Tag Archives: Windows


We have winterization in our lexicon, but not the springtime equivalent. Regardless, that’s how I spent part of my Saturday.

I had four more windows replaced a couple weeks ago (both bathrooms, guest room and upstairs hallway – the latter used to funnel cold air directly into my bedroom), so I had no storm windows to put away this year. Now, I’ve replaced all the windows in the living areas of the house. All that remain are the back hallway, basement and front porch, none of which are a huge priority.

Tulips! And daffodils!

I also cleaned out a winter’s worth of detritus from my flower beds and backyard. I filled an entire yard bag with dead leaves and other junk, and was thrilled to find stuff already sprouting underneath. In the front beds, I had seen tulips beginning to grow, but after removing the leaves, I found daffodil sprouts, too. Along the back fence, I found the early shoots that will become June’s tiger lilies.

Inside, I drained and cleaned the humidifiers, and now they’re air drying until I store them for the summer. I dusted and organized.

Still to do:

The missing piece was finally found in the backyard once the snow melted.

Fix the soffit that the blizzard tore off the side of the garage. Though it’s not very high, it requires a ladder, and thus I won’t tackle this quick fix unless I have someone spot me. Especially at the back of the house, I’m wary of doing anything where I could fall and no one would notice.

Close, but not quite latchable

Fix the frost heave/front gate situation. A couple years ago, a frost heave appeared in the middle of my driveway. As soon as the weather warmed, it collapsed back into itself, enabling me to seal it and move on. A couple weeks ago, when I first tried to close the gates, I couldn’t get the gate over the heave. Now, it’s collapsed, so I can close the gates, but they’re misaligned so they don’t meet in the middle and latch. I’m weighing my options: raise up the gates (oh-so-heavy and cumbersome; would require a second and potentially third set of hands) and install new hinges, sand off the bottom of the gate that currently rests on the ground, or just leave hope that the warm weather adjusts the driveway a bit more.

Put away the boots and clean, clean, clean. I’m afraid that putting away my winter boots right now might tempt fate, so I’ll hold off at least another week on this one. I also need to pull out the hose, turn on the water and get ready to plant.

And I can’t wait to drag the patio furniture out for the year.

What do you have to do for spring?


108 Coats of Paint: Or, How I Spent My Autumn

Remember, way back in August, when I started the chore of scraping and painting the screens on the 11 windows that make up my enclosed front porch? I discovered that each window was caked with layers and layers of multi-colored paint that took major effort to remove.

When I removed the  screens, I discovered that the windows behind them were in terrible shape. After consulting with my dad, he agreed that the right thing to do was to scrape and paint the windows themselves. Upon further inspection, we also decided to reglaze all of the windows, as the ancient glazing (that holds the glass into the window) was dried out and crumbled to the touch.

Suddenly, my PITA project was a monstrous task. Fortunately, my wonderful, fantastic parents (with ample free time!) volunteered to help.

And help they did. Since August, if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve likely seen numerous references to painting and scraping, especially on sunny weekend days. I lost count of how many days they came down to Elgin to help, showing up early (for me on a weekend, anyway) and putting in a solid day of work. My dad and I would be working side by side on ladders in various stages of scraping, glazing and painting the windows themselves while my mom worked on the screens. She even mended some of the small rips and tears, using clear nail polish to further seal them.

Between their weekend help days, I did a ton of painting. Since we couldn’t get the screens down to bare wood, achieving a smooth, presentable final product required primer and three coats of paint – but at least they’re all the same color. Hence, I can’t even tally how many days I’d be outside, painting one coat at sun-up, then another coat over lunch, and another coat before sunset. (Multiply nine windows plus nine screens times (times two on the screens, for front and back) times four…. approximately 108 coats of paint? That doesn’t even factor in the paint trimming around the windows, the railings, or the front steps. I’ll take pictures when the sun is out.)

The front of the house now looks marvelous. Standing back from the street, the house looks crisp and clean and as new as a 120 year old house can. Even the freshly-painted house numbers look superb, and you can actually read them at night now.

I learned a few valuable lessons from this experience:

1) Start outdoor projects early. Since I work full time and go to school, my free time is limited. When you begin factoring in the need for a 24-hour rain-free period after each day of painting, it further complicates factors. (We were lucky to have a relatively dry fall, and I was able to stash the screens in the garage when rain threatened, which helped a lot.) In fall, suddenly you have to start worrying about temperature restrictions. For example, it has to remain at least 50 degrees and dry for 24 hours after glazing windows. The minimum for paint is 35 degrees. In October and November, this gets a lot tougher. Sunday morning, I watched the mercury climb for hours before I finally started on the final coat.

