Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Window problems and solutions

Today’s episode is about windows. How easy is it to identify window problems? What causes these problems? How are they inspected? Do you need new windows?

Reuben and Tessa discuss their observations about the kinds of windows that are usually damaged due to poor moisture control, condensation, and temperature or weather conditions. Reuben also shares his experience with his failed windows which were degraded by humidifiers. 

Reuben and Tessa notice that the common damages are rotted sashes, failed seals, and collapsed glass. Moreover, they share their views on window materials such as wood, aluminum-clad wood, fiberglass, and vinyl. They also share the use of an infrared camera and suction cups during home inspections. 

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The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.


Reuben Saltzman: The standards cover windows, they say as a home inspector, you need to inspect the windows. I think that’s what our standards say, that’s about it.


Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, the Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections, and whatever else is rattling around in our heads. Welcome today. On the episode today, we intend to talk about windows, and in our business, home inspections, windows are kind of an interesting part of our work. There’s often times… Let’s just put it this way, sometimes you’re not in the best of condition, but when it comes to standards of practice, there’s not a lot we can say about them. If there is collapsed glass, we can mention it or blown seals, we can mention it, but it kind of falls outside of the standards, doesn’t it, Reuben? 


RS: The standards cover windows, they say as a home inspector, you need to inspect the windows. I think that’s what our standards say, that’s about it. When you talk about failed seals, those are specifically excluded from home inspection standards of practice, at least if you’re following ASHI, it says that home inspector’s not required to report on failed window seals. Tessa, why does it say that? 


Tessa Murry: Gosh, well, my guess would be that it’s so hard to identify that problem. A lot of failed seals are just… They’re not visible. Not easily visible, I would say.


RS: Yeah, my patio door has a failed seal, and I’d say 29 days out of 30, you don’t know it. It looks perfectly fine, but every once in a while, I can’t remember what the weather conditions are, but it’s where you get a big swing in temperature. I think it’s where it gets really hot really fast and we’ve got the AC on, and all of a sudden, it gets all foggy and you know that it’s a failed seal, but most of the time, it looks perfectly fine. And for those 29 days out of the month, if I were coming along to do this home inspection, there’s no way I would catch that defect. And you know what? We haven’t defined a failed seal. I jumped right into the discussion.


BO: We’ll get to that, Reuben, we’ll get to that. We kind of jump right into the discussion here.


RS: Yeah, we did.


BO: What I was trying to suggest is, sometimes it can be hit or miss how easy it is to identify these window problems. I mean, rot, and failure of a frame or just an operational thumbs down is pretty easy to detect, but there’s other things that we find that might not be evident to us when we’re in the house, but boy, do people get hot when they find it after the fact, and so you try your best to talk about all this stuff and identify it, but there’s just sometimes where it escapes your eye on a given day. Reuben, let’s dig into your recent experience with a failed window of a… What year is your house? 


RS: Built in 2000.


BO: Okay, so you’re probably better than the houses that I helped build back in the ’90s where some of that material was a little sketchy, but on the early days of manufactured or Westwood material.


RS: Yeah, no doubt. Yeah, it’s not a bad window. It had all of the stuff that leads to a rotted sash. It had all of the conditions that would cause the sash to rot out. When we looked at our house, it had gone through a couple of price drops and we were just touring an open house, and so the listing agent was here, and one of the first things we noticed going around is that it was natural wood windows, it’s real wood, and the wood was black on a lot of these windows. It just did not look good, the windows looked like crap, and I said, “So how these windows do?” And he goes, “Oh, oh, we’ve got… Blah blah blah.” and he did this song and dance, like this has clearly come up, and it was pretty obvious to me that this was a sticking point for a lot of people looking to buy this house, as they didn’t wanna come anywhere close to these windows ’cause they look so bad.


RS: I ended up taking a closer look at all of them, and for the most part, they weren’t in bad condition, they just had black staining and it was the result of the previous home owners having a humidifier and surely having that thing cranked up to 11. The house is built with an air exchanger, one of those devices that brings fresh air in and exhausts stale air during the winter time to help minimize condensation on your windows, and improve your indoor air quality, it had one of those, but it was filthy. I don’t think it had ever been run… Well, it hadn’t been run for a long time, or if it had been running, it wasn’t doing much. It was so clogged and there was these… There was big window treatments on everything, and I suspect people had those closed, and when you have… This is a trifecta, it’s everything you need to have mad window condensation, and if you’ve got natural wood windows, that will stain them black, there’s no doubt about it, and eventually, it can lead to rotting at the bottoms of the sashes. And just quick terminology thing here, the sash is the part of the window that moves, unless you have a fixed pane window and then it’s just the bottom part that touches the glass, that’s your window sash.


