Understanding window designs and window styles is quite involved but includes the types of window muntins, window sashes, or window casing styles used.
Even when deciding between vinyl versus wood windows,choosing wood replacement windows still requires extensive knowledge of window designs.
Most of the expensive vinyl or wood window designs sold by window companies today as a historic window replacement are a bad match and don’t look right. See why.
This is the most important page on this website.
Read on and you will acquire a sharp educated eye for distinguishing good from bad window designs.
Old and historic window replacement is an epidemic that has a strong negative affect on the curb appeal of your home and neighborhood.
Curb appeal is important and your windows – the eyes and soul of the house – are the most prominent feature that can make or break your home’s appearance.
Understand that replacing windows will give your house an entirely different look and feel because most vinyl and even wood replacement windows defy the principles of aesthetics. Learn more about aesthetics here.
Because of differences in their material and construction characteristics, wood, vinyl, and aluminum windows do not look the same, although the window salesman will tell you that they do. Wood windows tend to have articulated moldings. Vinyl and aluminum windows, however, have flat, square, or exaggerated profiles.
Maybe these differences are subtle to you, but they add up and alter the architectural balance of the house. The shadows are eliminated and details created by contrasting shadows from sharp details are wiped away. Remember, the architect who designed your house specified the window design so they would work in harmony and speak the same language as the house.
Before we show you window designs to avoid, let us first understand the basic parts of a simple window and what details create interest and character.
Almost everything in architecture is base on the Classical Rules of Design, more simply explained as a Greek or Roman column. There is a capital on top a shaft in the center and a base at the bottom. Window designs also follow this layout.
Basic Window Casing Styles
What you need to know for proper function and design.
The window casing is a wood molding that surrounds a window.
Window casings cover the edge of the window jambs and the rough openings between the window unit and the wall. Window casings provide a visual frame around the window.
Window casings should always be installed before siding. This way the siding butts up against the window casing.
Never should the window casing be installed over the siding like many contractors do today with Hardiboard.
The top portion, also referred to as a window header or head casing, will always include a drip cap.
To dress of the window there may be a cornice or window crown molding located at the top of the head casing.
The vertical side casing is referred to the Jamb Casing. The inside of the Jamb Casing is the Jamb – not unlike a door jamb.
All windows – yes each and every window must also have a window sill at the base. The window sill provides a visual base and a Sub-Sill extends the window sill outward.
These features are designed to provide protection, and runoff for rain water. Aesthetically, these features provide the illusion of structure.
What is a Window Sash?
This window is a Double Hung Window. The window sashes are the movable part of the window. A double-hung window means there two window sashes – an upper sash and lower window sash.
In this example each window sash has one piece of glass inserted. It is therefore called one-over-one. If the window was a Colonial style with six window panes in each sash, it would be called a six-over-six double hung window.
Window Casing Design
NEVER resize the window casing. Changing the width of the frame or the size of the opening will seriously destroy the fenestration ( the arrangement of windows) of the building!
The size of the window opening and the window casing/trim around the window are proportional to the structure of the building they were designed to be in. Don’t destroy the architecture!
A window needs a casing to provide a visual frame for the window. A typical window casing is 1 x 4.25 to 6 inches. If a casing is less than 4 inches wide (3.5 inches wide at the absolute least), it will appear too weak and narrow to carry the load of the window, upsetting the balance of the entire house.
(One exception exists and that is only for Federal Style buildings circa 1800 – which can be as narrow as 2 inches. More contemporary revivals of this style will not work with this narrow width due to the lack of complementary elements)
See the 1926 Bennett Building Catalog’s description and measurements on a window frame .
Unfortunately, new windows will always have a narrower casing and the majority of new construction windows and wood window replacements are even completely absent of window casings.
A homeowner may order a replacement window and be satisfied with all the details discussed with the sales person only to discover that the window is delivered with a Brick Mold instead of window casings.
A Brick Mold is a wooden trim used on masonry buildings to cover the gap where the brick masonry meets the window sash. A brick mold also provides a visual frame around the window as a casing would do. The width however is only 2 inches at most. This is fine for a brick house since the window is set deeper into the brick opening, but in no way should a brick mold be used on a house with wood siding.
The problem is that the best quality window companies will sell you a window for your wood sided home, with a brick mold that is only about 1-2 inches when you need a casing that is 4.5-6 inches wide. A vinyl replacement window is sold as one piece, so you cannot replace the brick mold with a normal casing. With wood replacement windows, you do have the option, but you need to specify what you want or forget it.
Yes there are some good replacement window companies out there, but chances are you will not get the product you need. You must specify the window is for a historic building even if it is for a contemporary building so you can speak to a salesperson in the right department that will understand what you are talking about. You must also understand everything on this webpage.
Window Designs – Recognizing Right from Wrong
On the top of the window you have the window header or head casing. The window header is a 1″ thick horizontal board resting on the top ends of the jamb casings. The window header may extend out (horizontally) to each side by no more than 1 inch per side (the window header in the photos below do not extend to the sides).