2) Stock beer. My parents rock, and really will work for beer. I always restocked my fridge before they came over (well, almost always) and it was appreciated.

3) Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Pick logical sections and prioritize them. Obviously, the front of the house was most important, so we did those first. When we finished the front 7, we moved on to the 2 windows facing the driveway – ie, the ones people actually see – and finished those this weekend. There are two left to do – on the least-visible side of the house. We ran out of good weather for the year, so we’ll tackle them in the spring, but from the street, the house looks great.

4) A Sharpie is just as useful as duct tape. Over the years, these screens have been painted many, many times, and it’s apparent that previous owners didn’t bother taping, so there are small splatters of multi-colored paint across the screens. When we re-installed the screens, the white splatters were especially noticeable, so my dad suggested we try a black Sharpie. It worked like a charm! I do wonder what they neighbors thought when I was out on a ladder coloring my screens with a marker…

5) Ask for help. It’s against my nature to ask for help, but I quickly realized the magnitude of this project and accepted my parents’ very generous offer of help. If I consider the total hours we spent working on this and then imagine doing it by myself… shudder. And it was good family time, too, as we usually had dinner together after finishing work for the day. I am so, so lucky that they were willing – and eager – to help. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.

That’s it for the outdoor projects this year – just in time for winter. Now I move indoors, with a focus on reorganization and gutting my bathroom. After Finals, of course.

Fabulous New Windows

Last Monday, with an arctic cold front encroaching on the Midwest, my new windows were finally installed. They’re fabulous. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Monday was a seasonable day in the upper 20s, and the installers worked carefully so there was never more than one hole in the side of the house at any given time. By the time they left, we had five new windows – three in the living room, and two in the office.

The next day, the bottom dropped out and we had a series of days where we never broke 0 degrees, with overnight windchills hovering around -40 degrees. And the windows met their first test with fortitude and grace. No drafts. I noticed the biggest difference touching the glass itself. The new windows felt cooler than the room temperature, of course, but not bad at all. The old windows still elsewhere in the house were caked in sheets of ice and were barely touchable.

Definitely worth it. I just hope the heat bills reflect it.

Breaking My Broken Windows

I’ve had two cracked window panes on my front porch since I moved in. They’ve both grown a bit, likely due to freeze/thaw cycles. I always thought replacing a pane of glass would be expensive, so I put off repairs. Plus, since both affected windows are on the porch, there was no direct effect on the interior of the house itself, though certainly a colder porch does lead to a colder house.

But they’ve always bugged me. So when I was in Lowe’s in early October and saw that you could buy sheets of glass cut to size, I jumped on it. Sure, it was only single pane glass, but for the porch, that suffices. Lowe’s didn’t cary glazing putty, but Ace did.

I brought my measurements into Lowe’s and after a search for an employee who actually knew how to use the glass-cutting machine, I had my sheet of glass. Well, actually, the first one he cut broke while he was wrapping it up, but the second one made it home unscathed. I spent an hour carefully prying the window frame apart – several coats of paint served as glue. Finally, I release the lower pane and laid it out on the floor.

That’s when I realized I had mis-measured the glass. So I re-measured – thrice, this time – and trotted back to Lowe’s.

This time, we went through two broken sheets before coming up with a third one cut to my new and improved measurements. We wrapped it carefully and I brought it home.

This time, I carefully taped an X across the old glass and gingerly tapped with a mallet until it broke. I scraped out the decades-old, dried-out putty and started putting new glazing compound into the groove. When it came to lay the new glass in place, it didn’t fit. I flipped it around, and it still didn’t fit. Annoyed, I couldn’t understand how my new measurements – taken three times – could be wrong again! So I measured the glass and compared it to the scrap of paper still in my pocket. The measurements in my pocket didn’t match the glass. I had been very careful to throw away the old, incorrect measurements to make sure I gave the right ones to Lowe’s. But the guy had cut it wrong.

By this point, it was about 6:30 on a Sunday night. I called Lowe’s and learned that they closed at 7:00, so I hopped in the car and ran back to the store. At first, the bored high school student working at Customer Service didn’t want to allow an exchange, saying that custom-cut pieces can’t be returned. I was welcome to buy another sheet, though. Luckily, the employee who had cut the piece wrong happened to walk by, saw me with the glass, and intervened, shrugging when he realized his mistake. After two failed attempts (there’s got to be a better method that doesn’t cause breakage 2/3 of the time!), I got my piece cut – and verified its dimensions myself – and left the store.

