All posts tagged: Restoration

Matching my Historic Windows!

If you read my last post about restoring the side elevation of my house, you probably picked up on the fact that I’m in need of a few new windows to properly execute my plan of removing non-original additions and restoring the original architecture. The actual framing and installation of a new window is all pretty simple, even on an old house, but actually finding the right windows at a price point I could afford was a much bigger challenge.

“Why not just replace your original windows? Aren’t they drafty and outmoded and horrible anyway?” is what you might be thinking. This is not a conversation you want to start with me because you will never get out of it. Here is kind of my pitch for old windows, though, because I can’t not.

anatomy

Almost every single window on my house is original to the time it was built, and I could not be more grateful for that fact. They’re beautifully crafted out of old-growth lumber that—decently maintained—lasts literal hundreds of years. Old windows are normally fairly easily restored and repaired, and when combined with a storm window, comparably energy-efficient to a new window in good working order…the difference being that a new window’s life-expectancy is only about 15-20 years.

In climates with harsh winters especially (like where I live!), people very often replace their original windows with new, thinking that they’ll be increasing their energy efficiency. And while that’s moderately true (again, depending on the quality and condition of the replacement!), windows are EXPENSIVE motherfuckers and so the cost of buying new windows (not to mention having them installed) typically ends up costing far more money than you’re saving on utility bills throughout the life of those windows…a cost you then have to incur AGAIN in a couple decades when those new windows inevitably fail. New windows are difficult or often impossible to repair yourself, too. If a neighborhood kid hits a baseball through one of my window panes, all I have to do is spend about $10 on a new piece of glass and a couple hours removing the broken pane and installing the new one. When a new window breaks, you’re usually looking at a completely new sash, which has to be ordered, and then installed by a service tech, and if the company has stopped making that model, you might need a new window altogether. Just because of some broken glass! The window industry has been very effective with marketing new windows to consumers, but when compared to an original wood sash, I don’t think the replacement argument holds up to any kind of scrutiny. And EVEN if we accept that the energy-efficiency argument is true, think about the amount of waste generated by the production of the new windows, the disposal of the old windows, and then the continued disposal of the new windows every couple of decades in perpetuity. That’s a lot of shit in the landfill!

All of this is to say nothing of the actual preservation of a historic structure, which new windows have a funny way of destroying. The first way this happens is when consumers change the style: as a very general rule, the older the house, the more divided the lite pattern is on the window. I primarily have six-over-six windows, which means there are six window panes on the top sash and six on the bottom, divided by wood muntins. That pattern is typical of this style of architecture and is how the house was intended to look, but matching that lite pattern on a decent quality new window significantly drives up costs. So very often consumers switch to one-over-one windows with no lite pattern to keep costs down, and then the house looks totally different and almost always much worse. The second way this happens is because replacement windows generally come with their own jambs to fit within the existing window frame (not all—there are things called “sash kits” that allow your to reuse your existing jamb, assuming it’s very square), so even at a custom size, you’re losing an inch or two of the sash opening because you have to accommodate the new jamb. Which leads me to the third way windows get messed up—custom sizes. Almost all window retailers do offer the option for replacements to be fabricated at custom sizes, but it costs more than a standardized stock size…which often doesn’t jive with the dimensions of an old window. As a result, consumers decrease the size of their windows to accommodate a stock size, and then their house looks all wrong because chances are that the original size is scaled appropriately to the house.

The fourth issue is materials, which is both an issue from the inside and the outside. There are a lot of options out there, but in general you’re looking at:

  1. Cheapest: vinyl interior, vinyl exterior. Vinyl, as far as I’m concerned, is the work of the devil and will have the same place in history as plastic 70s paneling and asbestos siding. Vinyl expands and contracts with heat, dries out, becomes brittle, breaks, bends, warps…I really dislike vinyl, as you can probably deduce. It’s cheap and fast and bad.
  2. More expensive: Wood interior, vinyl-clad exterior. These can actually be pretty fine, especially if you’re trying to restore the original appearance of a structure where the original windows were already removed. Most companies offer a few color options, too, and somehow black vinyl looks LEAPS AND BOUNDS better than white vinyl and is very often appropriate for an old house (and handsome on a new house!). I wish more people considered black sashes.
  3. Most expensive, I think?: Wood interior, aluminum-clad exterior. These are spendy but far more durable than their vinyl/vinyl counterparts, and typically look the best.

