A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Look Through Any Window

With Houston’s humidity and heat, many of us do not open our windows often. For some people, our windows are constantly covered, so no light can come into our homes. Others are not sure how a window should be treated. For me, windows fulfill a need to connect with the outdoors, without having to deal with the insects. This article was going to be about window screens, but after talking to a client during an inspection yesterday, I decided to expand my scope for this blog.

For any piece of equipment to function properly, it needs to be used. During most inspections, I find windows that are either screwed shut, or they are difficult to open. When a window unit is not used frequently, it will stick due to build-up that will accumulate. Clean the parts of the window, and open/close the unit a few times to see if it stops to stick. If you continue to have problems, look to see if any part is bent. Warping due to expansion and contraction of metals can happen. Depending on the window, you may be able to fix the parts.

I find damaged or missing window screens on every house that I inspect. Kits for creating new frames or replacing the screen material are available in home improvement centers in the window/door section. If your frame is in good shape, just re-use it. For making a new frame, you will need a hack saw. When measuring for a new frame, remember the spacer provided in the kit for the corners. Measure the distance with a tape measure in the groove that the frame will sit. All of these frame kits come with instructions, but they are very easy to put together. For the screen, you will need a flat head screw driver, scissors, and an Xacto knife. You do not need the special little tools that they sell for window screen installation. Use the screwdriver to gently pull out the screen’s gasket which holds the screen in place in the frame. Gently because you do not want to damage the frame or the gasket. You can re-use these gaskets when they are in good shape, but buy more of this material to replace worn gaskets (it is sold in the same section). Place the screen material over the frame , and cut it roughly to size. Remember that you will want it slightly larger than the frame to accommodate putting the gasket back into place to hold the screen. Use the screwdriver to push the gasket down into the groove of the frame to hold the screen down. One person can do this step, but for better results you will want two people. When one person is starting to fit the gasket and screen in on one side, the other person can stretch the material over the frame, so you will have the material taught when completed. If one person is doing this alone, use a piece of gasket to hold other sides down, while you begin on the first side to be inserted. Use the Xacto knife to trim the excess material from the frame. There will be little plastic shims in the frame kit or on the frame. These are placed under the gasket at the bottom of the frame to help you remove the frame from its socket in the window. This process can take a while when starting, but take the time to make the screen fit and look good. I suggest that you buy a screen material which states that it offers solar or UV protection. Somewhere on the package it will state that it will cause the room to be cooler (in some type of verbiage). These products do work, and they can help reduce your electric bill by letting you use less air conditioning to cool your home.

Your window does not have a perfectly straight edge. If you measure along the top, middle and bottom, you will find that the measurements vary slightly. Why I am telling you this? So you will know how to measure for blinds. For vertical or horizontal blinds, you want to take several measurements along the course of where the blind is moving. For example, along the top a window can be 26 inches, and it may be 26 inches along the bottom. If you order a blind to be 26 inches across, it might stick along the frame in the middle, since it could measure 25 7/8 inches. Generally blinds will be made with some space along the side, so that they will not scrape the wall, but some windows can have some pretty good fluctuations in their height and length. If you are planning on curtains, take the time to figure out how they will hang along the wall. Where will the support hardware be, and will this cause the curtain to drag along the floor. Ideally curtains should be at least an inch above the floor. You do not want them caught on something to prevent them from opening and closing properly. I lightly make marks on the wall with a pencil, using my tape measure and level to ensure a nice straight line, marking out where my hardware will be. After I have mapped this out on the wall, I measure it again to check that I did it right, then I can begin to install the hardware. I erase visible pencil lines before putting up the curtain. You can measure from the floor, the ceiling, or the top of the window frame, but you should remember that none of these reference points will exactly match for levelness. That is why you need the level. Curtain rod hardware will come with instructions of how it is to be attached, but you need to consider your situation when following these rules. My one year old daughter has some beautiful curtains in her room in which she enjoys playing. However, she found a new use for those curtains. To climb onto a cabinet, she took some pillows from her bed and placed them in front of the cabinet, then she grabbed onto the curtains to help lift herself onto the pillows. The curtains came crashing down. I was amazed at her creativity, but I realized then that the screw provided with the hardware was not going to be enough to handle the stresses that a little girl was going to come up with for its use. In this case, I switched over to a long sheetrock screw, since it fit through the hole in the hardware, and its length helped withstand some of my daughter’s tugging. For a more serious situation, I may have used a wall anchor with the appropriate screw to have the curtains withstand more weight. In most cases though, the hardware will come with the best fasteners for the job.

Broken panes of glass are not to hard to replace. Wear protective gloves when working with glass pieces (I am not always so smart, and I have had some bad slices because of this forgetfulness). Take precautions when removing the old pane, so you will not have glass shards everywhere. Use the trusty flat head screwdriver to scrape the window frame clean of glazing and particles. There are other tools for this, but I know that you can do this task with tools that you already have around. You may want some type of knife to help you with this task. A glass shop can cut a piece to the dimensions you need. Buy the putty like substance that is meant for holding the glass in place (silicones can be really messy for this task). Some glass will have these little diamond shaped metal pieces for holding it in place. These are usually on wood frames, and you should re-install them. The glazing will take a while to dry, but you are finished at this point.

Here is an idea to give your window a new coordinated look with your house. Paint the frames. People always remember to paint wood frames, but all frames are paintable. I painted my aluminum frames black. This color causes the frame to recede from view when looking at the house from the front yard or sidewalk. Inside the house, the frame could match your color scheme for a room.

If you feel that draft during winter, you will want some of those insulation strips that are sold for windows. Purchase the right size! Bigger is not always better. Your window is designed to close in a certain position, and these strips could be too large. Look at your windows construction, and fill in the gaps with an appropriate insulator. One of the few times that I actually recommend silicone is for sealing around the window frame to help keep your air conditioned air in and the drafts out. Check to see that the silicone is right for you application. (Silicone is a great product when used in the proper way, but many people create new uses for it all the time).

I hope this gives you some ideas and hints for your windows. Good luck. Just plan out your job by thinking through what you will need to do, and do not buy a specialty tool that you will never use again. Every contractor that I know adapts other tools to the task at hand, instead of lugging a lot of specialty tools around with him.

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