The window header board may also be taller to appear heavier than the side jamb casings and provide the appearance of structure to support the weight of the building above. Do not go overboard here – 1 inch is usually sufficient. A good rule to follow is the header height should not be less than 1/6 of the window opening. That means measuring from inside edge to edge.
Directly above the window header you must have a drip cap to divert away the rain water. The rain water will roll off the drip cap onto the window sill at the bottom of the window, then roll off the window sill away from the house to the ground. The drip cap, although small also acts as an architectural punctuation – a top and visual separation from the siding. The drip cap must have flashing.
Notice in the window designs above, the window header is just a bit wider (vertically) than the window jamb casing on the sides.
The drip cap can also be incorporated into a cornice or crown molding for a more visual impact and to divert rain water farther out from the building. Each detail of the cornice is based on the ancient orders for proper architectural appearance and practicality. It is not or should not be “just a design” or a few different moldings put together – you are not making a picture frame here. Learn more about aesthetics here .
The window crown molding above is currently available in vinyl but is WAY overly done to a point that it looks ridiculous and does not serve the original utilitarian purpose it was designed for. The problem with modern interpretations of original elements is that they are designed to be a focal point. Instead they should be a team of features working together and speaking the same language contributing to the overall design of the house.
Reproduction window features are overly enhanced and not proportionally correct.
Understand that you must have a casing surrounding the entire window – not just the top as the photos below illustrate.
- This window is overly done and fake looking.
- The arched part (header casing) ends abruptly where there should be a Jamb Casing.
- There is no jamb casing that should continue around the window.
- This header also extends towards the viewer away from the siding and protrudes past the shutters.
- Shutters should not be used as a cover and are completely wrong (see shutters page ).
- Window header is over-done and not to proportion.
- Window header ends at sides of window. It should extend outward 4 inches to cover the ends of the jamb casing.
- There is no jamb casing on the sides of window.
The prize winning window is to the right. I have not yet seen such a misunderstanding of architecture to such a degree.
Notice the window header extends covering the shutters. The builder that installed them seriously has no idea about buildings.
A Realtor boasts sharing their office with this building – an 1850’s Stagecoach Inn.
Sure the Realtor may not own the building, but would you want to buy a house from a Realtor in this building? I hope not!
The window above is advertised here https://www.hooksandlattice.com/9-flat-panel-window-header.html
I tried leaving a review but it was not approved of course.
These window designs should really be an embarrassment to the entire architectural field. The window casing headers above are just ornaments attached to a window. The manufacturer had no understanding of window designs. They are distractions so the other components are not missed in order to reduce costs.
As with a Greek or Roman column there must be a visual base. At the base of the window is the window sill. The window sill is angled downward to shed away water. NEVER omit this feature. It is both practical and visual as all design features of old windows.
Proper window designs allow historic wood windows to last 200 plus years. Lack of maintenance by the homeowner may result in a window replacement which is then repeated every 15-20 years.
The window sill is extended with a sub-sill angled downward away from the window sash and the casing about 18 degrees.
As shown in this example, the sill extends out to each side no more than 1 inch.
Below the window sill can be an apron. This is optional.
Window Casing Styles Gone Bad
Another common practice with replacing old windows is the crime of “Picture Framing”. This is a window casing absent of a sill at the bottom and a drip cap at the top.
A picture framed window casing style looks like and is constructed like a picture frame with mitered joints at all four corners. Such cheap window designs allowing easy infiltration of water at the corners and from the top. Never ever picture frame a window!
Window are the eyes of the house and poor window casing styles are like shaving your eyebrows or not having eyelashes.
Above are two not only ugly but poor window designs. Here we have no window casing versus a picture framed window casing. No window casing is just a step up in class from a cave man in the woods. A picture framed window while slightly better is still a criminally bad window design.
The owner of this house with the picture framed window is also a licensed architect.
Proud Window Styles? Window Designs at their Worst.
What is a proud window? The term “Proud Window” is a term I use to describe a certain type of window you really need to be aware of. There is no official term for this window. If you describe this window to a window salesperson, they will probably not understand what you are talking about. They will just say there are different types of windows. In all my “fake” shopping to write this, no-one gave me a solid answer.
The term “proud” refers to the window sash because it sits “proud” on the wall of the house. So read this, understand this, and be prepared if you must go into battle window shopping.
A Proud Window looks like a one piece picture framed window. As with picture framed windows, there is no window header or window sill. This is a one piece assembly with the window casing and sash all encompassed in one.
Instead of window sashes being recessed about 3 inches inside the window casing, the Proud Window sash is flush or protrudes (is proud) from the window casing and the siding on the house.
It looks like a toy window from a childs building kit. The window looks like, and basically it is, snapped into the house from the outside. It can’t possibly look more cheap and ugly.
Window designs like this create the flattest look possible since the window is absent of shadow lines. Shadow lines on a home create the character we all love in architecture.
Never use a Proud Window!
Flat boring snap-in window needs correcting.