The major thing in common with nearly all new windows is that the glass is insulated—meaning that there are actually two panes of glass separated by about a 1/4″, which essentially serves the same function as a storm window would on an old window. Windows, of course, will always allow for more heat loss and transfer than a solid insulated wall, but insulated windows do serve a benefit. Of course, they come with their own problems…if one of the panes is faulty or broken, you sometimes see condensation building up between the two panes, and again, the repair is much more difficult and costly than an old wood sash.

The means by which windows are insulated—and the divided lite pattern is executed—also has a big range of options and prices. These are things you’ve all probably seen out in the wild. I think I have this right:

Cheapest: No division at all, one-over-one sashes.

snap-ongrilles

More expensive: snap-on grilles, which is exactly what it sounds like. The grilles are either wood or vinyl, and snap on the interior, exterior, or sometimes both. The appearance is usually very flat and kinda sad, especially if the grilles are only on the interior (ugly from outside) or the exterior (ugly from inside).

btnglassgrilles

More expensive: integrated grilles. This is when there’s a (usually plastic) grille between the two panes of glass. I really don’t understand the appeal because they look bad and fake from both the interior and exterior. I guess the benefit is that they’re a little easier to clean.

SDL

Most expensive: Simulated Divided Light. There ARE some really nice options here, again, especially if you’re trying to restore windows that are already gone. One of my favorite makeovers of all time—Steve’s house at An Urban Cottage—used Marvin’s Ultimate Double-Hung windows which are wood interior, aluminum-clad exterior, with simulated divided light, and I think we can all agree that they look great. This is done by putting a grill on the interior and the exterior, with slim bars between the insulated glass, too, aligned with the grilles. They’re a nice way to approximate an original appearance. They’re still one big piece of glass separated slightly from another big piece of glass, and the divided lite pattern is purely aesthetic, but they can look very nice. Of course, they’re costly! The photo above is, I think, is cheaper Jeld-Wen window, but you get the idea. That’s the interior you’re looking at, and you’ll see below that the muntin profile is kind of a bummer compared to my original windows.

Before I shut up: if you’re considering replacing your original windows because the restoration seems daunting (since we’ve already debunked the financial and environmental benefit) or too time-consuming, quote out hiring out the reglazing! It may be less expensive than new windows, particularly if you’re paying to have them installed. And better for your house!

And! If you might want to give the restoration a try on your own, there are some great resources online! A small sampling:

Here and There
Old House Online
This Old House
Probably my favorite, Alex of Old Town Home’s Window Restoration Series

SO! With all these different products out there, you might think finding a suitable match for my old windows wouldn’t be too difficult! But it was! Of course it was. If I’m doing it, it’s a pain in the ass. That’s the rule.

First I thought to myself, “self, buy yourself some of those nice Marvin Ultimate Double-Hungs and call it a day!” but then two things happened: I saw one up close, and I got a quote. It IS a very nice window, but remember that I’m installing my new windows adjacent to original windows, and they look different enough that I thought it the new ones would stick out like sore thumbs. Then the price came in at around $1,500 for ONE window, and I need/want several, and that’s a lotta money. That led me to looking at similar simulated divided lite new windows that were also quite nice but cheaper brands. Windsor seemed to have the nicest product but all the aesthetic issue with the Marvin also applied to the Windsor windows. I think the price came in at about $650 per window, which was better but still a ton of money for something that isn’t even really what I want.

I looked into having windows custom-made, which would have been TOTALLY BALLER because I could have specified the muntin profile, the sill dimensions, the stops, the width of the stiles and rails…but that looked like about a $1,500/window endeavor, too, and again…just too much money for me. I also tried to just source old sashes, figuring I could probably figure out how to make the jambs and everything myself. If I’d needed one window that might have been possible, but I need several and the sizes have to be VERY specific, so that seemed like a total long shot and incredibly impractical.

THEN SOMETHING GREAT HAPPENED. There’s this store about half an hour from my house called The Door Jamb, and they are THE BEST. It’s a family-owned small business and they know everything about windows and doors. They have an enormous stock of windows and doors that are overstock and stuff (but all brand new), so if you can be a little flexible on sizes, they’re a great company to do business with. They can ALSO order new windows and doors (and shutters and storms!) from several retailers, which you’d think would price out more expensive than the big-box stores but I’ve always found them to be far less expensive which makes me love them even more.

So I’m in the store and I see what looks like an old window sash, but is clearly new. It’s single-glaze, with a muntin profile that looks mighty familiar, and even the glass is held in with glazing putty on the exterior…just like my old windows! So naturally I freaked out and got really excited and had to know what this thing was that I’ve been looking for all my life…or at least for the last year or so.