TM: Is it safe to say that’s the frame of the actual window? 


RS: The frame is what the sash fits into.


TM: Okay, that’s right. Sorry, I don’t know why I thought frame was a better word to describe that when I…


RS: That’s right, sash holds the glass and the frame holds the sash. Picture that. Okay.


TM: Yes. Okay. Here we go.


RS: But yeah, so I knew that these did not look pretty, but after going around and doing a lot of poking and prodding and cranking them all open, when you’ve got a crank-out window, the technical term for that is a casement. And so I opened and closed all the windows. Actually, what my trick is, if I’m doing a home inspection and I’ve got a house where I’ve got some suspicious casement windows, a lot of the time, I will go around and I’ll open every one of the windows on my initial walk-through and then I’ll go outside and I’ll look at the underside of every one of those sashes because when these things rot, it’s always on the bottom where you see the rot first. That’s what I did here, open up every single one, or maybe had my kids open them for me, and I went around the outside and looked underneath every one, and there was one that didn’t look good. It looked pretty soft, I knew there’d have to be some repairs and shortly after moving in, I ended up doing the very temporary repair. I replaced the screws that held the hardware in place with larger screws.


BO: Okay. Nice hung.




RS: And I know what I’m doing, I’m just buying myself a little bit of time here. And it worked for probably the first two years. And side note, if you wanna follow along, and then look at photos of all of this, I did a blog post that I published probably around a week or two ago. If you go to our website and you go to the blog, and you look at the one called “Repairing a rotted sash,” you can see all the pictures, and I got a video on there documenting all this, but I ended up trying to open the window for the first time in the spring, and then when I went to close it, the hardware just ripped right out of the window and it pulled a big chunk of wood with it, and I went, “Ugh, okay.”


BO: And there’s a little bit of pressure on those connections when you’re actually operating that window.


RS: Oh yeah, there’s a lot. Those screws are pulling that window shut at a really weird angle, so those need to be secure.


TM: Lots of tension.


BO: Well, I’d like to jump in, ’cause you’re going down your window repair path, but let’s kind of take this a little bit from the home inspection angle. We have all these kinds of different windows, and then we have different generations of windows, if you wanna say that, the early double hungs, and then those… You got to your casements and other types of windows anyone knows, yada yada yada. But it seems like the double hungs from the old days were super durable. The glass was horribly un-insulated, but the frames themselves were always really durable, and… Do you typically find a lot of rot in those situations? 


TM: No. Well, I don’t. Reuben, have you ever found a rotted double-hung window from the 1950s or before? 


RS: I can’t say I’ve ever found one. I found rot at the frames, the part on the bottom, on the outside, some of those will rot, but never on the sashes, and I don’t know why that is. I think some of it has to do with just old growth wood. The wood that we used to use would be a slice out of a tree that’s been there for a very long time, it’s gonna be the middle of the tree, which is naturally decay resistant, and then you take newer windows, and we’re using clear pine on a tree that was designed to grow really fast, and it’s just not naturally decay resistant, so that’s part of it. And I think another part of it is that these windows were single pane windows, you would have a lot of heat transfering through it, and as we know, when you have heat moving through something, it tends to dry it out a heck of a lot more, so I think that helped too.


BO: And so it’s those 80s, those 90s, maybe early 2000 vintage, when humidifiers were getting used more inside of these houses, houses got a little bit tighter, maybe the moisture control wasn’t quite so good, it feels like that generation of window rots out really easy.


RS: Totally agree.


TM: I think you hit the nail on the head. I think that with older houses like that 1950s and before, they’re a lot more drafty and a lot more air leakage through windows and so it would dry it out, whereas houses from the 1990s today are much more air tight and so we have more issues with indoor air quality and condensation on windows and moisture on windows, just sitting there, rotting it out.


BO: Reuben, was the window that went bad at your house on the north side by any chance or where directionally did that window live? 


RS: That was on the… Yes, the north side.


BO: Okay, okay. You attribute any of that… I mean, there’s a lack of sunshine obviously in our area in the winter time on the north side of the house, that thing probably never got very warm or it never saw any rays of the sun, so.


RS: That’s right. Never got any of that. And there’s also a valley, a roof valley, right above this window, and there was no gutters on this portion of the house either, so it would get wet from the outside too, so I can’t really think of much else that could be happening to make this window rot faster.


TM: That window never had a chance.


RS: No, no, this was inevitable.