- Window sash is proud – even with casing.
- Window casing rests on top of siding.
- Picture framed miter cuts to allow water infiltration.
- Casing way too narrow making it look cheap and flimsy.
- No header casing or drip cap.
- No window sill.
OHG virtual corrections – Step 1:
- Window sash is now recessed into window casing.
In this image the window sash has been corrected only.
The window sash makes this window look a lot better but the design of this window casing is still unacceptable even for a barn or shed.
OHG virtual corrections – Step 2:
- Siding butts up against window casing.
- Window design prevents water infiltration.
- Window casing widened to 5 inches
- Header casing and drip cap added.
- Window sill added for water run off and stronger appearance.
Basic Measurements for Window Designs
A Basic Guide to Understand and Follow
You have seen the photos of bad window casing styles. There are many areas of entire window designs to look at and understand.
Let us now take a look at an example of an old window to better understand the measurement details and what you need to be aware of to get the right look.
Here is an example of a profile for a double hung window. This window was constructed in 1910. Windows of different periods may vary in size but this window design can still be used as a guide.
The main purpose is to understand that these window details have a purpose but also create the shadows that make historic windows look great.
(Click on the image to enlarge it or if you have a scrolling mouse, hit the Control key and scroll to enlarge these images if needed.)
The photo on the left is the window in its natural state and that on the right has window parts colored (in case you didn’t notice) to make it easier to see. Please kids – do not do this at home. Old House Guy is not responsible for homes with rainbow windows!
Lower Window Sashes
Let’s begin with the lower window sash (movable part of the window) since lower window sashes are set the farthest distance from the face of the house and provides the most depth and shadows.
(A) Lower Window Sashes are held in place (on the exterior) by a Parting Stop (B-yellow).
Window Parting Stop
(B-Yellow) The Parting Stop is a 1/2 inch piece of trim that extends the full length of the window.
It holds the Lower Sash in place on the exterior and holds the Upper Sash in place on the interior side (interior portion is not visible).
The Parting Stop also creates the inside edge of the Sash Channel (green).
Window Sash Channel
(C -Green) The Sash Channel is next to the Parting Stop (yellow).
The Sash Channel holds the upper window sash. The upper window sash slides down in this channel when opening the window.
To provide better summer cooling, the upper sash can open by sliding downward in this channel. Earlier windows have a stationary upper sash.
The Sash Channel is usually about 1-3/8 inch depending on the thickness of the window sash.
There is a sash channel for the lower window sash also but this is only visible from inside the house.
Here we are focusing on the depth of the windows and their appearance from the exterior.
Window Blind Stop
(D – Light Blue) The Blind Stop is next to the window Sash Channel.
The Blind Stop holds the upper sash in place by creating the exterior edge of the Sash Channel.
The Blind Stops function is similar to that of the Parting Stop.
Without the Blind Stop, the upper sash can fall out and hit you in the head.
The Blind Stop is approximately 7/8 inches thick (deep) and 1/2 inch wide.
The Blind Stop frames the top and both sides of the window. It rests at the bottom on the edge of the Window Sill (E – dark blue).
The purpose of the Blind Stop is for shutters (louvered shutters were originally called Blinds) to stop (rest against) so they do not hit the window sash. Storm windows attach to the blind stop.
The exception is in New England with Eastern Style Window Casings.
(E – dark blue) The Window Sill extends backwards from the front edge of the Blind Stop (D-light blue) back to the interior sill/stool.
Both upper and lower Sash Channels rest on the Window Sill.
The Window Sill is angled about 18 degrees to allow water runoff.
Between the front face of the Blind Stop (D) and the face of the window casing is a space approximately 1 to 1-1/4 inches.
Notice that the front face of the Window Sill connects with the front face of the Blind Stop (D-Light blue) to complete an edge around the entire window. This edge is where a storm window or shutter would lay against forming a seal.
This window sill is divided into two parts. The second part is a Sub Sill.
(F – Purple) This area of the Window Jamb is the space that will hold a wooden storm window or shutters.
The shutter or storm window must be sized correctly so the edge will fit inside this purple area.
This is the area you would measure for shutters and storm windows.
On this window the space measures 1-1/4 inches.
They must lay firmly against the face of the Blind Stop (D-light blue) and Window Sill (E-dark blue) on the inside and be flush with the face of the window casing on the outside.
The storm window or shutter would rest on the Sub Sill (G – Orange).
Window Sub Sill
(G – Orange) The Sub-sill is an extension of the Window Sill.
Some older windows only have a single Window Sill that extends out as the Sub Sill does.
The Sub Sill is angled as the Window Sill for water runoff and extends away from the house so water can flow onto the ground below and not onto the house.
The edge/nose of the sub-sill extends outward about 1 inch from the face of the window casing.
The storm window or shutters would rest on the Sub Sill.