“They call it a barn sash.”

“Why?”

“It’s single-glaze, so nobody would put that on a house.”

“I would. All my windows are already single-glaze. Do they make it in a double-hung?”

“I think so.”

“Can they do custom sizes?”

“Yes.”

“GIMME.”

Brosco

The windows are by Brosco, which seems like a really great company from what I can deduce online, which admittedly is not a lot. But here is what I can report!

  1. One way they measure the windows is by the sash opening—that is, the size of the actual opening of the window rather than the size of the opening you need in your surrounding framing to fit the window into the wall. This made ordering VASTLY easier since trying to work backwards to a sash opening (which is really what I need to match—the rough opening will be new framing so it doesn’t matter so much) from a rough-opening dimension would have been tricky without the actual window in hand.
  2. After quoting out so many different options, I was DELIGHTED to find out that my windows would come in at about $350 per window…roughly half what the other options were going to cost! And VASTLY closer to what I was really looking for all along.
  3. All my sizes were stock with Brosco! This was somewhat unbelievable to me. I might be off by a fraction of an inch, but they’re pretty damn close and I can live with that! It seems like custom sizes roughly doubles the cost, so this was a hugely lucky break.

Let’s compare, shall we?!

stilesoldwindow

Here is the stile, rail, stops, and sash cord of one of my original windows. Old double-hung windows are typically weighted—there is a metal weight concealed behind the casing on either side of the sash, so when you open the window, the weights counterbalance the weight of the sash and allow the window to remain open. Those Marvin Ultimate Double-Hungs seem to be the only window on the market where you can actually get something very close to this, although they use metal chain rather than rope and I’m unclear on whether it does anything other than look good.

stilesinterioroldwindow

This is the same(ish) angle of one of the new Brosco windows! So the pullies and weights have been eliminated for a modern balance system, but otherwise? It’s SO super similar. I’m looking at the proportions of rails and stiles and the profile of the way the wood is routed around the glass and it’s almost identical. I think I can fairly easily tack on a couple of “stops” that will make it look almost identical. The modern balance system is kind of a bummer, but once everything is painted, you’d have to be looking REALLY close to deduce original from not.

glazingexteriororiginal

Outside, here’s an old gunked-up muntin for your viewing pleasure.

glazingexteriorbrosco

And on the Brosco! It looks different but it’s actually very much the same—this just doesn’t have 150 years of paint and old glazing putty on it. The glazing job is so clean on these!

muntinsoldwindow

This is the interior muntin profile of an original window, which I thought I’d never match without going completely custom.

muntinsnewwindow

Brosco, baby, you get me. I don’t even think it’s close, I think it’s…identical?? How gorgeous is THAT? This is the kind of stuff that is like make-you-weep-amazing when you’re trying to restore an old house. I’m sure 99% of everyone has stopped reading at this point, haha.

SO ANYWAY. I bought a few for all of the locations we talked about last week, and Edwin and I have been hard at work installing them! It’s, like, the most exciting.

framing

That’s where that closet door use to be in my dining room bay window! We’ve demolished a lot of the old solarium, but are leaving the main structure intact as long as we can to keep the house from being exposed longer than it needs to be. I can insulate and put up a lot of siding and stuff before we have to totally rip it off, so that’s the plan!

We framed the rough opening a little bigger than necessary to give me some wiggle room to make things as aligned as possible with the originals.

bayinstalled

LOOOOOOOOK! Isn’t that really really good?? I’m so thrilled, and I think with a couple minor tweaks I can make the new windows match even closer. Even right now, though, I’m just SO THRILLED I can’t even express! Replicating my millwork on the interior is sure to be another big challenge, but it’s not as though that needs to get finished with the same pressure that putting the exterior back together does. It’s going to be crazy how much light the dining room will have now!

Now I have to think about storm windows! Part of the thing with getting single-glaze windows that doesn’t bother me at all is that they’ll match the originals, so whether that means sticking an aluminum storm on the outside, or getting interior storms, or maybe trying to make my own wood storms (yikes!), at least everything will be uniform and the new windows won’t scream that they’re new work from either the inside or the outside.

Does anyone have interior storm windows? How do you like them? I love the idea but admittedly hesitate because I feel like my crappy aluminum triple-tracks, while unattractive, do protect the original windows from the elements. I’d remove and spray-paint the frames black which does DRASTICALLY improve their appearance, but they’re never going to be particularly attractive. I have a few months to think about it before it starts getting cold, so I’d love to hear thoughts on the topic!

