Greenovation: Fixing Old Windows

  • Matt and Kelly Grocoff's house. They're trying to make their home the oldest net-zero energy home in America. That means it'll produce more energy than it uses. (Photo by Matthew Grocoff)

Out with the old… in with the old.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

There are a lot of ads out there encouraging you to replace those old drafty windows and get new energy efficient windows, but if you’ve got an older house, you might be able to refurbish your old windows, save some money and save energy. Lester Graham talked with Greenovation.TV’s Matt Grocoff. Grocoff is working to make his house the oldest net-zero energy home in America.

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The windows in Matt’s home are drafty.

MG: “They’re really leaky. I mean it’s a 110-year-old house.”

Just how bad? Nick Helmholdt is a home energy auditor with Clean Energy Coalition. He set up a blower door test.

NH: “We get a number of how much draft the whole house has. The number we got from Matt’s house was 4400 cubic-feet-per-minute. LG: On a scale of one-to-ten, how bad is that? NH: “Nine-and-a-half. Bad. Too much is going out the window.”

So, time to replace the windows, right? Matt Grocoff decided rather than throw his old windows away… he’d recycle them. That means learning all about sashes and jams and weights and pullies. Sounds pretty complicated.

MG: “You know, at first I thought this was going to be really complicated as well. But then Lorri Sipes explained to me that this is something that is just so elegantly designed and really simple that once you understand how to do it, it’s a long, but doable do-it-yourself project.”

Lorri Sipes. She’s an architect. And she runs a business called the Wood Window Repair Company.

Now… this is where Matt starts thinking if he could get Lorri to hold a class… and the class used Matt’s windows in the lesson… well…


So for a weekend… Matt’s living room became a classroom… and Matt’s windows the project.

Doug Bernardin was one of the students. His house has already won an award from his historic district commission… but he’s got window problems.

DB: “And I’ve lived in older homes for most of my life and have never had top sashes that come down (class laughs). So, it’s a goal of mine to make that happen.”

And for the weekend… students like Doug helped make it happen at Matt’s house. Lorri Sipes says refurbishing one of these old windows is just not that complicated.

LS: “So, we take the sash out. We strip all the paint off. We strip the glazing, the glazing compound. We repair any wood that’s damaged. And then we re-paint the window. So, it’s nice and clean and looks gorgeous.”

Before it’s installed, bronze weather stripping is put in the jam and a silicone tube seal in the sash. Sealed pretty tight. Sipes says this is not just a matter of aesthetics. It’s about fixing up perfectly good windows.

LS: “How much energy does it take to make all those replacement windows? How much energy does it take to transport them all over the country? Even the best ones only last 25 to 30 years. In this house, which is over 100 years old, somebody would have to have done that four times.”

Sipes says if you have someone do it for you, it’d cost about $400 a window. But, if you do it yourself… or maybe get some help from, say, some students… Matt Grocoff says it’s cheap.

MG: “I will tell you first: it is a simple process. But, I’m not going to tell you it’s a short process. Once you understand how to do it, it’s a matter of time and labor. To do the entire house, the materials cost is only three-hundred-dollars. So, all of the cost is in your time in doing it.”

I stopped by after the weekend class… and Matt showed me a sash that had been stuck for decades.

(sound of Matt opening the window)

MG: “After 30 years of never opening, now it opens with one finger. Can’t get any cooler than that.”

But the windows are still single-paned. That’s why Matt’s getting new energy efficient storm windows. But… that’s a story for another day.

For The Environment Report. I’m Lester Graham.

You can see a photo gallery of Matt’s window project at I’m Rebecca Williams.