Additionally underneath the Sub-sill near the edge is what is called a kerf. A kerf is a sort of drip edge not to get confused with the drip edge at the top. Here there is a groove in the bottom of the wood that prevents water from running under the sill to the siding. The sharp edge creates a barrier that the surface tension of water cannot cross creating a drip line. Although probably filled with paint on most old homes, this slot should be maintained for water running off the sill and down the front, can due to surface tension, travel along the bottom of the sill and into the siding.
There is a lot going on here, but the point I am trying to make is the distance between the face of the building and the window sash.
The distance from the face of the window casing to the upper sash on an average window is about 2 inches.
The distance from the face of the window casing to the lower sash is about 4 inches.
Add an additional 1/4 inch for window glazing. Remember you do not get that nice 1/4 inch beveled edge around the glass with replacement windows.
This recessed space creates a nice sharp shadow. This is what makes old historic windows pop and creates the character we all love!
New window sash replacements change all of this. To accommodate double panes of glass the window sash must be a lot wider. This brings the sash soooo much closer to the face of the casing which prohibits the look we are accustomed to. While a double pane window sash takes up more room, the designers are still moving the sashes closer to the exterior than necessary to allow more interior window sill space.
On top of all this, new windows now have an extra piece of trim around the inside of the window casing which creates an entirely new window design and prohibits the homeowner from a contrasting window sash color. Details for this window design issue is explained on a separate page here.
Window Designs for Brick Buildings
Old brick buildings are more simple and have less that can go wrong merely because most features – window sills and lintels are fixed and composed of brick or limestone. Thankfully there’s less for the homeowner or contractor to tamper with. What can be harmed however is the wood portion of the window.
Window designs on brick buildings are a bit different than those on a wood sided building. The windows are set deeper into the exterior wall of the building because the brick gives the wall extra thickness. This provides extra sharp shadow lines giving the windows more character.
On a brick house, instead of a 4.5″ window casing surrounding the window on the face of wood siding as those described above, there instead is a brick mold trim surrounding the window set back in the brick opening.
What is a Brick Mold or Brick Molding?
A brick mold or brick molding is a piece of wood trim that transitions the brick and covers the gap between the brick and the window. A brick mold It can be different widths and designs. Different sizes and styles of brick molding can be used to to create a meatier and fancier appearance.
Modern brick mold widths are about 1 inch which results in a cheap appearance. A typical historic brick mold is 2 inches but can be thicker to create a nice boarder around a window sash. A narrow brick mold can make a window look like just a hole in a brick facade.
Window with thicker brick mold makes a statement.
Window with thin brick mold looks undressed, bare and cheap.
A brick mold trim is not to be confused with window casing. Window casing should be 4.5″ wide. Brick molding will look better wider than narrower, but not nearly as wide as window casings.
Brick mold trim and brick mold size is often overlooked when ordering windows for Brick Homes. This is usually because the homeowner was not aware of it, nor were they told about it by the salesperson. Most people think that windows are windows – it’s as simple as that.
Many replacement windows come with brick molding for both brick AND wood homes. This is one of the reasons replacement windows look so bad in wood buildings. People think and are told the brick molding is good enough to replace the window casing.
On a wood building the brick mold should not be confused with the window casing nor be used to substitute window casing.
Window Sashes are the part of the window that moves up and down. We will mostly be discussing Double-Hung windows. Double-hung refers to the window sashes – an upper and lower movable window.
Double-hung windows were technologically designed to cool a house during the summer months. Your original windows have top and bottom window sashes that move up and down. If you lower the top sash a few inches and raise the bottom sash a few inches, you have free air-conditioning.
Opening the window sashes like this creates a draft where heat and humidity leave the house through the upper opening while the cooler breezes enter the house through the lower opening. This natural circulation of cool air replacing warmer air of a room can really lower your electric bill.
However, the upper window sashes of many old windows on houses have been painted closed over time. A putty knife can easily unfreeze that sash and get them working again.
True Divided Light Windows (TDL)
True Divided Light (TDL) is a term for individual panes of glass in the window sash. An individual piece of glass or individual window pane is called a “light”.
The “lights” or individual panes of glass are held in place with Window Muntins – thinner pieces of wood dividing the lights. This window grid configuration is sometimes similar to the familiar tick-tack-toe pattern.
- The example to the right is a Double Hung window. (There are top and bottom window sashes)
- It has TDL – True Divided Lights – each piece of glass (each light) is divided by window Muntins holding in each light in place.
- The window grids configuration is Six-Over One.
- This means the top sash has Six window lights and bottom sash has One window light.
- The entire window has seven(7) individual pieces of glass.
TDL is a very important term to know. In a True Divided Light window, each window pane is a separate piece of glass. Let’s compare this to a window that is NOT TDL.
Instead of individual pieces of glass, NON TDL window sashes have only one piece of glass in the top sash and one piece for the bottom sash. (don’t get confused by thinking in terms of double pane thermal windows)
Instead of separating the individual pieces of glass and holding them in place with a Window Muntin, the window instead has a plastic grill to fool the more simple minded with a fake look of separate lights in traditional window designs.
