One of the issues that comes up often with wood frame houses is that they can bend a little, and a ‘hole’ in the house where a window should go can warp a little over time, especially if the old window frame itself is deteriorating. What makes a home relatively easy to build – because is one of the most versatile building materials on the planet – is also the bane of window and door installers. A modern window is made of synthetic materials – at least partly – and is ideally suited to a symmetrical cavity within a building’s wall. Still, all is not lost. There are several options.
Reset the window cavity carefully to be symmetrical again
A dentist friend of mine once said he considered dentistry to be more like fine carpentry than it is like medical work. A lot of work is making teeth – artificial or otherwise – fit into the space by, sometimes, making the space fit the teeth. Installing a new window in an old home can be a bit like this. You want to each window in your home to be symmetrical, so it might mean applying a little pressure on the house framework in order that the new window frame fits perfectly. Remember, too, that a modern window frame is a completely different product than was available even a generation ago.
Bracing – if I may borrow a term from orthodontics – is how a window frame can be adjusted to fit a new window. Once the window frame and its contained panes of glass are all in place and secured, the bracing can be removed.
Today’s window performs many more functions than did the windows of fifty years ago. They must block ultraviolet light, burglars, sound, provide physical security and heat insulation. They also must provide flexibility in the form of moving parts. And they must last a long time under adverse environmental conditions; freezing on the outside while warm on the inside, then later, comfortable on the inside and baking hot on the outside. Those ‘swings’ in conditions means a modern window must be well made. Fortunately, today’s window is a marvel of engineering. You can’t tell simply by looking at in a showroom, until you see a cut-away section of a hybrid wood – and – vinyl window frame. There are cavities throughout the frame, each section designed to perform a function.
Vinyl itself is quite a good insulator. Perhaps not as good as, say, balsa wood, but is far stronger than such a wood. Balsa wood couldn’t be used in a window frame because it would be far too weak. Vinyl, on the other hand has become a New Age wonder material. Do you know what that ‘new car smell’ comes from? Vinyl. Probably not a very healthy think to be strong enough to smell, but people like it, and associate it with comfort, safely and personal transportation, so it sells cars.
Vinyl makes makes things; more as each year progresses. I am sitting on a fake leather upholstered sofa right now, and the material is actually vinyl. It takes a keen eye to notice that it’s not real leather. (Or someone just reading the white label attached to it). It is made to behave like leather in so many ways. It has an ‘imperfect’ look to it, as leather must be because it is made of the skin of cattle or similar animals. It stretches and changes slightly, just as you would expect leather to do. But it’s vinyl. Very comfortable, too, which is why it’s an economical alternative to leather.
Over the last several decades, scientists and engineers the world over have worked on newer and newer ways to transform a base vinyl material into all forms of wonder materials and structures. It’s no wonder so much of it can be found inside a new car. It can take decades of heating, cooling, freezing, baking, yogurt spills, child vomits, and still be cleaned up to look new – or almost new – again years later.
Window and door manufacturers have discovered a way to make ever more powerful products by starting in the lab. Experiment, experiment and experiment all year long to come up with ever more clever ways to build a functional window frame. I will bet, it must be almost possible to make an actual firearm from vinyl. Certainly, garden implements are commonly made of it, and I imagine it will be with us for a long time.
Adjust the window frame to match the cavity shape
Every house is unique. At least, the ones in our Puget Sound are. Because they are made of wood, and each piece of lumber is unique, the resulting house must have its own unique aspects to it. For instance, if one particular window frame supporting beam had several knows it it, although it might be perfectly capable of doing the support work it was designed to do, it will warp slightly different over time than a piece of lumber with fewer (or different) knots in it. Thus, each window frame situation should be looked as in its own right.
When a window installation professional comes to look at your home to do a pre-installation inspection, he or she will probably want to examine each window and door that will need to be replaced in order to get a complete understanding of what kind of issues will be need to be addressed during the project. While the side of the house facing the north might be perfectly symmetrical, and therefore each to slot new windows into, the south facing windows might have issues because of the direct sunlight. In any case, it’s good to understand every single issues with all the windows in question before any work begins. In fact, before any project is agreed to!
Slight adjustments can be made to a window frame. It’s not always a good idea, though, and particularly because a window relies on its frame to remain strong and fully functioning.
Better to work directly with your window installation expert before making any decisions.
More next week!