Restoring the Side of My House!

Please excuse me if I’m a little overly excited in this post, but it’s only because I’m actually overly excited about some crazy stuff going on at my house. You might have noticed that it’s been a little while since I’ve posted about my own house, which is really just a reflection of nothing too exciting going on there. I finally primed the walls and ceiling in my hallway? I did some stuff in the backyard? I…got a dishwasher? My life has pretty much been Olivebridge Cottage 24/7 (slew of posts about that forthcoming), but after wrapping up restoring the back elevation of my house back in December, the renovation progress has more or less stalled.

WELL. I AM BACK IN ACTION AND IT FEELS SO RIGHT. Here’s what’s going down.

Side1

Here’s a picture of the side of my house in all its glory. My house is on a street corner, so arguably this is actually the most visible side, since the other side is more obscured by other houses and trees and stuff, and you don’t see the front unless you’re, well, in front of the house, give or take a hundred feet or so.

It’s pretty bad, right? Clearly I have what borders on an unhealthy affection for my house, but this side is a damn mess. What’s supposed to be all elegant neoclassical architecture is a vinyl-siding-clad imbalanced mishmash of weirdness that I have been scheming of a way to take care of for over three years. Things were improved quite a bit with the elimination of the “mudroom” addition on the back of the house, but that didn’t do anything to address the rest of what’s going on here.

house-then

Taking a trip back in time, here is the sole, prized photo I have of my house from 1950. As you can see, things were a little different back then. The house was about 85 years young, and looking a lot better than it does now. That part that sticks out on the side on the first floor is a long, narrow space that was almost entirely windows…I suppose sort of my house’s version of a solarium! I originally thought this was at one time an open-air porch and fleetingly thought I’d restore it as such, but I’m 99.9% positive that this is how it looked when it was originally built.

And that bump-out bay window on the second floor! It was pretty in its day, and I’m sure a fun feature to have inside the house. It had two big two-over-two double-hung windows on either side, and two smaller one-over-one windows facing the street.

side2

Even back then I can’t say I think it looks particularly right, but it sure is more attractive than it is today! The windows on the sides were lost at some point, with the openings covered over with plywood and the whole thing wrapped in vinyl siding and…now it looks like a tumor. I feel similarly about the long former-solarium—with all that glass replaced by those three crappy vinyl windows at some point, it’s just a sad sagging thing tacked onto the side of an otherwise pretty good-looking house…if I do say so myself.

bayinside

Inside, things are similarly awkward. This bay window is in my dining room, and I think it’s more or less without question that there was a third window where that door is when this thing was built. I actually think the bay window was itself an early addition, onto which the solarium was later added, and then the bump-out upstairs added at some point after that. The doorway appears to have been added in the 1930s, based on the framing and wall material (which is this wood composite garbage stuff called beaverboard).

The side-porch-solarium-thing has been a real concern of mine since buying the house. Unlike the robust bluestone foundation of the rest of the house, this thing sits on a few cinderblock piers that appear to have pushed themselves outwards over the years. If you return to the first photo in this post, you can see a pretty significant sag in the roofline of the solarium, which seems to be partially an effect of rot and partially an effect of the way those three shitty windows were framed and installed. The header that spans that length of this thing is very old, very rotted, and lacking almost any support…that’s not good! It seems to have sagged more since I bought the house, too, but that could just be my imagination.

The bump-out above, of course, is resting entirely on the top of this thing, which is also not good. Putting a really heavy part of a house on top of something with barely enough structural support already is probably not the safest thing. It’s all mildly horrifying.

You might see where I’m going with this. The dining room bay window is solid and old and beautiful, but the rest of it? Trying to fix this stuff would essentially mean rebuilding it, and then…what? That’s a lot of major expense to try to salvage some non-original features that I’m not hugely fond of to begin with, you know? Emphasis on the “non-original” part. That’s what I have to keep reminding myself, because the solarium-ish and the bump-out are old. Just not original to the house. I feel a lot of weird guilt about not being able to restore this stuff to how it looked when it was built, but then I remember that restoring the house is much more important to me and I feel a bit better.

