The greenest window is the one that already exists.
That’s the short and sweet philosophy behind Wood Window Rescue, an Oklahoma City-based company that restores historic windows to their original beauty and functionality using sustainably sourced wood.
Designed for the manufacturer’s benefit, the typical modern vinyl window has a lifespan between 15 and 20 years, Wood Window Rescue owner Ty McBride says. This traps people in a costly and wasteful cycle of replacement.
“Once someone ends up in that replacement cycle, it’s a permanent debt on the home,” McBride said. “The environment also [inherits] that debt.”
The pitch for modern windows usually banks on energy efficiency, McBride says. While efficiency is important (particularly to The Joinery’s pursuit of Living Building™ certification), the sheer energy it takes to replace these windows every 15 to 20 years creates a greater carbon burden than you might realize.
“Every time something has to be replaced, a factory has to fire up the generator to make that replacement, the truck has to drive it to the location...” McBride said. “There’s so much energy that is dispersed—and this doesn’t even include the landfill waste.”
The more historic hardwood windows that are restored, the fewer single-use replacements are needed. The idea is to save the natural environment by preserving the built environment.
“Every time we have a meeting with our staff, we say, ‘We save the future by rescuing the past,’” he said.
When the bones of an old window are not salvageable, McBride and his team reproduce historically accurate matches using responsibly harvested and long-lasting Accoya wood. (Keep reading to learn more.)
That's why we're excited to partner with Wood Window Rescue on our project.
The Joinery is unique: It's a new construction project located in a historic neighborhood. The building needs windows that not only honor the surrounding aesthetic but also function decades longer than vinyl. Even more, wood is biodegradable, making our windows—though new—truly green from beginning to end.
“It’s been a really new experience to work on something new built sustainably, and we’re really excited to be a part of [The Joinery]," McBride said.
“Everything new seems fast and this is sustainable, and hopefully it can be a model for future builders and projects.”
Wood Window Rescue offers its services, including window restoration training, to the Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Kansas City metro areas. The company began in 1997 when Dennis Myers founded Wewoka Window Works. Twenty years later, Ty McBride, who was mentored by Myers, purchased Wewoka Window Works, changed its name, moved it to the state capital, and began building a team to take on the demand of window restoration.
On July 29, we talked with McBride, who learned to love and care for old things growing up in a farmhouse and fixing it with his father. His passion for restoration was catalyzed by rebuilding homes destroyed by the May 2013 tornado in Moore.
Read highlights (edited for clarity) from our phone conversation below.
How Wood Window Rescue began
My grandfather started building houses in 1974 in the Moore area—just typical suburban tract houses and so I grew up in the building industry...In 2013 when the big tornado went through Moore I was working for my dad’s home building company and because of my grandfather building houses there for so many years, we got the opportunity to help a lot of people rebuild the houses that he had once built for them. In 2013 and 2014 we rebuilt or repaired about 50 homes and it was exhausting and emotionally draining. But when the dust kind of settled from there, I really enjoyed doing restoration work—just putting things back together after catastrophe.
I was working on a project that caught fire in Mesta Park (a neighborhood in Oklahoma City) and the house had these really amazing, beautiful windows. It was built by one of our city founders. When I went to work with Historic Preservation to replace those windows, I sort of had to learn...they wanted you to repair them. I started to dive in as a contractor and try to find out who could I work with to repair the windows. I made some phone calls to some names I’d been referenced...and then I got ahold of Dennis.
Dennis helped me out, and I started offering [wood windows] as a part of my restoration services. I started out repairing them in my garage and then we started repairing them in a little storefront and I just continued to go out and spend time with Dennis...He started talking about selling the business and letting me take it over. He was a manufacturer of reproduction windows—so exact replicas and matches of old windows—and that was really the big missing part from my repair business. Dennis continued to teach me, and then in 2017 we kind of came to terms and I purchased Wewoka Window Works.
On preserving historic windows
Every time we have a meeting with our staff, we say, “We save the future by rescuing the past.” And that’s really what we believe. We have a responsibility to our environment...Wood windows have a life of over 100 years...The original window was designed to be repaired, and all those repairs are sustainable and have a low impact on the environment versus letting someone replace their windows with a modern window.
The modern window is designed for the manufacturer’s benefit...It’s designed to have a lifespan and that lifespan is intentionally shortened by the manufacturer so they can sell you another one...The No. 1-selling replacement window in the country is vinyl...there is no market for recycling. It is a 100 percent replacement [that] ends up in a landfill. Once someone ends up in that replacement cycle, it’s a permanent debt on the home. It’s a permanent debt they have to pay for every 15 to 20 years...and the environment also [inherits] that debt.
Not only do we try to save the future environmentally, but we also believe it’s important to pass along these really great buildings to [the] next generations so they can see and understand the way that people lived before the turn of the century. Those [modern] windows don’t really have much of a story and if they do, it’ll only last about 20 years before it’s in a landfill. And these [old wood] windows can tell really significant stories.
What makes Accoya wood sustainable
The goal with any kind of sustainable wood is that you’re cutting it from harvested trees, not cutting it out of a forest—not old growth trees. Of course that’s what makes original windows so amazing...but in 2019 we realize how damaging that would be to continue that, and so we don’t want to cut anymore forest down. We want to cut from sustainably harvested trees. That means they’re not as old as they once were, so trees are 20 or 30 years old that we cut down now.
The downside to that is that in most circumstances it means the wood is not as dense and it won’t last as long. The [Accoya pine] trees grow [and are] sustainably harvested in New Zealand. Then that wood gets shipped to Denmark where it goes through a manufacturing process of acetylation where the wood is changed at the molecular level so it will not absorb water...It doesn’t rot. It’s not a food source for termites. If you paint it, it lasts longer.
Accoya has tested it, and they’ve got 80-plus-year test rating on the process of acetylation. They warranty the wood themselves, so they take responsibility for 50 of those years. There’s not another wood species on the market where the grower and the manufacturer warranty the condition of the wood for 50 years.
On the demand for window restoration
As of right now, the manufacturers of modern windows aren’t really supportive of the repair movement, but I hope over time that all industries will begin to support repair. There’s a huge inventory in the U.S. of houses built before 1940...In most old homes, [windows] make up almost 30 percent of the exterior. There is virtually no way for [modern window manufacturers] to repair them in an authentic way.
We did a workshop training in Jefferson City, Missouri, following that catastrophic tornado (in May) that ravaged so many of their historic homes...As we were there, we’re talking about the opportunity and almost in tears, several of the owners are like, “Thank you for making really great repair parts, however, there’s no one here to do the work. There was no one here before the tornado, and there’s no one here now.” That’s generally the story that we hear.
We want to see ourselves in every market and every city across U.S....We know that if we want to grow, we have to make sure that the skills gap is bridged, because right now there’s so few people that really understand not only how to fix or repair old wood windows but really know how to fix or repair anything, because our culture has become very replacement driven.