old house, polar opposite partner/owners?

ks_toolgirlSeptember 12, 2010

Here's one for this forum! What if you & your partner find yourselves on opposite ends of the "old house charm & wonder" spectrum?

If, like my hubby & I, you bought an old house because you could afford it... And each realize 2 different things after a few years...

Spouse "A" (HIM): "No WONDER we could afford this! Everything's old & falling apart, the windows totally suck! The heating/cooling bills are as much as the mortgage payment! And (don't disregard the importance of this one, here!) "NOTHING IS SQUARE!!!". A door frame should never, ever, be an irregular quadrangle! This + that = ... What? Crazy!"

Spouse "B" (me!): "Oh, wow! I'm starting to appreciate how OLD this house is! This is in bad shape - oh, so is this! ..but I read online how to restore it... Hey! I think maybe these windows are original! (Yes, hon, I know they don't have those sash-cord thingies, but these peg dealies that poke into these holes to hold it up - does that mean they aren't original? Well, I don't know either, but can't we find out? What?! "I" care, that's who! Restored old windows are more effecient & last longer than vinyl! Online, that's where I read it. It's true, tho'! No, dear, I don't believe that if I forward a thousand emails to a zillion friends I'll get a wish granted tomorrow @ 4:00. (Tried already, didn't work. You still hate how old this house is... And now everyone I know is blocking my emails, anyway, because of it!). I don't believe EVERYTHING I read online! You're a registered land surveyor, you can't figure angles if they aren't "right"? It's a door frame, you're a guy, sorry you're struggling - I feel for ya - but you can do this!".

Really - we get along wonderfully & rarely argue. Respect for each other keeps our ears open & mouths shut when it matters. But to him, our next house will be much newer, to me it'll be older & MORE original. I can't stand the newer "tinkertoy construction" (even if they do have...what's the word... Little rooms within rooms with doors... Oh, CLOSETS!). Lol!

Sorry this is so long - but is everyone else on the same page as their partners on the "feel" of the old home? How do you compromise, when both feel strongly?


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My advice would be to replace the windows, if you can afford it. While there is a lot of charm to the old-fashioned windows, there's also a lot of charm in a smaller heating bill :)

Out of square construction can be a bit frustrating, especially if you're trying to remodel. That would probably be one for it's an old house and it's going to have some issues....but look at the new windows!

Closets are a wonderful feature, but if you have a smaller room, maybe it could become a closet. I love walk-in closets and pantries, so I'm probably a little biased. Our closets are the kind, where only one side opens at a time, so you're constantly sliding doors back and forth...and still can't reach the stuff in the middle.

I'm not going to say it's a man/woman thing (that would be sexist) but there is definitely a left brain/right brain difference in the way we see things. The left brain, logical side thinks openings should be square, saved money is a good thing and it's easy to read blueprints. Right brain seems to be happier seeing the artistic possibility in something, rather than just the piece before them...and who needs blueprints, can't you just visualize how the space will be when we're done? (Okay, maybe we need blueprints for the contractor)

As for compromise, there's strengths to both sides. Your husband is looking at the bottom line and you're looking at the possibilities. Compromise where it will save some money, but let him know you expect that window savings back, when it comes time to decorate...or maybe for some lovely, large armoires :)

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 10:12PM
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Well, the thing about new houses is...there's a misconception that they are poorly built and the trim inside is cheap and crappy.

On some levels that's true...but if you are willing to spend the $$$ (serious $$$), you can build a house with wonderful crown molding and 6", stain-quality, detailed baseboards, hardwood throughout, built in cabinets along with a beautiful Victorian fireplace, sitting benches, interesting trim details both inside and out, little bumpouts, bay windows, etc.

On most new "spec" homes they put tiny 2" baseboards in, usually stained honey oak or white, no crown moulding, the same 2" around windows, vinyl and carpet floors, vinyl outside, often with little decorative trim, no built ins, no special woodwork, etc.

