Sunday, April 3, 2011

Glazing your own windows

When I show older homes to buyers, I often hear concerns about windows. Indeed, it seems like nearly once a week I have some client telling me that the windows in a given listing "need to be replaced." I try to be delicate in my disagreement, despite the fact that this totally drives me nuts.

As I've said to many a friend and many a client, I really have to hand it to the replacement window industry - they have worked hard to inculcate the notion that old windows are bad, so much so that it seems to have become a FACT in our culture. Bravo to them. That takes some doing.

Perhaps the reason that preservationists have not been more successful at contradicting this FACT myth is that we lack a product to sell.

But, I digress. What I really want to write about here is glazing your own (old!) windows so that they last you forever, and avert the tragedy that would be tossing old windows into a landfill and spending a bunch of money on some crap that can most likely never be repaired when some part of it breaks.

Specifically, I want to tell you that it is EASY!

Window glazing is a task about which I have long been nervous, and I've always avoided it by bringing broken windows to the hardware store for glazing. (This, of course, is perfectly fine as well if you're not into the whole DIY experience, and it's not overly expensive.) I had always heard that it was a dicey process, and the idea of screwing it up scared me more that it should have.

Enter my fellow house-addicted BFF.

His old house had a TON of multi-paned windows. ONE TON, I tell you. Un montón de ventanas. And of course, the glazing was old and in need of replacement. (We don't buy anything other than fixer-uppers, obviously.) He was determined to glaze them himself.

And he did.

And he told me it was easy.

And I was all, like "OMG! Show me how!"

So he did. It was very exciting.

Here's more or less how we did it:

Step #1 for a broken window is (duh) to removed the broken glass and clean out the old glazing, paint, or whatever gunkiness might be along the small ledge where the glass sits, and then place the pane of glass in. (If you're just replacing old and crumbly glazing, no need to remove and replace the pane, clearly.)

Step #2 is to wedge the points in. You can do this with your putty knife, as the points come with a handy-dandy little ledge under under which to jam the knife and press them into the wood. I have no idea if there's some general rule about how many to put in (I didn't bother googling that part) but we just put 3-4 on each side of average-sized double-hung sash, figuring that was good enough.

Step #3 is the beginning of the fun part. Do you like play-doh? I love play-doh. (Who doesn't like play-doh?)

Take a glob of putty out and start rolling it between your hands like you're making a bread-stick. Lay it along the edge of the glass, covering the points. Press it in a bit with your fingers. Repeat all around. (I forgot to take a picture of this step. I was over-stimulated by the play-doh.)

Step #4 brings the putty knife back into the picture. First, with your knife perpendicular to the sash (and the putty bead,) start pulling the putty up and away from the pane, toward the wood. Scrape the knife (and the putty) up against the wood edge. Do this along the entire edge. Scrape scrape scrape. This helps jam the putty into the corner.

Step #5 is the most technical part. This is where you smooth it out and make it look all lovely. For this step, your knife should be angled, and you'll go in a direction that is parallel to the wood edge, rather than perpendicular. Start in a corner and scrape SLOWLY from one end of the particular edge to the other. If the putty is pulling up behind your knife, you may be going TOO FAST. Slow down.

Step #6 Clean up any lines of putty excess that were cut away in your smoothing strokes.

Step #7 Admire your handiwork and tell all of your friends.


Putty is temperature-sensitive. Try to do this work either indoors or on a relatively warm (but hopefully not sweltering) day outdoors. Also note that it can take up to a month for the putty to cure enough to hold paint. Check your product container for details.

Also, do you know what this is is the photo below?

This is a broken window pane that someone had siliconed into the frame. Please do not do that. It makes the pane VERY difficult to remove. It also looks ugly, and is just all-around annoying. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Also a quick tip for easy clean up...

Use masking tape on the glass at the outside edge of your putty line. Take your putty knife and use the tape line as a guide. Then when done pull the tape off and you have a nice clean edge.

