Friday, August 23, 2013

Beautiful New Windows to Match an Older Home

We needed to replace our windows--we had needed to for quite a while. I realized it would solve a few problems, but what I hadn't counted on was how much nicer our home would look with well-made new windows.

We live in a 1920s shed-roofed bungalow. When we moved in the windows on the top floor had been recently updated, but they were low quality and improperly installed. Leaks were visibly damaging our walls, so it was getting urgent. On the ground floor we had beautiful windows that were original to the home. Unfortunately you could feel the drafts in the winter or the heat cushion around them in the summer without even concentrating on it. Plus, the single pane glass was doing nothing to keep out the noise pollution from a town that had spent 90 more years growing after our house was built there.

Paul recommended the Andersen Eagle line with aluminum-cladding on the exterior and wood on the inside. The Eagle line offers more color options than most manufacturers and makes high-quality architectural matches. I wanted the exterior to be something other than white. I always envied the homes with painted window casings in our old neighborhood. They seemed to have the striking curb appeal. We ended up choosing a red similar to our ground floor brick, since matching the two would mean the window color wouldn't affect paint color choices in the future.

Since the original windows offered so much architectural detail to a house of this period, I was bracing myself to be disappointed by anything new. I was resigned to it: a thing we have to do before the studs start to rot. I was completely on the wrong track in my head. These windows look amazing. They are fresh and new, but they look just as solid as what was original to the house. They are far more beautiful than the ones on the second story that had been previously replaced. Plus, I had been focused on what they would look like outside, but they also renewed the interior. Now that the trim is patched and painted and looks crisp and fresh, I can't bring myself to cover them again with curtains.

There are several other things I had not expected that turned out to be immense improvements. The windows tilt inward for cleaning. The grill work snaps out, again for cleaning, yet it appears to be sturdy and permanent. Several of the original windows had been lodged shut since before we moved in. The new windows not only open, they slide up and down effortlessly if you want fresh air on a nice day (or something is burning in the kitchen and I am dashing around opening them as quickly as possible before the smoke alarm goes off). We now have screens for all of them that keep the mosquitoes out when we do open them. The edges of the screens match the window clad color. The screens pop out easily for storage during the seasons that they won't be gliding up and down.

If you are considering new windows, the key is to choose something that meets your needs and that emphasizes both form and function. This will improve the look and the feel of the home you love.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Maintaining an Older Home

Older homes offer solid construction and beautiful architectural details. Some are situated in neighborhoods that have aged into vibrant communities with many amenities and mature trees. A home that looks aesthetically perfect can conceal problems if systems and structures have not been regularly upgraded. Some can be simple fixes while others will require complicated overhauls and skilled professionals in order to accomplish them.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are inexpensive and easy to install. Carbon monoxide risks may be elevated by some older heating systems so this should be one of the first things to check off your list. It is probably a task that you can accomplish yourself, if you wish.

Lead paint can be a problem. Be aware that contractors must be licensed for lead-safe practices by the EPA when working on construction that predates 1978, so this is something to look for if you are having renovations done to your older home. It not only protects the environment from lead exposure, but it protects people in your home from potentially serious effects of lead poisoning.

Aging electrical systems will have knob-and-tube or aluminum wiring. Both of these can pose a fire risk and should be replaced with new wiring as soon as possible. This is especially true where the wiring is surrounded by insulation, like in an attic.

Plumbing systems that use old metal pipes can corrode. Failing pipes can obviously cause very expensive water damage, in the event of a serious leak. Low water pressure in an older home may be evidence of mineral build-up within the pipes.

Since the beauty and history of older homes is often the reason they are so loved by homeowners, caring for that aspect of the house can be a labor of love, but it is still work. Cracks in settled walls will need to be patched and old oil based paint may need to be covered. Rather than removing paint from wood trim, it may be preferable to smooth over uneven spots with spackling compound. Using a high quality paint will be essential to covering surfaces that were painted with oil-based paint in the past.

Preserving the architectural details that make older homes stand out may require custom carpentry for replacement pieces, as oftentimes pre-cut trim pieces will no longer be available in the style that is required. A skilled professional can handle this beautifully, as well as tackle the task of replacing square doors and windows in walls that may have settled and shifted.

Saving and enhancing a home with history can be a joy for homeowners. Avoid unpleasant surprises by evaluating and maintaining the home as needed. If you are considering buying an older home to renovate, be sure to understand what will require attention so that you can enjoy the projects and budget for them.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reviving a Weatherbeaten Deck

Maintaining a wood deck that has been exposed to the weather year-round can be a big job, especially if it hasn't been cleaned and repaired regularly; however, an old deck can be made beautiful again without starting from scratch.

Start by assessing for structural damage. Especially focus on the areas where the deck touches the ground or butts up against the house. If you find that the wood is soft (meaning you can stick a metal file into it a quarter inch or more) you will have to replace these elements.

Tap down any popped nails. If they can be removed with a nail puller, replace them with slightly longer, slightly thicker nails. Deal with splinters in one of several ways. Glue those large enough to be glued down with an exterior grade product. Using a utility knife, cut away the large splinters that cannot be glued. Smaller splinters can be sanded or filed. If you need to replace any sections of wood, this video demonstrates a good technique.

Clean with a deck cleaning product. This is something that should be done annually. If it hasn't been, you may need to rent a power washer to tackle what will be a bigger job. Then go over it with a stiff bristle brush. Allow time after the washing for the deck to dry completely. To test that the deck is ready to accept stain, sprinkle the dry deck with a few droplets of water. If the wood absorbs them, it will absorb the stain, too.

Use a solid stain, which will mask any inconsistencies in aging that are visible in the wood. Buy from a good quality paint store like Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore. These products are truly better than what you find at the big box retailers. They have good step-by-step instructions for applying their products here and here.