Still, it’s a sticky subject! How do you decide how to handle stuff that’s really old but not original? I’m guessing a lot of owners of old homes have crossed this bridge a few times. For example, my house has beautiful fir hardwood flooring that was probably installed in the 1930s. Do I tear it all out to reveal the original wide-plank pine subfloor? I’d say no, but only because I prefer living with the smoother and tougher “upgraded” flooring. And sometimes I justify decisions like this with thinking that changes like that are also part of the history of the house in their own right, and perhaps that’s reason enough to maintain them. And, admittedly, these non-original additions do have their place in both the history of the house and the trajectory of local architecture. According to the Architectural History and Guide of Kingston:

August 7, 1874: The Daily Freeman describes “a new architectural fancy,” the “rage uptown” for bay windows. “No man of property can consider himself in style unless a bay window has been added to the house.” Upper-story bay windows were said to be especially fashionable as a sign of wealth, and looked well when “studded with flowers” or, even better, “an attractive lady.”

The only thing that makes sense to me is dealing with everything on a case-by-case basis. If this stuff were in better condition and more practical to salvage, or original to the house, I’d restore them. But that’s not the case, and the alternative of restoring this elevation of the house to a closer resemblance of its original architectural intent is hardly a bad thing, either.

Side1

So see if you can follow. This is the plan.

Look at those first two windows on the far left. That’s what things are supposed to look like. Slightly bigger window on the first floor, aligned center with a slightly smaller window on the second floor. The sizing is significant, since placing smaller windows on the second floor was meant to make the house look taller and bigger. Greek revival loves drama, and if my house looks enormous, that’s by design. It’s a little over 2,000 square feet, so nothing to shake a stick at, but it’s hardly the mansion it looks like!

Moving toward the back: in the 1950 photo, the house had two false windows next to these windows at the front corner, which I LOVE! It just tickles me! They look like regular windows that are shuttered closed, but they’re purely decorative and there is nothing behind those shutters. This is actually pretty common around here, but somewhat rare to see intact. I want to restore that, but I might actually make the second floor one into a real window and just do the shutter trick downstairs.

The bay window on the first floor stays, and has its third side restored with another window. Trying to match and replicate all of that woodwork is going to be a big task (inside and out!), but I’m kind of excited for the challenge!

Remember, to the right of the bay window on the first floor, there’s that other dining room window that faces out to the solarium thing. The solarium thing is demolished, and that window is an exterior window again. My dining room will get so much more light!

Aligned center above that window where the bump-out currently is goes a new 6-over-6 double hung, matched in size to the adjacent windows on the second floor. The cornice gets patched back in (hopefully just reusing everything I can from the parts that are coming down), the vinyl is removed, the siding (hopefully all salvaged) gets re-installed, this house gets painted…BOOM. If I have any money remaining, which is unlikely, I’d dieeeeeeeeeeee to outfit all my windows with shutters, but that part might have to wait. Doing shutters the right way is a pretty spendy endeavor.

On the far right, on the first floor under the dormer, I’d like to add two windows in my kitchen. Which means my kitchen is about to get kind of destroyed. Oops! But I kind of feel like…let’s just tear the bandaid off and get it done. My kitchen was never meant to last forever, and I really don’t feel all that precious about it.

I don’t like that second floor dormer above the kitchen, but I don’t really know what to do about it. I’d still like windows in that room, but potentially the dormer could be reconfigured. I just feel like the scale/location/shed roof on it is all wrong. Anyone have any ideas?

ANYWAY. Cool. Let’s do this thing!

When I bought the house, that door in the bay window led to a very small triangular closet, which was separated from the rest of the space with a slim wall (just some lengths of beadboard tacked to a couple horizontal supports on the floor and ceiling), which you see below. The beadboard was then covered in wood paneling—that cheap 70s kind, nothing nice.

interior1

The rest of the space was accessible from the kitchen and looked like this! I started tearing layers out of this space so long ago that I actually forgot what it looked like until I was editing photos for this post. There was a drop ceiling, wood paneling, linoleum floor, some very moldy drywall on the window wall due to the very leaky roof…blech!

BUT! Notice how there’s a window back there, on the right side? That’s the other window in my dining room, which was very clearly at one point a window that looked outside. The thing that was remarkable about this window, though, is that its trim was never covered with the vinyl/aluminum combo that’s on the rest of the house, so I have a well-preserved example of the original sill size and casings and stuff to model everything else after.

demo5

At some point I got pry-bar happy and took down the wood paneling, and was delighted to find the original clapboard below in excellent condition. If only the whole house was like that!

dogs

I had the realllllly long baseboard radiator removed during the great radiator shuffle. Shortly thereafter, I removed the layers of flooring. This linoleum was stuck to plywood, which was attached to a bunch of shims to level out the floor. Below that was the original tongue-and-groove, which rakes downward toward the street.

windowframe

Check it out! At the other end of the solarium, there was another window! I actually think it’s possible that this window was moved here from the side of the bay window and re-installed here. The sashes and parts of the frame are long gone, but you can see how it looked at one time.