I don't think anyone today can build like they did in 1920, but, if you have the money, I would like to think that you can come *fairly* close, mainly with detail work...I don't think anyone today would be willing to build with plaster instead of drywall but who am I to say?

I don't know about you, but I don't have that kind of money LOL!

But I can understand where he's coming from. Our old house was somewhat cramped, low ceilings, nothing was square...our "new house" (built in 1910) has been renovated and is better built (imho), everything is as square as you could expect a 1910 house to be, the ceilings are 10'....so it almost feels like I'm in a newly built house except with lots of charm and expensive woodwork! LOL! And a parlor! And I got it for a steal!

Anyhoo that's my two cents.

And I'm with lavender on the windows. Although there is something to be said about original windows, ESPECIALLY on old Victorians or any other old window with decorative or unique properties, the benefit of a new window is so great. We were very thankful many of the windows were replaced, although I wish they would have been narrower.

I love old houses, and for our next house, I don't know if it'll be new or an old house. If we built new I wouldn't want to just build a spec home with no unique details, so we'd have to save considerable money.

It sounds like just the typical type of disagreements that pop up concerning old houses...you guys sound like you'll meet in the middle at some point, if the rest of your relationship is healthy, which you say it is.

And plus you know how guys are, they b*tch and moan. I'm pretty certain most men turn into grumpy-old-men once they hit a certain age...you know, murmuring about the times past, wondering where their tools disappeared to, etc. lol

If you guys get another house (I have no idea what your situation is), you could always compromise - something like our house that is very old but has been renovated in a decent way (i.e. they didn't take out what made the house special) so that you don't have so much work and it kinda feels new and old at the same time!

He'll come around :). My partner hates when I get on gardenweb and get "goofy" ideas but they usually end up being good ideas LOL

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 12:26AM
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It's a tough call when you love it because it's old and soulful and all he sees is old-and-crappy. The first year or two in an old house can be really really really hard. And expensive. It takes a while for all the little projects that you do to add up to critical mass. If you can get him to stick it out until parts of the house are rehabbed into old-and-wonderful, he may come to appreciate that it's all worth it. The first year in our house felt like glorified camping, but now at year six it's become the lovely old house that was always lurking below the surface.

Our current 1905 house is pretty square, but our prior 1920s bungalow was all out of whack. DH and I always joked "Why did you buy such a crooked house?" We laugh a lot about what we've gotten ourselves into. Sometime it seems like a crazy undertaking.

And it's just my opinion, but AACKKK don't remove the original windows! Do you have storm windows now? If no, well-fitting storms will make a world of difference. You can also make a lot of difference with heavy curtains and/or plastic on the windows on cold months. (And if you DO opt for new windows, think about storing the old ones somewhere so a future owner has the option to re-hab and re-install them.) And if your attic space isn't insulated, insulate it. When we did ours, it cut utility bills by almost a third and just made the whole house much more comfortable overall.

It just takes lots and lots of baby steps. Hopefully he'll hang in there for a while and get hooked on the place. Good luck!!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 7:30AM
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" It's a door frame, you're a guy, sorry you're struggling - I feel for ya - but you can do this!"."

Somehow, the people who see "charm" in out of square houses are the people who are "supervising" the work!

It sounds like your husband doesn't want to do all the manual labor but you want the place restored. The only way for both of you to get what you want (compromise) is for you to do the bulk of the restoration work. Old houses are a labor of love - emphasis on LABOR! If he doesn't really have the "love" part anyway, then it is just 100% labor for him. You are just asking him to spend a considerable chunk of time and effort on something he doesn't care much about.

BTW - old windows are not more efficient than new windows. If you put storm windows over your old windows, they can be as efficient as just the modern replacement window. That still isn't as efficient as the modern replacement window plus the modern storm window. The old windows have character and charm and will outlive modern windows, and I think that is reason enough to keep them for me. However, the thermal properties of old glass are inferior to all the options we have today.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 8:59AM
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"Well, the thing about new houses is...there's a misconception that they are poorly built and the trim inside is cheap and crappy. "

Like 2x4 studs that are 1.5 x 3.5 inches, drywall instead of plaster, undersized moldings everywhere.