Jacob Honer
Honer Stained Glass Studio
Gaytee Stained Glass Studio

Ranty said...

That's a great technique! I wish I had thought of it. I'll definitely employ it in the next round.

Reuben said...

This is great tutorial. Thanks for posting this.

I know this is an issue that a lot of people feel very strongly about... but I'm not one of them. I'm probably more likely to replace in my old home than repair - for a couple reasons.

I think one thing that doesn't do us any favors in this discussion is that so many of the examples of replacement windows we seen are poor windows and very poorly installed. High-quality new windows correctly installed are GREAT.

Ranty said...

I agree with you that there's a wide range of quality levels in replacement windows. And, when I talk about them, I'm usually referring to the vinyl and aluminum varieties, rather than wood. It's absolutely true that a decent quality replacement window CAN be fabricated. Unfortunately they're also typically quite expensive, so we don't see them that much around here.

Out of curiosity, what are the couple of reasons that make you more likely to replace?

Reuben said...

So obviously there are a lot of variables that someone would need to consider before deciding to repair or replace a window. Some should be repaired, others replaced.

In my case, the window panes themselves aren't broken, but the sashes are in poor condition. The sills show signs of rotting (though this can't be totally confirmed since they're wrapped in aluminum siding). There's no insulation behind the jambs. Everything has dozens of layers of paint on it. I doubt the window openings are totally square. Storm windows are a pain in my ass.

So for me, when I consider the amount of time and effort it would take to properly repair the windows, including stripping the paint off everything, and effectively rebuilding the old window from scratch (if I actually want it to slide and seal correctly), it's simply not worth the effort.

Repairing would take months of extremely difficult work (and work I'm probably not qualified to do myself if I want it to look good). Replacing a window would take me an afternoon.

Also, anything that would allow me to get rid of those damn aluminum storm windows is an improvement in my book. I hate those things.

The only reason I haven't already replaced my old windows is that it would probably require me to remove and replace all the old interior window trim, and I'd rather not have to do that.

Ranty said...

It sounds like you've put a lot of thought and consideration into your window situation Reuben, and I can appreciate that.

Rotten sills are definitely a problem. I've repaired some with wood-hardener and wood-putty, but there are definitely sills out there (I just saw some yesterday on a showing of a Healy house) that are beyond hopeless and need replacement.

If and when you do go for a fix, check out this list of contractors:

I've heard good things about A-Craft, in particular.

Also, I'm totally with you on hating the aluminum storms.

Anonymous said...

Be careful what type of glaze you use.

There are several types of glazing compounds.

Traditional linseed oil-type putties (like Sarco MultiGlaze Type M or Allback Linseed Oil Putty) are hard, "knife grade" putties.

Acrylic glazing compounds can be either hardening (Aqua-Glaze) or elastomeric and flexible (Glaze-Ease 601).

Modified oil-type glazing compounds (such as Glazol, Perm-E-Lastic, and DAP 33.

Many window specialists are not fond of the common DAP 33 type because it is non-hardening and will not allow the necessary paint coatings to adhere properly.

BTW...For less than the cost of a quality new wood window you could have someone repair your original windows for you.

Anonymous said...

Try Abatron wood epoxy for an excellent structural repair on rotting windows and porch details.

Ranty said...

Thanks for the tips Anon!

You know, it's funny... we totally used DAP 33, as I had not bothered to do product research ahead of time (oops!) but upon deciding to write this post, I read a lot of folks saying exactly that about DAP.

Also, we had two tubs, and they were completely different. Though we could not find anything on the containers indicating wood or latex, we strongly suspected that we had one of each, judging by how there was a greasiness to one and a rubberiness to the other.

At any rate, the next time I glaze, I'll try a different product, for the experience.

And if it turns out that DAP is crap, at least I know I can take it out and re-do it... in... you guessed it... a SNAP! :-)

Ranty said...

Er, with respect to the two tubs of putty, I meant to write "oil" or latex, not "wood" or latex.

