I got a bug up my ass after lunch, grabbed a wrecking bar and a hammer, and started tentatively picking apart the framework around one of the windows alongside the back door to see if I could figure out how to take it apart. It’s usually not too hard: I find the first piece I can pry off, then the next piece, then the next, unbuilding the window until eventually I’ve made a hole in the wall. I start off slow, but the momentum builds quickly until eventually I’m tearing off pieces in a shower of splinters.
When I start a project like this I begin by rather carefully picking my way through each step while a little voice inside me says, This is insane! I don’t know the first thing about home construction! How am I ever going to patch this back together? But taking any part of the house to pieces is sort of like archeology: Each little bit I pry off the house tells me how the other guy cut it to fit and nailed it into place, and when I know that, I can see he was not so much different from me, a feeling that gets especially strong when I find evidence, like pieces of scrap wood used to frame an opening, that he was flying by the seat of his pants. What the hell? Did he pick this up off the floor and think: This looks like it’ll fit! In you go! If he could get away with that, I feel a lot more comfortable that I could, too.
I started on the left-hand window just before one o’clock and about two hours after that I finally ended up with a hole in the wall – what the guys who visit Home Depot call the “rough opening.” It was very rough, a ragged hole framed by two by fours just big enough to let the builders slip a factory-made window into it. That would have been a factory back in 1950. Factories these days make windows that are about the same size as the windows they made back then. If I were to be very lucky, the old window would end up being the same size as the new one, or slightly bigger. If I were to be not so lucky, well …
Last summer we bought a truckload of new energy-efficient windows to replace the single-pane windows in the back of the house. I pulled out the dining room window last fall and replaced it, but the two windows beside the back door have been waiting in the garage attic until Tim helped me get them down today. They’re a pair of Anderson casement windows, which means that when you crank on the handle they open to the side like a door. And, as luck would have it, they were almost exactly the same size as the windows I pulled out of the wall.
The first one came out rather easily, once I figured out that the guy before me hadn’t done much to nail it in place. I tore away all the framing on the outside, then did the same on the inside, and it practically fell out. In fact, I had to hold it in place to keep it from falling into the mud room while I was pulling some nails out of it.
That left the hole. It’s a problem having a hole in the wall of your house when you have pets. They want to see what’s outside the hole. I hadn’t thought ahead far enough to put up a barrier that would keep them from jumping through the hole and running off to chase rabbits, so I had to ask My Darling B to watch the hole while I unpacked the window and cut some lumber to frame it up. And she did it. I just love her for stuff like that.
The wood I used to frame up the rough opening was a trifle warped, The new window fit the framed opening just perfectly, although the warped wood made it bind a little bit. The binding was easy enough to overcome with a little brogian motivation: I backed up to the window and kicked it into place with the heel of my shoe, then asked B to hold it there while I tacked it into place with finishing nails in each corner. We had a new, functioning window in place and open to the world at quarter to four in the afternoon.
I decided it would be best if I could get the second window in before dinner so I wouldn’t have to think about it all night, then work up the steam to start the job the next day. Did I have enough time? I didn’t know. The job was not the same: The other window was up against the rail that runs around the back deck and I wasn’t sure how I was going to tear out the molding and sneak the window frame out from behind the rail. As it turned out, brute force prevailed, as it usually does.
Having a sawzall handy helped quite a lot for cutting the molding to itty-bitty pieces. After I cut them up, I worked the pieces out from behind the rail with a pliers, then pried the rest of the molding away with a wrecking bar, same as on the other window. The window itself, though, turned out to be a tremendous pain in the ass. Although the first one practically fell out of the hold, I had to break the frame of the second one to splinters in order to get it out of the rough opening. The first one is sitting beside the deck in the yard, a ready-made cold frame for B to grow veggies in. The second one, though, is a mangled mess. I’m not sure what we’ll do with it if I don’t sneak it into a dumpster at the nearest strip mall.
Fitting the second window in place would have been easy if it hadn’t been for the mosquitoes. Just as I was getting ready to hoist it into place, the dinner time bell sounded for every mosquito in Dane County, and ninety-five percent of them homed in on me. I’m serious as a heart attack. I would have suffered blood loss serious enough to render me unconscious if B hadn’t come to my rescue with a bottle of insect repellant, spraying it all over my arms and the back of my neck so I could finish framing up the rough opening. Once that was done and the new window was unpacked, it was quick work to fit it into the hole and tack it in place with some finishing nails. The rest was clean-up.
I celebrated with a cold beer and a long, sloppy sit-down on my tired ass, gazing in wonder at what I had wrought. And after I showered off I stood at the door again, gaping in amazement. “It’s still there,” I pointed out to B.
“What’s still there?” she asked.
“The windows,” I clarified.
“Well, of course they’re still there. Where would they be?”
“It’s not that they’d be somewhere else, it’s that it takes me a while for it to soak in that I did that,” I explained.
After dinner I stood in the mud room again, gazing smugly at the windows.
“Are they still there?” B asked from her seat at the table.