The old moldings were made from 5/4 wood and often finished out almost 1 inch thick.

New moldings are made from 3/4 inch stock and finish out around 5/8 inch thick, let alone the narrow width.

I have owned houses dating from the 1750s to ones built in in the early 1980s.

You cannot fix what is often wrong with the new places (bouncy second floors are common).

While it can be a PITA to have to pad up modern lumber to match the old stuff, there is no doubt a full size 2x10 joist is more solid than a modern 1.5 in by 9.5 in joist.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 3:05PM
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In answer to your question, DH and I are on opposite ends when it comes to old house living.
I fell in love with this house the moment I walked in. I spent two hours in the drive way trying to talk him into buying it and another hour or so trying to talk him out of it.I saw the house as it could be and I knew it. I also could see very clearly what all the problems were. I told him point blank DO NOT let me talk you into this house if YOU are not on board with all the work it's going to need including a new kitchen. He claims he opted to make me happy BUT I know him well enough that if this wasn't really something he wanted to do too he would have told me to keep looking.
Here we are 14 years later. We're still doing work to the house, the new kitchen has not happened yet.
BUT we've made progress and slowly he's come around tho the heating bill is still a issue with him. It's not JUST the windows that create a huge heating bill it's the overall size of the house, 4000 sq. ft.
We've taken a very long time getting things done. He's not here very often due to traveling for work and we like the hands on approach..........tho I like it better when he's in one part of the house working and I'm in another. By trade he's a engineer and a perfectionist. His methods of doing certain things drive me crazy. We do not work well together but at least one of us knows that and has learned how to deal with it more or less.
I try hard to do the stuff he hates. Painting, removing wall paper, the gardening. The less he has to do that I can do the better it goes.
I let him see me making the effort, even if I fail at something he at least appreciates I made the effort so when it comes to him putting in the time he doesn't mind so much.
You've got to find the balance. It can't ALWAYS be about working on the house. There are some weeks we totally ignore the work and go off and play. You have to or else you go nuts.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 4:14PM
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New windows with all the energy efficient stuff are only a temporary fix. Once the seals break, they loose their appeal. Old windows plus storms are a much better solution, and according to the US Government studies, just as efficient. I love my old windows. Not only do they fit the house, but we are also as snug as a bug, even in Colorado winters.

BUT, I would never have bought an old house that needed work unless I knew that my husband was willing to do the labor with me and that he wanted to live in an old house. We have done a lot of work in the last 4 years, and have devoted most weekends to it. But now the worst is over and we couldn't be happier. Well, there is the landscaping that needs to be done, and the garage needs painting...

Maybe you should sit down and make a list of what each of you requires to be fixed in order that you be satified with the house. From the list, figure out who would tackle it and how much it will cost. Then talk about whether old house ownership is something you both want. You need to ask yourselves the questions: Is the potential worth the work? Economically, can we sell the house as is? What would we have to do, in order to sell? From this analysis, you should know where you really are with the house and what alternatives you have. If the bottom line is that you can't sell the house now, then you've got to let go of the negative and focus on the positive, set up a time line and a budget, and do the work to make the house your home.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 4:19PM
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I know exactly where you are coming from! My husband has often complained about the crazy, crooked house I bought. And yes, he can say that because I had it before I had him. LOL. He has complained that nothing is square, nothing is "straight" or "even", and gone as far as to joke(at least he had better have been) about burning it down and starting over.

Over the 5yrs he has lived here with me, we have tackled more projects than you could imagine. We have nearly rewired the house. We have replumbed the whole thing. Taken a messy, wobbly old sewing room and turned it into a bedroom. Gutted 2 more bedrooms, and turned a "storage room" with unstable toilet and tiny sink into a beautiful bathroom. It has become a joke with our family and friends that you can tell when we are working on a project in the house because we always have ladders on the front porch and saw horses with odds and ends sitting in the front yard because we can't get anything through the back door and porch because of the supplies stored on it. LOL.