BO: So what’s the major failures that you see besides rot? You touched on them real quickly, but I’d like you just to sort of explain a little bit, you’ve got…


RS: You know what, one other thing while we’re talking about rot, before we move away from that, I wanna talk about aluminum-clad wood windows. And that’s actually what I happen to have, but mine did not suffer from the traditional problems of that. All of the cladding on the outside, it’s… What I’m describing here is a window where it’s actually made out of wood, and they wrap the outside of it with aluminum to protect that wood, make sure it doesn’t actually ever see any water. But there was a lot of windows, I think they were mostly made in the 90s where that seal between the glass and the aluminum would fail, and then you’d have water leaking in, it would get to the wood, and then it could never dry out. It would just trap that water there, and those things would rot out like crazy. I mean, you can go to a lot of those windows and you just… You give that aluminum a little bit of a push and you can feel there’s nothing behind the aluminum. The wood is just mushy or it’s gone. So watch out for aluminum-clad wood windows. Give them a push. Give them a squeeze. That’s my advice there.




BO: Give them a squeeze.


RS: Give them a squeeze.


BO: It’s like Mike Tyson, “I need a hug.” [laughter] That’s a long back reference from when he was coaching the Vikings. Anyway, so that’s a good note, we’re not gonna name any manufacturers, but there was a manufacturer that had a big time trouble with that.


RS: Yeah, we will not mention Scherer Bros on this podcast.




BO: Are they making windows any longer? 


RS: No, I’m sure they’re not.


BO: So just an unfortunate situation for people who got those, but… Okay, when you find a window like this that’s gone bad, can you typically go to the manufacturer and just be like, “Hey, I need a new… I need a new sash for my rotted out… My window that… ’cause my old one’s rotted out.” Is that… Yeah, I know, your eyebrows are way high like I don’t know if that’s possible, just… It feels like, as home inspectors, when you say repair or replace, what actually are you saying to them at that point, replace what? 


RS: Well, on a lot of these windows, I mean, like on my house, the windows are what, 21 years old now. I could probably get a replacement sash, I could probably figure out who the manufacturer was and go to some factory and buy a new sash from them. I don’t know what it would cost. My guess would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $500, but I’m just guessing. It’s a pretty big sash, it’s like two feet by almost six feet high. This is a big chunk of glass. So I could probably get a new sash from them and replacing the sash on a casement window is not a big deal. There’s a couple of screws to take out, a couple of little retaining rings and you pop it right out, it’s no big deal.


BO: Okay.


RS: But I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t wanna go through all the research of trying to call window manufacturers and have people come out and measure it, and it just… It’s so much time on the phone. It seemed like a drag to me, so.


BO: Well, you’re Reuben Saltzman, too, you just fix this kind of stuff.


TM: Well, I was gonna say, and you had all the tools you needed and the time, apparently, to take it all apart and rebuild it.


RS: Yeah, yeah. It’s how I choose to spend my time. I like working on projects at my own house. You couldn’t possibly pay me enough to do this at somebody else’s house, but when it’s my own house, I don’t mind it so much. I think of this little cartoon clip on The Simpsons, there’s an episode where, oh gosh, I can’t remember the guy’s name, but he’s got this electric car and, “What powers that thing?” And he just puts his helmet on and he goes, “Oh, this is powered by my own sense of self-satisfaction.”




RS: I feel like that’s how I am when I’m doing repair projects on my own house, it’s pretty satisfying.


BO: There’s nothing to say for that, except different strokes for different folks, right? 


RS: Exactly, exactly.


BO: Okay, I have a question about this rotted sash. Would you have gone through this work had it had a failed seal as well, or would you have done more research to get the whole thing replaced? 


RS: Throwing a failed seal on top of that, no way. I would have done the research and I would have just got a new sash that came with new glass, definitely.


BO: Okay, and let me ask you about this failure of the seal. Is that just a visual thing like you don’t wanna see through a cloudy window, or is there actually a big reason to be concerned if the seal has failed? 


TM: Well, I guess we should probably define how that happens in the first place, is a failed seal can only happen if you’ve got a window that has two panes of glass compared to a window with just a single pane of glass or glazing. So if you’ve got two panes of glass, typically, there’s a layer of air between them or some sort of inert gas fill like argon that they use to insulate, and so when you have a failed seal, it just means that that gas has been able to leak out, the seal has failed, and so air can come into that space and the gas can leak out, and so what will happen over time is when you’ll see this, when you’ve got a pretty big temperature difference between inside and outside, the two panes of glass can actually almost kind of act like a vacuum, that space acts as a vacuum, and the two panes get sucked closer together. If you have a failed seal, you can actually almost… If you put your fingers, one on the outside, one on the inside of that glass in the center, they could almost be touching. And so it does affect the insulation value a little bit of the window, but it’s more so…


RS: Yeah, a little bit.


