Repairing Wood Windows

We Fixed Our Row House Windows!

Okay! This post is going to be more hands-on than the previous one. It’s been a few years in the making, mostly because we needed to build up the courage to repair our wood windows. We’re trying to avoid replacing because the frames would need to be removed and they are original and therefore additional masonry work is needed to install lintels that lie across the top of the windows, supporting the bricks above. Fancy row houses have stone lintels. We do not.

I am so, so very sorry we waited. Repairing the windows has been really rewarding and we’re looking forward to making upkeep an annual event. To prepare, I downloaded the guide to restoring historic windows from the U.S. Parks Service and watched several videos from This Old House during which they repaired several windows of various decay.

While we’ve been in quarantine, Colonial Williamsburg has been sharing great videos of the projects they’ve been working on. Since guests couldn’t visit, they used the time to fix what seems to be every structure. It’s been very inspirational and they are happy to respond to inquiries.

Another inspirational source has been Old House Journal. I can’t remember the article at the moment but it was about a woman who fixes old windows. She said that fixing is not hard but rather fiddly work that takes patience and perseverance but is not unattainable.

So, in May, I believe, time goes so oddly this year, we started to fix our windows, beginning with the one closest to the ground and working our way upwards

Repairing Wood Windows

This is what we were facing. We have our hands full with some much needed masonry work here, but the windows were more urgent. Maintenance is really a marathon sport. Ideally, we would remove the windows entirely and have them repaired or replaced but that is very expensive and these windows aren’t actually that old.

First task is to clean the entire window very thoroughly, scraping away any old paint and cleaning away as much decayed wood as possible. Next, apply a wood hardener to the decayed areas to stabilize. This actually works for indoor and outdoor purposes.

Repairing Wood Windows

Next, fill in the holes with wood filler. This is actually rather fun but it needs to be done in good weather within the temperature and humidity guidelines indicated on the packaging. The wood filler sets pretty quickly, maybe ten minutes, so you want to work in small sections. Really jam it in so the entire cavity is filled. Depending on the cavity, it can take a few layers.

Repairing Wood Windows

Next, you sand down the filler. I started off doing the sanding by hand but in the process, I lost the skin on the top of my fingers. For the other windows, I would pre-emtively wear bandages which worked out nicely. At the very least, use a sanding block. If you can, use a power sander, but be very, very careful. One slip and you’ve got a broken window. This particular window was broken by our garbage collection, not this project but the result is sort of artistic so we’ve left it.

Repairing Wood WindowsOur first (parlor) floor window was in particularly awful shape, with the lower part of the window needing almost full reconstruction. Yes, we probably should get a new window, but the upper part is in good shape so we’d like to get a few more years out of it. This project will allow us to replace one window at a time, on a schedule we can budget for, instead of all at once.

We took this time to also re-caulk and seal the space around the window, where it meets the masonry. When you think about it, a window is just sort of popped into a hole in your house. It’s strange in a way that there isn’t much to it, conceptually speaking. But, quite a bit when you consider all the parts.

Repairing Wood WindowsHere you can see the basement window which was the first I did. We were so pleased with the result that we decided to tackle the rest as soon as weather permitted. I was going to do one window at a time, but while I was working on first floor window, my husband jumped in and discovered the joy of windows and started the fanlight. With two people, things went along at a nice pace.

We decided on black which is a little edgy for the period. Yes, there is examples of black during the 1830s. It’s rare but possible and I really don’t care for the ubiquitous beige that is so prevalent that Benjamin Moore has a color in their historic collection called Philadelphia Cream (HC-30). So we took a little creative license. It actually reminds us of our 1874 apartment building in Brooklyn which was also red brick and black windows.

At the end of the second phase…

Repairing Wood WindowsAnd two, the second floor and dormer…

Repairing Wood Windows

The final window was more damaged that we initially thought so it took an extra day to finish but we’re really pleased with the results. All the windows open and close nicely and are a great deal more sturdy that they were.

Painting is one of those things I thought was merely decorative but it’s actually really important to keep your wooden windows protected from the elements with paint. We opted for the super deluxe fancy exterior paint that was expensive and went on like mud but it provides super coverage. Additionally, the one expensive investment we made was an extension ladder. This will allow us to inspect the windows very closely annually to ensure that everything is in good condition.

In the end, repairing the windows was really hard work; definitely involved blood and sweat. However, it’s extremely rewarding and every time we come home we’re thrilled with the results.

Of course, the adventure never ends as it looks like there is something up with the roof and water, a row house’s persistent foe, is touching our facade, which led to quite a bit of the damage. We look forward to having our roofer take a look. I have a feeling our French gutter is rebelling.

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