Monday, May 9, 2011

Home improvement season: Windows 3.0

It's that time of year again. All right, to be fair, I haven't done anything on the house in about two years so let's say "it's that time of the decade again."

I've gotten the home improvement bug, and this time I'm serious. I'm not stopping until there are palm trees in the back yard.

Last fall I bought a bunch of storm windows. The original windows on my house, while beautiful and built with craftmanship of the sort that died some decades before the drive-in theater, are a hundred years old and were not well maintained.

However, vintage double-hung windows are worth restoring. There's not a single modern window made today that will wear as well as one of these bad boys, and there's nothing even close to as attractive. Most people think that you should just get rid of old windows. Most people are wrong. A new window that's not total crap will probably cost you $1000 or more, for just one. Not including installation. True, it will provide better insulation. At least, until the seals between the panes of glass break and the vacuum goes away. Then it's just like an old window, except uglier because it's probably plastic or aluminium, and probably doesn't work as well. That's just for starters.

Restoring old windows isn't rocket science. And there are web sites dedicated to the process if you need a roadmap. While time consuming, it's definitely a reasonable DIY job for anyone with moderate workbench skills and some patience. Finally, putting new, good-quality storm windows over an old double-hung window will give you heat insulation performance comparable to a modern window.

I had storm windows made for my house by The Burch Company in Baltimore. Very nice product, and they worked out to be less than $200 each. While more expensive than the garbage they sell at Home Depot, they're not even that much more expensive, and these windows have all kinds of nifty features. Like the screens & glass can be popped in/out from inside the house, and the exterior flush mounts so they don't look like storms at all, they look like part of the window. And that's a fraction of the cost of a whole new window.

I put the first one in with last year's total window rebuild project. That took two weeks, and I had a gaping hole in the house for much of that time. Luckily it didn't rain much. This is a much more manageable project because I didn't have to actually rip out the frame and make a new one from raw materials felled in the forest.

Installing the storms is a piece of cake. The problem comes with getting the old window ready for that. Which basically means taking the whole thing apart, fixing broken and rotted parts, and putting it back together again.

This weekend I did that for one of the big floor-to-ceiling windows in our bedroom. The goal was to take the window sashes out and have the storm installed by the end of the day. The sashes won't actually go back in until later - they need to be stripped, cleaned up, reglazed, repaired, which isn't actually a ton of work, but takes several days because there are lots of phases of gluing/painting/staining/drying. So I just neeeded to get things ready enough that I could put the storm in and have a window at all.

Turns out this can be done in a day, barely. I got all the old paint off the frame, the sill fixed, some cracked parts nailed/glued, and the exterior primed so I could install the storm. I still need to paint the inside of the frame and fix up the sashes and all that, but there's no hurry since there is actually a window now!

1 comment:

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