Notice the brick-filled wall cavities, too—my whole house is basically like that! Broken, defective, and weak bricks and mortar were used as an early form of insulation and pest-proofing, called nogging. It has an R-value of less than 1 and is not structural, so I’m removing it piecemeal as I work my way around the house and replacing it with modern insulation that will hopefully help increase my energy efficiency. Removing nogging is an extremely dusty and heavy pain in the ass, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

interior2

I also removed the drywall on the street-facing window wall, which was moldy and yucky, and this is pretty much how things sat for a couple years! UNTIL NOW!

demo4

The other night, I started tackling more of the demo again! I always try to demo slowly and deliberately, saving anything I can—especially stuff like moldings that are much easier to reuse than try to replicate!

demo02

By the next morning, I had this!

demo01

I took up the old floor board-by-board (to reuse for what, I have no idea!), and underneath was surprised to discover…a 4″ thick or so layer of mortar! OOF. This is when my main squeeze Edwin started working with me, and we shoveled it out and hauled it out of the house bucket by bucket. Super fun, as you can imagine.

foundation

Underneath the layer of mortar were these really wide boards attached to the joists. It’s interesting that the joists run from side to side instead of back-to-front…those are some REALLY long joists! We had to cut them in half just to get them out, but the old wood is so pretty that I’m determined to do something with them.

Here you can kind of see the foundation below. Told ya, just a couple of cinderblocks! I wonder if they have footings or anything. We’ll soon find out!

demo1

Demo, demo, and more demo! It’s so crazy how much material went into these houses. This is part of why demolishing old houses is such a tragedy—the sheer volume of stuff that ends up in a landfill is almost unimaginable, which is another reason I try to salvage as much as possible. Renovations always generate enough waste as it is!

demo2

With the floor, the mortar, the subfloor, and the joists removed, we have….the original exterior wall of my house, looking pretty damn good! The rim joist is enormous and in excellent condition, and the foundation is in amazing shape from being protected all these years! And look at the basement window! Light comes in through it now!

Oh, and what’s that back there? A window? A NEW WINDOW? I have so much to share about window shopping that it’s gonna have to be another post, but I can happily report that I think I’ve found a very good solution for matching 150 year old original windows with new, if you’re in a similar predicament. I’m totally opposed to replacing my original windows for a number of reasons, but trying to find a decent match was no easy feat!

SO ANYWAY! This week, my house feels like it is getting torn to shreds, and the copious amounts of dust and disorder that I haven’t experienced since demo’ing a couple plaster ceilings a few years ago is back with a vengeance.

I couldn’t be happier about it. Progress once again. Feels good.

Fixing the Back of the House: Part 1!

 

insulation4

So…I kind of dove head-first into fixing the back of my house.

step1

Quick refresh: it looked kind of like this after the big mudroom addition came down. Not adorable! After removing the vinyl siding, it became very clear that I needed to do something with the door and the window on the second floor, since they’re clearly later additions that are neither functional nor attractive.

So the plan became a classic rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme: I’d tear out the double casement window in the kitchen, replace it with a cheap stop-gap window (down the line it’ll get a nice, enlarged 6-over-6 to match the rest of the house), and split the casement sashes into two individual windows for the second story—one on each side of the chimney running up that wall. As you can see from the pictures, all of this would involve a lot of clapboard patching. Patching clapboard is kind of like patching wood floors or something—you don’t want to end up with an obvious patch, so you need to feather your boards so they vary in length and joints are staggered.

I was planning on re-siding just the top half of this wall to accomplish this, and leave the bottom half intact since the clapboards (especially the green parts) were in relatively good condition, just with a ton of old crusty paint that needed to be scraped and stuff before repainting.

Peelaway

I had this idea that I’d use Peel Away, which is a great chemical stripper that’s widely used in restoration projects. It’s basically a thick paste that you apply fairly liberally and cover with their special magic wax paper and leave for about 24 hours. I decided to do a test sample before committing to the whole wall to see how it would work.

peelaway2

After about 24 hours, you start, well, peeling away. The paste stripper binds pretty well with both the paint and the wax paper, so it all kind of sloughs off in chunks.

peelaway3

So, it worked…okay. Since the green part of the wall was inside the mudroom for so many years, it only seems to have a couple coats of paint on it and the Peel Away worked flawlessly there. The white part, though, has about a billion layers of paint…and caulk…and tar. I guess as boards began to split or rot, a previous owner opted to smear them with tar which is super sticky and probably not the greatest substrate for new paint.

