How restoring your windows could be better than replacing them

A recent graduate from Holland College is testing out a new way to make old windows new again, making the case for refurbishing not replacing them. She has created a steam box to remove paint faster off old windows.

Holland College graduate's 'steam box' makes it easier to strip decades of paint layers off old windows

Sydney MacDonald, right, demonstrates how much easier it is to scrape off the old paint once the window has been in the steam box. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

A recent graduate from Holland College is testing a new way to make old windows new again, making the case for refurbishing them — not replacing them.

Sydney MacDonald has created something called a steam box to help remove the layers of paint, putty and caulking that make restoring old windows difficult.

The box is attached to a kettle that sends steam into the box. The window is placed inside and the box is sealed. Each window is placed inside for 18 minutes, which softens up all the substances that have built up over the years.

MacDonald estimates the steam box has cut in half the time it takes to take the paint off.

"We're hoping we can educate a lot of people that aren't really aware that they could be saving their wooden windows instead of just going with the vinyl windows," she said.

MacDonald places an old window into the steam box to soften up the paint and putty. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The project will be part of two upcoming presentations at the January lecture series of The Institute for Architectural Studies and Conservation called Greening the Heritage Home.

Josh Silver, learning manager for the heritage retrofit carpentry program at Holland College, calls the steam box a "game changer."

"Replacing your windows is about the worst option you can do in terms of financial payback, very expensive to purchase and very expensive to install," Silver said.

"We're hoping at the end of this project that we can show real clear data, how much money it would cost and how much money it's saving you, and we're very hopeful that those are going to be very significant numbers."

A kettle provides the steam to take off the layers of paint and putty. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The P.E.I. government is part of a pilot project using the new steam box, through the Home Energy Low-income Program (HELP). 

"If we can get similar energy efficiency from simply rehabilitating the older windows then home owners will have that extra money to put into other energy efficiency upgrades to save even more energy," said Andy Collier of Efficiency PEI.

Removing all the layers of old paint and putty allow the windows to seal properly, making the house more energy efficient. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

P.E.I. has many older and heritage homes that owners are trying to make more energy efficient, Collier said, and they may not want to replace their existing windows.

"They may want to keep the character of those older windows and this is a way for them to increase their energy efficiency and still maintain that character."

MacDonald refurbished all of the windows on this older home and was able to increase the energy efficiency of the house without replacing them. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

As part of her research, MacDonald refurbished all of the windows of a Charlottetown house. A green energy company then measured the difference the changes made in the home's energy efficiency.

 "The results showed that we did have quite a reduction in air leakage," said Roy Vandermaar of Greenfoot Energy Solutions, noting it would result in a significant decrease in energy consumption.