The owners of 625 Rutledge Ave. could have replaced their windows instead of repairing them.

Then carpenter David Dick did a sample for them, showing how they would look if he removed, repaired and replaced them.

That convinced them, and now Dick is removing and repairing each one in the early 20th century house.

It’s a labor-intensive process that involves removing them to his North Charleston shop, where he steams them at 206 degrees to loosen their old paint and glaze so it can be scraped off.

He then repairs any problems with their joints and reglazes them. He then reinstalls them and adds weather-stripping where needed to ensure they make a tight seal. His material cost is low, but his labor cost is high.

“I have to keep my prices fairly low to compete with replacement windows,” Dick says. A pair of sashes takes about seven hours worth of work to renovate.

In fact, grappling with windows in older houses is an issue that has pitted preservationists against those who argue for making homes as sustainable and energy efficient as possible.

“It’s not as clear cut of an issue as it’s made out to be,” Dick says. “Preservationists don’t have bottomless pockets to convince the public.”

Winslow Hastie, director of preservation with the Historic Charleston Foundation, says the foundation had energy audits done on several historic homes recently, and the findings showed that leaky windows posed a relatively small problem.

“When you look at retrofitting a historic building, you get a lot more bang for your buck insulating the crawl space and up into the attic,” he says.

Also, the National Trust for Historic Preservation notes that older window sashes are made of better, stronger wood, and a combination of maintenance, storm windows and window treatments will make historic windows more energy efficient.

Existing windows also contain a lot of embodied energy that would be lost if they’re ripped out and discarded, Hastie adds.

“Of course, the vinyl window salesman have done a really incredible job and they’ve had many years leg up on us,” Hastie says.

Dick knows this first hand. He has talked to another homeowner who was debating whether to repair or replace his older windows, and he ended up removing every old window and tossing them in a dumpster.

“He said he was convinced (about the wisdom of repairing them instead), but he lost the argument with his wife,” Dick says.

The renovated sashes at 625 Rutledge Ave. are a success story because the city’s Board of Architectural Review doesn’t reach this far north. There was no law or review pressuring the owners to repair them instead of replacing them. “These are some of the newest I’ve worked on,” Dick says.

Old windows add to a home’s historic character, and those who own older homes get accustomed to dealing with their imperfections, he adds.

Keeping a house’s original windows intact as long as possible is part of preserving the house as a whole.

“The idea is that we are caretakers —we’re never going to own them,” he says. “They’ll be passed onto someone else.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.