Though I made a public commitment back in December 2011 to complete our storm windows by January 31, 2012, and I've thoroughly and completely blown that deadline (yeah, I'm aware it's been a year PLUS several months, is there a more severe way to say "blown deadline"...maybe obliterated?), I'm in no way throwing in the towel on the project. That being said, I'm also nowhere close to being done, but that doesn't mean I've not been working on the planning and building stages of this project from time to time.

Actually, ever since we removed those old triple track storms in 2005 I've been in my planning stages to build us some custom wood storm windows. I'm not going to call myself slow (I'll leave that to Wendy), instead i'll go with "thorough."

I've discussed my various ideas and approaches with everyone from neighbors to contractors, and almost everyone says, "Why not just replace your windows?" I usually either stare blankly until they leave the room, or if I'm drinking something I try to do a good old fashioned spit take in their face, it makes for good renovation comedy. 

Honestly, we've never even once considered window replacements for the original windows we still have. Long ago I read an article comparing old windows to new windows and learned some very interesting facts that really weren't surprising when I thought about it.

Fact 1: "A properly maintained historic wooden true divided light sash with weather stripping and storm window are nearly as energy efficient as a top of the line modern replacement window."

Fact 2: "An historic wood window with storm and proper maintenance will outlast a replacement by 100 years or more."

Fact 3: "Bears like beets. Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica." (Wait, that's from something else.)

Beyond the character our old windows bring to our home's interior and exterior, the fact that keeping them is more eco friendly, or our desire to maintain the original fabric and historic integrity of our home, keeping our original windows and applying new storms is actually a better and far more cost effective long term solution for our house.

All that being said, we don't want to replace the old triple track storms that we removed with new triple track storms. We don't like how they look, we feel like they detract from the front of the house, and I just plain don't like them and how they function. Did I mentioned I don't like them?

It's also very important to remember that storm windows aren't a newfangled contraption. Homeowners have long known the benefits of applying an outer window to cover their inner windows to help keep warm in the winter, so why not do it the old way?

My research (see...thoroughness) led me to several places that make custom fixed glass wood storm windows. These storms typically hang or are clipped to the outside of a window assembly by way of mounting hardware on the exterior molding. They often mimic the look of the interior window, such as a two-over-two configuration, or have two large pieces of fixed glass, one in front of the upper sash, one in front of the lower. In the cases I've seen, all panes are fully fixed in place and are not movable. With these fixed glass storms you would put them up in the fall, take them down in the spring, and if we wanted to open a window while they are installed, the storms might lean out a bit to let fresh air in. Smith Restoration Sash sells a storm stay for just this purpose.

I walked around Old Town and was able to find a handful of houses that have this style of storm window. I really prefer the look of these storms to the aluminum triple tracks, and it just feels like the right option on our house. Sure, there's more maintenance involved in upkeep over painted aluminum, but I think a coat of paint every few years isn't a steep price to pay for a much better looking end result.

The problem with this approach, though it is the most historically accurate, is that it seems to be the least flexible. Storing the windows would be cumbersome, installing them each year is difficult and potentially dangerous to passers by (knowing me and my track record, I'd drop one on someone while changing it out), and there are no real options for screens in the warmer months. Besides all of that, the cost for these custom windows from a window shop, even just for five of them, yowza! We're looking at prices into the thousands!

Several years ago I saw an ad in Old House Journal for "wood triple track storms" created by SpencerWorks They supposedly looked like older storms, but had all of the convenience of the newer triple tracks with an embedded bronze track in the wood window. I liked the idea a lot, but I'd love to do my own version.

This concept got me thinking, how difficult would it be to build my own version of this? It wouldn't be a triple track, but it would be something more flexible and manageable than the large removable storms. So I got to work on a plan.

As I see it, we can have our cake and eat it too. The storms need to essentially be a frame that fits into our window openings and allows us to insert the panels we'd prefer, be it glass panels or screens. In our case, we'd be able to insert a fixed glass panel in the winter, but put in screens in the summer. This would be far easier to store in the off seasons since the only things being moved in or out are the smaller panels that would cover each sash (not the whole window), and would be easier to maneuver when installing since the pieces are so much smaller. To me it sounded like a win win. I even drew up a little sketch for how I planned to execute the build.

With the overall approach and concept down I started to focus on materials. I knew I didn't want to use any standard pine, there's no way it would hold up to the elements. Instead I wanted to use the wonderful weather resistant benefits of Western Red Cedar. I've long read of this miraculous species of wood, and without the choice of old growth tight grain yellow pine (the stuff available about 100 or more year's ago), I figured Western Red Cedar was a good option.

I found an online supplier (Sound Cedar Company) that I could order 4/4 kiln dried WRC in the lengths I needed. About a week after ordering all of it arrived just begging to be turned into storm windows.

The cedar is neatly stacked in the basement and has been crying out for a little attention for the past few weeks. Though the wait has been long, I'm finally to a point where the project is thoroughly underway. Keep your fingers crossed for me, I think I'm going to need some patience on this project. I don't think there is a square window opening in the house. I'll just keep my eye on the prize, a warm and quiet house and bedroom.