Peel Away is very effective on paint but doesn’t really do anything to caulk or tar, so I was left with decent but not great results. I figured I’d do it anyway and then just scrape and sand a LOT to get things ready for repainting, which sounded like the opposite of fun but short of replacing all the clapboard I wasn’t sure what else I could do.

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While I mulled over that, I shifted my focus to replacing the window. I told you, nothing fancy! The idea was to buy a replacement window that would fit in the frame of the old window so I wouldn’t have to do anything crazy like totally re-frame and redo the trim on the outside and destroy my kitchen on the inside and all that.

I found a window that was the right dimensions at Lowe’s, where somebody had special ordered it and then returned it. Since it’s a non-standard size, Lowe’s unloads these at a deep discount…I guess this window would have run about $175 for the person who bought it, but it was mine for about $25! Cool.

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Even though I think of this window as temporary, it’s going to be on the house long enough that I figured I could put a little extra effort into making it look better, so I also picked up a can of gloss black spray paint (Valspar brand that said it would work on plastic), covered the glass with paper and tape, roughed up the plastic a little with a sanding block, and hit it with a few coats of paint. I think it looks WAY better and since the other windows on the house are already black, I think it helps it blend a little more even though it’s vinyl.

newwindow

When it came to actually putting in the new window…I messed up. I measured wrong! So the window that was supposed to fit in the old frame to make my life easier did not, and I didn’t want to go out and buy a new window and eat the (small, but still) cost of the new window that I’d already spray-painted. Doh! So the old frame came out, the old exterior trim came off, and I furred out the framing so the new window would fit snugly. I also managed to install it 100% by myself (turns out it’s kind of hard to hoist a big window into its rough opening, make it level, and screw it into place with only two hands) which I was pretty proud about.

ANYWAY. As you can see, at this point I’d removed a fair amount of the old siding to redo the trim around the new window, and I was finding that taking down the siding intact wasn’t so bad.

tar

I was also noticing more and more that the condition of the old clapboard was not good. This is an area under the window where the siding meets the cornerboards, which was so caked in old paint and tar that it didn’t really even resemble wood anymore. Argh. I actually kind of like when old clapboard houses have that scale-y texture from being scraped and repainted over the years, but this level of disrepair seemed a bit beyond that and not a good candidate for scraping and repainting.

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So one thing led to another.

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And I took down all the clapboard.

A couple of years ago, seeing the house like this probably would have sent me into major panic mode…but I gotta say, this was all kind of fun and thrilling. Like, oopsie! Now I just have to fix it! No biggie!

You’ll notice that my house doesn’t have any sheathing at all, which would typically be between the studs and the clapboard. In my case, sheathing either came later or just hadn’t really hit Kingston yet…I don’t tend to see it on houses around here that were built before about 1890. My house and a lot of others is just clapboard nailed to the studs.

You might also be wondering what the hell all that brick is about? Well I’ll tell you. It’s called nogging, and was a fairly common practice during the 19th century. Basically the frame of the house would be built, clapboard applied to the outside, and then the wall cavities between the studs would be filled with brick and mortar from the inside before the lath and plaster went up. Crazy, right? It’s not structural—instead it was a form of insulation and pest-proofing, since rats and mice aren’t super keen on chewing through bricks.

The problem with the nogging is several-fold. Firstly, as insulation it has an R-value of less than 1, so it’s not all that different than just having no insulation. Because the walls are already jam-packed with this stuff, there really isn’t any way to install better insulation without removing it all, but access to it is the obvious issue since tearing off all the clapboard sounds mildly insane and tearing out all the necessary plaster inside would be a huge amount of energy and expense and, to me at least—lover of plaster walls—super sad for the house. The nogging is made out of what are called “salmon bricks,” which are basically garbage bricks that weren’t close enough to the heat as they were getting fired, or broke during production or transport…stuff like that. The vast majority of them do not hold up to any kind of moisture—instead, they absorb it like a sponge and then break and crumble, which is not really the kind of thing you want lurking behind your walls!

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ANYWAY. It’s the 21st century! We have lots of insulation options now that are better at insulating than garbage bricks. The nicest option is closed-cell spray foam, but it’s also really expensive, and would ideally be done from the inside in a larger application than this to make it worth it. Normal fiberglass bat is also an option but I was concerned about how it would fare on a wall without sheathing—it has a tendency to kind of compress itself and become useless when exposed to moisture and it’s no fun to work with. I read online somewhere about using a combination of rigid foam insulation and canned spray foam, and that seemed like the best option for here.