TM: A little bit. Not much.


RS: Underline on little.


TM: Little, yeah. A little bit.


BO: Yeah, because they only have a little to begin with.


TM: Yeah, it’s true, it’s true. Like an R3 or something, but all depends on the window and how many panes and all that, but I guess the biggest problem with a failed seal typically is you’ll get condensation in between those panes, and so then it ends up giving the glass this kind of foggy look, and that’s why people say, “You’ve got fogged glass or a broken seal,” and there’s really no way to fix it, you can’t clean it off, so it’s more of a nuisance, I think.


RS: Yeah, it’s basically what you see is what you get. It’s, what’s the consequence? You can’t see out of it, or it looks terrible, it always looks dirty. Well, what’s the purpose of a window? To see out of, so… [laughter] It makes it so the window can’t really do what it’s intended to do, but as far as any other consequences, like you said, Tess, energy, not an issue, rotting, stuff like that, not an issue. It doesn’t have any secondary consequences, what you see is what you get.


TM: Well, you know what, actually, I should go back for a second ’cause I was kind of describing when you’ve got that failed seal, not every single failed seal do you actually have the glass act as a vacuum and suck in, that’s actually something different called collapsed glass.


RS: Correct.


TM: Right? And so not all failed seals will look like that, will have collapsed glass.


RS: Yeah, and the collapsed glass condition is actually something that we learned about here at Structure Tech within the last probably five years. I wasn’t even aware of this until somebody wrote in, one of our blog readers wrote in and told me about it and donated one of his collapsed glass sashes so we could keep it in the office. And the vast majority of failed seals is where the gas leaks out and air comes in and you get condensation, but with collapsed glass, the gas leaks out, but no air can come in, and so it’s only creating a vacuum and that actually looks fine. I mean, if you look at it from the right angle, you might notice that the reflection from the glass isn’t completely flat, it’s a slightly curved reflection, but that’s all you can see, so… In those conditions, I almost say like, “Who cares? It’s not a big deal.”


BO: Interesting. There’s a hack you can use with your infrared camera or just your regular camera, with the collapsed glass, doesn’t it show like a circle right in the middle of it if you get it at the right time of the day with the right temperature? 


RS: That’s exactly right. Bill.


BO: I forget. Is it the infrared camera, or is it the regular camera? 


TM: Yeah, you can see it with an infrared camera. Here in Minnesota, when we have really cold days, if you have a window with collapsed glass, the center part of that window where the glass is almost touching, is gonna be a smaller R value, ’cause there’s less insulation there as opposed to the corners of the window where there’s still a little bit of a gap and more airspace, so that IR camera’s reading the surface temperature of that window and so it’s gonna be colder in the center and warmer on the outside, so it gives it that kind of colder, almost circle, like you said, look.


BO: Is that evident from the outside or the inside? 


RS: Yes.


TM: Actually, yeah, I guess it would be from the outside. I’ve never scanned it from the outside, but you can see it from the inside, yeah.


RS: If it’s a cold day and you’re scanning it from the outside, it’s gonna be warmer in the middle.


TM: Reuben, can’t collapse glass also cause some other problems, too? You’ve written a blog about this.


RS: Oh, yeah. What ends up happening is when you got collapsed glass, and if the window has a low E-coating, and that means low emissivity, which means not a lot of heat is gonna get transferred through the glass, it means, well, where does that heat go? It reflects it. So it essentially turns the window into a big mirror when it comes to heat. And normally, when you got that heat reflected in a square, it doesn’t have any big effect on anything, but now that the glass is slightly curved, you can actually take that reflection and concentrate it, and once it gets concentrated, it’ll be about 20 to 30 feet away from the window itself, and if it happens to get concentrated on vinyl siding, it’ll create so much heat that it’ll melt that vinyl siding. And you get this melted siding where you get these weird warps that go with these weird angles and weird lines, and it’s the result of the sun moving across the sky and changing where it reflects, and it can look pretty nasty on some houses. I’ve never seen it super horrible in Minnesota, but I’ve seen pictures of people in some other states where it gets really twisted up. Yeah.


BO: That’s wild.


RS: It is wild, I agree.


BO: So we live here in Minnesota, and obviously, we know our own area, but does the failed seals and this collapsing glass, is that a thing in Arizona? Is that a thing in Atlanta or in Georgia? Is that a thing in Florida or is it just in extreme climate like here? 


