Historic buildings are filled with charm and a testament to times past. They also serve as contentious reminders of the debates that continue to rage between meeting current needs and maintaining an architectural heritage.
Historic preservation is a conversation with our past about our future. - National Park Service
The Lowcountry continues to be at the forefront of the preservation movement. Beginning in the early 20th century with the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings, now the Preservation Society of Charleston, the independent nonprofit Historic Charleston Foundation, and the Board of Architectural Review (BAR), Charleston continues to demonstrate the complex negotiations that promote preservation and heritage tourism on a local level. They have helped shape and continue to incorporate state and national guidelines through the South Carolina State Historical Preservation Office, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the National Register of Historic Places. If you have ever walked around historic downtown Charleston, then you have seen the results of these organizations to maintain in part the historical fabric of the city.
But what happens when you become an owner of one of these properties? Historic buildings have their own special regulations for modifications with which you may have to comply. You may be able to make as many internal changes as you wish without compromising the exterior of your historical building.
Historic buildings encompass all manner of structures: an 1860 plantation house, a 1920s Art Deco theater, a 1950s gas station, a racetrack, a slave dwelling, and anything in-between. One of the first recommendations is to conduct an energy audit, which will evaluate the energy efficiency of your historic building.
Providing light and natural ventilation, the windows of your historic structure are of utmost importance. They can be energy efficient by reducing the reliance on heating and air conditioning and artificial lighting. Ordinances for historic properties recommend making every effort to retain the original or existing windows, but sometimes a replacement window is necessary.
When left with no other choice but to replace your historic windows, the following basic steps will help you retain the character of your historical building:
1. Investigate the background of your historical building and how the windows contribute to the technological development of windows, the architectural significance of the region, style, or time period.
2. Note the specific details of the current window:
- muntin materials (wood, steel, aluminum) holding panes of glass together
- configuration (how the window opens and closes)
- glass characteristic (type, color, size, number)
- frame and sash features
- paint color
- other details and decorative elements
3. With this information, begin your search for a window replacement that most closely resembles the window you are going to replace. Comprised of substitute materials, window replacements should resemble their historic counterpart in appearance, meet reasonable performance ratings over time, maintain similar physical properties, be installed properly, and function well with adjacent historic materials.
Local and state historical and preservation organizations and municipalities like those listed above may have good recommendations based on previous preservation projects. With the advent of heritage tourism, the historic building restoration, preservation, and rehabilitation has developed into a specialized industry and created a market for historic replacement and substitute building materials. Your local window experts can help you navigate the available manufacturers of current and old building materials, trade journals, and preservation publications to find the appropriate window replacement.
A city like Charleston charms us all with a vision of the past. Living and/or working within the historic buildings brings a dynamic conversation in combining the present with the past.
Contact the experts at Muhler Window and Doors to help you continue the vision with quality replacement windows for your historic building.