I like to watch the Home & Garden channel to see house porn and get ideas for our place. It’s kind of a spectator sport sometimes, because the people featured on all of those shows have absolutely no taste. Here’s the setup: an otherwise normal looking couple has their house on the market for eight months, and they can’t understand why it’s not moving—could it be the fact that they’ve decorated it in Early American Frat House? Young couples who would ordinarily throw judgemental looks at me in the Starbucks live in condos that look like the bed of a municipal waste truck.

Then, some expert blows in, forces them to dispose of their stuffed animals and model train periodicals in a humiliating yard sale. Afterward, they throw the remaining furniture out, buy some window treatments, paint the place in colors other than white, and Voila! the house sells. Miraculous!

There are other shows, like the ones that feature flipping (how’s that working out for you this year?) and renovation, and I like to see what people have done with basket cases like ours. I steer clear of This Old House, which is made for WASP-y hedge fund millionaires who can afford to hire The Largest Crane In Connecticut to lift a barn over a pond, or install enough solar panels to light a municipality. I also avoid While You Were Out: even if you have the hottest carpenter on TV, a $1,000 budget will only get you cheap-looking custom furniture painted in one ugly color.

Mainly, I like to watch so that I can find solutions to problems that only this house presents. What do I do if I have no heat in my kitchen? How can I replace a slate roof without declaring bankruptcy? Where can I find replacement valves for my radiators?

Usually I’m disappointed because these programs are only interested in answering easy questions, like which end of the hammer hits the nail? But once, I saw something that got me excited.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been back and forth as to whether I should start replacing all the windows here at the Estate with vinyl, or find some way of making the existing windows better. A few weeks ago we had a guy come and quote on new basement windows, and on a lark had him quote separately on the dining room windows (which are long past saving). Surprisingly, the price was reasonable—much less than I’d guestimated.

As it suddenly got cold outside, I kicked around the idea of going room by room with vinyl. This place seems to have gotten draftier with each passing year, even in the rooms where I’ve scraped, repainted, and recaulked the storm windows. Where we’re losing the heat is in the weight pockets on either side—a 6″ deep cavity covered by two bare pieces of ¾” thick wood, hardly an energy efficient solution.

Vinyl sucks, though. It’s ugly. I like the warble in our existing windows, which were built in the days when glass was still imperfect and contained lines and bubbles. I like the look of wood. And the two vinyl windows that predated our arrival are cheaply made and already discolored. Plus, some botoxed “realty expert” on one of the house programs said that buyers don’t like vinyl, and are looking for natural wood windows wherever possible. This statement got me to thinking, but I took it with a grain of salt, only because the program was filmed in Southern California, where their idea of cold weather attire is long pants and a warm macchiato.

A couple of years ago I saw something on one of those programs, and dug around to find it online: the Pullman Manufacturing Company, who make a product called window balances. Essentially, it’s a spring-loaded cord that fits into the pulley pocket used by sash weights. Cut the weight cord, pull out the pulley roller, and replace it with the window balance, then attach the end of the cord to the bottom side of the window, and there’s no need for weights anymore—which means the void can be filled with insulation (somehow).

I missed the sales rep this afternoon, but I’m calling tomorrow to buy four. I’m going to test it out in the living room to see how much of a difference there is, before I make a final decision on vinyl.

Date posted: November 13, 2007 | Filed under house | 1 Comment »

One Response to The Replacements.

  1. ren says:

    Cracks me up how much alike we are. I remember having this discussion with you when I had the gnome home insulated in 2005, and I’ll tell you, having the weight pockets insulated (they just cut the weights and put lightweight leaf springs in the window tracks, which if I had to do over again I would go your window balance route) makes a huuuuuge difference in the feel of the house. I’ve already bragged on the difference in oil consumption, some of which is due to a programmable thermostat and keeping the place at a rather nipply 62 when I’m not home/not awake, but using 1/3 of the oil I did pre-insulation/pre-furnace is worth wearing socks to bed.

    Keep the wood and fill the voids. You can buy the cellulose yourself, I think, or it won’t cost much to have someone come blow some in. (I’ve heard that foam is too hard on the closed spaces in the framing.) They blew mine in around the pulleys (again…not the best solution, in hindsight).

    Just my $0.02.