RS: No, it can happen anywhere.


BO: Okay, so it’s not cold that causes that. It could just be any number of things.


RS: Yeah, I think it’s a manufacturing defect with the window.


BO: Okay, interesting. Now, your experience… I personally have a grudge against the 80s and 90s. I feel like some of the materials were a little suspect. Do you think in 2000, the aughts, 2010 to ’20, have those materials gotten better or are they just using different kinds of materials? 


RS: I don’t know. I think it comes down to how they put them all together. I think there was a lot of windows in the 2000s that were pretty nasty, too.


BO: Do you have an opinion on fiberglass versus wood or vinyl versus fiberglass? Would you lean one way or another? Or is it just, it’s a piece of… It’s a sash in a hole that’s got glass in it.


RS: I don’t have any strong opinions. I like vinyl, and the fact that it’s never gonna get stained when you got condensation coming down your window and it gets all wet. If I leave my wood windows open and then it rains, I’m just freaking out, like, “Oh, I gotta dry them right now, I’m gonna wreck my window.” With vinyl, it’s like, “Meh, it’s wet, wipe it off, it’s no big deal.” So I like the durability of vinyl, but I gotta admit they just… They feel cheaper.


TM: The aesthetics. Yeah.


RS: Yeah.


BO: Yeah, they glide better, though. Our house, our old house, we tore out the old double hungs that were wood that could barely move ’cause of 56 coats of paint and we… This is 20 years ago, we threw vinyl windows in there and they still move up and down pretty easily.


RS: You wanna hear a great tip I got? There was this elderly woman, I was doing a truth-in housing evaluation for her, and her windows just worked so smoothly. I was just like, “Wow, this is fantastic.” And she goes, “Yeah, it’s ’cause I clean them once a year, and I get on the outside and I lean out there and I clean the inside and outside of the tracks, and then once a month, I spray the tracks down with Pledge.” I went, “Oh. So that’s your trick.” And it keeps those vinyl windows operating like brand new.


TM: Pledge.


RS: Pledge, yeah.


BO: I’m busy the day those windows need to be cleaned. [laughter] I’m not sure what I’m doing, but… There’s a thousand things I’d rather do than clean a window.


RS: Yeah, I hear you. Not fun.


TM: Yeah, but in terms of… I mean, you’re talking about material type. I wonder, is there a style type that you prefer, Reuben? Do you think sliders are better than casements? Do you have a preference? To me, it seems like case… I always see casements that rot, like the one that you have at your house, but I don’t see that on sliders.


RS: And I don’t know why, but I just hate the crank operators, and over time, they get tough to crank open and shut, and how many times have you been on a house test where you crank it open and it won’t crank shut and you have to go outside to get it to close? Or you gotta pop the screen out, or what if it’s a second story or somewhere where you can’t even get a ladder? 


TM: Well, any home inspector, listen to this, or a homeowner, if you have a window. There is a device you can buy, and we all carry them at Structure Tech, I can’t remember what’s the… Does it have a name, Reuben? 


RS: Yeah, I think it’s called the big ass suction cup.




TM: Yeah, and you just stick it on the glass itself and then you can pull that window shut, so you don’t have to go all the way outside, get a ladder, climb up to push it closed.


RS: Yeah, I think the technical name is a glass puller, but I might be wrong about that.


TM: Yeah, those are great.


RS: Yeah, it’s made for pulling glass and lifting glass and it’s amazing. It has saved me. It’s nice to have those in your tool bag. Well, have one in your tool bag, for sure.


BO: I think sliders leak so much, there’s no way they can actually rot,’cause they dry. And awning windows, they all seem to be fairly durable, casements are iffy, but I’m a fan of double hungs.


RS: I like double hungs, too, honestly.


TM: Me too.


RS: I like the operation of… The one drawback to a double hung is that you get just a little bit less than 50% is openable. The beauty of a casement is the whole thing opens, you get a lot more air coming in your house when you open one of those.


BO: Well, just in egress on the cabin, we put double hungs in the cabin. Ell, we are putting double hungs in the cabin, and the egress window is… It’s gotta be pretty big. It’s a four foot wide window. [chuckle]


RS: Yeah, it has to be. Those are big… They have to be big. Well, you don’t have to be four feet, maybe like three feet.


BO: Well, it’s just based on the size of our window. I think it’s actually 4 x 3… Excuse me, 4 x 5. Five tall, four wide. Feel like I could drive a snowmobile through it, but…


RS: Are you gonna be able to open that? 