Why TDL Window Sashes are Important
With jewelry, when a gem is cut light is reflected off the various angles resulting in sparkle. Window sashes are similar with separate lights. Windows with true divided lights sparkle when viewed from the street. If the glass is older and wavy, they sparkle even more.
Since window muntins are made of wood , they provide a small shadow line on the glass. Different architectural styles from different periods have different styled muntin profiles. They each create different shadow patterns that dance with the sparkle of the window.
This makes the window pop with life and character, and changes with interest as the sun travels and the lighting changes. This gives old windows the character we love and enjoy. But only if we take the time to stop and enjoy it.
Window Sash Replacements
Today’s Replacement Windows, offer one piece of glass with flat plastic window grids attached on the interior to imitate the look of traditional windows separated by window muntins. The result is a very shallow, flat, and bland, not to mention a cheap appearance. It appears as if window muntins were painted on the glass.
Window companies, as a way to increase profits now offer a variety of window sash designs. As the details and costs increase, these deluxe windows no way compare with the original details of an older window.
The window styles they offer are still dreadfully poor window sash replacements. Window sashes with a cheap snap in grill looks cheap but still commands a high price.
No matter which of the window styles, low or high quality, plastic or wood, you choose, these windows are not permanent like your original windows. So if you choose a new replacement window you are not happy with, all you have to do is wait about 15 years to replace the replacements.
Today 80% of window replacement done by contractors is replacing replacement windows and 20% original historic windows.
Although Marvin Windows is one of the better manufacturers, see the poorly styled window sash replacements available. The following are all wood replacement window sashes.
One more note – notice below the sashes are proud windows.
Window Sashes with Window Grids Between Glass
With double pane glass, plastic window grids are inserted between the glass layers. This creates a flat look as if the window muntins were painted on the glass.
While this may appeal to the simple minded it is a far cry from the original design.
Better to have no window grids and keep the window plain as a one-over-one window sash.
Window Sashes with Window Grids on top of Interior Glass
This window has a removable window grid that is great for cleaning windows.
For this added convenience I hope the windows are cleaned daily to make it worth the sacrifice.
From the exterior the window looks cheap and ugly as expected.
Simulated Divided Light Window Sashes (SDL)
A Simulated Divided Light window (SDL) has fake window muntins on the interior and exterior sides.
Window muntin profiles for OLD windows are sharp and nicely designed to make their shadows. There are different muntin designs for different period homes.
Placing a “bump” of wood on a window is a poor excuse for a window muntin.
SDL Window Sashes with Spacers
When looking at a Simulated Divided Light window (SDL) you can see a space inside the double pane glass between the inside and outside window grids.
To make this window “simulate” a True Divided Light window, a spacer is installed between the layers of glass.
Seriously – who do they think they are fooling! This is an insult to any homeowner’s integrity.
This style is considered the “better” window design.
True Divided Light Window Sashes?
Surprise – you can even get a True Divided Light Window sash!
As expensive as it is, you must understand your old original window is still better.
The wood window muntin profiles are flatter and window sash is still proud to the casing giving it a flat look.
Yes this window is better than the window sash styles above but there are sooo many different things to know about new and historic window designs.
Marvin Windows does offer an accurate historic reproduction window but you must contact their historical division to get someone that really understands your needs. Make sure YOU totally understand windows first though.
Remember – Nothing will replace your current old windows.
Historic Windows vs Window Sash Replacements
Become accustomed to seeing the difference between an old or historic TDL window and a replacement window.
Full view of original historic window. Thankfully a few windows in the back were saved.
Notice how the brick molding nicely frames the window as one unit.
The base of the window sash is wider showing support and strength. It also creates a visual base.
1903 Carnegie Library, Freehold NJ – this is the type of window they used as a replacement. What kind of people would approve this replacement?
As you can see, this is a patch up job. Two windows are pieced together to fool the viewer. The window now has a totally different feel.
There ARE still people that will say this window looks the same or close enough to the original.
Window Sash Replacement
When replacing old windows with a new window sash replacement, a big selling point and advantage that really convinces some people is window cleaning. Window cleaning is much easier with snap-in, snap-out grills.
But do you clean your windows so frequently that you’re willing to sacrifice curb appeal? Wood replacement windows with true divided light window sashes are available. Few people will spend the extra money for this better window appearance. Few people are able to recognize the difference!
One very important thing to keep in mind are the window muntins. The profile and style fo the muntins are dependent on the period and style of your house. Even with a good wood replacement window, muntins should not be a one size fits all.
Window Muntins Shape and Proportion
Another problem with ALL replacement windows styles is the size and shape of the window grids or window lights. All window lights should be vertically proportioned and, on special occasion, square. They, as in all architectural features, resemble the human form. This is pleasing to your subconscious mind. Learn more about aesthetics here.
Aesthetically, you should never have horizontal panes, although during the Arts & Crafts period, this style of architecture tended to veer away at times from the traditional vertical window style and then again with Ranch houses.
So basically window designs should be vertical rectangles – no squares or horizontal shapes.
