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!