Replacing Windows on Homes with Classic Architecture

Here in North Carolina, three of the more classic architectural styles remain popular today: Colonial, Federal, and Georgian. Even if you own a home in a classic style, it doesn’t mean that you can’t replace your windows with more modern and more energy-efficient models; it does mean that you’ll want to choose your replacements with a good deal of thought and care.

Let’s start with a look at Colonial-style homes. Among other things, the Colonial style tends to be understated and symmetrical. Colonial homes are also two-storied and rectangular, with the front and back representing the wider side. Other key features are a centered entry, gabled roof, and either white clapboard siding or brick – usually the latter here.

We can see some southern adaptations to the original New England design: Where a steep gabled roof would be helpful in shedding snow, severe winds are a greater concern here; as a result, we might see hip roofs that slope down on all sides, and which are less prone to wind damage. We might also see dual chimneys on each side of the house employed not to release smoke, but instead heat during a hot southern summer.

The windows you’ll find on Colonial homes also tend to follow a certain pattern: They feature small panes (or employ grilles to create the look of small panes); they tend to slide open vertically; and they tend to feature shutters.

With that in mind, you’ll probably want to consider double-hung windows with grilles, and with relatively narrow frames. The most common look for a Colonial-style window would be to have six panes of glass in both window panels. Frames would be on the narrow side, as this yields a more pleasing look when flanked by shutters.

If your home is brick, white frames would be the most traditional choice. If your home features clapboard siding, white or earth tones (think finished woods) are also excellent choices.

Now let’s look at Federal-style homes. Relative to Colonial homes, Federal homes feature more ornamentation. For example, you may find cornices with decorative moldings lining the top of the house. Entry doors are often framed by a small entry porch, held aloft by a pair of round, slender columns; other common features of Federal-style homes include curved steps leading to the entry and lintels topping each window.

Like the windows on Colonial homes, Federals also feature small panes and shutters. However, you’re also more likely to find smaller, ornamental windows. A common feature of Federal homes is a half-round transom window just over the entry; some Federal style homes also top the other windows with transoms as well. Another common feature are sidelight windows that flank each side of the entry door.

You’ll most often see double-pane windows on Federal homes – with white frames the most popular choice. However, the use of additional color in the window frame is becoming more popular. More and more homeowners are opting to choose a window frame color to match a contrasting color or trim on the house. If you’re planning to replace a Federal home’s windows, you’ll want to look at product lines of replacement windows that offer customization.

Homes in the Georgian style are very similar to Federal homes, but one of the key differences lies in the windows. Federal-style windows tended to be narrower and taller. Georgian style preceded the Federal style, and their manufacture was less advanced; out of necessity, Georgian window panes tended to be smaller and their mullions (think grilles) tended to be thicker. As early American manufacturing grew more sophisticated, window panes became larger and more elegant.

Even with authenticity in mind, it’s understandable why many present-day Georgian-style homeowners would opt for narrower grilles: They yield more efficient windows and better views.

But for the most part, little to no compromise is needed when matching today’s efficient new windows to a more classic style. With some diligent research, you should have no problem finding modern windows that do a wonderful job recapturing the style that first drew you to your home.