This house has a lot of windows. I mean a lot.
Depending upon what you decide counts as a window, the total number can reach as high as 54 - that total including the basement windows, windows in the doors, and so on. The majority of those windows are original to the house.
More than anything else the windows, and what to do about them, has been the most perplexing problem we've faced in deciding how to address improvements. It wasn't a question of whether to replace them - die hards for historical accuracy will sometimes insist upon keeping the original windows in a classic home at all costs(1), but we haven't been cursed by that particular bug. These windows were made out of pine over 150 years ago. They were undoubtedly fine pieces of work when originally put into place, but many of them have deteriorated to the point that they cannot be opened without falling apart (and some of them just fall apart on their own at times) and, as best I can tell, not a single window still has the counterweight system still in place. And besides, it's clear that each successive generation of family living in the home has chosen to make changes; to continue that tradition seems right.
As you can probably imagine, the windows in our house are not of a standard size. They also are not a standard shape. While the sashes are rectangular, the outside presentation of the windows is arched at the top,and the glass in the upper sashes are arched to match. This is not typical for modern construction, but it's relatively common for homes of the era in the area - you see these arched windows all over the place.
Because it's not common in modern construction, replacing the windows leaves the homeowner with a difficult decision: do you pay extra to replace the window with a custom unit, or do you modify the window to accept a standard replacement window.
Looking at homes in the region, most people have understandably gone the second route. I've seen this handled in a number of different ways. Some folks appear to have ordered a standard-shaped window that mostly fills the opening, while others have modified the window portal itself to fill in the arch. As one can imagine, there are more and less successful versions of each approach in the area.
After considerable deliberation we decided to go the other route. We wanted to preserve the historical appearance of the home, and that meant going With custom windows(2). This meant making other sacrifices - in particular, doing windows one room at a time, thus far with at least a year between window projects to manage cost. We started with the living room, where we spend the majority of our time in the house, and where the thermostat happens to live.
We did the project for the living room windows over a year ago. The windows looked great from the inside, but we had no idea what they looked like from the outside. My grandfather, when he had lived here, had covered all of the first story windows with storm windows. These appear to have been tall, store bought items that he modified by attaching a handmade arch to the top of each one (my Grandpa Ray was a pretty handy guy). The storm windows covered the first story windows for (as best I can tell) my entire life. My grandparents simply never opened the windows(3).
This past weekend I finally got around to taking off the old storm windows. This is more of a project than you might think. In an effort to improve the energy efficiency I had caulked most of them with silicone sealant, and the height of the house puts the tops of even the lower story windows well above the height of a standard stepladder. This means extended periods of time cutting away caulk while standing (in my case) on an ancient wooden ladder and then pulling off a very heavy, very tall storm window.
It was, I think, worth the effort.
There will be more on the windows - they are clearly a large part of the story of the house.
(1): And I really do mean at all costs. These old windows are an energy suck. You can stand in front of a closed window in the house and easily feel all of the outside air moving through it, even from a couple of feet away. They are single pane glass, and the pockets on the sides where the window counterweights used to be might as well be an open hole to the outside as far as the wind is concerned.
(2): We found that Marvin Windows was able make a window to fit our application. I contacted the Pella folks in our area as well, but they simply didn't call back, so...
(3): Understandably so. When we tried to open some of the windows shortly after moving in, many of them started to come apart, and we cracked at least one pane of glass in the attempt.