June 08, 2009

Windows, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Warmth

I somehow forgot the last big project in phase 1 of our restoration - replacing the windows. Unfortunately, when we purchased the house in 2001, all of the original windows (possibly excepting the two attic windows) had already been replaced and the openings had probably been re-sized (bigger). What we were left with was a collection of early 20th century windows and a number of cheap modern windows that the people from whom we purchased the house had installed themselves. Typically, they achieved this installation without the use of insulation and without any real knowledge of how to properly install or trim out a window.

Thus, winter in the house meant an uninterrupted breeze emanating from the window casings in our bedroom and den, as air penetrated the vacant, uninsulated sash weight pockets on either side of the windows. Upstairs, the windows moved up and down only with great exertion and, again, afforded very little benefit in terms of efficiency and sound reduction.

On the coldest days of winter, even with our new boiler running at maximum overdrive, we found it impossible to raise the temperature in the house out of the low 60s. Too cold. So, we decided to bite the bullet and replace the windows. More than 20 windows, all of different (i.e custom - or as I like to call it, expensive) sizes. To reflect the age of the house, we wanted to go with 12 over 12 light patterns on the windows where possible, and 6 over 6 in the smaller windows. The window guy who was recommended to us steered us towards Lincoln windows. These are all wood, double paned, insulated windows that tilt in for cleaning. A nice product, although not the hand made custom 18th century sashes that I would have certainly preferred to use if money had not been a factor.

Installation took forever - far longer than it should have, and this should have been my first clue that something was wrong. The installers were nice and pleasant, but were all very young and had little experience. Sadly, so did we, otherwise I would have pitched a fit if it had occurred to me that installing a second sill above the original in order to make the windows fit was a lazy shortcut to avoid additional framing and trim work. Also, it looks stupid. After more than 220 years, nothing in our house is plumb or level, and the installation was a challenge for installers who were used to working with new construction or relatively young houses. Lesson learned the hard way - never, ever hire someone to work on an 18th century house who does not love old buildings and who has not had experience working on them.

In the end, the windows got installed, work well, and look OK from the inside. Unfortunately, the trimming on the outside was done very badly, to the point where we ended up with rotted sills on several windows within three years, and the aforementioned unconscionably ugly double sills everywhere. So far, we have had Jud, our contractor (who does know and love old house) re-trim the worst offending windows, and will have to have the rest done at some point as money permits.

I don't like to think about the windows, as I have no idea why I didn't see at the time how badly the work was being done. I'll chalk it up to the cost of being in over our heads on the project at the time. To Jenny's annoyance, I still obsess over the period-correct windows that we will have hand crafted and installed after winning the lottery. I have learned, however, that vocalizing this obsession really doesn't get me more than a threatening look from Jenny, so I try to focus on the fact that we can now get our house warm (ish) in the winter and that the 12 over 12 pattern at least gives everything a distinctive, sort-of-appropriate look. By the way, I should mention that yes, it is a pain to clean 24 small panes on each window. As a result I try to operate on the assumption that dirty windows are also period appropriate.

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