Posts Tagged wood windows
Part 2 of restoring my home’s original wood windows. Part 1 is here.
Setting the glass means getting handsy with some glazing putty. Now some contractors say you can lay the glass into the rabbit using caulking or an adhesive. But I feel like that is a shortcut. The professionals who have been restoring windows for a while make a bed of the same putty that’s used on the outside of the glass, which is how wood windows would have been assembled originally 100 years ago. Recommended by all the pro’s, I use Sarco Glazing Putty, type M. I found it easy to work with, kind of like play dough. Working it like play dough for a minute or so with my hands makes it so much softer.
I lay an even thickness of putty along the rabbit on the inside the sash, using more than I need. I just move a ball of putty around the rabbit, pressing it in a few inches at a time with my palm. It’s a little messy, and it results in a lot of excess, but I wan’t squeeze out so that’s ok. Then I lay the glass on top. As carefully as I can, and often while holding my breath, I slowly work my hands around the perimeter of the glass, pressing firmly to set the glass into the putty. Also as carefully as I can, I use my glazing tool to press 2 or 3 glazing points into the groove on each side of the glass. I use these newer glazing points:
I think they are easier to set into place – and also because my first experience using the more original triangle glazier points resulted in slipping and cracking an original piece of glass, at which point I nearly gave up. (Instead I found an old glass window sash at a yard sale and was able to cut this piece of glass to fit.) The squeeze out putty can be scraped off and re-used, but using more than enough is important so that the glass makes a tight seal. Then I kind of repeat the process of pushing more putty into the rabbit with my palm, working my hand around the entire sash. I first use a glazing knife to simply push the putty tight into the groove, then it’s time time tool it smooth.
Tooling the putty is an art. Especially in the many videos online of professionals who can flawlessly tool an entire window in seconds. I spend a few minutes on each side of the glass, pressing the putty firmly into place while trying to achieve a smooth texture. Corners are a pain in the ass, I have yet to “master” a corner, but I’m getting better on each window.
Once the putty is tooled smooth – or as close as I can get it without losing my patience – I clean up the oily residue the putty leaves on the glass. This step is kind of fun, like painting only using a white powder called (what else), whiting. It’s the same whiting the professionals use, ordered online from the same company that sells the glazing putty. My understanding is that it’s pure limestone powder – it’s not cheap, but it goes a long way. With a very soft brush it really does clean the oil residue off of the glass that the putty leaves behind. It also skins the putty to encourage it to dry faster in prep for painting.
(I feel the need to insert here that yes, I have had to order many of these window restoration supplies and materials through the internet. The hardware stores around me don’t sell and can’t get many of these products. With as much time and energy I’m investing into these windows, I don’t want to substitute on inferior quality materials and take a chance of lessening how long these repairs last.)
Now onto painting – I’ve read a few different opinions, but the professionals I worked with said that using a good latex paint does not require priming the putty – the putty is manufactured to accept paint. For paint, I went by the recommendation of The Craftsman Blogger (an incredible resource for all things old house restoration!). Instead of a regular exterior latex, I went with Sherwin Williams’ Porch & Floor Enamel. It is a latex paint, but it is formulated to dry to a hard durable finish and unlike many latex paints, it doesn’t stick to other painted surfaces once cured.
I chose my paint colors for the outside of the window to stand out. Although I couldn’t tell the original color of the outside frames, while scraping paint from the sashes I could see that most original coat of paint was actually black. I love to see old houses with colorful window & frame combinations, and I really believe the “all white” or “all beige” window & trim combinations that plague so many homes is a negative result of the replacement window industry.
Although not black, I did choose a dark color for the sashes and a lighter color for the frames.
In my mind, I’m picturing a finished product something like this:
I had to work up an entire exterior color scheme before I could decide on paint colors, even though I’m quite awhile away from painting the outside of my house. But planning ahead, I was able to pinpoint the right colors for the outside of the windows. I decided on SW7069 Iron Ore for the sashes:
and SW 6105 Divine White for the window frames.
It looks more blue in this photo below, but in person its a deep navy/charcoal.
Now the secret to a long lasting window restoration? When painting the angled surface of the glazing putty, it is essential that the paint actually goes just a little bit onto the glass around the entire perimeter. Even if only 1/16 of an inch, lapping the paint onto the glass seals the putty to the glass and, from what I’ve read, makes the difference between a glazing job that lasts 5 years and one that lasts 25+ years. So many people finish their paint job with a glass scraper and scrape off the excess paint to make a perfectly clean line at the glazing putty. This ruins that seal the paint creates.
After 2 coats of paint, I wait a full week to make sure all the paint & putty is cured completely, then it’s time to put the windows back together. I bet I spent at least 3 weeks with each window tore apart. Like I said earlier, it’s all the waiting in between priming, glazing, and painting that takes the longest. Plus the fact that I get most of my work done on the weekends, so M-F of a full work week doesn’t see much progress either.
