Settle a spousal argument...

karinlJuly 5, 2011

Isn't arguing with your spouse just the best part of renovating??

We are currently replacing a window in our house. The one we took out was already not an original; the house has in fact all aluminum windows from the '70s or so. We replaced it with one the same size - about 5 feet wide and 6 feet high (the new one is divided into sections; the old one was mostly a single fixed pane). We think the aluminum unit likely replaced a pair of double-hung windows - in fact, one of the weights and a pulley wheel were still in the cavity. And in addition as we took things apart we found the usual horror show of bits of wood, hacked off headers, mortar filling in the central post gap, and the like.

ANYWAY, once we had the window in, we noticed that opening and closing it generated a bit of movement in the whole wall, suggesting it is not the most stable thing on the planet, and got to discussing what the original structure would have been. One of us thinks that the original two windows would have had a continuous stud running up between them (thus using two shorter headers and each window disrupting only one stud), while the other thinks that even that original pair of windows would have been a single unit with a single header spanning the entire 5 foot distance (cutting 3 studs). That there is a single, likely original, sill complicates things.

As we have no original sets of windows left in our house, we can't settle this. Perhaps someone else can?



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How old a house are we talking about?
Type of construction? You mention mortar.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 7:40AM
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In my 1912 colonial, you both would be wrong. Our double window was 2 single windows side by side. They doubled up king studs on each side but used no header. The bottom plate for the sill was continuous across both windows but notched to provide some extra room for the weights.

Needless to say, the center was sagging and should have been supported. Of course ,this is after 100 years, so what do I know. It my house, no windows or doors have a proper header. (with the exception of some double pocket doors.)

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 8:32AM
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Investigating the origin of the opening will not tell you what is above the window; you need to uncover that space and see what is there. If the building is old, there might be a full 4x6 or larger wall top plate or, if the building is newer, a band joist that keeps the window head from deflecting enough to break the glass.

Excessive movement of the wall on either side of the window usually means the king studs at the jambs are not continuous (ie, they are spliced) between the floor and the floor/ceiling framing above or other nearby studs do not properly span this distance.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 9:28AM
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Never speculate or guess about a construction issue - go find what you need to know preferably with your own eyes.

Never argue with your spouse unless you are able to lose gracefully and often.

Never take the advice of a stranger on the internet except from me.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 1:54PM
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Fori is not pleased

And ask the neighbors if their homes are similar.

Arguing is okay--it seems like a fairly civil discussion.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 2:07PM
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I learned along time ago working on my dad's apartment house that there were no standard written rules for construction for a very long time in American history. Around WWII, things started to be standardized if I remember correctly. Before then everything was done to eyeball and to whatever standard that team of workers was accustomed to.
Hence in his apartment house it was not uncommon to find studs on one wall every 32 inches while on another wall they may have been 15 inches and then 28 and then 16 inches and then 32 all on the same wall.
Windows and doors were even worse. Some had two real 2x4's nailed together supporting the sides and others had what looked like the leftovers from the rest of the room nailed together to support the window or door. Ya never knew till you removed the wall covering what you'd find.
It sounds like you may have a similar situation.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 2:13PM
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Unfortunately, Renovator, it's a theoretical argument since we can't go back in time! And this disagreement is relatively low stakes, since it doesn't really matter - just curious. We have had most of our walls open and there are no wall plates... I'll have to go back through our pictures to see exactly what we did find above. I don't think this is all so bad that we will want to stiffen the wall, as it's a short piece and the house seems pretty stable.

Casey, the house is 1905, a very modest wood-clad Victorian.

There are three of these very wide window openings in the house, and in each case at the bottom of the opening there is a big hole evidently left when the pair of original windows was removed, and filled with mortar. There is no other mortar, brick, or stucco. We have always assumed that this was where the post between the two windows was, but we never really thought about what that post consisted of. So that's really the question.

Thanks for the inputs,


    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 2:17PM
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Residential construction has followed an evolutionary path where once a lot of workers had to toil under a single master builder to fell, hew and fit timbers together into a frame. New methods and practices were introduced and the more they saved time and money the quicker they would be adopted over a large area. So Timber framing gave way to lighter weight "braced frames" which gave way to "balloon framing". On the west coast, platform framing was introduced and represented a great leap forward and has subsequently replaced all other types.
I see very few balloon framed houses with headers for single windows and doors. The stacked windows, stoutness of the top plates, well-nailed diagonal wall sheathing, and the let-in ledger that carries the second floor joists were, in combination, enough strength that the header was arguably unnecessary. But for wide openings, still very necessary. You need either to replace the missing central king stud(s) in your wide opening, or fit a properly-sized header supported by jack studs that extend down to solid bearing, either directly upon floor joists or straight onto the sill.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 5:49PM
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I think we have all our jacks and kings in order, actually, against all odds, once the random pieces have been removed, even if the size of the elements is off - this is the house built of 2x3s and 2x6 joists. We feel the sheathing holds it up! But hold up it does.