There is a hierarchy of windows most notable on Colonial Revival architecture where the 2nd floor windows will be a bit smaller than that of the main floor. In this case, the smaller windows upstairs should have the same size window lights but fewer of them. An alternative is the window lights can be proportionally smaller than the window lights in the larger windows on the first floor. One option usually works better than the other depending on your windows.
Keep window designs on your house to just a few similar proportions not styles. Here are some mistakes you should learn to recognize.
Window Muntins Case Study:
The set of windows on the left do not match with those on the right. They must match or the house looks weird.
Why don’t these window designs match?
First – This house was tampered with by enclosing the porch and installing windows to fit a certain sized opening that was not originally designed to have windows.
2nd – Although the windows appear similar in size – they are not. It’s difficult to match different sized windows with “off the rack” replacement windows.
The windows on the left are six-over-one and the windows on the right are four-over one window designs. Notice in the left group of windows, the upper window sashes have vertical lights. This is a good window design.
In the right bank of windows, the upper window sashes have square lights. Square for this house is very very very wrong. Wrong because they are square AND wrong because they don’t match the other windows.
Never have a four-over-anything window designs!
One way to fix this problem is to make all windows a one-over-one window configuration. Another option is to make them all two-over-one however there is still a chance the window mistake will be noticed when the size is reduced. In other words, larger window lights like one-over-one are more forgiving with different size windows than four or six-over one.
Of course the windows can also be six-over-one to match. The proportions would just be reduced in size. This may have to be a custom made window but it’s what you need to do to make the house work. That’s the cost of messing around with something that should be left alone.
As you see above matching windows work much better. These windows were corrected graphically – we can do this for your house too .
Another problem is the size of the window casing – too narrow and picture framed. No drip cap or window sill either. There needs to be a cap and a base! Remember we discussed this above? Surprise – this house was designed by an architect! Read the full story here. House Restoration or Remuddle?
The McMansion – famous for poor architecture, boasts a mish-mosh of types, sizes, and styles of windows unrelated to each other or the architecture of the building.
McMansion Wikipedia definition:
…mix multiple architectural styles and elements…multiple roof lines, unnecessarily complicated massing…producing a displeasingly jumbled appearance. The builder may have attempted to achieve expensive effects with cheap materials, skimped on details, or hidden defects with cladding…
Sold to “parvenu” – those having new money but lack the necessary refinement. The definition of parvenu on Wikipedia references Molly Brown survivor of the Titanic – who went from rags to riches overnight. (See the movie “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” starring Debbie Reynolds).
This upsetting rhythm in the house above causes you to leave with confusion and think that a lot of money was spent (but really foolishly wasted) so it has to be good!
Yes there are a lot of cool window styles out there but that doesn’t mean that the architect needs to choose one of each window style in the catalog!
A decision needs to be made and followed through on to maintain a cohesive relationship.
Window lights consist of a few different vertical lights not proportional to each other, horizontal, and square. This confusion impresses viewers at first for they don’t know where to look first.
Here are some examples to help you recognize the good from the bad window designs.
It is obvious this window was NOT designed to be four-over-four windows (because each light is square) and sadly makes the statement “bad replacement window”.
- Two-over-two was probably the original window configuration but ignorance presided.
- If not a two-over-two, a one-over-one would look better than square window sash lights.
- The window muntins are so thin and flat they may be painted on.
- Notice the vinyl siding has an edge around the window that looks bad.
- Beautiful historic wavy glass windows on the first floor.
- Window sash replacements on the 2nd floor have cheap flat plastic window grids changing the original window design from vertical two-over-two to square four-over-four.
- If the replacement windows were two-over-two, the window lights would match the first floor in shape.
- If painted black it would not look as distracting. The difference would be the lack of shadow line and glass sparkle.
- There is a hierarchy with windows. The main floor windows are usually a few inches taller than those on the 2nd floor as in the windows above.
- As you can see, there is no easy way to divide these windows into separate equal sized window lights as you saw in the example earlier. This only means that the window/house was not designed for this type of window.
- By the age of the house a two-over-two window design would have been used. Using this pattern or one-over-one would be acceptable and visually appealing.
- The biggest mistake was to replace double hung windows with casement windows. Look how flat they look. You can tell they are casement windows because the center horizontal meeting rail is missing.
- Notice the square window lights on the second floor and the vertical window lights on the first floor. What a cheap looking job. I would like to say this would have to be a rental with a landlord that does not care but it seems to be owner occupied. I seriously question the integrity of the owners.
- The windows destroy the entire appearance of the house! Sympathy goes to the neighbors whose home value and neighborhood will eventually decrease.
As you now see, few elements of a building contribute more to its architectural character than the windows sashes and window muntins. Although all this information you are reading may seem lengthy, it is important to understand.
Now you should have an understanding of what to look for. Here is an example that is absolutely frightening however.
The only thing good in this photo are the wood shingles and healthy tree branches. This house, located in Plainfield NJ is in a very historically minded community with knowledgeable homeowners and outstanding houses.
