Window design and performance: historic preservation needn’t waste energy

Craft and building science, combined, can preserve aesthetics and make big performance gains.

The writing’s on the wall.  We can’t build in the twenty-first century like we did in the twentieth.  Or the nineteenth.  Building occupants demand better thermal comfort and energy efficiency, and so does the planet.  That’s why good builders need to be both expert craftspeople and building scientists these days.  The science is there now to create high performance buildings – it’s our responsibility as builders to use that science.

This new reality is changing the way we construct buildings, with Passive House at the vanguard.  It’s also allowing us to transform drafty old Craftsmans and Victorians into energy-efficient, comfortable structures through home energy audits and home performance retrofits.

And now it’s beginning to change the historic preservation landscape as well, especially windows.

For too long, historic building owners interested in reducing energy consumption have been forced to choose between two unsatisfactory options: stick with wasteful, but historically-accurate single pane windows or install mass-produced, energy efficient windows that ignore specific architectural aesthetic and heritage.

Local craftspeople could accurately replicate the single-pane windows.  (We’ve done a lot of this work ourselves.)  Distant window manufacturers could produce the generic, efficient windows.  But because local craft and cutting-edge window technology were separated, better solutions weren’t produced.

We’ve been working to change that and to marry craft and science in our window-making process.  Our research has taken us to one of the top high performance window shops in the world, based in Austria.  And it’s also brought us to the cutting-edge manufacturing facility of Cardinal Glass, just up the Columbia in Hood River.

Using Cardinal’s industry-leading insulated glass (two panes of glass with a layer of argon gas between, sealed with a high performance spacer shown in the detail drawing above), Hammer & Hand’s craftspeople can deliver energy-efficient windows that respect historical and architectural heritage.  We accomplish this using one of two techniques:

  1. Build entirely new windows in our shop that replicate historic profiles while incorporating the insulated glass.
  2. Modify existing windows, inserting high performance glazing into the frames while preserving most of the existing wood.

Custom windows built in Hammer & Hand's wood shop.While some historic preservation projects may require an architecturally “pure” single-pane approach, the majority can benefit from this melding of architectural integrity with high performance materials.  And the approach is scalable.  For bigger projects we collaborate with a close partner to automate milling production so that we can mass-produce pieces that are then assembled by hand by our career woodworkers.

By combing craft and science, we’ve carved out a new historic, energy-efficient window solution that is true to two values that we hold dear as a company: fine design and optimal performance.

– Zack

Back to Field Notes