“You know,” our neighbor said on our fourth day in the house, “you ought to put in smaller windows.” Max and I had been out working on cleaning up the yard, and he and his friend had walked over to introduce themselves and dispense some free renovation advice.
“Smaller windows?” I asked.
“Yeah, for heat,” agreed his friend. He leaned in over the fence and dropped his voice. “Here’s what you do. Rip out those old windows and replace them with some smaller ones. But don’t throw those away——put them on eBay. Make sure you put something about how they’re from historic Kingston. Some sucker will love that. I bet you could get a few hundred bucks a pop.”
“Yeah, historic Kingston,” the neighbor agreed, “don’t forget that part. And say how it was the first capital of New York. People are into that stuff.”
“I’ll definitely consider it,” I told them, suddenly overcome with the desire to embrace each one of our newly-acquired 150 year-old windows and whisper softly to them, reassuring them that they were safe with me.
“I’m sure you got a lot of work to do on that place, but you’re gonna want to do it before winter sets in.”
“I’ll try to squeeze it in,” I said, looking back at the house, trying to think of a way to redirect their attention. “Right after, uh, we take care of this lawn. Grass, you know??”
It probably took these well-intentioned gentlemen roughly 0.0 seconds after meeting us to deduce that homosexuals had bought the vacant house down the street, but they’d failed to put two and two together. Homosexuals love old windows. They love old moldings and doors and floors and walls, too. I, for one, would do all sorts of things before I’d tear my old windows out, including but not limited to going bankrupt from heating costs and freezing to death in my sleep.
Admittedly, friendly neighbor might have a point, kind of. Advances in window technology over the past century have made windows more energy-efficient—what with double and triple insulated panes and more airtight seals. And smaller windows mean more solid wall, which means less heat loss. Hell, maybe just get rid of the windows altogether! Who needs ‘em, am I right?
But not only are old windows almost always more beautiful, they can also be pretty efficient when well-maintained (especially with decent storm windows). Even windows in terrible condition can usually be restored in a few simple steps and with a few inexpensive products. And while new production windows (vinyl, aluminum-clad, or wood) normally fail and have to be replaced after a couple decades, old wood windows can literally last centuries. My buddy Anna gives me a lot of hope when it comes to fixing up my old windows.
We have a lot of windows in this house (somewhere around 30…I’m too afraid to count), and all of them need some love. But that’s OK, because they’re super cool six-over-six double-hung sash windows that are original to the house, and almost every pane of glass is original and wavy and incredibly beautiful. The glazing on the exterior of most of them is in various states of disrepair, paint on the interior is chipping and falling off, we have broken sash cords, cords that have been replaced with chains, sash locks covered in too many layers of paint, top sashes painted or nailed closed, areas of rotted wood, broken panes…pretty much anything that can go wrong on an old window can be found somewhere in our house. Something tells me I’m going to be a pro at restoring old windows by the time we’re done renovating…50 years from now. Luckily we have storm windows on almost every window, so keeping those closed should help a little with the draftiness and offer some protection from the elements to slow further deterioration until I can really address things more comprehensively.
Just to scratch the surface, though, it was really important to me to replace two shattered panes of glass. The one on the left was sadly broken a couple weeks ago (we’re guessing by some asshole neighborhood kid…ugh), and the one on the right has been broken since before we even saw the house for the first time. Aside from the the obvious concern of having gaping holes in our home when winter is just around the corner, it’s also just our responsibility as homeowners to stay on top of this stuff. It isn’t good for our house or the neighborhood to have obvious signs of disrepair and neglect on the exterior of our house, even if we’re working our butts off on the inside.
Here’s my arsenal of tools!
1. A straight-edge for cutting glass. You can obviously have your glass cut for you (Lowes does it), but I wanted to try it out for myself and I had some glass on hand. This straight-edge is actually a metal transition strip for flooring because I’m disorganized.
2. A carpenter triangle, to ensure that the straight-edge isn’t set at an angle.
3. Window glazing putty. In the past, I’ve used the type that comes in a plastic tub, but I decided to try this kind out. The plastic tub kind has a play-doh-like consistency, whereas this stuff is much more liquidy. I found the other type easier to work with, honestly, but neither are super-difficult.