So I picked up some 4’x8′ sheets that are 2″ thick and supposed to have an R-value of 10. I know 10 is still fairly low but it’s a huge improvement, and I think one that makes sense for a house that will always be somewhat drafty no matter what. Each sheet was about $35 (I used 5 on this wall for both levels) so the price was also manageable.

The process of installing the foam insulation was really simple: measure the width (each was a little different), rip it down on the table saw, and put it in place. They fit snugly enough that no other fasteners were required.

insulation2

After a bunch of panels were in place, it was time for the Great Stuff! Great Stuff is, well, pretty great for sealing gaps and cracks. I sprayed it around each edge of the foam panels and waited for it to expand and dry. It served kind of a dual function of locking the panels in place and really buttoning up the whole installation.

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Before re-siding, I went around and used my handy flush cut saw to remove parts of the spray foam that had expanded past the studs. It’s also easy to cut this stuff with a box cutter. Just make sure it’s dry, because spray foam is a sticky nightmare if it isn’t.

boardsbefore

OK! SO! Finally it was time for the magic to happen! I had my pile of boards that I’d removed from the house, and then more clapboards I was hoarding in the basement that came off of the mudroom when I tore that down.

I experimented with a few different methods of trying to safely and relatively easily remove the paint/caulk/tar special plaguing most of these boards, and all of them basically sucked.

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Until…the planer!! I bought this DeWalt planer secondhand about a year ago for something else. It’s a really fun tool to own because the gratification is so instant and the transformation is so dramatic! I hooked it up directly to my ShopVac fitted with a HEPA filter (VERY important because there is definitely lead paint involved), put on a respirator and some ear protection, and started feeding boards through.

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DUDES. SO EXCITING. Each board took about 2-4 passes, but being able to totally strip down 10 or 12 foot lengths of clapboard in about a minute? Awesome.

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So the boards go in one side looking like this.

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And out the other looking like this. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

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The ShopVac set-up was very effective, by the way. Small paint chips still escaped but the vast majority got sucked right into the ShopVac and most importantly it was extremely good at keeping the really fine dust out of the air. No system of dealing with lead paint is perfect but I feel good about this one.

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The final step in prepping the boards for installation was to run them through the table saw to shave off just the tiniest amount on the bottom of each board where there was still paint, since only the face of the boards got planed.

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The actual installation went surprisingly fast and was totally fun and made me feel like a cool wizard. I used this DeWalt siding and trim nail gun (borrowed from Edwin…have I mentioned how great it is to live next door to a friendly contractor?) fitted with 2″ siding nails. The nail gun was essential since I was alone, but even with another set of hands I can’t really imagine nailing all of this by hand. It’s extremely important to use nails specifically for siding—framing or finishing nails will rust.

By the way, I considered adding sheathing and weather wrap but nixed it because I didn’t want to add thickness to the wall and then end up with my clapboards protruding past the elements of the cornice at the top of the wall. I know that might seem iffy but this is how the house was built and I guess it’s been fine so far.

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To conserve as much material as possible, I laid out all my available boards in order of size (this was the area for small boards—there was another for medium-sized boards and another for the really long guys). That way I could easily find the piece closest in length to the one I needed and end up with a smaller off-cut. This project generated really little waste, which always feels good!

endcut

After selecting my board, it was over to the chop saw to cut it to length! A lot of the boards had really rotted or split ends but were fine in the middle, so I’d usually cut a little off of each end.

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The boards are about 6″ wide (they vary) but the reveal is 5.25″. To keep the reveals consistent, I just ripped a piece of scrap wood down to 5.25″ and used it as a guide to correctly place each board.

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With each run I tried to pay special attention to where the joints would fall in relation to the previous boards so that they’d look staggered and random. The disadvantage of doing things this way is that you want to get rid of any “bad” parts of each  board, so I ended up with more butt joints than there used to be, but I’m OK with that if it means being able to retain the original boards.

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Not bad for wood that’s been outside for 150 or so years, am I right?

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I’m so happy with the way this project is shaping up! Wait until you see the top half…it’s not totally done yet (some painting and caulking still to go…) but I think it’s going to look great.

So, am I crazy? I honestly feel like I could do the whole house this way (maybe tweaking some parts of the process)—restoring the clapboard and insulating one wall at a time. Right?

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Lowe’s has kindly provided me with merchandise credit, but specific product selections, opinions, designs, and stupid ideas are all mine.

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