BO: Yeah, it’ll be fine.


RS: Okay.


TM: Wait, that’s a casement window? 


BO: No, no, no, no, no, double-hung.


TM: Oh, double-hung. Wow.


BO: Yeah, but it lets a lot of light in, which is cool, so…


RS: Not bad, not bad. That’s a monster.


BO: Yeah, I just feel like double hungs are… They’re the work horse. The Clydesdale of windows. They just seem to go on and on and on, and they’re never bothered with anything, where your casements fall apart.


RS: We should define double hung. What’s a double hung window, Bill? 


BO: Well, it’s got two pane… Or it’s got two sashes and it slides up and down, versus a slider which has two sashes and it slides side to side.


RS: Yeah. For a double hung, it means that you’ve got two movable sashes, you can open the bottom or the top. And then if you have a single hung… And my last house in Maple Grove, I had, I’d say double hung windows, but technically… Now I forget, I’m pretty sure they were actually all single hung windows, where I could only operate the lower half of the sash. In fact, I’m sure of it now.


BO: That’s pretty technical, I just… Okay, so fine, if the top one… If the top one is fixed, not movable, that’s a single hung, so we don’t offend anybody, and then a double hung, you can actually move both ones. That’s right.


TM: Just gonna say, 80% of all double hungs act like a single hung.




RS: At least… Yeah, yeah, and especially when you get into old Minneapolis houses…


TM: Old houses.


RS: It’s like those things have been single hung for the last 50 years due to 80 coats of paint filling that upper sash. Although, when I used to live in Minneapolis, I was in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood, I had upper sashes that were still operable at my 1940s house, and I loved it because during the evening, you’d close your shades and you’d get those top down, bottom up shades, lock off the lower half, but then you open the upper half of the window, so you still get all light… All the ventilation coming through your house, but you have privacy at the same time.


TM: Yeah, that’s great.


RS: Those are my favorite kind of windows, for sure.


BO: Yeah, they’re just too big for these… The houses, I mean, the sort of suburban houses that have a ton of windows and… You don’t see many double hungs in those situations.


TM: No.


RS: No, a lot more single hung.


BO: Okay, so you went through this 14-hour project to replace some wood on your window, and…


TM: Just a simple DIY, anyone could do it.


RS: Yeah, it wasn’t quite that bad, but I shared the blog, just kind of as a discussion of repair versus replacement, ’cause so often as home inspectors, we’ll recommend repair or replacement of something and people say, “What’s better?” It’s like, well, I don’t know. It depends on who’s doing the work. For me, if I was not the home owner and I couldn’t be doing all of this work, it surely would have been better to just replace it, but because I had all the tools and I kind of like putzing with this stuff, I chose to repair it, but it was a four-day project. Not four continuous days, of course, but it was a lot of different steps to get this done. I had to start by taking that sash out of the opening and had to plan a time where we were not gonna be out of town or any of that, and make sure that my dog is gonna be home because now I’ve got a huge hole inside of my house and anybody could just get right through it, and dog Sarge will make sure that doesn’t happen.




RS: But then I had to cover the opening with poly and big 6 ml plastic, and I had to tape the heck out of that because every time the wind blows just a little bit, that poly would push in really hard, and so I ended up using a layer of poly on the inside and the outside, and then I put the insect screen back in, too, to help give it some rigidity so it wouldn’t push too far in. So it’s like, all the stuff I had to do just to prep for not having glass in that opening for several days, had to get that all going. And then I took off all the hardware, I spent about an hour setting up a jig to cut out the rotted wood. I could’ve just used a circular saw and free-formed it, but of course, there’s no way you’re gonna make a perfectly straight cut that way, so I did all this clamping and put all this extra wood on there and all that, so when I set my saw down, the cut is perfectly straight, and it starts and stops where I want it to. So cut out all the old wood, I used this wood restore product when I was done ’cause I wasn’t able to get every last bit of the rot out of there.


RS: There was still a couple of areas where the wood was a little soft, and there’s this stuff that you can paint on damaged wood, and it’s this penetrating epoxy. I think it’s called WoodEpox. Yeah, that’s it. WoodEpox by Abatron. It turns your wood to solid steel, essentially. Even if your wood is rotted, it restores the integrity of it. I mean, it’s epoxy. So brushed that all on there, let it sit overnight, and then ended up cutting up new wood, fitting it all in place, gluing it, screwing it, and then putting a bunch of similar epoxy putty into place to fill in all the gaps that I couldn’t get, let it set and then sand it all down, get it all perfectly smooth, all the profiles match, and then paint it. And all of a sudden, done. This was a four-day project, and today, it looks perfect. You can look at it and you can’t tell the bottom portion of the sash had been falling apart. It looks great. I mentioned in the video I recorded that I probably went nuts with the wood, I’ve got this little stash of a really fine wood in my garage that somebody gave me.


