Replacing Windows in San Francisco

by Matt Solis


Save Energy Company completed this window installation project in San Francisco featuring ogee lugs. Photo: Save Energy Company (2014)

When it comes to retrofitting and renovation, San Francisco homeowners face challenges as unique as the city itself. One issue that many homeowners face is how to make their older homes more energy efficient. A great way to increase energy efficiency in any house is to upgrade the windows and doors. However, according to John Gorman of Save Energy Company, swapping out old windows for new ones isn’t always a simple task in San Francisco.

For one, San Francisco requires all replacement windows that are visible from a street or other public right-of-way to be reviewed by its Planning Department. In order to be approved, replacement windows must be “architecturally compatible with the building.” According to Mr. Gorman, this means that for the most part, if the original window frames in your home are made of wood, your new window frames must be wood as well. This holds true even if the interim windows you’re currently replacing have aluminum or vinyl frames. Unfortunately, as many San Francisco homeowners learn, contemporary wood window frames tend to be more expensive than their vinyl and aluminum counterparts.

Mr. Gorman has a few suggestions for the budget-constrained. Sometimes fiberglass window frames can be painted after installation, giving them the appearance of painted wood window frames. There are also varieties of windows that combine wooden interiors with clad or fiberglass exteriors. Both of these solutions can sometimes be acceptable to the Planning Department. One of the advantages of the second option is that these hybrid frames can be ordered to include ogee lugs—a defining period detail of many historic San Francisco homes.

Ultimately, as a proud San Francisco homeowner, you may decide wood window frames are worth the extra expense. Contemporary wood window frames are energy efficient, beautiful and, when properly maintained, can last indefinitely.

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