Monday, October 27, 2008

The Joys of Home Ownership

When we bought our house, we of course had it inspected...

Other than a few cosmetic issues (the previous owner seems to have had some rage issues and there are punch and kick marks in most of the doors and a few walls) the house passed without reservation. New roof, new-ish windows, old but working furnace, brand new hot water heater... we were excited. We thought we'd scored big. (We did get a good deal, even knowing what we know now.)

And then about a month ago, when the remnants of hurricane 'H' poured through town, I noticed a brown spot on the drop ceiling of one of the downstairs guest rooms. I climbed up on a chair to inspect, and low and behold, it was wet. So I popped the panel up and saw that there was a slight stain on the ceiling itself that also felt wet. I popped up a couple more and the ceiling there was also damp, though not stained. The spot was about 6 inches in from the wall and strangely centered, so it took me a minute to figure out where it could possibly be coming from, until I realized that the second floor is about six inches inset, and there's a big double window in the middle of the wall up there.

So up the stairs I went into the upstairs guest bedroom (it's a four bedroom house and just the two of us, so there are lots of guest rooms) and measured it out, and sure enough the leak was somewhere in the window. I opened the window and began poking at the frame and found that the sill was really soft and wet. To see just how bad it was I grabbed the edge and wiggled it back and forth a bit, at which point the entire sill fell off into my hand!

In a bit of a panic I called out to my husband who ran in, assessed the situation, and somehow figured out that my main problem right that moment was what the hell to do with the massive rotten piece of wood in my hands.

"Just drop it," he said.
I looked down the three stories to the ground (there's a walkout basement and two stories of house) and said, "Really? Is that safe?"
"What, are you worried about the fern?"
"What if the turtle is down there?" I replied absurdly. There is a turtle that lives in our backyard.
"Hon, just drop it." So I did.

At which point our attention turned back to the big issue: the massive rotted hole in our house. You can see here (this is actually a picture of the bathroom window, the bedroom was worse) the remains of the old sill that has broken off and the shards of rotted wood where the rest of the sill ought to be. (you shouldn't be able to see the white part- that's the siding on the house)

I quickly ran around and checked the rest of the upstairs windows and discovered that 5 out of the 9 window sills were mostly, if not completely, rotten through.

At which point I ran back downstairs and checked all the ceilings and walls underneath the rotted sills. Thankfully none except the one I'd already found had leaked through. When we pulled the windows out on those it turned out they weren't nearly as bad as that first one was, thank goodness!

The question at that point was What now?
Do we call a contractor? We just bought a house- we didn't have money for a contractor!
Which brought us to Can we possibly do this ourselves?
Well, Google helped answer that one. And the answer seemed to be, probably. Since our sill was completely rotted away we wouldn't be able to use it as a template for a new one, and we'd have to take the whole window out to remove it, but the rest seemed simple enough.
SEEMED simple... and once we'd had a friend who knew better help us do the first four, the fifth, and smallest, only took four hours to do!

The Technicalities:
- Use your trusty 13 inch pry bar (the same one that we used to take up the tack-strips from the old carpeting) and a hammer to pry the window frame off.

-Take all the screws out from around the window frame, and try to pull the window out.

- When it doesn't come out, pry out the plastic pieces in the side of the window to find the hidden screws, remove those then pull the window out.

- Use a task saw to cut any nails or screws from the remaining part of the sill that you can't access to remove.

- Slide (or in our case, use a hammer and rubber mallet to beat) out the old sill.

- If you can, use the old sill as a template to cut the new sill from the piece of pre-treated lumber you've purchased from your local home store. If not, measure as best you can, then cut, try, cut some more, try again, chisel a bit, and hopefully succeed in eventually sliding the new sill back into place. It will go in at an angle- that's so the water slides off away from the house- and the angle should be preserved, using wedges under the sill if you must.

- Fill in under the sill, behind the frame, and around the window with insulation as you slide the window back into place. (It was helpful to have two people at this point so that I could slip in the insulation as my husband held the window.) We used the white general purpose insulation.

- Screw the window back in and reassemble all the pieces you previously unscrewed and popped out.

- Once you've managed to remove all the old nails from the trim (whoever constructed ours apparently thought that we'd be hooking bowling balls to our window frames because each piece had about 10 nails in it...) nail it back into place.

- Caulk around your new sill and re-installed window inside and out, caulk generously, and check back to see if gaps have formed over the next couple of weeks. If it rains in the 48 hours after you caulk, a good deal of it will wash away, so you're best off you start the project with a clear weather forecast. If it does wash away, smooth out any bumps and then re-caulk.

- And voila! You're done! Or once you've filled in the nail holes from the new and old nails with wood putty and repainted, you're done. I haven't done that yet myself... it took almost a month to finish replacing all those sills! Not to mention the scraping, sanding, repainting and re-caulking of all the frames that didn't need to be replaced... I'll worry about the interiors sometime this winter!

At some point I'll tell you what we're doing about the ceiling in the downstairs guest bedroom...

TIME: 5 windows at about 4 hours per window, during daylight hours over 60 degrees only took about a month.

COST: About $200
- $30 lumber
- $50 circular saw
- $50 task saw
- $45 one gallon of self-priming interior/exterior paint
- $50ish nails, caulk, screws, wood glue and other sundry hand saws, files and chisels.

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