Walkin’ in a window wonderland

I’d been dreading this moment for months, but now that it’s here, I’m pretty proud of myself.

The Schoolhouse has five old windows left (and by old, I mean original, wavy glass and all). Two of them have the original 6 inch trim; the other three were trimmed in bargain-basement 3 inch modern trim. They are all single hung and single paned and judging by the amount of paint on them the last time they opened was sometime in the 1940s.

Another Sonoma County Schoolhouse with tall, thin windows
Another Sonoma County Schoolhouse with windows just like ours

We thought about replacing them – we came so close we actually bought the replacement windows, but then we had a change of heart: these are so classically Schoolhouse and so typical of north Coast nineteenth century buildings we were afraid we’d kill the house’s charm. So instead, we need to fix them. And yes, the guys were going to do it, but they only managed one, and they didn’t get the trim on that one.

So now, it’s our project – well, mostly mine, but my husband consults and helps with the complicated parts like the notch below.

Here’s what I’ve learned about repairing windows: you could spend a lifetime on each window if you’re an obsessive type like moi. There’s so much scraping, re-glazing, and sanding that’s possible, it’s hard to know where to stop, but I’m trying to restrain myself and just do what’s necessary to get them working.

Photo of replacement sill showing notch cut around frame
Each one is different

What makes old windows not work is that over time (and many coats of paint) the inside part of the frame (love that technical lingo) has become too tight – it squeezes the two halves of the window together so they don’t slide. So, step one is to pry the three strips that hold the halves together off (two sides, one top) and move them out a fraction. In the process, you can carefully pull the window halves apart and clean between them (and prime, if you need to). If you take all the trim off, you can also check the condition of the ropes and vacuum out the area around the windows, but I’m only doing that on the three we’re replacing the trim on.

Step two is to frame up the ones that lack frames. Since our house is 120 years old, nothing’s square, and various other DIYers have worked their magic over the years, which means each frame is a bit different. Check out this photo, for example – see the little notch in the sill, cut to go around the frame? Necessary on one side only, of course. The sequence will be different depending on how you choose to frame the windows, but ours is:

  • Sill
  • Bottom (to support the sill)
  • Sides (sitting on the sill)
  • Top

I finished my first two yesterday! Now all that’s left is to paint them.

Repaired window with new frame
Two down, three to go!


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