John said...

I did my whole house in South Mpls, with eight-over-one divided lights - it took half the summer. I got a really neat tool from Nicollet Ace hardware, an electric putty melter that rapidly softens the old putty without heating up (and thus cracking) the cool old wavy glass. It was a hundred fifty bucks, but it speeds this process immensely.

Anonymous said...

35-40 window sash from older home (1912) with antique glass. Most sizes approximately 24" x 24". Exterior of sash is painted and interior of most sash are natural finished or stain and varnish. If you have an interest in these items please reply.

From Craigslist free section on 4/05/2011.

JamesNeighbor said...

When my partner & I moved into NoMi, we requested that the PRG contractor put the old porch windows back in, despite the new storms they'd installed. They did so, and re-glazed the original windows. Thanks, PRG! The new dual-pane windows in the rest of the house are fine, but having originals on the front porch adds character you don't get with replacements.

Anonymous said...

Over all not a bad introduction to the subject.

The wood in sashes which are more than 50 years old is far superior to materials commonly available today.

Several things not mentioned that are important IMO (I've done this type of repair for more than 20 years).

1. After removing all old glazing compound and the glass prime the wood with an appropriate primer. I use a 50% boiled linseed oil and 50% mineral spirits mix. Apply liberally,(I use a small brush) let soak in for five minutes and wipe off the excess. Directions for this are typically found on the boiled linseed oil container. Priming allows the glazing compound to bond properly to the wood. This prevents a path for water to get between the wood and the glazing. This is especially important if the wood has been weathered by exposure.

2. Back bed before installing the glass. This means applying a thin layer of glazing to the surface where the glass rests. This makes for a better seal, and prevents rattling (which will loosen the glazing). Apply the layer press the glass into place and then install points.

3. Glazing points. A point setter (looks like a staple gun) and 3/8 inch diamond points are the way to go. On many divided light sashes the muntins are too small to allow the use of push points. See what the local hardware store guy uses, if there is still one. Or for example something like

4. Glazing compound. What April3 9:43 said. The time you spend makes it worth using the best material, not just what the local stores stock because everyone else stocks it. Be sure that the glazing compound is compatible with the boiled linseed oil-mineral spirits primer.

5. Get a couple of old windows and practice for free at your convenience. Do the whole process start to finish include priming and painting with the exact materials you intend to use for the job.

6. Plan to remove the windows and work on them at a bench for best results. Out of the weather and rain, and minimize the time on a ladder. If you are lucky you can find a few windows the same size as those in the house, practice on them, and then start swapping them to allow the repairs to continue.
Having a number of sashes to work on at the same time makes for efficient use of time, and allows a helper to assist.

7. Remember to do all necessary wood repair and paint stripping to the sash before the glazing begins. Prime and paint after the glazing cures properly.

8. RTFM. Read The F**king Manual!. Seriously, read the directions and do some research so that the products you are using are used corrctly.

Anonymous said...

I'll probably take some heat for this but I'm posting anonymously so what the heck...

Those ratty old aluminium storm windows? You can spray paint 'em. Just mask them out with newspaper, lay down lots more newspaper, wait for a no-wind day and go to it.

They'll still be aluminum storm windows, but they'll look better, and if the previous owner used some silver and some white ones, at least you'll have a little more consistency, color-wise.

Remember to wash and clean them while you're at it, and a little silicone spray lubricant will improve their function.

Hey, it keeps 'em out of the landfill....

Ranty said...

I've totally painted cheapy combo storms! I had never thought of it until an old neighbor suggested it to me. I was skeptical about adhesion, but it actually worked fine.

I used a brush to apply the paint, but spray paint might well produce a better coating.

I agree about keeping things out of landfills!

John Allen said...

Very interesting post on old windows, I hope my customers don't read it, ha! I sell double-hung vinyl windows. Just checking around the web to see what everyone is saying. I just build a window site for my company in Little Rock.

Alsatian Felix said...

Even this cartoon gets it.