Comments 19


Kate 'Katya' Viar
6/4/2013 at 12:14 PM
You are better than we are. We finally decided to just have Old Town Windows and Doors make ours (not wooden, but look good and are removable). What a huge difference! Our energy bills have been slashed nearly by a half. Also nice to open the window on a day like today and have a screen to prevent the cats from jumping out (and the bugs from getting in). Can't wait to see the progress! Good luck!
I actually just commented to Wendy on your storms the other day. I told her they looked quite nice, very low profile, and very effective. I think the whole "keeping cats in" part of the screen is pretty clutch.
Kristin Richardson
6/4/2013 at 1:12 PM
So fun! We're getting storm windows made for our house too and getting some of the original window panes fixed. Just say no to replacement windows! There are two guys here in Richmond who do repair and restoration of original historic windows. They've done all of the Fan and Church Hill houses here, and they're currently restoring hundreds of windows for a historic hotel in Baltimore. In case you'd rather hire them (cue Wendy 12 months from now), call Dixon Kerr and Walter Dotts with Old House Authority at 804.205.0473. Dixon does the window repair. Walter does the storm windows. Dixon tells me they're one of only about three in the whole country who specialize in restoration according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He'll give you the full argument for why you should never by replacement windows!
Congrats on going about this the absolute right way! However, I'm a little disappointed that Brian is going to build them for you between working all day and sleeping. Oh well, man card revoked. ;-) Might need to give Walter a call, if even just for an interview on the importance of storm windows applied to historic wood windows.
laura h
6/4/2013 at 1:25 PM
Looking forward to seeing how this turns out - I need to build some myself. Although I am not sure that I need anything other than screens, since it rarely gets cold in Texas.
I'm actually very interested to see how the storms will help keep our air conditioning inside the house in the summer, not just the help in the winter. That might be very helpful for you on those hot Texas days.
I’m pretty sure that in house-remodeling-years, one or two years is the same as getting it done immediately.
Exactly! If you can actually wrap something up in a week, it's almost as if you've created a time machine and ventured back a year and a half.
Wayne B
6/4/2013 at 3:52 PM
I have lived in a house with the old style storms, and boy do they suck. I had to take on and off about 10 of those things every spring/fall, and they were quite heavy. Couple that with dealing with ladders (often in boggy wet soil) and heavy, unwieldy things, and the huge difficulty of storage, easily kill this idea for me. On top of that, the very limited opening of the storms and the necessity of using terrible snug-in expandable screens while the storms are on makes the idea of going this route a bad one, no matter how good they look. One charming difficulty of the old storms was figuring out which window each storm was supposed to go in, and replacing the rotted wood and rusted hangers each season (if you could find them).

I have the triple tracks now, and I like them better. But, they are a pain, too -- try taking them out for cleaning without dropping one. And, they always seem to seize up somewhere.

I certainly appreciate doing things the historic way, but for windows I think I swing towards more modern (but probably wooden) windows. If they are affordable....

As for making ones own storms -- wow! I would think that would require the kind of work shop that is hard to fit into a DC row house like the one featured here. I appreciate difficult projects, but this seems way over the top. I hope that these guys can prove me wrong.
We'll have to see how our project turns out. It's my hope that I'll be able to construct them in a way that will allow me to switch out the glass for screens without swapping the entire unit.

Lucky for me, we have a fairly comprehensive "wood shop" in our basement. This allows me to build just about anything, albeit in a somewhat cramped space.
6/5/2013 at 12:54 PM
Oh Alex, you are a sucker for punishment! I have no doubt that you'll accomplish this expertly, but you have a whole load of pain in the ass work ahead of you!
I wouldn't have a house project any other way!
6/5/2013 at 11:07 PM
This is the project I'm looking forward to viewing the most. I have the ugly aluminum 3 track windows and they're quite ugly, but better than nothing. Being an avid DIYer and probably naive I'm also going to attempt to do these myself somewhere down the line.

I would think for the summer months you could just replace one of your panes with a screen which would cut down on time and costs to construct these beauties. I'm sure you could also get stainless steel hangers to mitigate continual replacement.
After I'm all finished up I'll give you some detailed photos of my drawings so you can benefit from my mistakes and improve any of my shortcomings.
6/6/2013 at 10:48 AM
Oh cool! This is great timing for us, because I am trying to figure out what to do with our storm windows. I cant stand them. I know literally NOTHING about them, so I dont want to just be rash and remove them all, but MAN they are ugly, and the real windows are still the pretty original ones!
I was rash and I just removed them, not it's years later. I think you're making a good call.
2/5/2014 at 3:39 PM

I have an historical house that came with an almost-complete set of hanging storms and screens. I was faced with the decision to repair and build the missing window coverings or replace all the windows in the house. I decided to repair and build (well, the handyman built them) as it was cheaper and kept the historical look of the house. Like the commenter above, I have to get out the ladder each spring and fall, and yes, they're heavy, and yes, they require maintenance (painting, replacing window putty occasionally) but I love them. I love the look on the house and I love keeping a piece of history alive. They work great and are far better than the one replacement window I was forced to do as it was beyond repair. I figure than one day when I can't physically do it anymore, I'll hire the handyman to do it. It's still cheaper in the end and again, history has been preserved.

2/5/2014 at 3:45 PM

Oh, and if you mark each window along the inside top edge with a sharpie pen indicating which window it is (i.e. "road-side left") you'll have a much easier time setting up the windows at switching time.

7/20/2014 at 1:26 PM

I know this is an old post, but i was wondering if you're still responding to questions. I'm about to start my own storm window project and I'm curios what you found to use for your glass inserts. Taking a bare piece of glass out each year doesn't sound like a good idea.


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