At this point I’m close to putting the window back together, but there are still a few more steps to ensure the window is air-tight. These include the original type of weatherstripping as well as 2 different types of modern weatherstripping.
When I bought this humble bungalow (over a year ago!), one of the features I found most interesting was the distorted glass in each of the original wood windows. “Wavy” glass is an understatement. When I really study them, there are bubbles, circles, lines, and other imperfections in every piece of glass. I still remember the 1st or 2nd time looking at the house with the realtor, how beautiful the light danced on the walls through the imperfect glass. Of course, the deterioration of the windows and the rattling glass was one of the scariest features. While the whistling of the wind and drafts around each frame this past winter was an expensive feature.
Working in the field of downtown development, I’ve been lucky to attend dozens of workshops and training events about the importance of building preservation and wood windows. I’ve heard them use the fancy phrases, how wood windows are part of a building’s historic fabric, the vast difference between old growth wood and dimensional lumber available today. And more recently I’ve experienced how downtown revitalization grants can help with almost every aspect of restoring a historic building facade, but the Historic Preservation Office is adamant that grant funds will pay to have wood windows restored- not replaced.
So over the winter months — as I was reluctantly turning up the thermostat, putting more of my paycheck into the “heating” budget, and watching the shrink-wrap plastic flicker from the cold air blowing in around each window — I began seriously researching the best option for my house.
I do advise CAUTION here – only begin typing the word replacement, vinyl, fiberglass, aluminum clad, or easy-to-clean in any internet search engine and the only results will be replacement window companies – hundreds of them claiming that all of my home’s energy problems will be solved if I toss the old windows into a dumpster & install the cheapest vinyl windows on the market. Others claimed I could stand on the windows (before installing them I assume?), $99 window sales, solid vinyl sash frames, one finger open & close, multiple warranties, and even custom colors for the exterior to match any decor.
But then I searched for an answer to my real question, “wood windows restore or repair.” The results were countless forums, threads, magazines, blogs, and even energy efficient building research. They all said the same – wood windows, when restored correctly with the right materials, adding a mix of original and modern weather stripping, and with a quality storm window- will match or even outperform replacement windows in energy efficiency. Add to that the embodied energy already in the existing windows, the un-matchable strength of 100+ year old lumber, and the compiled data of historic home sales that show original windows add significantly to home & neighborhood values. Or do a little more online digging and read how 5 of the largest US replacement window manufacturers were recently charged with class action lawsuits against their false & deeply exaggerated “statistics” of energy savings they claim their windows will achieve. Eventually these 5 companies settled with the Federal Trade Commission to delete the language from their advertising when they can not consistently prove the numbers to be true.
Last summer I had 3 different window salesmen stop me while working outside or mowing the lawn. They tried their hardest to come inside, sit down and talk about their products, the “50% – 55% energy savings I could experience.” When one salesman revisited this spring, I asked him a simple question:
“These windows have lasted almost 100 years; Can you sell me a replacement window that will last that long?”
The answer is no. Many of the highest priced residential replacement windows offer only a 20 year (and very limited) manufacturers warranty. Even then the warranty is often for only the mechanical operations of the window – NOT on the low E gas seals, air-tightness, or their bold energy efficiency claims. And all the research I’ve read from professionals in the historic preservation world say property restored wood windows can last another 100 years (although with painting & glazing repairs in the middle at least once).
I read every online article, blog, and discussion thread I could find. I watched YouTube videos late into the evenings, trying to take notice of the slight differences from one professional’s process to the next – mostly minor, or they each have a different favorite method for steps such as removing paint, making repairs, etc. But the process is the same – remove all paint, remove all glazing, carefully remove glass. Sand, re-glue, prime, reglaze, paint, and re-install.
But I still had so many unknowns and fears about taking this on by myself: the details of weather-stripping (bronze? silicone bulb? vinyl flange? brush.., foam.., felt??) And what are the differences between the many types of glazing compound. Is that the same as glazing putty? And where do I find replacement sash cord that won’t stretch over time, or combination lift/sash locks? Oil or latex primer and then paint?
It was perfect timing to learn about a hands-on wood window workshop taking place in Columbus back in March, hosted by a new historic preservation group somewhat affiliated with the organization my workplace is involved with. Two days, hands on learning, BYOT (bring your own tools), and learn the entire process working alongside 3 professionals. Sign me up.
In Part 2 I’ll describe the workshop in depth, and the basic tools, methods, & products the professionals there taught us – based on each of their 30+ years in this work. But one blog I have found to be very helpful – and exactly step by step in line with the teachings from the workshop – is The Craftsman Blog. The writer is owner of a historic home restoration company so of course the entire blog is a very full resource for old home enthusiasts. But his specific posts detailing window restoration are almost a printable instruction guide. Thank you Scott for all the incredible content you share, I have learned so much from your blog!