Work and Vision

Spent this weekend working on areas of the house that have occupied most of my time for the last 20 months: the (planned-to-be) upstairs sitting room and the yard. The upstairs sitting room was originally a bedroom. The family that I bought 118 Henry Street from had used it as a boy’s bedroom for 30 or so years. I’m using it as a classroom and laboratory for learning many of the restoration techniques needed to work on the house.

The current milestone for the room is to finish the window restoration. There are four double sash, 6-over-6 wooden windows with brass weatherstripping. The destruction phase of window restoration starts with disassembling the windows down to the frames, removing the weatherstripping, weights and pulleys. Next, removing all the glass from the sashes and stripping all the paint from the sashes and frame. The window sash trim is saved but the middle parting bead and weatherstripping are completely destroyed in the process. Total time for destruction phase: approximately 3-4 hours per window.

The construction phase of window restoration begins with gluing and clamping the joints in the sashes, then epoxy repairs for all the cracks, checks, gouges and other damage. After sanding the sashes and frame, two coats of acrylic primer are applied. Next for the frames, 2 coats of the final color paint. The pulleys are driven back into the slots near the top of the frame and the weights are rehung using cotton sash cord. Brass weatherstripping for the top sash is done at this phase too. Total time for frame restoration to this point: approximately 2-3 hours per window. There’s a little more work to be done to the frames during the final assembly of the window.

The sashes still have significant work left at this point. The glass is put back in place using a small bed of silicone caulk on the rabbits. Instead of glazing compound, I’m using a 1/4" window bead trim to hold the glass in place. The window bead is mitered and nailed in place using 1/2" brads. My attempts at using an electric nail gun for this have completely failed, so I’m placing and driving each nail individually; ten per pane. Developing the skill to drive the 1/2" nails less than 1/8" away from the glass panes is a source of great pride to me. A bit of silicone caulk is used to fill any gaps between the miters or between the window bead and the sash rabbits.

After applying two coats of final color paint to the sashes, I cut and nail on the pieces of brass weatherstripping. There are three pieces of weatherstripping on each pair of sashes and four pieces on the window frame. I’m amazed and very pleased at how well the weatherstripping seals the windows from air leaks. Total time to restore the sashes: approximately 4-5 hours per window.

Final assembly of the window consists of hanging the top sash, installing the middle parting bead, nailing in the frame weatherstripping for the bottom sash and hanging the bottom sash. The refinished sash bead is nailed back into place and the final step is any paint touchup that is needed. Total time for complete window restoration: approximately 10-12 hours per window. Total cost per window: $50-$75.
For the upstairs sitting room, I’ve already done two of the windows completely. The frames have been restored on the other two windows and as of today, the remaining four sashes are repaired and primed, ready for putting the glass back.

Some notes for you readers who may be questioning my sanity for this amount of work and wondering why I don’t just replace them:

  • The current windows have lasted over 80 years with virtually no maintenance except painting. I would expect them to last another 80 years after the work I’ve done on them.
  • At $50/hour, total restoration costs would be $550-$675 per window. Anyone who has priced quality replacement windows can tell this is not out of line for top quality wood windows.
  • The current windows and glass are irreplaceable architectural antiques. Why not restore them?

For more information about window restoration, see the link for Historic Home Works in the links column.

Regards the work on the yard, I cut down another tree. My 1/2 acre had 33 trees when I moved in. Many smaller trees were growing in the shadow of larger trees, some were stunted by disease and some had never been trimmed in any way. The 10" diameter, 50′ tall pin oak I cut down today is the 12th tree removed. There are still 2 more I’d like to see cut but will need a professional arborist to avoid collateral damage to fences and other trees.

The tree I cut today was rooted not 8′ away from a very old pin oak that’s almost 3 foot in diameter. Both trees were suffering from the proximity but the smaller tree was much more lopsided and bent. Trees are like any other cultivated plants, they must be thinned and pruned for the healthiest life.

One last event of note for this week was replacing the hot water heater. DeShawn, my grandson, and I had been doing without hot water for over a week while I found time to take off work and be home to call the plumber. The bad news: $500 and the old water heater couldn’t be removed from the crawlspace because of the gas pipes hanging too low. The good news: hot water, of course!