Welcome to the Dark Ages

My big upcoming insulation/chimney/windows contract is taking advantage of the EnergySense program from Philadelphia Gas Works. I’m getting an extremely low interest loan to finance anything that improves my house’s indoor air quality, comfort, or energy efficiency. Air sealing and insulation will give me a much, much bigger bang for my buck than window replacement, but I’m having them put in 3 windows for aesthetic reasons and to accommodate changes to my floor plan. Rather than sticking with basic energy efficiency improvements, I am using the Department of Energy subsidized loan to by Marvin wood windows, a top-of-the-line luxury good. Your tax dollars at work! (if you live in the US)

But just because I have easy money coming for this doesn’t mean I want to pay them to do anything at all. So in order to keep the cost down, I am ripping out the existing windows and re-framing the openings per my floor plan and aesthetic requirements, and making them exactly the sizes Marvin specifies for their standard window sizes. Here’s what the openings looked like stripped bare:


<!more> For the record, this project was bittersweet. The window placement and sizing will be better than it was, but I adore old windows. The wavy glass and the way they’re perfectly integrated into the houses they were built for simply cannot be beat. My house didn’t have any; everything I got was total shit and I’m not ashamed to say so. But we are now ripping out the last traces of the originals. The counterweights, the wonderful old growth cedar framing (aside from the sills, none of this was rotten!!) and the lovely thick outside trim are all broken up and piled in the back yard. Also, taking out this kind of window framing is not a clean job. The framing was air sealed with plaster, and there were many small pieces of wood involved. Each window generates a whole bag of heavy trash.


That being said, a few things will improve. You can see that the opening was squished all the way to one side. The new windows in this location will be the same size as the old ones, but will move over about 2 inches farther from the corner than they were. My electrician had trouble getting the boxes into the brick because it crumbled away while he was trying to chip it out, so he said that I’ll need to add furring strips to the long wall in the living room to make it thick enough to countersink the boxes. Before, the window had the trim cut a little skinny along this side, but the extra 3/4″ I’ll have now (after losing 1 1/4″ for the furring strips and new wallboard on the long wall) will look better. And in the bathroom, I think I’ll  fit the full width of the 3 3/4″ Victorian trim that I’m using without shaving anything off. There are no outlets on the party wall in the bathroom so the drywall can be laminated onto the original plaster. I would have even saved the plaster but little chunks of it started falling off and it’s simply not worth restoring. The window openings will look a little awkward from the outside now; the openings in the masonry are a different thickness on each side of the windows. But it’s the inside aesthetics that count. And when I have the back of the house stuccoed, I’ll have it extended over the openings to make them look less weird. But anyways, here’s what it looks like now:


Another important thing to see here: the original wood lintel is the header for the new window opening. I’ve decided to use the same trim around the window and on the opening between the living and dining rooms, and to make them both the same height. This means that I wanted the window to be installed as high as humanly possible, though I wasn’t interested in paying a mason to rip the header out and put in a new beam to support the brick wall. So the wood beam to the left in that photo between the living and dining rooms is higher than the opening will be in the end; I’m going to frame it out down to the same height as the lintel, which is 93 inches above the floor. Then after the trimwork is added it will be about 92 1/4″, still plenty high enough.

Now you may be wondering why I was talking about the dark ages. The answer? They’re going to MEASURE for new windows on the 3rd. It will then take Marvin about 4 weeks to make the windows, and the installation job hasn’t been scheduled yet. I’m hoping that they’ll be in by late December or the beginning of January. Until then, the back of my house will look like this:


And the kitchen window is coming out next weekend. Its sill needs to come up about a foot to clear the kitchen countertops, and we’ll be filling it in with concrete block. While we’re at it, there are holes in the outside walls for the old plumbing (the soil pipe used to run up the outside of the house) and a kitchen exhaust fan. Whatever genius took that out just screwed the vent shut and covered it over with Sheetrock. Here’s what it looks like now that I decided to take a look:


And just for fun: when we moved the radiator aside I discovered another piece for the Hall of Shame. Normally how do you handle finishing floors around the radiator? You’d use special sanders to get around the low clearance. How did the previous owner do it? His… people just skipped it. And when they dropped globs of joint compound, dirt, pennies, and other odds and ends under it, they just polyurethaned right over them. This is what it looked like after I gave it a thorough cleaning.


And also behind the radiator, a glimpse of a previous owner’s wallpaper!



10 thoughts on “Welcome to the Dark Ages

  1. curt

    Looking good Chad. Hopefully those Marvin windows will get there in less than 4 weeks. At least this isn’t the peak time for windows, so that might help with a timely delivery.


    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Well the only thing is I want the heat turned on, and in order to do that the radiators need to be painted, and i’m starting to thing that 3 out of 7 need to be shop blasted to get the drips of joint compound (under the most recent, extremely thick layer of latex paint) off


  2. Mary Elizabeth

    Well, polyurethane over joint compound globs and spare change sure takes the cake. That’s a new one on me. The worst I have seen in my house is paint over light switches, outlets, and on the stained woodwork and knotty pine cabinet trim.

    Oh, I forgot the roofers the previous owner hired had installed the roof right over the vent for the kitchen range hood exhaust rather than bothering to install a new vent. So although we took down the range hood, cleaned it, and put in a new filter, every time I cooked–especially boiling water–grease dripped from the clean range onto the stove top. That’s when we discovered the pipe going up to the roof stopped in the attic, so grease that had accumulated over the years in the vent pipe was being heated by my cooking steam and sliding off the inside of the pipe and coming back onto the stove (because there was no vent for the steam to the outside). I think some of that grease might have been from the 1960s. 🙂 So my husband took out the pipe completely and then we put in a new recirculating range hood. Too bad, because I loved the look of the old one and it had cleaned up nice.

    You can restore or replace that exhaust fan in the kitchen. RetroRenovation had an article about getting the new round chrome fan cover

    Yeah, you need the heat turned on if you’re going to have any water or do work in the house over the winter.


    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      I know those fans are great, but I’m not keeping my range against the wall like it was when that fan was operational, and the grille and fan motor are both missing, and the mount for the motor is bent. There’s really not much left to save, so I’m probably going to fill the hole and add a hood. More similar to your vent issue, my parents inherited one that was installed into the soffit above some wall cabinets across the room from the range, and vented from the kitchen into the den! Sadly, they cut a hole in the original 1951 Philippine mahogany V groove paneling to do this. The fan and soffit are both gone, but the grille on the den side is still there as it’s probably the most inconspicuous way to hide the hole.


  3. CindyH

    I just now got around to seeing the pic of the polyurethaned “collage”. Since I don’t have to deal with it, it made me laugh. I guess I have a sick sense of humor.


    1. Mary Elizabeth

      Everyone who works on old houses needs that sense of humor. You get grease dripping down on your new stove, or you open a ceiling and get rat sh** in your hair. You just have to laugh!

      You know what we did when we replaced or sanded a floor under the refrigerator? We moved the freaking thing onto a big sheet of cardboard so we could work on the floor under it. That’s the “right” way I was taught.


  4. Pingback: Doors and Windows Ordinance | Chad's Crooked House

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