Our next area of concern is putting on the exterior casings. The modern way seems to be to seal the bejeezus out of everything, while the old way seems to have been to leave lots of openings for air to circulate. Have to navigate through that.


    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 1:45AM
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Karin, I'd love to see a photo! (Seems like pics are posted of everything but windows - & I like to see them!).

Kudos to you, for your original post, btw! You were SO careful to be neutral! "One of us thinks...", "the other thinks...", no "I think" vs " he says". Very cool, & fair. :-) So - YOU were right, no doubt about it!

Sorry if over-posting, to all. Up again with a sweet little guy w/what I suspect is his 1st ear infection. (Don't even tell me that damn (drained now) kiddie pool has caused MORE problems!).

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 2:40AM
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Thanks, KS, and I hope your little man gets better quickly.

I have been snapping photos, so here are some. The window is a complicated design that takes into account that the neighbour's shed roof is right beside it and that we kind of look into each other's windows, so the ability to cover part of the window was important. I kind of designed it from the necessary window treatments out, plus for summer ventilation. The previous window was like the one still in place further along the wall: fixed upper pane, small bottom slider. Not being able to open anything overnight left us baking for the previous 18 summers!

And yes, you are not imagining things: the outside of the house, the curtain, and the ceiling in the room are all orange, and they don't all match! I regret to admit I did not previously realize that the mismatch must have been painful for the neighbours, as we don't often see this view.

My husband says that with all its wings deployed it looks like some space probe or something... but it's nice and cool in the room! As for why it is painted it green inside AND out... another spousal conversation!


    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 3:39AM
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Clearly "Uneeda" header. My best guess is that your house does not have any sheathing to help distribute the roof load. Your siding is nailed directly to the studs. This makes it quite simple to remove siding and do the header fitting from outside.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 8:00AM
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Never argue with your spouse unless you are able to lose gracefully and often.

Never take the advice of a stranger on the internet except from me.

:-) Thanks Renovator8. Words to live by.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 8:57PM
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Casey, we do have sheathing, thank heavens - proper diagonal, full 3/4 inch. We've never had the wall below this window open as it has wainscoting, perhaps another element that strengthens the wall somewhat. Above, we know we have a header, but I don't think it is technically big enough.

The interesting thing is that the house is not saggy at all. Clearly whatever the original set of windows had for support was adequate, and in the interim while the aluminum window was there, the support was also adequate. I think the question we are working up to is, will there be new risks with this window that did not exist in either the original construction or in the 40 years the aluminum window held up?

I actually think there might be. For example, when we pull the bottom awning windows shut, we'll stress the wall in a direction and at a spot it's never been stressed before - and there is a potential flex-point at the bottom corner of the window if the jack studs and king studs are not properly done (and I don't think they are, now that I've looked those terms up and more carefully studied proper wall framing for windows).

As we'd really rather not open that wall, especially wrt removing that wainscoting, we'll do some research with a studfinder and check out photos from when we had all the walls open pre-drywall. Thank you for your assessment - very thought-provoking.


    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 11:05PM
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Fori is not pleased

I like the green with the wallpaper (which you probably aren't saving but if you are it's kinda nice).

That window design--perfectly designed for your needs while looking good with the home. Can't beat that. Just don't put mylar on the wings or it just might take off!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 11:46AM
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The wallpaper has been discussed often too, Fori! Chosen 20 years ago and applied to one of the three walls we planned to paper (the 4th wall of this room is kind of a hallway), we are about ready to put up the rest of it after we strip the adjacent woodwork with our new IR paint stripper. I'm hoping the stuff that's been in storage for 20 years will match the stuff that's been up. Fortunately, we still like it too!

Our decorating really is a continuing comedy of errors. The planned trim colour for this room was green, but a lighter shade. But I've since learned that dark window frames make windows look a bit porthole-like and seem to suck up light rather than reflecting it into the room, and with this much wood on the window even DH agrees the effect is a bit on the dark side.

I used to be the anti-neutral brigade, "anything but beige" being my motto. Now I'm studying paint chips with names like "Alabaster."


    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 12:29PM
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if the wall is moving, it's likely not attached well to the foundation.

Most of our house were build between 1875 and 1925 and for the most part, the house IS NOT attached to the foundation. In some areas, a bit of the sill plate rotted, and in fact the whole wall (a non-support wall) was hanging there. The adjacent support wall was sinking, we had to raise it back up about 3" to get the roof line level. The main reason it wasn't moving is the overlapping siding on the outside of the house.

Here is a picture showing the non-support wall after we put the support wall back in place.

An ouside shot while we rebuilt parts of that wall.

BTW- we did drill into the footings and attached anchor bolts. The two story section no longer sways on windy days.

