I needed to use up some vacation time recently and took a five-day weekend to get some things around our house and the farm done.
With winter breathing down our necks, we knew we wouldn’t get to everything we’d hoped when we took on the farm house early this spring. But we felt that there were a few things that were in desperate need of attention. Namely, the windows.
We’re not sure how drafty the windows are, but we had similar ones in our first house, so we’re familiar with their challenges. We’d considered replacing all of the windows, but after reading some online sources, I found that if we get the originals and storms in decent working order, they could be nearly as energy efficient as new windows — without the larger expense or the potential for breaking up the plaster walls inside the house during replacement.
We knew that at least one window on the north side of the house was in dire need of help. The exterior sill is completely rotted and the rot had spread upwards into the side trim pieces of the window. It was really the project that intimidated me the most, so I decided to wait until Brian could come out to the farm with me so we could work through that mess together.
Instead, I decided to work on a couple of the other windows that needed attention, but weren’t in quite such dire condition.
If you’re not dealing with rot, fixing up a window isn’t very difficult, just a bit time-consuming. I began by removing the storm windows. One, you can see, had an unusual repair done to it. I’m all for frugality, but a piece of glass glued over the hole in another is pushing it for me. I would’ve tried to just replace the pane, but didn’t think I’d be able to replace the dried-up rubber that had held the glass in place. Amazingly, I was able to find storm windows in-stock at Menards that were the correct size for several of the windows on the first floor. They’re Larson brand with low-E glass and less than $70 each, which I thought was pretty reasonable, especially while on sale.
I tackled four of the 10 first-floor windows. After removing the storms, I scraped off all loose paint on the window frames and trim. I then scraped and chipped out as much of the window glazing as possible. Glazing is the putty-like material that holds the glass in the window, as well as seals it to keep air from passing through. On those without rot, I immediately cleaned them up (a vacuum works well for this), then used an oil-based exterior primer, as recommended by the window glazing packaging. I moved from window to window, working on each step so while one’s primer was drying, I could be working on preparing the next window.
After the primer dried, I made sure there were enough glazier’s points holding in the glass (these are just little metal clips that are pushed into the frame of each sash to hold the glass in place). You them take a glob of glazing from the tub and push it into place along the glass and window frame. After getting the glazing smashed into place (you want it to form a wedge of material that will shed any water that may get against the glass), you run your putty knife along the glazing at an angle to smooth it out. I found an angled tool that I’d never seen before (and then looked up some videos online to find out how to use it) for smoothing out the glazing. I’m still not certain whether it’s more useful than just using a plain putty knife, but I think with a little more practice, it will be handy.
I tried to give the glazing a bit of time to set up before going back to paint the frames and window trim. The glazing is supposed to have 7-14 days to firm up, then be painted with an oil-based paint to seal it, but we just didn’t have weather (or time in our schedules) for that to happen, so I focused on getting the wood sealed instead. After the paint dried, I caulked everything that I could (without risking sealing the windows shut), and when Brian was there with me that weekend, we placed the new storms caulked them in place (but not the bottom of the storm. NEVER the bottom of the storm! You need to leave the weep holes open to help avoid the rot we’re dealing with now.).
Now, the two windows that had the rotted sills posed some extra problems. That’s where the suffering came in. First, I thought the sills were in two pieces and only the exterior piece was rotted. Unfortunately, that was not the case. It was one piece of wood that had been milled with slight lip on it, and the rot extended further than we initially though. Then, after digging out all of the rot, we found that it extended into the framework inside the wall that holds the window up. This was particularly true on the north window. We finally came to the conclusion that we’ll try to deal with that in the spring and we’d just deal with the outside issues for now (honestly, there’s a good chance that the windows have been in this condition for decades, so one more winter probably won’t make much of a difference).
The north window also had a broken pane in the lower sash. I ordered a new piece of glass from our neighborhood hardware store, since there’s nothing close to the farm. Brian and our youngest were able to get the old glass out safely (it’s somewhat unnerving to remove a 100ish-year-old piece of glass; I imagined all sorts of horrendous things happening if it happened to break unexpectedly) and went to place it in the window. And OF COURSE there was a problem. I’d measured the opening perfectly. But on the lower sash of these windows, the glass actually slides up into a groove at the top of the sash. It isn’t glazed in that area. So, the piece of glass I’d had cut was 1/4-inch too short for the window. Argh! I’d brought my glass cutter with me, so I checked some of the storms we’d removed to see if one of them could be cut to the correct size, but none were quite large enough. *sigh* There’s always a setback. And not being near a hardware store is just so frustrating, when you’re used to having several options within 10-20 minutes’ drive in town.
We switched our attention to the window trim… which I’d purchased pieces of wood that were too thick. *fantastic* Luckily, we were able to get the sills in place. To fill in the rotted area, I’d purchased a wood epoxy. It’s a several-stop process, where you brush a hardener onto the remaining strong wood, then mix a two-part epoxy putty-like substance that you press into place to form new “wood.” After it dries, you can sand, paint and drill or nail into it. I’ve never used this before, but my dad said he had with good results, so we went for it. I’m not sure that I got quite enough epoxy into the voids, but it will be fine for the winter and we can revisit them next year.
Finally, that Sunday, in cold, cruddy weather, Brian and I went out to the farm for just a few hours to finish things up. We got the correct pieces of wood for the side trim of the windows (we had to use decking material to have the correct thickness and my dad ripped them to the correct width on his table saw), finished placing, sanding, priming and painting the sills and placed the last two storm windows.
They look SO much better!
And now, the snow has already arrived, so we likely won’t be doing any more fixes until spring, but we made some progress. I’ve also convinced Brian that, after working on the windows and trim and finding more and more soft, rotten spots in the siding, we just need to accept the idea of having the house re-sided next year. We’ll continue to do smaller, more affordable projects inside the house during the winter, get the roof paid off, and start putting away some funds for new siding.