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The Window Wars: preservationists must educate + advocate + demonstrate

January 10, 2010

by Ron Emrich, PNJ Executive Director

Weatherization is the hot “green” topic these days, and policy makers, including President Obama and many others, are touting the job creation benefits of heavily promoting installation of new energy-saving products such as new windows, and discarding the old.   For us preservationists, discussion of weatherization – which we definitely want to promote – unfortunately includes having to debunk myths and undo the public’s advertising-fueled false assumptions.  While former Oregon gubernatorial candidate and replacement window company executive Ron Saxton participated recently in a White House forum on “green jobs” creation, we have to work ever harder to persuade NPR, the U.S. Department of Energy and even Al Gore that actually the most economically and environmentally responsible way to weatherize a building probably includes retaining the existing windows.  Good grief, there’s even an online video game promoting green buildings that starts out by awarding points for ripping out existing windows and replacing them!  (Don’t play this game, BTW.)

The result of all this promotion, advertising – and bunk – is that too many older and historic buildings and their original windows are at risk, folks will waste money that they’ll never see a payback from, and landfills will just be filled even faster.

As the National Trust for Historic Preservation said recently: “Preservationists will have to continue to explain, and to demonstrate, that being “green” and stimulating the economy through job growth does not have to translate into a national policy supporting and providing incentives for the removal of windows. Preservationists have a huge stake in this discussion with a lot to gain and to lose.”

Join PNJ at our Annual Membership Meeting on Sat. Jan. 30 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in New Brunswick, for a lively discussion about these issues, featuring keynote speaker Jennifer Senick, director of the Rutgers Center for Green Building.  More info here >>

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2010 7:04 pm

    Wow, I didn’t know about the video game! Yikes! We also need to train more people in traditional preservation trades, or at least show homeowners how to adjust their existing sashes and other simple things to reduce air leakage. I am a believer of the two-pronged approach of convincing the head honchos while simultaneously having local workshops for homeowners via preservation organizations. I do also think that the tide is turning in terms of windows (finally), though much needs to be done to give historic buildings more credit for being a more efficient alternative than new construction in most cases. I’ve ranted about this all quite a bit, and recently have been training to become an energy rater in an effort to try and fix some of this mess in the Chicago area:

    And I love the blog!

  2. January 10, 2010 10:27 pm


    Let me know how I can help you save windows in New Jersey, we can’t let the vinyl pirates get them all. Here are some window resources at my website, Historic

    Here are some links to the book and other window resources you might want to work into your training handouts, website, newsletter, etc.

    Save America’s Windows

    Historic HomeWorks Forum, windows section:

    Reports from the Field:

    RetroVideo. Live Video Conferences & Replays, some on window topics:

    Workshops & Training:

    Take care, work safe and keep in touch.

    John Leeke
    by hammer and hand great works do stand
    by mind and heart we share the art

  3. January 12, 2010 5:29 pm

    In addition, it seems the advocates of window replacement are getting all of the big-time media attention! This just in from Paul Trudeau, Program Specialist at the National Alliance for Preservation Commissions (NAPC): “Just when you thought it couldn’t get any stranger: I happened across a website called “The Daily Green” that posted some tips to homeowners regarding Cash for Caulkers: Of course, replacing old windows was right there (see slide 4). You’ll also notice a link to an ABC news story on this topic (, in which they interview one of the Daily Green editors on their Cash for Caulker tips, including window replacement.”

    HOW YOU CAN HELP: NAPC has sent a letter to the misinformed Daily Green editors, and is encouraging everyone else to do the same ( And don’t stop with Daily Green- this is just one example of what is clearly a tide of misinformation to be dispelled!

  4. January 13, 2010 9:52 am

    It is a sad day when usually thoughtful people go “gizmo green” and support the window replacement pirates and their petro-chemical corporate masters in their marketing schemes as they bamboozle the American public into trashing perfectly good wood windows. These windows can always be maintained, repaired and upgraded to equal the energy performance of replacement windows at lower initial and long-term cost, while supporting local economies and communities. Wouldn’t you rather help a local carpenter support his family, rather than let the pirates get their hooks into your pocketbooks and stuff your money into their corporate coffers to pay excessive executive salaries and bonuses?

    Here is a list of studies and expert opinions that conclude it does not make economic or energy conservation sense to replace existing windows:

    John Leeke


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