Sometimes, it is a matter of laugh or cry. I try to laugh, but even I get frustrated. DH has often said that I am only keeping him until we get the house done- and I come back with the answer that he will be stuck with me forever then. We are always changing things and starting to work on something that we get pulled away from to work on another "hot spot" that needs it worse. I think we have been working on the kitchen for about 4 years. That being my fault for insisting that I be able to use it while we are working on it.

As you can see, it is a ton of work, but even DH has had the thrill of taking people on a tour and showing all of the things "he" has done to our house. He will complain until we get it all done and then he will complain that he has nothing to do. It might take 20 yrs or so, but we will get there. In the meantime, we work on all of the stuff that need done and squeeze in the things we want to do.

I love my little cottage and will be working on it forever. I have a picture in my mind, but I am pretty sure that DH sees it as a "honey-do" list. It is constantly compromising on things, but I like that he sees it as his house now and his projects, too. I even let him pick out some decorating details here and there, but I do retain veto power if it is just too- anything.

The good news is that it can get better, but if your DH won't give it a chance and never sees the changes, it may not be worth all of the work. It all depends on perspective.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 6:01PM
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Krycek- Good points about old vs. new construction.

In the Not So Big House, Sarah Susanka discusses this in some detail. All construction is a trade-off between budget, size and quality. Most people try to get as big a house as possible and most are working with a fixed budget, so the detail work is what suffers. In other words, there really isn't much detail work.

If you are willing to buy/build a smaller home and invest in more detail work, you can get a beautiful home with lots of charm. It might mean a living room that is really 'lived in' with the beautiful fireplace, window seat, trims, inglenook, etc. but no family room.

Of course, if you have an unlimited budget, then you can pretty much do anything you want, but many people don't think about adding such detail work, while they're building. Some trims and details are not that hard to recreate, while others need a craftsman to add. Windows are the same way, almost any style or type of window can be recreated, but it's going to cost some money. Less rooms mean more money available per window. Also less to heat and cool, once you're in the house.

Quality details can be expensive...but I would spend the money on those details, rather than a bigger box :)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 1:50PM
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DH doesn't really "hate" our house - that was supposed to be more of a humorous exaggeration on 2 different personalities, lol. We've been here for (wow! Really?) 12 years and have done a lot - & more projects to go of course. More often than not, they're actually DH's ideas! :-)
Lavander - the windows stay, someday I hope to restore them - I do put plastic on them in the winter. Lol - I'm actually in the process of turning the un-used 1st floor bedroom into a "family closet/toy room"! All clothes there, no more lugging them upstairs, YAY! :-)
Krycek - huh? Money? What's that? :-) When I visit people in brand-new homes, I'm amazed! The only floors that DON'T bounce are the basements. If ya sneeze on the 2nd floor @ 1 end of the house - I swear you can hear someone in the basement @ opposite end of the house say "Bless you". Don't get me started on indoor air quality! Air-tight may make for a $40 utility bill, but a healthy house needs to breathe! Several friends in those new houses have issues.

I actually HAVE been doing more labor, these days - learning as I go & loving it! There are many things I can't do, tho. Lol, the reason DH can't find his tools is because I have them now. :-)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 3:32PM
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LOL you're not alone - we also put plastic over some of our windows in the winter. The front bay windows I don't, so we can open the blinds to the east sun, none of the new windows get the plastic, and kitchen bay windows don't get it, but everything else does. It's just too cold on the first floor, with 10' ceilings, if we don't put plastic over some of the windows down here. So don't worry - you're not alone! I would assume that much like in Cleveland, that in KS, your main concern is by far heating, and not cooling. When that North wind gets a-blowin, you thank the stars that you have that plastic over those windows!!!!!!

