The front porch was way too big of a project to start off with. In fact, it was so bad with peeling paint that the loan wouldn’t go through without it being repainted and the deadline was just 2 days away. The loan inspector told us we couldn’t have any chipping or peeling paint because of lead in old paint. He suggested we just seal it down by repainting it. That was a bit silly, I thought, to just paint over peeling paint without getting down to a sound base. It was such a temporary fix that wouldn’t even last the winter. What’s the point? The older women that we were buying the house from surely couldn’t paint it and didn’t want to pay someone else to do it. We didn’t have the time to do it before the deadline so the real-estate lady (bless her heart,) with a friend, slopped some paint on it. I’m quite sure the loan people never even came back to check it. With that temporary fix everything was a go, we moved in on Halloween.
The basement windows looked like they would be beyond repair if I didn’t work on them first. The snow of the winter would soon be burying them and causing more rot. There was a lot of hesitation on how to begin. With my husband working and I wasn’t, this house was pretty much my project, my job. I finally just began by taking the scraper in my hand and deciding to just do it.
Fifteen minutes later I had to stop because my forearms and back were killing me. It took 15 minutes to scrape one bottom section of one window frame down to good wood and it was not looking very nice. I had gouged the wood in several places and the new scraper already seemed dull. I had to be careful not to scrape the glass. There was so many layers of paint on those windows and in some places I saw they had been different colors over the years.
It took thirty minutes to get the shop vac out and clean all the paint chips up that I ground into the grass and dirt when I was scraping. I decided to go in and take a break and re-evaluate. It occurred to me that I should have removed the windows and placed them on saw horses, it would have been so much easier than being down on my hands and knees. I had done a little woodworking before but nothing on this scale and knew that I may have over-stated my abilities to my husband. Days later, armed with books from the library and book store on how to repair things, I started reading as the snow started falling and the basement windows hibernated for the winter with some bare areas on their frames. I read about using heat guns to strip the paint and wood epoxy to repair the rotten parts, I’d have to try it but it sounded more expensive. That would have to wait, the windows would just have to make it through the winter without help from me. Then we soon discovered they leaked some water down the basement walls when snow was piled up against them. I sprayed some foam insulation around the cracks and it seemed to help. I’d get to it when spring came.
When the weather permitted again, I started getting back to the basement windows, one at a time. I bought a heat gun and scraping tools. I removed the hinges and removed the window and set it aside. There was no getting around that I was going to be back on my knees on the hard ground as the opening was at ground level. The frame around the window was going to have to be stripped and repaired, too. The way the window shuts, no wonder water would drip in. There was no evidence of storm windows ever being installed. That inset area would fill with rain and snow. I decided to add quarter round stop molding up against the window when I was done so I could put weather stripping on the back for a better weather-proof seal for the window to press up against. I’d make storm windows to keep out the rain and the snow from even entering that area of the window.
I had to close the opening because our cats would escape and who knows what may enter. I went to Lowes and bought a piece of plywood and had them cut it to the right length and height. I cut a hole in it so I could have an electrical cord outside for the heat gun and nailed it in place.
I fired up the heat gun and watched the magic happen. Layers of paint scraped off like sticky caramel. It stuck to the scraper. I got an old coffee can to scrape it off the tool. That worked pretty good. Then I burned myself. The first thing you learn about those heat guns is you have to know exactly where it is pointing. Unintended targets will get burned. You learn that you always point it up and away from you when you do anything other than aiming it at the paint. Make sure no animals, kids or flamable things are nearby. That gun gets super, super hot and stays hot for half an hour or more after you shut it off. Know ahead of time where you will put it when you are done as not to start a fire. I put mine up on the stove until it cooled. Make sure the cord doesn’t touch the hot parts or you’ll have your cord wrapped in electrical tape repairs like mine. Be warned they say fumes from the lead paint could be hazardous to breathe. Now, after so many years, burns and “oh, no’s!” I consider myself a heat gun expert, safety has become second nature. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (and smarter.)
The heat gun took the paint off almost down to the wood. I scorched the wood in a few places (it was smoking!) and decided to have a spray bottle full of water nearby just in case. The little scorches and burns sanded off just fine. I was surprised the wood of the frame looked perfectly good. I only had to put filler in the joint cracks to make sure no water would get in there. As bad as that paint had looked, the bottom layer must have still been good to protect it like that. I wasn’t pleased to find all that caulking around the cement. I ended up painting it gray to blend in with the cement. By the way, those wires dangling are a constant problem. They clip up under the siding but keeps coming loose when the wind blows. A future project.
For the windows I set up sawhorses with plywood spanning them to give me a solid work base. I took off the hardware and cleaned it and then started stripping the paint off. The putty was in terrible condition and it wasn’t doing much to keep drafts out and had to be replaced. The glass needed to come out, too, because I needed to treat the wood on the front side and the glass was covering some of it.
The heat gun worked good on getting the paint off the window frames but when it came to the putty, it was hard as a rock. I heated the putty and it was beginning to soften and I was able to take a chisel and pick it out, some of it crumbled. I heard a tink sound when I was heating the putty. The glass cracked from the heat. If you are going to do this, shield the glass with something. I found a really wide spackling knife (actually it is called a drywall tape knife) worked good enough to shield the glass, after the fact. But now I needed to replace the glass and it was the old wavy kind of glass.
This gave me a new look on things. I didn’t like having curtains in the basement as it got too dark down there. Since I had to remove the glass in order to get the frame back in good condition, I’d replace the glass in all the basement windows with new privacy glass. That would mean I wouldn’t need any curtains in the basement. Our basement is unfinished and I use it for my projects and need as much light as possible. I saved all the old wavy glass.
There are six (but one is in a protected area that was still in pretty good shape so I haven’t touched it) basement windows so it took quite a while to get them all stripped. I treated them with the wood resins and wood Bondo-type material in any weaker spots or soft wood. I then painted them and ordered the new privacy glass. Putting the glass in and puttying was a frustrating experience. I was too exact on my measurements for the replacement glass. Some of them was a “hair” too large and I had to grind them down using an electric sander. That was scary. It wasn’t enough to take off that I could use a glass cutter. You have to leave enough room because wood expands and contracts during the year. After sliding the glass down into place I pushed glaziers points into the wood to hold the glass firm.
Puttying is a whole ‘nother experience. Some people are good at it, some aren’t. I thought I was one of the latter but then a miracle happened and I got the hang of it. I’m pretty proud of my puttying.
I made storm windows for all the basement windows. I bought the wood at a home improvement center and a router from Sears and learned to use it (scary at first) to make the grove (rabbet) for the window glass. I put the frame together using tenons and outdoor-rated glue. I primed them several times and painted them. I ordered the clear glass already cut-to-fit and installed them.
I’m including a photo I took a few days ago while we were backing out of the driveway in the Explorer (in case you are wondering why it looks like I must be 7 foot tall.) The windows are going on 7 years now and they still don’t look like they need any painting yet and they get snow piled on them all winter. The storm windows are keeping everything nice and protected.
So here is my before and after photos.
Before-They were in pretty bad shape but they came out beautifully and you see in the last photo, they keep the original look of the house.