Subject: How Old is Old?

Question: How "old" is old (or too old) - for a house?

Answer: It depends: 25 years is too old for some roofs, baths, kitchens, furnaces; 50 years is old enough for the National Register of Historic Places; 100 years is old enough to charge extra if you want to sell your house; 200 years is old enough for "oldest" bragging rights in some places; 250 years is older than any surviving house in midcoast Maine.

25 years ago a salesman tried to sell me aluminum siding. I declined, since my clapboards were only 200 years old and still in good condition. How many houses still have aluminum siding today? Quality materials, quality construction, and careful maintenance gave my clapboards their long life.

There’s another factor- old houses are treasured because they are highly livable. About 20 years ago there was an archeologist excavating an ancient house site on the island of Crete. As the excavation progressed, he kept thinking that there was something very familiar about the site. Finally, he realized that his new house had the same layout and was the same size as the ancient dwelling he was excavating.

Subject: Storm Windows

Question: What is the ideal storm window for my turn of the century house?

Answer: An ideal storm window is like an ideal servant-cheap, efficient, and invisible. Good storm windows have the added advantage of cutting noise-a big benefit if you’re close to the road. Since the ideal doesn’t exist, we must compromise with cost, appearance, and efficiency. There are a wide variety of old window types, so no one solution will work for every house. If you want your storms to be invisible (so you can see your old glass, sash and moldings), the glass area of the storm needs to be large and set very close to the old sash.

Watch out for new products for historic structures. Regularly these products prove not nearly as permanent or as problem-free as their manufacturers believe. Expensive options are very unlikely to pay back their cost in energy savings.

Notes on options: