Tag Archives: Window

Let There Be Light — Installing New Hand Built Windows

In many posts we’ve talked about why old windows are worth saving and how to build or restore¬† sash for them, but not much on what it would take to build a new window complete with jamb and trim and install it.

Completed window installed in the side of the barn
Completed window installed in the side of the barn

A while back I had just such an opportunity when working on the timber framed barn workshop of my friend Rich. Much of the work for these windows took place in the shop — building traditional single hung (one moving sash) true divided light windows. A hand built window can offer a VERY long service life, be easily repaired and often look much better than anything you can buy commercially. The ability to build a new jamb to go along with your sashes will allow you to really fine tune the movement of the windows, the exact choice of hardware — if any and allow you to create a distinctive look for your home.

Bill cutting through the wall to install my window.
Bill cutting through the wall to install my window.

Once the shop work was completed, the jamb is complete, the sash are fitted, glazed and the paint has dried it was time to install the completed window unit into the barn.¬† When working on a timber framed barn you’ll want to make sure you’ve carefully laid out where you want the windows to go — you generally do not want your window obstructed by braces or other framing members. You’ll also want to make sure that you have added in sufficient nailers and/or studs so that your window can be firmly attached to the building.

These hand built windows, complete with jamb, sills, casing and leaded flashing install much the same way you would install an Anderson or Pella new construction drop in window. You’ll want to take the same time and effort to level the window, add insulation if needed, and flash out the window. Once installed you can trim out the interior of the window to blend with the interior surfaces.

Me posing with the newly installed window
Me posing with the newly installed window

If you’ve invested the time to learn how to build a traditional window sash, building an entire window as described here can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience — plus with these new found skills you can go off and build a window of any size and shape.

Below is a quick slideshow of the above windows being installed into a timber framed barn.

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Making a Case for Building Traditional Window Sash by Hand

An important part of the Preservation Carpentry curriculum at the North Bennet Street School is working with traditional window sash. In earlier posts we’ve talked a lot about restoring old window sashes, but what about new work? Or a sash that is too far gone or not worth restoring? The best option is likely fabricating traditional window sash yourself. The task may seem formidable, but with some practice anyone with the time and determination can do it. I find the work to be quite enjoyable.

Completed sash with glazing in place
Completed sash with glazing in place

Having worked on many historic windows, and new factory made windows I definitely prefer earlier period windows (17th and 18th century). In our modern ‘throw away’ world most folks look at an old wooden window with disdain and are eager to toss them in the trash and get vinyl replacement windows. If I had my way that would be a crime against historic buildings. The media has everyone believing that modern windows are far more energy efficient and easier to live with compared to old windows and that is a view based on ignorance and marketing greed. I spent several years living in a rental house with brand new replacement vinyl windows and while they were only mid-range windows they were disgustingly drafty, hard to operate, could not be fixed if you broke a pane, and took away from the appearance of the home. A properly built and maintained traditional window can last for 100 years or more — a claim no modern window supplier would ever dare to claim. The key to the system is that ALL the pieces of traditional windows were of wood and designed so they could be regularly serviced and easily replaced — and since they are primarily wood the replacement parts are easily fabricated. Good luck finding a part of a manufactured window that far into the future.

Rich Friberg and Brom Synder fine tuning a muntin
Rich Friberg and Brom Synder fine tuning a muntin

Even though wooden sash may look delicate, you’d be surprised how strong they really are. The profiles are designed to look lighter than they really are, and when you start to add the glazing etc you’d be amazed how solid the sash will feel. A properly built window will have the necessary flashing in place and will not have any drafts or leakage. As the seasons change, open up and regularly inspect your windows. If you are concerned about stirring up lead dust on old windows, contact a window restoration or preservation specialist — and make sure they are EPA RRP licensed to do the work in accordance with the law. If your windows are sound but you’d like to try and bump up the efficiency of your home’s envelope, consider adding traditional style storm windows — which can be either interior or exterior style or both and should be divided light patterns that match your existing windows — try to avoid the aluminum clad plate glass style they have in the big box stores.

PRESERVATION TIP:

If you are living with an old window in your home that sticks — remove and inspect the sash. The sides of the window sash (aka the stiles) should NOT have any paint on the edges that run against the jamb. If you find your sticky window has paint on it, you should look to remove the paint from that edge and the jamb (in accordance with EPA RRP regulations) and then carefully wax those surfaces. The paint has thickness which makes it harder to move the window and with humidity can often get sticky/gummy. Make sure that you are careful when removing the paint from your sash that you do not also remove wood — you can’t replace it once its gone and you don’t want to wind up with a drafty window.

Setting the mirror with glazing points
Setting the mirror with glazing points

The skills you learn when making a window sash can be applied to make other areas of woodworking. Above is a nice little wall hung mirror I made for my wife out of some extra materials I had. This same skills can be used to make glass cabinet doors, full size mirrors, cases, doors, etc.

If you’d like to see the process of building your own window sash, please check out the slideshow below which walks through the process (you can see many NBSS PC2 students in action):

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Viewing History — Old State House Window Restoration

The slideshow below documents the 2010 restoration of historic window sash for the 1713 Old State House in Boston MA. This historic building was the seat of colonial government in the Massachusetts Colony, site of the infamous Boston Massacre and where the Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Boston.

It’s easy to take windows for granted — we see them every day — they are all around us. But with the constant bombardment of advertising for ‘new’ vinyl windows, the latest insulated glass etc and an over-hyped fear of lead paint and asbestos many of our nation’s historic windows are being discarded without a second thought. We’re robbing future generations of the same views we had — seeing sites through the same wavy old glass our forefathers looked through. The way light shines through a true divided light window and the ease of use and maintenance some old windows can offer.

Ease of use and maintenance?! What old windows are you talking about?

Believe it or not properly built old single and double hung windows can be quite weather tight and easy to use when properly installed and maintained. These old windows were designed so that you could take them apart — held together with joinery and pins — and replace or repair broken glass or rotted wood. This is a lot more ‘green’ that today’s ‘modern’ modern vinyl windows. If something breaks on a vinyl window often the only repair solution is to swap it out for a new unit — think of all that waste.¬† And lead and asbestos can all be safely removed or mitigated by preservation specialty contractors under the guidance of EPA regulations.

Below is a brief slideshow roughly documenting how a quality sash restoration can be carried out. I really enjoyed working on this project and I hope that you will consider saving/restoring your own historic windows.

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