Strategy for dealing with a historical preservation committee?
May 13, 2016 2:51 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to replace the windows in my 1950's home. The neighborhood falls into a sort of an intermediate category where it is not designated as a historical district, but is eligible to become one due to the age of the homes being >50 years. For this reason, I have to apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness from the local historical preservation committee in order to replace the street-facing windows. What's my best strategy for handling this? Details below the fold.

Here are some things I was considering mentioning in my application. Please tell me if there's something I'm missing, or if some of these things shouldn't be mentioned?

-It's a ranch house and the windows are steel with colonial-style divided light. I would want to replace them with vinyl, no grids if possible. The ranch style is not particularly associated with the type of window currently in place
-We're required to have tempered glass due to fire hazard (and the code doesn't seem to mention an exemption for historical windows); the current windows are not safety glazed
-Some of the current windows have crank mechanisms that are no longer operational, which is dangerous since they are in bedrooms and necessary for emergency egress
-We will not be changing any of the locations or opening sizes, or removing or adding any windows
-I will provide photographs showing both of the immediately adjacent homes, which are of the same age but both now have vinyl windows without grids (but I don't know if they obtained CoAs before installing them)

Yes, I know I could possibly have the current windows repaired instead. I would really prefer to replace them if possible. If the choice of material is a particular sticking point, the second best option would be to replace them with new metal windows rather than vinyl, but that would be quite costly.

I will also speak with the planning division in person about how to proceed before I submit the application, but I would like to avoid stepping on any potential mines and making the best possible case.

Thank you!
posted by karbonokapi to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Major window companies deal with this all the time. Anderson, Pella, etc, have people who specialize in replacing windows while adhering to historical preservation requirements.

Find a contractor who knows this, and will go to bat for you.
posted by yesster at 3:52 PM on May 13, 2016

... and Marvin windows too.
posted by yesster at 3:53 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Can you find any historical images of your home, or a similar style local home, when it was new, so you can see what sort of windows it originally had?
posted by Miko at 4:05 PM on May 13, 2016

There are plenty of companies that make reproduction 'steel" windows out of extruded aluminum - with a thermal break, that can take 1" insulated glass. None of the above companies do this, one big "bug-a-boo" is true divided light v. snap in grids that go over one big piece of glass. I don't know what your local gov't requires.
Whether or not the area is designated as a national or state historic neighborhood has no impact on what you can do with your building, though there may be incentives for you to maintain the appearance - i.e., it is all "carrot". The "stick" part is a local designation, which is what you are experiencing.
There are plenty of ranch style homes in my area with steel windows. I just took a contract to repair a bunch of them on a house. If the Owner wasn't low on funds, I'd tell him to replace them.
Look at Hopes, Universal, there are others. True divided light is going to cost. I just priced (71) 6'-4 x 3' snap in grid aluminum "historic" windows for another job, cost was about $75/square foot installed, true divided light will be significantly more.
Remember that the historic preservation mantra is "maintain rather than repair, repair rather than replace" - If you do elect to repair, the operators can still be purchased, there are companies in NY an PA that do these repairs, and seem to have stocks of old windows to get parts out of. Little old me down here in GA - I have to build the profiles up by welding obtainable shapes, many of those shapes I have to machine to proper size before I weld them. Then the fun of cutting out the rusted out bits and welding in what I have made starts. Many NPS Publications exist for repairs. If You can replace, reading this NPS publication will clue you in on the mindset of those that will be reviewing your application.
One other thought is that most of these NPS guides recommend taking the windows out and letting them be repaired in a shop and re-installed, it would be MUCH easier on my job if I could do that. Working in place is a pain.
posted by rudd135 at 6:05 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Did you look up the local regulations for your municipality? They're generally pretty specific as to materials and designs for windows and it would help you a lot to be familiar with the regulations. Or talk to a staff person in the building or planning department who handles these things to see what they say. I've gone through this half a dozen times and I've alway known before I went up to present to the historical review board that we were likely to be approved because I studied the regs and talked to the nice people downtown first.

It's really hard for me to give you much more information even though this is something I know a lot about because I don't know where you live and what the specific regulations there are. That said, I find it hard to believe that vinyl windows would ever be approved in a historic district. Whatever you do, don't buy anything until you get that CoA in your hands or you might have put out thousands of dollars for windows that are illegal to install.
posted by octothorpe at 6:50 PM on May 13, 2016

I find it hard to believe that vinyl windows would ever be approved in a historic district.

If this ends up being the case, you could also look at fiberglass which tends to have a narrower profile than vinyl which I think looks better on a 1950s house.
posted by amanda at 10:08 PM on May 13, 2016

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