How not to install a window

August 11, 2012

Attached to the stone cottage we’ve renovated over the last eight years is a large Victorian brick model built in 1896. It’s time for some extensive work on the windows in this dwelling, as some of the single-pane windows are quite decrepit, though the frames are still in generally good condition. The aluminum storms barely keep the birds out, let alone drafts, and of course the windows haven’t been washed since the storms went on sometime in the sixties.

One particularly bad casement window overlooks the driveway. The space was originally an entrance door and it was closed in rather poorly and exposed to rain water from the eave of the stone house for many years.

Its size, 32” by 47” and its relative isolation from the other windows on the house, not to mention its patio location, made it a good candidate to be the prototype.

I began my search on Kijiji. A 31 X 46 turned up in Peterborough. The photo in the ad showed an upright, two-pane window still in its packing. Looked fine. Emails flew back and forth, more concerning the logistics of the pickup than the nature of the window. The owner did mention that the window’s installation was scrubbed for a patio door in the space, instead.

I should have thought about that a bit more. It’s easy for a photo to end up rotated 90 degrees during the Kijiji upload. I also should have asked which way was “up” on the window. But I didn’t, flushed with the excitement of the chase and the $75 price for a new window.

The address in Peterborough turned out to be a furniture-rental store. The guy works for the chain. Jason, a pleasant young fellow minding the store, took my money and helped load the prize. Nice window.

I drove the 2 ¼ hours back to Forfar, eager to pop the thing in.

The caffeine dose which keeps one awake on Hwy 7 for five hours carries several more hours of hyperactivity, so I put it to use, tearing off the aluminum storm and the rotted exterior trim of the existing window. In went the new one. Not a bad fit. Out again. I unlatched the window to try raising the bottom pane. The top one dropped down. Ulp.

The trouble with a replacement window is that there is no sill to tell you which way is “down.” Careful examination of the frame showed only two little slots on the right side. They look like drains. I’ll bet they’re supposed to be down. That wasn’t going to happen at this stage, so I decided to glue the top into place and use the bottom half as a single-hung window.

But these panes pop out for cleaning and it’s a pretty good window. Any way to make it work without butchering the thing? I cut two 5/8” square rods out of walnut, just under 21” in length, and set them into the slots below the upper window, jamming the thing at the top of its travel.

Then I went ahead with the installation. Nowadays it seems one foams a window into place rather than nailing anything. There didn’t seem to be a sensible location for screws, so that’s what I did: I put a frame of 7/8″ X 5 1/2″ pine window casing on the outside, pressed the window up against it, secured it to the casing with 4” screws through pvc pipe fasteners on the inside as temporary clamps in case the foam pulled a nasty trick while curing, and sprayed away. That part seems to have gone o.k.

Then I replaced the huge quarter-round trim which ringed the window at the top and sides. I had earlier replaced the sill with a 4” composite which will more closely match the size of the other sills on both houses.

So there it sits, my new double slider, mounted on end, looking for all the world like a hot dog stand window mounted onto the end of a majestic country house. Maybe paint on the trim and the living room drapes will help, but I’m having second thoughts about replacement vinyl windows.

As I have said many times before: “Anyone can do carpentry. All you have to be able to do is read and tell which way is up.” Sometimes that’s a daunting task, though.

Maybe I should build wooden ones with thermal panes and add full screens in place of storm windows.

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