Sunday, October 5, 2008

Windows Errors

I wish I could blame Microsoft. I really do. But as it got dark, and the mosquitoes settled in on the backs of my knees while I ladder-surfed unsteadily with a 3x4-foot window in my hands, all I could think was "This is all your fault, dummy."
I was talking to myself.

Our windows are atrocious. We need to replace all of them, more or less; most are original to the house, which makes many of them close to 100 years old. They consist of single panes of glass caulked into wooden sashes which ride in frames constructed of cut plank sections. Long ago, these window sashes rose smoothly to admit fresh air and sunshine, aided by large iron counterweights hung from ropes which ran over pulleys hand-fitted into the window frames. Nowadays we usually find the counterweights in the bottoms of the walls when we strip the old plaster; the ropes have rotted to the point that they can be plucked apart by children. The kids like to tie each others' wrists with the window ropes and then burst free in the manner of Superman. But I digress; the point is that the windows are terrible things. They let in entirely too much fresh air, particularly when the air temperature hovers around zero in the winter, and they are difficult to open and close (except for the ones entirely painted shut, which don't open at all.) In the kitchen, there were two small windows side by side over the sink that particularly seemed to hate me. Both broke (more than once) and both were nasty in the winter. When it was cold, I repaired the panes. This summer, when those broke, I simply removed the bottom two panes and substituted aluminum wire screens. That worked as long as the summer lasted, but on the first 35-degree night, we had a cold morning. I taped wax paper over the screen (hey, Laura Ingalls was used to wax-paper windows and considered glass windows a luxury!) and purchased a new window. It was a fairly cheap unit, but it was big, it let in a lot of light, it had a simple sliding mechanism and "Low-E" glass with nitrogen between the panes, and did I mention it was cheap?

Between yesterday and tonight I labored to install the window. I skipped the setup for the IPSC shoot at Lefthanders' Gun Club on Saturday to haul old furniture to the city cleanup days at the dump, and figured I might as well get that window in. Ha, ha, ha. By the time 9:00 PM rolled around, I gave up and My Bride stapled a sheet over the opening. Let it never be said that we don't make an effort to support our neighbors' property values. In my defense, I had a pretty good-sized hole made in the wall by then; it was the installation of the window that was stumping me. Specifically, the hard part was figuring out how to add the right thicknesses of lumber in the right places to get the hole down to a more-or-less standard opening, because NOTHING on my house is standard, or straight, or square. Or level or vertical, of course. The walls are strangely thick, being contstructed of 2x4's which are very nearly four inches wide, sheathed in oak planks exactly one inch thick, covered over with wooden clapboard siding which no one bothered to remove when they installed half-inch thick green foam insulation board, followed by vinyl siding. Getting anything to work is an exercise in patience. I ended up cutting up some old 2x12 boards I had lying around from an old waterbed frame so that I could cut some 2-by-4.75-inch custom lumber to frame the opening.

None of that would have worked very well without my dad. See, I don't have one of those large hand saws you see carpenters use. I have a circular saw, a pull saw for making neat cuts on trim, shims, and other things that aren't right out where you can get at them, and a couple of smaller hand saws for miter boxes. Well, I used to have all those things, but apparently my circular saw has disappeared. I believe there may be a pocket dimension with an entrance somewhere in the closet of the New Bathroom, which concerns me somewhat, but luckily for me, my dad has four circular saws for some reason. The odd thing about my dad and his four circular saws, however, is that he wasn't sure he had one. Then, when he started looking through the antique store warehouse that is his garage, they sort of jumped out at him one after another. The one he loaned me is an ancient Craftsman monster; I'd guess it's from the 1960's. The body is cast, polished aluminum, and the trigger is a simple affair. The carrying case is an elaborate steel suitcase that opens wide like a clamshell, with the saw resting on a platform to which it can be bolted securely for travel. It is a most excellent circular saw, and I am impressed. With it, I was able to make many fast and true cuts, and tonight I finally have the window in, nailed and screwed. It works. There's no trim and no weather-sealing yet, but that will come Tuesday night (the Sangamon County Rifle Association meets tomorrow, and a man needs priorities.)

When I do that, I'll also do exterior trim for the other window I installed quite awhile ago and left looking ghetto, and then I hope to put up siding where the fire stripped it. That will leave only the bay of tall windows looking bare and unfinished, and once the other windows arrive, we'll finish that, too. Then the neighbors' property values should cease to plummet. I hope.


Christopher Myer said...

I read the title and was expecting a computer rant. Well done!

red said...

"the hard part was figuring out how to add the right thicknesses of lumber in the right places to get the hole down to a more-or-less standard opening, because NOTHING on my house is standard, or straight, or square. Or level or vertical, of course."

Oh man, I feel your pain! Our house was built in 1930. It's been patch worked together so many times it's unreal!

Good luck!

Don Gwinn said...

Hey, could be worse.

Could be a houseboat with a leak.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly the saw you speak of for a have its twin that belonged to my Father-in-law. I think of him evreytime I use it and I miss him terribly. For you see I was the luckiest guy on Earth in that my Father-in-law was one of my best friends. Be patient with your house and you will overcome the windows. I did

Anonymous said...