By the time I got home, it was good and dark. I massaged the glazing compound a bit to soften it up and lined the window up – it was ready to go. I started to slide it into place and then asked for Don’s help. It fit perfectly. But then, in the process of filling the groove with more glazing putty, it cracked. We laughed. It was 8:30 on a Sunday night. All the hardware stores were closed. I was booked on a flight to DC at 6 AM the next morning and hadn’t started packing. So we used packing tape to seal it up.

So, eight panes of glass later, my window still has a packing tape bandaid. I’m very hesitant to try again. At this point, I could have just paid someone to do it for the amount of time I’ve spent.

And that’s the thing about home ownership. You have to figure out the value of your time. Sure, on paper, replacing a broken window pane would take $20 and an hour. But inexperience and working with fragile materials may mean that it’s worth hiring a professional.

Next step: I’ll investigate the cost of bringing the whole sash into a glass place and leaving it to the pros. And hopefully I can get rid of the packing tape once and for all. Heck, I might even fix the second window, too.

One down, 10ish to go!

I shrink wrapped my first window this afternoon before realizing I needed to use the fleeting daylight to clean out the last of my planters.

I tackled the living room window, since a stiff breeze has been weasling its way into my living room. I planned not to spend too much time striving for the wrinkle-free perfection, since it’s only a temporary solution until early January, but it’s hard to do a half-assed job on something like this.

I’ve learned over the years that it’s not worth the effort to lay everything out on the floor and measure perfectly. (Plus, Collette tended to attack my perfectly-measured sheets, occasionally puncturing them with her over-zealous claws.) Rather, I put the double-sided tape all around, peel back the sticky side on the top border, and gently place it until I get it about right. Then, I make the major cut, separating the designated piece from the giant sheet. I leave plenty to work with, though. It’s not worth the headache to try to line it up just right with no wiggle room, especially since so many of my windows are taller than I am and thus my perspective gets thrown off.

Next, I press gently all the way around – saving the bottom for last – until it’s pretty well distributed and even. Before I start shrink wrapping, I punch my holes for the blinds (which I spent AN HOUR scrubbing this afternoon. They were gross!), so we can adjust the height and open/close them.

Then, the shrinky-dink part begins. I wield my hair dryer with the same gusto I would a drill, starting in an upper corner and, on high heat, constantly moving from side to side, targeting the visible wrinkles. I never rest too long – rumor has it that doing so can actually melt or burn the plastic, not that I would know that from experience.

Finally, with things pretty well wrapped – I could bounce a quarter off my window film! – and no visible wrinkles, I try to carefully trim off the excess. This part can be the downfall of the entire endeavor, as today. The scissors I was using weren’t nearly sharp enough, so they struggled to cleanly cut the plastic. In one place, I accidentally tore my newly-perfected plastic, leaving a gouge that needed immediate repair. It’s such a delicate balance – how much do I try to trim without risking ruining my work?

The real test was when Don got home and couldn’t tell the window had been wrapped, except for the blind adjuster thing (wand? stick?) that sticks out at a slightly cock-eyed angle.


Now lather, rinse and repeat several more times. If I do one a weekend, I’ll be done by Valentine’s Day, so I’d better step it up.

My Nose is Cold

I’m sitting on my couch by the oldest window. My nose is cold. So are my toes. There’s quite a breeze.

I can’t wait to get rid of this window.

However, the question is, how much insulation should I do for the windows that will be replaced in 6-8 weeks? I’ll definitely put in the storm windows. They’re already lined up in the garage, ready to go the next time I’m home during daylight hours (Saturday).

But should I bother with the shrink wrap for the five windows in question?

Given how cold my nose is -and it’s a relatively balmy 38 degrees compared to a month from now, with a brisk wind – I think it’s worth the $15 and the time.

Window Shopping

I’ve made my decision for the biggest house project to date: replacement windows. Hooray!

As is my method, I started small. I wanted to replace the living room window – ancient, drafty and in serious need of repair. It’s a relatively narrow window but behind the couch, so the draft impacts my comfort. I spend the majority of my conscious at-home time in that room. Last winter, the glass began separating from the wood frame, so I caulked it back together, but that was only a temporary solution. Even with an ill-fitting storm window, copious caulk and a sheet of air-supposedly air-tight window plastic, there was definitely a breeze.

