Today I finally installed the last replacement sash kit on the first floor. I still have to finish some of the exterior trim and install two screens. and paint. It’s kind of an involved process for each window. The sashes are painted on the exterior sides and varnished on the interior sides. I apply adhesive lead to the interior side of the glass in a craftsman pattern that I devised. On the lower sash, I add faux stained glass paint in the corner squares. Then I add the hardware. I remove the old sashes and combination storms and add wood to the sides to make the opening exactly 28″ wide. Then I attach four cleats to each side to attach the sash tracks. The tilt in sashes then snap into place.
Our house should be cooler next winter. You read right. The thermostat is in this room. It will be less drafty, so now the heat should not come on so often, and the rest of the house won’t be so hot.
Years ago … Scratch that. Decades ago I read several books about building energy efficient homes. One of the authors said that if you don’t do anything else on your home yourself, you need to build your own front door. This led me to buy another book all about doors. Your front door is your greeting to the world; the real world. (For you computer geeks: It is analogous to the introduction to your blog in the cyber-world.)
I built two front doors for our last house, in East Greenville, PA. I built a door out of 7/8″ thick birch lapped and pegged at the corners making a 1-3/4″ thick door. I divided the middle space with the same type of construction from the bottom hinge side bottom corner to about door handle height, then 90 degrees back up to the hinge side. The outer boards were 1/2″ wider than the interior in order to receive the glass. I ordered three pieces of glass from the local, old style, independent hardware store on Main Street. I needed two right triangles and one right trapezoid. Gordy, the owner, said he didn’t know an hypotenuse from an aardvark; so I would have to come over and cut the glass myself. I set the glass in a small bead of clear silicone caulk. The pieces fit with just the right amount of expansion space. I tacked quarter round strips on the inside and varnished the door with three coats of marine spar varnish. It had too much glass for my wife’s comfort with our newsy neighbors. It sat in the basement for a couple of years until it ended up as the back door when we enclosed the back porch to be the new laundry room.
That house was brick and had 34″ wide doors. There are 32″ and 36″ wide exterior doors available commercially, but 34″ would be a special order. The front door continued to deteriorate to the point that it was no longer a question of style or principle that it needed replacing. It was just plain breezy. It was the early 1990s and a halfway decent looking door with glass in it would have cost about $2,000. And it still would have been a cookie cutter, manufactured door. And it would not have included the transom window above it.
So, I set about to design and build a new front door and transom window. It started with the choice of a native wood: poplar. I love the grain with its random green and darker areas. There was a wonderful, family run sawmill just six or seven miles away in Trumbauersville, Carl Hunsberger. Doug Hunsberger let me select the 2″ thick boards for the stiles and rails and the 1″ thick boards for the panel and the trim.
Last month we turned off cable TV. Comcast’s digital on demand was costing us about $85/month. There was nothing on. Well, almost nothing. We will miss Keith Olbermann and some of the DIY programs, but $85?!
The new part of our house was built around 1845 and most of the windows are original construction. They are all single pane. Most are pretty drafty, rattle in the wind and need to be propped open. Fifteen of the windows are just slightly larger than 28″ x 46″. I didn’t want to replace them with the typical replacement windows, because we would lose too much glass area and damage the look of the house. So I researched sash replacement kits. In the reasonable price range there are two choices. Jeld-Wen Zap Pack sells at Home Depot for between $200 and $300 per window, depending on options, and comes in custom sizes. MW sells at Lowe’s, 84 Lumber and some independents and sells for $80 to $120 depending on options, but only comes in “standard” sizes.
Fifteen of our windows are close enough to the 28″ x 46″ standard size to use the MW kit. I ordered the basic wood window for $80.88. I am planning on replacing a window a month until the job is done. Wood is the better environmental choice. Vinyl or vinyl clad utilize some pretty toxic production processes. Wood looks better on this old house. And I figure some of the existing wood windows lasted more than 200 years and still look OK. No one knows what 200 year old vinyl looks like.
sash kit in boxes
The sash kit came in two boxes. I had failed to specify low-E, argon glass, and I didn’t order it exterior primed, but it came with all of those options. I am not complaining. The instructions were thorough, with the exception of trimming the excess off the foam strips. I had to move both the exterior and interior sash stops. Nowhere in the literature or instructions did it mention that the sash tracks are 3-3/8″ deep. This is much deeper than our antique sashes. Thankfully, the sill lip was shallow enough I was able to finesse this. I had to add 1/2″ plywood filler to either side of the opening. I still have to shave down one side of the window sill a bit so that it will seal across the bottom.
MW only offers a full screen option at a pretty hefty price. We prefer a half screen, since we don’t like to strain our vision. I hope to add that myself on Saturday. It took a total of about three hours to install. I haven’t painted or varnished it yet. The next one should go faster, since I won’t have to spend so much time scratching my head over how to solve the thickness difference.
The cardboard packing and instructions will be recycled. The old sashes will be used as part of a room divider in the barn. The plywood spacers were made from salvaged scrap. Well that’s one more thing I can no longer say I never did before.