That part was built in the early 1900's

This is part build much earlier - and it's just sitting on the rocks used for the foundation.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 12:38PM
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Karin - IR paint stripper? Lucky duck! Have you used it much yet? Are you loving it? An IR stripper has been the ONE thing I gotta have - for ages, now! Not going to happen any time soon, since some $%# stole many of our power tools - on Fathers Day, if you can believe it. $$ will be going to replace them for a while.

That is one cool window! Thanks for showing it to us. Your husband sounds like he has a great sense of humor - priceless, especially if you live in an old house. ;-)

Amazing, isn't it, the joy of finally being able to open (deploy?) windows & getting some air flow?

Oh, FWIW - you haven't been torturing your neighbors! You've been training them to not look in your windows. :-D

"...Ground Control, over & out".

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 3:43PM
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Christopher Nelson Wallcovering and Painting

I'm hoping the stuff that's been in storage for 20 years will match the stuff that's been up. Fortunately, we still like it too!

Sorry to say ,it most likely will not.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 5:39AM
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Christophern, we won't be looking too carefully :-) At this point it's going up whether it matches perfectly or not.

KS, the IR was what I asked for for Christmas! We've only used it a bit, but are both very impressed. It does such a nice large area at a time that you can really make progress. But we have discovered that (a) you can still make burn marks on the wood, (b) it does still smell bad even if it releases less lead than a heat gun (which I got for my previous birthday...), and (c) whether you can get to clean wood in one go seems to depend on what was on the surface first. What I love is that the debris is not mucky, so it's easy to manage. All in all a much cleaner and more effective process than any other method, and trust me, I know!

Sorry to hear about your tool theft! We had someone grab a bunch of tools out of the basement in a B&E many years ago. Now we stash them so well that we can hardly remember what we have or where it is.

A guy better have redeeming qualities if he goes around painting the inside of your window the same colour as the outside...

Thanks for the compliments on the window; it was a real design challenge, and I think a construction challenge too. The top opening is a whole separate box; this made it easier to build, transport, and install. Going back to the framing, the amount of movement in the wall is not that much, and we have no sagging. But Macybaby your points are well taken and I have always meant to check if we are bolted to the foundation or not - we should be, in an earthquake zone, but the basement is finished so it's hard to tell. Congrats on the work you got done on your house!

With the input from here I found an article (linked below) about framing around windows; maybe others will find this useful.


Here is a link that might be useful: Fine Homebuilding article on wall framing

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 3:19PM
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karinl, I have to steal that window design! It isn't the right style for my house but on the back side in the country, who will know? Comfort over historical accuracy!

How did you do it? Brand of windows?

As for the wall papaer. Can you start the new piece in a corner and stop in the next corner? The color difference won't be so noticeable.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 9:25AM
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Hi Pinch Me, yes we can, and we will, and it won't - it's not technically a wallpaper it's a "vinyl wall covering" and they seem to age well on or off the roll.

Glad the window meets with your approval. Our house gets so hot in summer and we don't have AC - this isn't really an AC climate, not like what some of you live in, so we usually just suffer through with fans. But my theory here was that if there was any air movement outside, this window would allow us to catch it.

As with every project, though, you only know everything when you have it done, and then you just want to go back and do it again just to do it right! So if I had it to do again, I think I might split the top vent window just so I could have a continuous support up the middle. One big surprise here has been that putting an attractive window frame in place makes up for losing the full daylight we previously enjoyed with the single fixed pane. Mind you, this is summer, ask me again in winter!

Even keeping the design, I would probably also reconsider how I split the boxes - as I said earlier, the top awning opening is a separate box. It might have been better (easier to handle and better structurally) to do two top-to-bottom units side-by-side, or combined the top three openings in one box and made the bottom two awning openings a single box (then the sill could still be integral). It really depends how you want to do window treatments too.

Ah well, I'll get the kitchen window perfect when we get to that one!

As for brand, I went with a local independent shop, just went in with my measurements and a sketch. Linked below, for anyone who's local and wants to know. We had no complaints about them and think they did a pretty good job. They are under new management since we bought, but same shop staff.


Here is a link that might be useful: House of Doors

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 12:56PM
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Oh, that vinyl wall covering will still look good long after you don't! I used it over 1/4 in. paneling in the breezeway just 'cause I couldn't take the paneling another year. Looks so good I'm going to let it slide a couple more years.

I've got the vinyl coated in the bathroom. Wallpaper just does it as far as I'm concerned. Oh, kitchen backsplash is also vinyl coated ginham checks!

I saved your window photo for "someday". This old house has had a big pile of money spent on it the past 7 years. It's time to work outside for a year or two. I don't usually have the air on but this week......every day! When I worked outside all the time the heat didn't bother me so much. Now that I work in air conditioning I get hot easily. I'm out in the country and get a decent breeze all year round, especially in January when it isn't called a breeze!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 6:50PM
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