BO: Cigars? 


RS: No, no, it was a Brazilian walnut, I think, and it was just a little stick of it, but it was almost perfect without having to cut it, so I use that to fill this in. So this is the hardest wood of my house at the bottom of this window sash now.


TM: You’ve got a stash of exotic woods in your garage? 


RS: I do, I do. I’m not giving you my address. I know it’ll send the wood thieves right into my house.


BO: Some people have… I meant, with the cigars, is they have doors and they have a fine collection of cigars, you have a fine collection of exotic wood.


RS: That’s right. That’s right.


BO: That tracks with everything I know about you, so…


RS: No surprises here.


BO: When’s the last time you picked up the phone and tried to get a hold of somebody who could repair a window? 


RS: It’s been a while.


BO: Yeah. I did that, ’cause there was a little… It wasn’t our fault, but when you break something, you gotta fix it, and we had done a home inspection, this was several years ago, where it was a casement, it was cranking out and there was just enough paint stuck at the top and the window bowed just a little bit and it snapped, and so… Yeah, This beautiful line crack right up the middle from like a 70s vintage window, and…


RS: Yeah.


BO: It had to be replaced. You get on the phone with the repair person, and there’s like three of them in the town of Minneapolis, I think. And they’re slammed busy because, of course, people don’t have the talents you have to go ahead and fix their windows like that, so they’re totally busy, and I know… I know this person’s on our contractor list, but they did a really nice job. I was really surprised though of how expensive window parts are. It’s not cheap, ’cause it’s a custom job, essentially, every time.


RS: But there are…


BO: Any other hacks you wanna share with people just to make sure they don’t get stuck with an open window on the third floor? 


RS: Well, no, not for that. But one other thing we didn’t talk about is what to do if you have failed seals and you wanna address it. A lot of people think about buying new windows, but you never need to replace your window when you have a failed seal. There’s a much easier way of dealing with it. And you call a window repair company, and there are companies that specialize in this. They will get new glass inserts, they call them IGs, Insulated Glass. They call them IGs. That’s their short name for them. And basically, they take your window apart, whether it’s wood or vinyl, whatever, and they take out all the stuff around the IG and they order a new one. They put your window back together and they slap it back in the frame. And I mean, they get good at this and they can get a window done in, I don’t know, maybe a half hour or something. They take it all apart, put it back together. And I had a ton of failed seals in my last house, and I had a team spent about a day there. I think they replaced about 20 bad seals.


TM: Wow.


RS: And I can’t remember what they charged me, but I mean, it was just a fraction of what it would have cost to get new sashes or heaven forbid, new windows. Just a fraction of that. When you got failed glass, failed seals, you don’t need new windows. There is a way to repair it.


BO: Maybe. If that glass is available and if they can get it apart. That just feels like one of those projects where when you’re all done, there’s one screw left over and you’re wondering…


RS: Well…


BO: Where’d that come from? 




RS: You know, for this glass, it’s gonna be independent of the manufacturer. They come out and they measure the exact size of it.


BO: Oh, you just…


RS: And then the company is going to custom make every one of those IGs.


TM: Wow.


BO: Oh. So then if they break a window or break a frame or something like that, now they’re back to the Reuben Saltzman technique of…


RS: That’s about it.


BO: Making it from scratch, but…


RS: Yep.


BO: Well, it’s good to know there’s pros out there who can actually accomplish this type of stuff, and…


TM: I’ve got a question. Reuben, maybe you can give an example of how you fix this. What about windows that have a rot on the exterior portion of like the trim or on the sash. Like, what would you recommend for that? ‘Cause I don’t think you need to replace the whole window a lot…


RS: Oh…


TM: In a lot of situations, right? 


RS: You could use a pretty similar product that I just described. Abatron makes the one that I was using, where you would go and you’d dig out the rotted portion of the wood, use a screwdriver or something, and you treat it all with the WoodEpox, the wood hardening epoxy product, penetrating epoxy, and then you use that two-part putty that I described and you can fill some… You can fill very large gaps with that stuff. And when you’re all done, it’s gonna be harder and stronger than the wood was, or so they claim. I guess, I’ll be honest, I used it at a door of my last house and that was my experience. It worked really well. And you fill the gaps in with that, you sand it down, you get it to match the profile, and then you paint it again and that’s a perfectly acceptable way of doing it. And you’re not gonna need a ton of tools to use this method. I mean, basically, you’re gonna need a sander and some paint. That’s about all.


