When Dave and Ellen came to visit Spencer several weeks ago, we found some time to tackle a few home improvement projects when we weren’t playing with the boy. Clare and I bought new windows for the whole house a few months ago. All but 2 of the current windows are original, and are not very well insulated. After a fair amount of deliberation, we decided to go with the Pella vinyl sliders from Lowe’s. They get pretty good reviews, and they are relatively inexpensive. I really wanted to get wood casement windows, because they look nicer, and seal even better than sliders, but it would have been about $1000 per window for the casements, and the vinyl sliders were only about $150 each. We also considered having Lowe’s install the windows, but they wanted $238 per window, so we decided to give it a try ourselves, and if we totally messed up, we figured we could always hire a handy man (probably for less than $238 per window). We bought the windows at the same time we bought the materials for the kitchen countertop, since Lowe’s has a flat fee for delivery. Also, in case you haven’t heard, you can get a tax deduction for installing energy efficient windows (and furnaces and other stuff). Save your receipts.
For the first window, Dave and I started early afternoon. The first task was figuring out how to get the old window out. There was no trim around the old windows. The siding came directly up to the window. So in order to figure out how the window was installed, we removed one of the boards of wood siding. As we had expected, the old aluminum frames had a nailing fin which was covered by the siding. So we got out the circular saw, and set it to the right depth to cut through just the siding, so that we could get out the old window. Then we removed the glass on the old window, cut the middle part with a hacksaw (which in retrospect seems unnecessary, but it was in the instructions), cut the old caulk, and then pried out the old window frame.
The next step involved lots of decisions. Did we want to leave the trim and sill as is? Originally the inside of the windows was finished with drywall instead of with some sort of wood trim. After discussing it with several friends who had a little experience, we decided that we could always replace the interior trim at a later stage, and that for the time being, the important thing was trying to improve efficiency. Having decided on trim options, we then tried to do a rough fit of the window. We discovered that the interior dimensions of the new window were slightly bigger than the old window, and that we would have to remove some of the drywall to get it fit. By this time it was starting to get dark, so we decided to call it a day. We simply put a few temporary nails in the window so that we wouldn’t have a gaping hole in the house all night.
The next day, we got back to work on the window. We fiddled with the drywall until we got the window to fit nicely. Then we worked on leveling the window. We discovered that the old sill was not quite level, so we had to use some shims while we were securing the window. As it turns out, we didn’t get the first window quite level. We followed the instructions and used the level vertically, but we were using it against the sliding window, and the sliding part was not quite level. In the end, it worked out relatively ok. Live and learn.
Once we were satisfied with the placement of the window, we put clear silicone caulk around the perimeter of the window opening, where the fin rests. Then we used a combination of galvanized roofing nails, and special screws to secure the window.
The next step was to install some trim. After looking at various options at Lowe’s, we decided on PVC brick moulding. I later read that it lasts longer than wood. The brick moulding is 2″ wide, which is a bit wider than the amount of siding we had cut off. So Dave worked on cutting more of the siding off, while I tried out my new miter saw to cut 45 degree angles in the brick moulding. We also put some great stuff around the windows where there were some big gaps. Then I painted the trim to match the color of our new garage door. Ultimately we plan to have the house some sort of yellow-beige with hunter green trim.
A day or two after we put in the first window it got pretty cold again, so it was good we worked when we did. The cold only lasted a day or two though, so we had another nice day to put in the other window in the family room. This one only took about 6 hours or so, and we got it more level. We also hung up some plastic sheeting inside, which reduced the amount of sawdust and debris we got inside. We still made some mistakes. Probably the biggest mistake is that we set the window directly on the sill without any shims, because the sill was level. It turned out that the sliding window did not close quite right this way. At the top of the window, inside the sliding part, there was 2 extra plastic spacers. The top of the sliding window was hitting these spacers instead of sliding just under them. I couldn’t see any use for the spacers really, so I just took them out.
Now we have 2 windows down, and 6 more to go. The upstairs ones will certainly be trickier, but hopefully doable. We bought an extra extension ladder so two people can climb up holding the window. Dave and Ellen arrive today for another 10 day visit, so I am sure we will get some more work done.
Besides the windows, we also got a few other small projects done. One project was to replace the heating vent covers in the living room. When we painted back in November, we took off the old vent covers. We had planned on getting new ones, but after looking around at Lowe’s, we decided that we didn’t like the options. They had nice metal covers with some fancy designs for floor vents, but not for wall vents. So we ended up just putting the old ones back in. The one by the upstairs landing didn’t quite fit right, because the carpet was in the way. Since Ellen had taken off the old ones when we painted (with the old carpet still there), I decided I would wait until she visited, and let her show me how to fix it. Although no other visitor mentioned the heating cover sticking out of the wall halfway, Ellen noticed it almost immediately.
Ellen’s solution was to buy new covers, made of wood. With the wood covers we could simply cut off one side a bit to make it fit by the carpet. And we got to try out another new tool too — the router. It was a bit tricky to get the cover secured, but once we did, the router was definitely the right tool for the job.
There was an interesting side effect of these two projects. For the last 3 weeks, it has seemed a bit cooler in the living room compared to the rest of the house, on average about 3 – 4 degrees. I had been thinking that maybe I hadn’t done a very good job sealing the new windows. Clare recently mentioned a different theory. When installing the new vent covers, Ellen had mentioned that she had installed the one by the stair landing upside-down. That is, it was pointing up instead of down. For a vent near the floor, that might be the desired effect, but for vents half-way up the 20 foot wall in the living room, you would definitely want them pointing down. We also discovered that the other vents on that wall were also upside down. So today I finally got around to changing that, and lo and behold, the vents were also closed! That explains quite a bit! After fixing that this morning, the temperature in the living room seems only about 1-2 degrees cooler than in the dining room. There are still some good reasons for it being colder, namely the high ceiling, and the fact that it is on a slab. But now that the heating vents are open and pointing slightly down, it is a bit warmer.
Another small project that Dave undertook was installing a 5 gallon bucket compost. Dave uses these in Arizona, and we tried them in Spencer too. They are very easy to install, cheap, and work pretty well. We’ve already filled that one up, so we need to dig another one soon. We have found that having 2-4 at one time works pretty well, so that some of the buckets can finish composting while you continue to fill one. We are especially excited about the compost, since we have been trying out composting some of the G diaper inserts we have been using.
Finally, just a list of a few other projects we got done (checking things off the to-do list always feels nice)
- Shortened blinds
- Scrubbed floor near kitchen and stairs
- Started an herb garden
- Installed 2 of 4 basement window well covers
- Installed new license plates on Versa
Oh yeah. Did I also mention that they spent a lot of time comforting Spencer?