4. (not pictured) A heatgun for softening old glazing putty.
5. Measuring tape or ruler.
6. Glazing points, which hold the glass in place.
7. A razor blade.
8. Glass-cutting tool.
9. Glazing tool.
To get the old glass out, I used a heat gun on the lowest setting to soften the old glazing, and my glazing tool to slowly peel it off. It’s tempting to turn the temperature up, but not only could that create lead vapors if dealing with lead-based paint, you also run the risk of overheating and cracking the glass further. This is obviously something you want to avoid if you’re just trying to redo the glazing and save the existing glass!
My pictures of the actual glazing process are horrendous (this project was particularly hard to take pictures of in-process…the lighting was a mess, and Max was busy!), but Alex at Old Town Home has a terrific run-down explaining how it’s all done. I stupidly skipped priming my sashes before applying new putty, but because the glazing on all of the windows really needs to be redone at some point anyway, I’m not going to sweat it right now. When I have the time to restore the windows for real I’ll fix it, but for now I’m just glad the glass is fixed!
For the first window (the bottom corner pane of one of the big living room windows…boo-hoo), I thought I’d be super clever and reuse glass that I’d saved from the vestibule wall “windows.” It totally worked and looks totally fine and the dogs are clearly OK with it, but…
See that? See how the surrounding three panes of glass are all wavy and look like a Dalí painting, and the new one is super crisp and clear?
Screw you, dumb neighborhood kid.
I didn’t think it would bother me. I’m generally OK with new repairs looking like new repairs, but this is an instance when I don’t feel OK with that. It bothers me. I mean, it’s better than being broken, and I’m sure I’m probably the one person out of a thousand who will ever walk in this room and notice that one pane out of 54 in the entire room doesn’t bend the light and the view the same way that the others do, but still. I want my old beautiful glass back.
Before moving on to broken window pane #2, I was complaining about this with my friend John (whose AMAZING house tour is on Design*Sponge today!) over text message. John is a beautiful, wonderful person with terrific style who has been renovating his nearby 1723 (!!) home for the past five or six years, so I knew he would sympathize. Not only did he sympathize, but he offered to let me dig around his old window hoard in his basement to salvage some old glass! Because what self-respecting old-home renovator doesn’t keep old windows around for a rainy day or a neighbor in need?
BOOM, old window. I see old windows like this ALL THE TIME at junk stores and architectural salvage types of places for practically nothing, but I’ve never really felt possessed to buy one. People are often quick to rip out perfectly good old sash windows instead of repairing them, often with the original glass and sash locks intact. John was after the sash locks, so he didn’t mind me taking some glass off his hands.
I quickly went about carefully removing the old glazing with my heat gun and glazing tool. Once I felt confident that the glazing had been sufficiently removed and I’d found and removed all the old glazing triangles, I gently pushed on the backside of the glass. It popped out of the window frame pretty easily and intact. Yay!
Cutting glass is really very easy, I found out. I just measured the size of the opening to figure out what size I needed and drew two small lines demarcating the width on either end of the glass. Then I used my triangle and straight-edge make sure I had a straight line to cut against.
I was skeptical about how well this little glass cutting tool would work (it’s less than $4!), but it was great! Wearing protective gloves, you just run the wheel down the straight edge. Don’t be afraid to use some pressure—you only want to make ONE continuous pass, and you want to score the glass well to increase the chance of a clean break.
It’s hard to get a good picture of the score line, but I hope you can see it to the right of the straight-edge? It’s subtle.
Turn the glass so that the breaking point rests on the edge of a table or countertop. Apply firm, even pressure on the off-cut, and the glass should make a clean break! This is definitely easier with thinner glass like this, but the same method can work for thicker glass as well.
It’s hard to get a great picture, but the “new” pane is the one in the top left corner! See how it’s all wavy and pretty and matches super well? I’m so pleased.
We have several more broken panes throughout the house (not shattered like these two, but with large cracks running throughout), so I guess I’ll start buying up old windows for future repairs. When I do a full overhaul on that first window and replace all the old glazing, I’ll probably go back and use this same method again. I know I’m a lunatic, but I really do think it’s worth the extra effort to maintain what I see as one of the house’s best features.