lol and I totally know the feeling - money, what is that?!!!?! LOL

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 7:11PM
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Yep! For a few months out of the year I get over the "house needs to breathe" thing! Lol.
Omg, I forgot to say why I hate out 1 pair of new windows! (DH talked me into it couple years ago - I hope the old ones are in the garage, but who can get to the back of it to look?). Anyhow, they're in our room, 2nd floor. My 3 YEAR OLD has figured out every safety mechanism on them! The guy that installed them didn't remember to put the aluminum storms back on after, (he didn't remember to bill us, either, so I guess he has a "memory" problem), DH is afraid of heights. "5 feet is plenty", but rappelled of 50' towers in marine corp. Go figure, right?
So, I have to lock my bedroom door every morning so the little stinker doesn't go in there, open the window and fall out through the cheesy screen. (It's not even aluminum, dangit!). These are a decent brand, too. I'm not gonna say the name, but it starts with "P" & rhymes with Pella! :-)
Old windows stick, we all know that... But my tiny guy can't get them open, so I prefer that! It IS a straight drop to the sidewalk, about 20'! Years ago, my dog busted thru the screen and broke her leg. Sep anxiety, we had the gall to drive away without her.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 8:01PM
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As an architect, I've never met a homeowner couple who didn't have these issues to some degree. Usually one person takes the lead and the other is happy to follow but when that doesn't happen the design process can get difficult.

Naturally, my advice is to hire an architect. This common situation is more easily handled when there is a professional moderator to listen, guide and structure solutions acceptable to both parties. That approach usually saves a lot of money, time and aggravation.

Homeowners need to be excited and confident about a home renovation since it's a long, difficult, and expensive endeavor even in the best of circumstances.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 6:21AM
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I had to laugh when I read "DH can't find his tools cause I have them!" It's gotten worse than that in our house! I have my own tool box with a warning label on it for DH and our two grown sons. "Mom's STAY OUT!"
Not too long ago the guys were doing something involving pipes and decided they needed a pipe cutter. They couldn't find DH's. They were very surprised to find out dear ol' mom had one of her own. I had picked it up at a garage sale. I knew what it was from having worked with my dad on several plumbing projects on his rental properties as a teen.
I also went out and bought my own drill and jigsaw cause I didn't want to hear........."what did you do to my........ and where did you leave it?" Instead I have my own which has come in pretty handy and has cut down on certain discussions about tools.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 5:05PM
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Lol Carol!! I love the sticker idea - my plan was to get a pink toolbox (not neon, maybe something in a soft pastel?). It would never work. He wouldn't care. Now, the pink toolbelt I'm going to order WILL work! He lost his, then mine. (Where does he take these things off???).
There are tools that are "mine" & "his", by (mostly) mutual agreement. Mine, heat-gun, paint scrapers, all sanders/sanding equipment, etc. Anything we own for use in removing or applying paint, is the last thing he wants to use lol, & those are my favorite jobs. Oh - & MY "window-zipper", (1 of the best inventions I've come across in ages!), he's used it & likes it but knows it's MINE. :-)
He gets the cool stuff - table saw, jig saw, 50 other "saws". I have to ask to use those - which is fine by me as I'm still learning & we're BOTH more comfy w/him providing adult supervision, lol!
The router... Now, that I have my eye on, but don't tell! I'm going to master it & it will be mine! (And the pretty little "bits", too..). Geez. A Wizard of Oz reference from a Kansas girl. I oughtta be ashamed.
Dang. ;-).

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 5:13PM
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I went so far as to write MOM on some of my tools to keep the guys from walking off with them.
Nothing like reaching for a tool and it not being there.
With the boys out of the house in in their own homes I had to put up a wipe board in the garage with a marker. IF they "borrow" something they have to put the name of the item and the date so we know who to call to get our tools returned. It works pretty well.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 6:20PM
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Ks_toolgirl, I know exactly what you mean!

We bought our old house because it was very affordable and we loved the architecture. However, my frugal husband quickly fell out of like when he realized that old houses aren't cheap to maintain or repair. And there's ALWAYS something to fix or maintain.