The point here is that with expert help right at your finger-tips, homeowners can still re-interpret a good design and turn it into something grotesque. My heart goes out to the neighbors with well done homes.
You can avoid falling into the same trap by considering the background and qualifications of the person offering window advice. Is their advice based on financial gain? Can they profit from your decision? Do they understand what is taught on this website?
Remember many homeowners, builders and design professionals love old buildings. What is the basis of their knowledge and where does their point of reference come from?
Historic Wood Windows – Window Styles by Period
I encourage you to read this publication for a more complete understanding . These topics are discussed here by James L. Garvin of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources
- The evolution of window sashes and window muntin profiles
- Three types of Window glass prior to WWII
- Window hardware
- Casings, shutters and blinds interior and exterior
- Wood sash problems and solutions
Does the Window Style Match the Period of my House?
One of the biggest mistakes people make with historic window sash replacement is replacing their windows with a style that’s wrong for the age of the house.
Years ago window glass was expensive and smaller sized panes of glass were all that was technologically available. During the 1700’s and into the mid 1800’s, a double-hung window sash would be composed of smaller, true divided lights. The upper and lower sash could have 6, 9, or 12 window lights in each sash.
As technology improved, larger panes of glass became available. Houses constructed after the Civil War (Victorian architecture) would most likely have a two-over-two window design.
Not long after that larger panes of glass became available. Window sashes were then able to accommodate single sheets of glass resulting in a one-over-one window.
The Colonial Revival style combined the old with the new with a design of six-over-one windows. Although the late 19th century offered one-over-one, the type of window was dependent on the style of architecture at the time.
I know of architects (not preservation architects of course) that, unfortunately, were involved in restorations, and recommended six-over-six windows for a Victorian house. How awful! This window style predates the house.
Now you may ask, why would a 1790 house have two-over-two windows? This is because the original nine-over-nine (or higher number) window sashes were replaced during the later 1800’s with what was available at the time. Although not period correct, it is part of the evolution of the house which is an entirely new topic of discussion! Keeping the newer windows may even be required for Historic Register nomination.
The bottom line is Let the Buyer Beware! Do not depend on a salesman, contractor, or architect (preservation architects are the exception) to tell you what is right for your house. They will say you have an old style house and give you a watered down version of a window that is wrong for your house. Sales people are not trained in architecture, but are highly skilled in making a sale.
Federal Window Design for a Victorian
An example is in the photo below. This is a CRIME to Architecture!
This Italianate house once had beautiful two-over-two, arched window styles. Notice the arched window casings. The casings are still arched on top, but have been filled in below the arch so that cheap rectangular replacement window sashes can be installed
Additionally, nine-over-nine windows were installed which provide a Colonial/Federal look popular long before this house was built. I don’t blame the owner as much as I blame the salesperson although one would think a realtor should have some clue.
While we’re on a roll, the black paint accentuates the remodeling errors and the vinyl siding results in loss of detail and shadow lines making the façade look flat and bland.
As you can see this is the office of Century 21 Realtors. One would expect that specialists in the business of selling houses would understand something about elementary architecture. If not, they should ask someone that does. One would also think that the window salesperson would have some training. Again – Let the buyer beware!
Not understanding paint color placement, just draws your attention to the many problems with this house.
So, this really annoyed me and I called the realtor’s office and told them the building looked absolutely awful! They turned a nice building into Frankenstein.
I also listed their phone number by the photo on my website encouraging people to call them.
Surprisingly about a year later I noticed they corrected most of their errors! So happy! Maybe because readers like you called called them too! What a nice improvement! Two-over-two window designs are correct for the architectural style and the colors work nicely.
Now this house does look good except for a few issues we won’t bother going into here.
The window designs on the side however, look really bad.
Nine-over-nine windows and a fake cutesy window surround that is supposed to fool us to look like it resembles the arched window.
This window design is only the manufacturers interpretation of a Victorian window. You will not find a real wood window like this historically. This is merely a poor Disney Land interpretation.
Too bad they couldn’t continue with the improvements they make in front here. Huge trees or ivy planted on the side would be a quick fix.
Never Replace a double-hung window with a Casement Window
Casement windows have their place in certain styles of architecture, but if your house was designed for a double-hung window, that’s what it should have.
Even though the house is a bit shabby and the one-over-one double-hung window on the left is a cheap replacement, it still provides a better appearance than the casement window on the right.
Also note the stiles and rails (the frame) of the casement window is a much wider design.
They must have run out of money and didn’t replace all the windows to match.
One window looks bad, but here you can see how it really affects the appearance of the entire house.
Casement windows provide a “blank stare” look. This house reminds me of a jack-o’-lantern with its windows appearing like holes cut out.
The image above was graphically modified replacing half the windows with double-hung window sashes for comparison.
I love casement windows. However casement windows are great on certain types of architecture such as English Tudor and some Cottage styled homes.
When installed in architecture not specific to the design, they appear strange.
Double-hung window sashes were replaced with a casement window.
This casement window is made of plastic and has fake window muntins.