While I was at it, I decided I might as well replace the wall air conditioning unit with a picture window. The previous owner installed central air, but left the wall unit as a huge, hulking shrine to the 70s. It’s ugly. And in a room with relatively little natural light, it surely doesn’t help. So I’ll replace it with a picture window – it’s too high on the wall to merit an opening window, but the light will be great. (Anyone need a giant wall unit in working order? Let me know!) The squirrels will be sad to lose their perch, though – and the cat will miss hearing them scratch around on the outside of the unit.

I priced out those two windows at Home Depot and Menards and looked closely at the current situation. Then I decided that this is one job worth hiring a professional. Windows need to be done right. You can fudge a bit on a paint job – it’s easy to redo or touchup. Yardwork has a huge margin of error. But windows? Screw those up and you’ll pay in energy loss, discomfort and possibly even security. Plus, the one living room window appears to have some rot around it. I was afraid what it will look like when the old window comes out – and with a hole in the side of the house, you’re under pressure to act quickly – no time for additional research.

So I asked around, did lots of research on R and U values and energy efficiency, types of vinyl, and other insomnia-worthy topics. I spent a fair amount of time at the National Fenestration Rating Council website, research brands and their ratings. And after having several conversations with companies and two in-home estimates, I made my decision. Plus, by ordering now – they’re all custom sizes, of course – they’ll be ready in early January, so I’ll get a winter installation discount! I decided if I was having someone do it, I might as well do more than the two I originally planned. If I was already doing two in the living room, I should probably do the third one – which is a giant 4×6 feet! – between the living room and porch. And while I’m at it, the office windows are pretty decrepit. Since I’m working at home more, that will become a more pressing issue in a few weeks when winter really sets in. The previous two winters, I’ve been able to avoid that room, but not so this winter! So I’m doing all five.

I learned a lot. For example, the living room windows are original, circa 1890, according to both estimators. The original pulleys and weights are still intact – and one estimator told me to ask the installers for them, to ensure they insulate the gap they’ll leave behind. The ones in the office are a bit newer – they guessed 1930s or 40s.

So that’s my window shopping story. Admittedly, it’s not as interesting – or cheap – as window shopping in a mall or Michigan Avenue. But come January, when my living room is much cozier, it will be well worth it.

Upcoming Projects

I spent part of Saturday planning out my projects for the next six months, along with budget and a bit of Dad guidance. Here’s my tentative plan for the next few months:

1) Fence. Must do this soon, before the ground hardens. I’ve done quite a bit of research (including the need for a permit!), taken tons of measurements, and am just about ready to go. Except, of course, for a few nagging questions. Like, what do I do with the old fence? And what happens to all the junk my neighbor has propped up against my back fence? Those will be answered soon.

2) Windows. I’ve been window shopping lately, learning as much as I can about replacement windows. I spent a couple good hours at Home Depot learning from their window expert and have read countless websites. In the interest of time, sanity and proper insulation, I will be hiring a company to do this project – their estimates will determine how many I replace now versus next year. I’ve got three contractors identified for bids; I hope to have them all out within the next few days.

3) Replace cracked window panes. Related to replacing windows, I’ve got two cracked panes on my porch. Replacing them will take a bit of research, but I should be able to handle it myself.

4) Finish caulking the porch roof. I started this with half a tube of leftover caulk, so I might as well finish it. A little extra insulation never hurt anyone.

5) Light-a-palooza. I have a couple u-g-l-y light fixtures that continue to annoy me. The next time that Home Depot/Lowe’s/Menards has a great lighting sale, I’m going to bite the bullet and replace a couple of the most egregious – like the Hollywood Barbie light bar in the downstairs bathroom and the naked bulb in the stairwell.

6) Dining room floor. My floor has been uneven since I first looked at the house – the joys of 110 years of history – but the dining room has always been the most noticable and disconcerting. My home inspector said it stemmed from a cracked floor joist that must have occured when a previous owner installed ductwork in the basement. The inspector and another contractor concurred that the floor isn’t sinking – it’s moved as far as it will – but it’s always been a bit unsettling. Regardless, I plan on ripping up the otherwise nice hardwood floor and pouring a leveling compound, then laying a new subfloor and some sort of flooring. I may also replace the support beams in the basement to make them all uniform and get rid of the potentially-scary shims.

More windows

One week into summer (going by the Memorial Day standard), I’ve got nearly all of my windows at least quasi-operational. Yesterday, Don helped me with the living room window which, while pretty (its wood is stained to exactly match the rest of the living room), is a trainwreck as far as operation is concerned. The sashes are so old that it doesn’t reliably stay up without the aid of a stick – a concern due to the cat.* This is also one of the worst as far as wind and cold leakage, compounded by its location directly behind the couch. Opening it in the summer requires a delicate ballet of sliding the storm window up to balance on top of the new screen – all while holding the window itself up so it doesn’t come crashing down. Plus, to reach it, I have to balance on the back of the couch. Having a second set of hands is immensely helpful.

