The window salesman who stopped by the 1917 Dutch Colonial home of Ann and Gary Linley probably has no idea that he was the inspiration for a sixth-grade science fair project. But after 12-year-old Daniel Linley of Elkhart, Ind. overheard his father turn down the salesman’s pitch to replace his historic sash-and-storm windows with new double-paned windows, he had an idea.
“I asked my dad why he didn’t buy the new windows, and Dad said our old windows were better,” says Daniel. “I didn’t believe him, so he challenged me to prove him wrong.”
With his father’s help, Daniel set out to compare the energy efficiency of windows in their home. They looked at three types: historic storm and sash windows, installed in 1926; single pane, installed in 1952; and double pane windows, installed in 2002. Daniel hypothesized that the newer, double pane windows would hold the most heat.
Using the 1952 window as a control, they placed a heat lamp six inches away from the windows and measured both the internal and external temperatures to determine how much heat was escaping through the windows. They tested each window three times after a period of 30 minutes, and performed all their tests at night so that the sun would not corrupt their data.
The results? The 1952 single pane held in the least heat. The historic storm and sash window held in the most heat. The double pane windows held in more heat than the 1952 single pane windows, but less heat than the 1926 historic windows, so Daniel declared historic windows the winner. (And lost his bet with his dad.)
“As usual, Dad was right. I kind of had to eat my words,” says Daniel.
Though Daniel started the project in an attempt to prove his dad wrong, he was also preservation-minded.
“Anyone can add more baking soda to a volcano to get a bigger boom, but I wanted to answer a question that was relevant to me,” says Daniel. “I’m proud of my nearly 100 year-old home because I know the work and time my parents put in it, and I like that I proved old windows are better.”
Daniel’s project went on to win a second place ribbon at Pinewood Elementary’s science fair, first place ribbon and a gold medallion at the Elkhart City Fair, and a first place ribbon and a special award at the Northern Indiana Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
But the real surprise came when Daniel received the Servaas Memorial Award, for “outstanding achievement in historic preservation,” and a $1,000 prize from Indiana Landmarks.
Douglas Mulvaney, president of the Elkhart Historic and Cultural Preservation Commission which nominated Daniel for the Servaas award, said in a statement he believes Daniel’s work offers “an unbiased scientific look at a controversial subject” and will benefit historic commissions everywhere.
“For me, this shows how complex adults try to make things,” says Daniel’s mother, Ann Linley. “Preservationists are always saying that old windows are worth saving, but here is a sixth grader that actually proved it. Why had no one thought of looking at these statistics before?”
Plenty of people are interested in the findings now, as Daniel and his family have received numerous requests to use or publish Daniel’s data. Ann was quick to remind the callers that the results were from a sixth-grade science fair project. [Ed. note: Preservation Green Lab recently released a report on retrofitting historic windows. Check out the full report to see statistics on older windows' energy efficiency.]
And how does Daniel plan to spend his newly-acquired fortune?
“Mom says I have to put it in a savings account, but I get to keep $100 for myself,” he says. “I might buy some video games, but I have to get Mom’s approval first!”
Thanks to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for this information.
The photo was taken during restoration of windows at the historic George Read II House in New Castle, Delaware. I wrote about this process in January 2010. See Carolyn Roland's blog 1 and blog 2 on this process .