My Window on the Windows World
A personal experience in replacing windows or how not to have your bedroom window torn out in November.
In my last article, "Thinking of Replacing Your Old Windows?" I offered some pointers on replacement window projects. Now, I'd like to share my own experience to give you an idea why I now know so much about windows.
My Own Story
I bought an historic house about 10 years ago. Well, "historic" in that it was built in 1912 and is in an historic district. The first major home improvement project was to be the windows. Most were either painted shut or the ropes had rotted and the weights had fallen down inside the walls. Some were crooked where the house had settled and wouldn't close completely. Others were in better shape, and those I decided to have repaired and restored. I'm glad I did.
As an expert in restorations and historic preservation, I was certainly going to do my own project correctly. I would get top of the line, custom-made wood replacement windows that matched the originals exactly. The old sashes would be popped out and the new windows would just pop in and it would be done in a day. Well, that's what the window company representative told me.
Where the house had settled and the window openings were no longer square or level, they would do a "tear out," which is ripping everything out to the brick window opening and filling in from there. Replacement interior moldings would match the originals exactly.
I spent countless hours working with a Checkbook-listed window installation company representative. We measured every window exactly, calculated U (energy efficiency) and low E factors (light filtering) and carefully considered the potential loss of light to any given room. I had wood dyes of the original moldings, sills and aprons custom-cut so we could reproduce the originals where they had to be ripped out. The company even sent their specialty carpenter to remove molding samples for the dyes and to figure out the best way to remove the original moldings with no or minimal damage to the plaster walls around the windows.
All arrangements were finalized in the summer and the work was to be done in late September, allowing enough time for the factory to make the custom windows. Everything seemed on track…
The window factory, I later discovered after placing the order with a down payment through the contractor, was back logged and the windows would not be done until November. The installer assured me that they could do the project quickly enough that the coming cold weather would not be an issue.
One cold November morning around 8:30 a.m., a truck arrived with the windows and a crew of about five men. None spoke any English, nor had gotten any instructions from the shop beyond to simply install the windows as quickly as possible.
The crew marched into the house with crowbars and started ripping out the old windows and the moldings, along with about a foot (and in some places 2-3 feet) of plaster around each window (replastering walls and painting was not in my budget!). The new windows were shimmed into place.
Insulation around the windows consisted of a sections of rolled fiberglass insulation stuffed around the openings and/or a few sporadic shots of insulating spray foam. The new molding was stapled around the outside of the windows anywhere where it would stick (there was no plaster left to nail it to).
Some windows were the wrong size (the contractor had mismeasured), and the installation crew couldn't tell the difference in the E values between the windows and installed some in the wrong rooms. Of course, I called the company's representative who had been so helpful in the past to see why things were going so terribly wrong now. I was told I was just being "too picky."
The highlight was when the crew closed up shop on a cold (30 degree) and dark evening and said they would be back the next day to install the last window. That window happened to be the bedroom window, which they had just ripped out!
In the end, it did all work out, but this is why I so strongly recommended in my last article that you are present during the entire time when windows are being installed.
In an upcoming article, I'll discuss the pros and cons of repairing your existing windows vs. replacing them. Repair and weatherization of existing, historic wooden windows is often easier and less costly than most people realize.