We've learned he really needs to be living in a high-end hotel apartment, with maid service and a concierge who can get everything fixed ASAP with little cost or aggravation. I've learned how to be a little handier. It hasn't been all bad, but I'm not sure we'd do it again unless we had a lot more money to restore things as they should ideally be done, or more money to buy a home where most of the work had already been done!

My advice is to make a short list of all the things you like (and hate, so he can vent) about the house. For the things he likes, concentrate on making those shine, so he can at least focus on those things instead of all the (costly) drawbacks. And, make the entry rooms spectacular! Peanutsmom is so right -- men love to preen over "their" old-house successes. If other people ooh and ahh over it when they come over, his feelings about things could quickly start to change.

I've also had luck with a subscription to Old House Journal and with getting the Rejuvenation catalog. OHJ has helped him to know the history and reasons for some of the crazy stuff in our house and that it's not just us; seeing the catalog makes him appreciate the "old crap" we have for free that people pay big bucks for!

For heating, have you thought about getting blown-in insulation in the exterior walls and attic? It's not cheap, but I swear, it pays for itself in just a few years. And, replacing the GLASS in the old windows; you can get triple pane and it'll be better than new (and probably be a little cheaper). Hang in there! Your house is lucky to have you!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 10:47PM
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I don't have a partner in crime, when it comes to my old house, but I frequently have this same conversation (read: mini meltdown) with myself, "why did I buy this?" That was a frequent conversation during the 9 months of wallpaper removal! But one look at the beautiful moldings and walking across the creaky floor, and I realize that I'll never find this much warmth and comfort in a newer home.

As for the heating bills, mine went down considerably when I insulated the attic. There was blown in insulation in the roofline, but I added batts (9 inch) to the knee attic walls and ceilings. What a difference! The top floor is still chillier than the rest of the house, but much more tolerable. Even on those 19 degree days.....brrrrrr!

The latest bit of renovating I've been doing is putting in interior storms. I have exterior storms, but they don't seem to do much since my windows are in pretty bad shape. So, I opted for the interior storm windows until I can finish renovating the old windows, and am loving them so far. This will be the first winter with them, so we'll see how they work for that. There were only 2 days this summer where it was uncomfortable to sleep upstairs- a huge difference from previous years!

You can make your own- just google it- or go with a company like I did, and buy the kits, then add plexiglass. I used the Magnetite company.

Good luck and hang in there. I know us old house lovers are truly a different breed! Oh, and my 92 year old house....has walk in closets in every bedroom. Or, perhaps those are extra bedrooms???? LOL!

    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 12:46AM
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So many folks have commented on this post im almost affraid to add my note: Windows - We have an old house that had all the windows replaced with Vinyl. THEY STINK - I cant do anything to fix them - with old wooden windows there is alot you can do - wiht new you can only replace - replace and add these to the HUGE landfills. For some thats just fine - as long as its not in their yard. its the same with nearly anything old - you can actually FIX it - Shoes, Radios, Fans, Stoves. New stuff can ONLY be REPLACED - SAVE the old windows - It only takes a little education and that can be found quickly online or at the library.

My best to you and your old house.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2010 at 10:01PM
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We went to Home Depot the other day and saw that Andersen makes custom interior storm windows. If you are interested in keeping your wooden windows, that's something you could explore. They start at 60 dollars, so I don't know.

You could also have a piece of glass cut and frame it in wood and use it as a storm windows.

Personally, if I were to get new windows, I'd get the kind that's wood inside and vinyl outside, but everyone has different needs.

We're keeping the windows in our parlor like they are...they have some interesting designs on the frame. However, we will be replacing our single-pane window that faces west...too much air gets in it and it's just a huge liability. If done right, new windows can be very nice, I'd definitely recommend wood, or wood on the inside windows.

How is your renovating going, KS?

    Bookmark   September 27, 2010 at 12:23AM
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