Painting Window Sashes
Warning – warning – warning! Be careful using white. If the base color of your house is not white or the trim on your house is not white, then your window sashes must not be white. There is nothing worse than seeing some great house colors but the window sashes are painted white.
There are two things you need to understand about painting windows:
- The first is color placement. Homeowners, painters, and window manufacturers seem to get the wrong way too often and I don’t understand why. Read this article about painting your window sash .
- Vinyl windows CAN be easily painted with latex paint. However it depends on how dark the color is based on the LRV (Light Reflectance Value). With a darker color you will need a special Sherwin Williams paint. Here is an article I wrote explaining this in more detail and what you need to be aware of. Read this article about painting your replacement windows .
White replacement window sash visually jumps out and attracts your eyes to a bad window.
It shouts – I’m Plastic, cheap, and don’t belong with these house colors.
See the big improvement from that harsh white. Vinyl is painted tan and provides a softer feel.
We can tell it’s plastic but it’s not being boasted.
Dark window sashes are more historically correct and add depth to a window.
Dark green is the most common historically appropriate color and works best on this window.
According to most manufacturers of replacement windows, painting your windows will void the warranty. As a disclaimer I recommend checking your warranty first. Even so, white windows today look like white plastic and will noticeably cheapen the appearance of your house.
My experience: I actually have a white plastic window in my attic facing the front of the house. I had it painted Benjamin Moore Essex Green which is a very dark green. No primer was used for the plastic was not very shinny. The window is in full sun with south-west exposure. The window is not able to open but I don’t need it to open. The paint held up perfectly better than the wood.
Old Windows are Part of History
The replacement windows you are being peddled will degrade the historic integrity of your home.
The size, configuration, materials, and milling of the windows tell a story about your house. They are a visual record of the period in which your house was built.
There is also a direct correlation between historic integrity and market value of houses. A preserved old house will bring a higher price (about 20%) more than an old house remodeled to look like something it never was. Please be very careful in deciding on a window strategy.
And if you’re a person that has no concern for history – it doesn’t matter – it’s all about curb-appeal, and curb-appeal is based on aesthetics. Learn more about aesthetics here.
The following link is to a study about Historic Preservation and its impact on house values:
If You Must Replace your Historic Wood Windows
Remember you may think your windows are in such bad shape they need replacing but that doesn’t mean they are. I have seen many windows that were actually in good shape or a recent paint job made the windows stick. They were foolishly replaced.
Hopefully you or the previous homeowner did not neglect your windows to an extent that they are unsalvageable. But if the degree of deterioration truly necessitates the replacement of windows – not laziness, a suave salesperson, or the guy down the street, wood replacement windows are recommended.
(Remember your old historic windows can be repaired and new replacement windows are NOT green nor will they save you any money. This website will save you money.)
It is extremely important that every effort be made to match the style, the muntin profile, and shape. Altering any of these features will make a dramatic change in a building’s overall appearance and its setting within your neighborhood. Each element on a house must speak the same language!
The first thing you should know, if you must replace your wood windows or anything on your house, with a product different than that you are replacing – use the “Arms Length Rule”. That is, the product must be indistinguishable from the original product and material at Arm’s Length. Keep this in mind and you won’t be sorry.
A wood window has to be pretty far gone before it needs to be replaced. Modern weather-stripping can be installed, sashes can be rebuilt, and reproduction period glass can be reinstalled . Even severely rotted wood can be strengthened and rebuilt with durable epoxy fillers.
However, as important as old windows are, there are cases when a window must be replaced due to extreme deterioration. In such cases, you should duplicate the original window sashes and casings exactly otherwise you risk altering the architectural appearance.
Never under any circumstance modify a window opening to take a smaller or larger window.
Deciding to buy the most expensive replacement window does NOT guarantee curb appeal or the best window for your house. Please do not depend on the salesperson’s knowledge of matching or compatible window designs. I have seen them wrong 10 out of 10 times.
YOU must thoroughly understand the design features and become your own expert. I know this sounds wrong and unfair but replacement windows are big business and a lot of money is made from them. Thankfully the politicians are busy with the oil battle and not yet involved in the window scam.
When window shopping here are some additional points to keep in mind.
- Reproduction and Replacement Window Options – This article was published in the Period Homes Magazine by Gordon Bock. It discusses the many options and points that need to be considered by the homeowner when selecting new replacement windows.
NOTE: If you replace your original windows, don’t let them end up in the landfill. Store those windows in your attic in an out of the way place – good or bad condition. Think of future owners who will be so happy to find those windows and restore them back into use. Just because you don’t want them doesn’t mean a future owner will not. Think of it as a good deed – good karma.
Be sure to visit our listing of wood window restorers and makers.
Congratulations, you made it to the end. Lots to read but all so very important to your home, its future, and the value and character of your neighborhood.
Homework: Now pay attention to all windows you see – good and bad – old and new, and you will soon be able to recognize a good from bad window blocks away.
Be sure to make sure you read the first four articles about windows for a basic understanding.
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