Windows, episode 1

Here’s how we spent last weekend.

It all involves this house.

Over the past several months we have pulled up all the carpets in the house and had the floors refinished; restored to the best of our ability the antique linoleum floor in the den; and caulked as many gaps between woodwork and walls as we could while stuffing insulation into the worst gaps.

In February we began work on the room that will become the library. This is the room on the first floor that was in the worst condition when we moved in, and until it is set up all of our books will continue their residence in boxes along the livingroom wall.

Lisa started in on wallpaper removal, and we over the next couple of months we removed six layers of wallpaper, patched and repaired broken plaster, caulked the woodwork seams, and applied two coats of primer and one coat of color on the walls. At this point we decided to confront the stuck windows. The weather had warmed; it was spring and it wasn’t raining; it was time to have windows that open and close.

The east end of the library projects from the house in a bay. There is a double hung full-length window on each of the short walls. In between is a wider double casement that is less than half the height of the other windows, its top level with their tops. The bay includes part of the room, floor and all, not just the windows.

Over the years neglect and inappropriate repairs have had their impact. The windows were all painted thoroughly shut, both inside and outside, when we arrived.

Freeing the windows, making them open and close properly, looked like a big project, and we needed a little guidance to be sure we were doing it right. Lisa found this video instruction, so we started by watching it. It sounds reasonably easy, doesn’t it. Mostly it is, if paint on the window is the only problem.

So we gathered the appropriate tools — rubber mallet, screw drivers, utility knife, putty knives, prying bars, and ladders — and set to work.

We started on the left window, which faces northeast. Removing the “stop beads” proved to be much easier than I expected. This room had at one time been quite elegant. Places where the thick coats of paint have chipped away reveal that the woodwork was once upon a time natural oak, and the stop beads were attached by brass screws through brass rings set in the wood. It must have been quite beautiful some 70 or so years ago when it was new, but at some point someone decided that painted woodwork was better than natural wood. The accumulation of paint was grim, and the screws were fairly well buried under its layers, but we were able to dig the paint out of the screw slots and gently remove the screws. Then we ran the putty knife along the edge to break the paint seal, and just like in the video the stop beads popped free, almost. Some time in the past someone had secured one of the stop beads to the window frame with a few nails, but gentle prying pulled the nails out as well as removing the bead.

Next we had to break the paint seal around the lower sash. We started on the inside, forcing the putty knife between the window frame and the sash. Eventually we thought we had broken the paint seal all the way around on the inside, and we could wiggle the sash, but it still didn’t open. Now we had to work on the outside paint.

The yard slopes considerably from the front of the house, on the north, toward the back of the house, on the south. The front door is at ground level, but the back door is a full story above the ground, and one can walk out of the basement at ground level through any of three doors at the back. This arrangement is not unusual, of course, and such “walk-out” basements are common features of house descriptions. But the combination of the shape of the house and the slope of the yard is not conducive to setting up ladders in a way that instills confidence in the climber. The angles don’t agree. If both feet of the ladder are firmly on the ground and level, the top rails of the ladder do not both rest securely against the house. If the top rails of the ladder both rest securely against the house, the feet of the ladder are not firmly on the ground or the ladder is not level. Basically, one leans the ladder as firmly as one can, catching it against some outcrop or corner on the wall for a little more security, as near the place of work as possible. Then one climbs with caution, trying to keep one’s weight on the side of the ladder that is actually supported by both wall and ground.

The left window, on the northeast wall of the bay, is closer to the ground than the right window, on the southeast wall, so I started there. I managed to lean a six-foot step ladder in such a way that I could reach nearly the entire lower sash. It wasn’t quite as easy to cut the paint seal as it had been on the inside — the paint is newer, and appeared to have been reinforced with a good coat of silicone caulk between sash and frame. But with Lisa working on the inside and me on the outside, tapping with the mallet and prodding with the putty knife, we finally not only broke the seal but raised the window. Excitement!! Success!! We now have a sash that opens and closes. Stiffly, crankily, jamming easily, and clearly in need of further work. But it opens and closes.

We moved on to the right window, on the southeast wall of the bay.

[to be continued]

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