The only windows still not operational are the upstairs bathroom which is still sealed shut (and also sashcordless), one of the paired back hall windows (which has a horribly rusted and broken screen), and the larger of the office windows (which has no fitting screen). Oh, and there’s one more in the back hall that I can’t reach, since it’s perched above the stairs, so it’s a moot point anyway.

I plan to scrape the last of the removable caulk from the upstairs bathroom, though I hope to soon have the money to completely replace the whole bathroom. The way the window’s frame is bisected by the wall with the shower plumbing, replacing that window requires a ton more work – one that a new bathroom can fix.

Overall, by my count, I have four new windows in the house (two each in my bedroom and the kitchen), six old ones in the main living area, two in the basement, and a whopping eleven geriatrics on the porch. The living room window is first on the list for replacement, and I’ll also replace the two cracked window panes on the porch. From there, it’s up to budget.

*Right after I moved in two years ago, the cat was hanging out in one of the porch windows that we knew was sashless but “seemed to stay in place just fine,” in the words of my ex. One morning, we heard the most blood-curdling yowls. The window had fallen and trapped Collette. In her haste to escape, Collette’s back paw had gotten stuck in the window, and she was hanging, dangling, flaying her other three paws against the wall, trying to get traction. Once we freed her, she slinked off to drip blood all over the new carpet and didn’t walk normally for a couple weeks. To this day, she occasionally stops and shakes out the affected paw – I think it was likely a broken toe. Since then, if a window lacks operational sashes, it either remains shut or is firmly propped into place.

The Outdoors Beckons

Wednesday, it got nice out. I was working from home, and by the time I went out to retrieve the garbage cans just before noon, the sun was shining and it was nearly 70 degrees. I stripped the removeable caulk from the porch windows and opened them wide. The stale winter air started to seep out and though cool, it felt great. I opened all the windows I could (bedroom, kitchen), and Collette went to town investigating the fresh air and singing birds.

The rest of the week, I cracked those same windows and watched the green tulip leaves grow taller and taller. I even slept with the windows cracked and was shocked awake by the birds at 4 AM. We went to a Cubs game one night, and grilled another night. It’s really spring!

I was hosting Bunco Friday night, so all week I was in full spring cleaning mode. Airing everything out helped a bunch, though Friday evening wasn’t warm enough to use the porch as I had optimistically hoped when I offered to host months ago. So things were a bit cozy, but went off without a hitch.

Saturday loomed rainy and the day alternated between sun and showers. I went to Kohl’s and bought a springy new welcome mat and kitchen towels. Then, during a sunny period, I took advantage of hooking the hose up for the season to scrub the cat’s box (note to self: must install utility sink before winter!), then vacuumed out the car and found 93 cents. I even opened up the basement windows to air that out and vacuumed up cobwebs and dust. In full spring mode, I stripped my bed and switched out the fuzzy winter blanket for the lighter summer blanket. Then we invited friends over and grilled again.

I spend most of today outside, potting dianthus (red flowers) for my hanging baskets on the porch, cleaning up more leaves and detritus around the yard, and planting snapdragons and petunias in the front flower beds. The latter may come back to bite me, as it’s still a bit early in the season – a last frost could be looming. But it was good to be outside in the sunshine, and the beds look great – still no tulip flowers, but they’re getting close.

This evening, I decided to de-caulk the rest of the windows and play the great screen-window matching game while putting away the storm windows.

Most of the windows went pretty quickly. At first, I used a flat-head screwdriver to pull up the removeable caulk I couldn’t get with my fingers, but quickly realized I was nicking up the windows. So I switched to a putty knife (genius!) and knocked out the rest of the porch, the office and the back hallway.

The living room window proved far, far more difficult though. It’s very old and leaky, and doesn’t even stay in place when it’s not locked – the top window slips an inch when the bottom is open. But since it’s a nice wood window – with beautiful finish that matches all the downstairs woodwork – I know it will be a more expensive replacement. Since it’s so craptastic, I used a ton of caulk that has proved a bit excessive, as I can’t get it up. The gap was sizable, so I really slathered on the goop which has now taken up permanent residence. I was getting closer after a solid two hours of careful, gentle scraping, but my hand is numb, so I’m taking a break. This is further motivation to replace that window – and if I do it at the same time as ripping out the air conditioner and replacing it with a window, they’ll match.

Overall, it was a very productive weekend.