In our house in TN and our house here in WV, we have been “blessed” with houses that had old, junky windows. When we first bought our place in TN, I wasn’t terribly confident in doing somewhat major home improvement projects, but one December, right after we moved in, I broke the window in Isaac’s room. We couldn’t have my young son’s window broken all winter, but I was too cheap to hire someone to put in a new window so we decided that I should have a go at installing a new one on my own. My first experience at it took a little time and a lot of shaky nerves, but since then, I have replaced tons of windows and tackled all sorts of projects.
So, that leads me to the current house, here in Charleston. This house was built in 1939. Because of that, it has all sorts of cool quirks and neat craftsmanship. It also seems, however, that it has some pretty strange features and things that are not really up to snuff. Adjacent to our family room on the bottom floor is a small craft room and a full bathroom. One wall of these rooms is below grade. It turns out that the original builders did nothing to drain or waterproof around those walls. Water has been leaking in to those rooms probably since it was built. I started gutting the room and found all sorts of fun stuff like a rotted wall (which I will replace), crumbling plaster (which I am removing), and lintel-less windows.
Typically, lintels are used to reinforce the span across a window. The floor joists from the room above are spaced evenly and rest on the support of the wall in the room in which I was working. In most houses, a lintel carries the weight of those joists across the window span so their weight doesn’t press on the window itself. Of course, my house is not most houses. Rather than a metal lintel or even a board or two laid on edge (which is strong), my floor joists were resting on a single 2×6 board laid flat (the weak way). “So what?”, you may be asking yourself. The thing is, after 70 years of weight and kids bouncing up and down and too much furniture, the “lintels” and starting to seriously sag and look awful. Eventually, the windows will be seriously affected as well.
So, as a part of the process of fixing the room, we decided to replace the windows and to install a proper lintel. If you ever get a wild hair to replace windows in your house, it is very easy…and you can save a ton of money! Anyhow, Saturday, I ripped out the old window. We had preordered a special sized window to fit in the opening. There are many ways to measure a window depending on your fit. You’ll need to remove the interior trim to see exactly what you want to remove/leave so you can get a proper measurement. Professionals sometimes will leave the trim when they measure. That’s usually a giveaway that they will be leaving a lot of the old window’s framing. The old framing as well as the frame from the new window often leave you with a much smaller piece of glass than the original window. It usually looks ok, but you get a lot less light through. I measured the exact opening without any of the old window to maximize the size of the window.
I rough fit the window (to make sure I hadn’t screwed up the measurement) which fit, and prepared to jack the floor joists of the room above so I could install a proper lintel. Jacking up a floor is a bit of a big deal so if you do it, be sure of what you are doing. The actual weight of a house in a given spot is actually not too great (I mean, you wouldn’t be able to hold it, but Superman easily could). I used two 2-ton bottle jacks to lift the 3 1/2 foot span of the window. Part of the key of jacking a house is to spread out the weight. The jack has a quarter-sized piston that carries the weight. The pressure of the jack’s piston, if applied directly to a piece of wood, would punch right through the wood. I had a few pieces of steel to spread the weight of the piston across the 4×4 wooden post I used to lift the house (see the pics). The nice thing about wood framing is that you can hear the house and wood fibers as they move. They are not likely to fail all at once. I felt at ease operating the jack directly below the area I was lifting.
Anyhow, I lifted the house slightly and slipped the new lintel in place. I slowly let the house settle again and the new lintel was level and eliminated the sag above the window. After that, installing the window was a breeze. I just set it in place, shimmed it as necessary to make sure it was level and plumb, and installed the four screws through the sidewalls of the window into the brick (you do the same thing if you have a wooden house, by the way). After that, I caulked around the exterior, applied expanding foam insulation in the gaps on the interior and reapplied the trim, window sill, etc.
It truly is as simple as that to replace a window. Every bit of the work can be done from the inside (though if you can get exterior access, it is much easier and more fun). Of course, anything I say here is how I do it and your experience may vary. I am not a professional so don’t take my word for anything. Still, with a little research and some effort, this is definitely a job anyone who is a bit handy can do!