the City’s historic guidelines that call for appropriate, energy-conserving restoration of historic windows over replacement. In this installment we visit with neighbors whose home and guest house exemplify best practices for residential window restoration (and much else besides!).

Vance Guest House Photographer Scott Martin and poet Jenny Browne have restored two homes in the Lavaca neighborhood using a variety of strategies for energy conservation and recycling of building materials. (Many King William residents rely on “Scott’s List” of historic contractors and suppliers, www.scottslist.org.) One of their projects, a guest house at 215 Vance, won the City of San Antonio’s Green Building Award for historic retrofit in 2012. Interestingly, this house was built during the Great Depression using reclaimed building materials from demolished structures, making it a “green building” of its own era!

Window restoration was a major part of the energy-saving strategy in both houses. Martin described the steps involved in reclaiming each double-hung window: removal of the interior trim, removal of old glazing putty and paint (using a citrus-based solvent and carefully disposing of the old lead-based paint), and re-hanging the original counterweights. Removal of layers of old paint and, where necessary, replacement of damaged window stops ensured that the repaired and repainted sash fit tightly, but without binding.

All windows originally had wood-framed screens. A few windows, carefully chosen to maximize natural ventilation in good weather, received cypress-framed screens newly fabricated with stainless steel screening that is resistant to damage by children or would-be vandals. However, most of the screen windows were fitted with tempered glass instead of screens. These were installed with weatherstripping, and coupled with the original windows, provide thermal performance comparable to modern double-glazed windows while maintaining the original character of the house. An added benefit: the tight windows cut out a lot of exterior noise, including the endless clatter of nearby rail lines.

Martin said that he was impressed both by how quickly the steps of window restoration proceeded and by the modest cost. With custom-fabricated screens and storm windows, each window cost a few hundred dollars in materials and labor – comparable to mid-range new windows and substantially less than high quality new wood windows. And most importantly, they are original – maintaining the historic and aesthetic integrity of these houses while improving their energy efficiency.

Martin and Browne use their guest house as a teaching tool for principles of green design. Besides the window restoration, other strategies included extensive use of reclaimed lumber, doors, and cabinetry; foam insulation in walls, attic, and crawlspace; and, energy- and water-conserving heat pump HVAC, appliances, and plumbing fixtures. Thanks to these conservation measures, both houses have seen their modest energy bills offset for months with CPS rebates. An independent energy audit showed that one house’s HERS rating fell from 240 to 72 (lower is better, 100 is considered average for a new home).
Window restoration to this level of performance takes a little extra effort and time, and plenty of love – but that love is why most of us live in King William and Lavaca. It also takes knowledge. More information on 215 Vance is available at greenguesthouse.net.

- Jack Kent Jr.