TM: Yeah, that’s pretty doable.


RS: Yep, yep.


BO: Have you ever noted… You were talking about soft sashes. Have you ever noted that at the frame, if you ever… Aluminum-covered frames, can you pinch and you’re like, “Oh, there’s no wood back there.”


RS: Oh yeah, absolutely. And it’s always gonna be in the bottom corners of the frames. Yep.


BO: That’s a complete replacement of the window.


RS: Yeah. I don’t know how you would deal with that.


BO: Okay.


RS: I’ve never seen somebody replace part of the frame before.


BO: Okay.


RS: Yeah, I think that’d be a new window.


BO: That’s a pretty involved process, at that point.


RS: Yep.


BO: Just even getting that old window out, ’cause that more than likely has nailing fins that are behind the siding, and maybe you gotta deconstruct a few things to get at the…


RS: Mm-hmm.


BO: Get at the fins.


RS: Well, at that point, do you have to worry about rot in the wall too? 


BO: Depends.


RS: Yeah, that’s where…


TM: It depends. [chuckle]


RS: That’s where, when we’re writing up our reports, we say, “There’s a big potential for concealed damage. Have it opened up and further inspected and repaired as needed.”


BO: Is that where you get out your all and you start pushing around on the one side of the house just to see if it goes in very easily? 


RS: I don’t use my all so much for that anymore. I’ve moved over to using my finger for that.




BO: Okay, alright.


RS: You go looking with your all and you put a hole in the wall and someone says, “You drilled holes in my wall.” Yeah.


TM: You say you’ve got some good videos. I’m trying to remember, you probably have it in a blog, but I know that we have these videos in class, real estate agents, identifying water intrusion, exterior walls where you just use your moisture meter and scan that over some wood lap siding underneath windows and they just…


RS: Yeah.


TM: Just goes off.


RS: Yep, yep. That’s a good way to find it too, if you got those tools, for sure.


BO: Reuben, is your repair video up? 


RS: It is up. Yep. Posted that… I don’t know. Probably about two weeks ago, almost now.


BO: Okay.


RS: You can find it on the website.


BO: Okay, on the website. Perfect. Well, if you’re at all curious and you have these kinds of issues and you’re wondering if you can tackle it, Mr. DIY over there, he set the standard and you can… [laughter] See if you can live up to the ERS standards.




TM: We’re gonna have to start ranking your videos with beginner level, moderate, and expert level DIY.




TM: So people have just have a warning going into it. I feel like this is an expert level DIY project on this window.


RS: It probably is. I used a lot of tools. I used a table saw, a planer, a couple of different sanders, a lot of jigs. There was a lot involved in this.


TM: And an exotic hard wood.




RS: That was totally overkill.




RS: I just have it sitting around in the garage.


BO: Only you, Reuben. Only you.




BO: Well, I think we should put a wrap on this week’s episode. Thank you very much for listening. Windows can be… They can be an expensive little part of a house, and if you’ve got a bunch of them that need to be replaced, you certainly wanna know ahead of time, and that’s why we always… What, Mr. Saltzman? 


RS: Always double-check? 


BO: Recommend home inspection, of course.


TM: I was gonna say, glad he called on you. I didn’t know what the answer was.




TM: I thought he was gonna say that’s why we check every window that we can, not just a representative number. You never know what you’re gonna find.


BO: Yeah, there you go. That was a shameless plug, and I thought I would… I thought you would be on the balls of your feet to answer that right away as well.


RS: I fell flat. I let you down.


BO: Next time, next time. You can see the show prep. We didn’t get to that, so…




RS: Wait. But… Have either of you guys seen Arrested Development? 


BO: Oh, yeah.


RS: That’s why you always leave a note.


BO: Hmm…


TM: You know, I heard that I would really like that show, but I’ve never watched it. Gonna have to.


BO: Yeah, I didn’t see that episode or those episodes, so… [chuckle] I will say I was a novice watcher of it and I never really picked it up, so…


RS: Oh, whatever.


BO: Now I have to go see it. Anyway, thank you everybody. Boy, if you’re still hanging on, you’re true troopers of the Structure Talk podcast, and we appreciate it. If you know anybody who you think would enjoy this, please tell them. The more listeners we have, the better. So thank you very much for listening. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. That was my phone, just dinging in the background. Again, it did that. But it won’t happen again. Thanks for listening, everybody. Catch you later.