Kludging a Dryer Vent

I wrote previously, about one of my basement windows, which looked like the following at the time:

Pretty embarrassing, huh?  Yikes.  I’m not too proud of that one.  The dryer vents through this window, and because of it, this has been a major source of cold air infiltration into our basement.  It’s probably looked like this for the past 10 years or more.  This is a double window setup.  From the inside, this awning-style window doesn’t have any latch or anything keeping it closed.  Previous owners have nailed the thing shut (which, I guess, is probably about as secure as a window latch would be).  The exterior storm window doesn’t shut either, also to make space for the vent. The result is that there are huge gaps allowing exterior air directly into the basement.

I decided that since we’re trying to sell the house and all, that I’d better do something about this.  The best way to fix this would be to find a way to vent the dryer directly out the side of the house (as opposed to through the window), but I didn’t want to mess around with that.  So I just wanted a way to make this more secure, more energy efficient, and less ugly.  And I also wanted it to be easy.

Here’s the play-by-play:

This little wooden frame allowed me to screw the vent cap in place from the outside – previously it was just floating around unsecured.

Note: if I was doing this over again, I probably would have removed the paper facing from the insulation for about 1″ in all directions around the vent.  I don’t think this is really a problem since dryer vents don’t get very hot, but I’d probably do it anyway.

So, you know… not exactly the most attractive finished product.  There’s nothing stunningly beautiful about a piece of plywood.  I am a little sad about losing the window in the basement, but there were enough cobwebs here that not much light was getting in anyway.

I consider this a temporary fix – at some point someone (else) should replace this with a proper window (or concrete blocks).  But considering this only took me about 2 hours, and only used materials I already had laying around the house, I consider it a big improvement – especially in terms of energy efficiency.  No more drafts coming through this window…  now the rest of the windows…. well that’s a post for another day.

Sunscreen and a New Basement Window

Another busy weekend around the Collins household. In addition to plugging our way through Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 2, we went tubing on Saturday and I now I look like a lobster because I’m too lazy to wear sunscreen.  Serves me right.  I even had sunscreen.  And I stood around for 5 minutes while everyone else applied their sunscreen.  In the moment, I just decide that I’d rather deal with being burned for the next week than take the time to wear sunscreen.  Something’s off on that cost/benefit analysis….

My new basement windows arrived in the mail from Northview Window & Door.  These are easily some of the flimsiest feeling windows I’ve ever seen.  They’ll be a lot more user-friendly than the existing windows, but I’m very skeptical that they’ll actually be more energy efficient than our existing ones. I fully expect the next homeowner will be replacing these again in 10 years. Anyway, here’s a photo timeline:





After (from inside)

QUERY:  How did you secure the wood framing to the foundation blocks?
ANSWER: I didn’t.  Let’s just say that there was a tire jack involved in the installation process and that those pieces are wedged in there as tight enough that they aren’t coming out easily.

Anywyay, there’s still a lot to be done here. I still have to caulk all the edges, and there’s some mortaring that will need to be done around the gaps (spray foam?). I’m still trying to decide if I’m going to add some wood molding around the edges, or if I’m just gonna mortar the thing in place.

Evaluating the Basement Windows

Well I haven’t made much progress lately on the last home project I started and never finished, so that means it’s about time to start a new one!  I mentioned back in February that my basement windows were in extreme need of replacement, so between episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which I’m just now watching for the first time), I decided to investigate the situation a little more.

Here’s what the window looked like before I started messing with it:

If you look closely, wow are there some large open holes in here perfect for letting mice into the house!  Take a look:

It’s a two-window system, with the original old window on the inside (the original glass has been crudely replaced with plexiglass) and an outer aluminum storm window.  The outer storm window is actually in pretty good shape, totally functional, although it has never been opened since the inside window is entirely non-functional.  So I pulled the outer window off (it was only held in place with a handful of 1/2″ screws):
Lot’s of cobwebs in here since the space between the two windows hasn’t been opened in decades. 
Next, I started the old “screwdriver test” where you start jabbing at the wood with a screwdriver.  In solid wood, you shouldn’t be able to press the screwdriver into the wood.  If the wood is rotten, a screwdriver will push right into it.  How far the screwdriver goes will tell you how rotten the wood is.  
Test #1:

Pretty rotten.

Test #2:

Extremely rotten.

The screwdriver sunk all the way in with no trouble at all.  I kept digging a little bit and discovered that the entire bottom sill here is total garbage.

So with that, I marched right over to Menard’s (actually, I drove in a car…) and special-ordered myself 3 new windows!  I was pretty disappointed in their window selection, and I suspect that the windows I ordered are very low-quality, but anything’s got to be better than what I’ve got now.  Hope I ordered the right size!!!  I’ve got a few questions to figure out before UPS delivers my new windows and I get started replacing them:

1. I discovered that my foundation is constructed out of hollow blocks.  Should I fill them somehow while I’ve got the window out?  If so, with what?  concrete? spray foam? dirt? gravel?

2. After I rip the old wood out, I’ll have nothing left but concrete blocks.  When I put the new wood in place, how am I supposed to secure it to the foundation?  Or do I just kind of wedge the four sides in place and call it good enough?

3. When I install the window, should I re-install the storm window as well?  Or should I just go with a single window system?

Anyone got any advice?

Upcoming house projects

With the warmer weather coming these days, I’m starting to look forward to a few new house projects coming down the pipeline.  First, I guess, I need to finish up the old projects.  Here’s a photo of some trim pieces in my basement – all painted, cut to size, and ready to be installed.  This is some decorative trim that we will install in the stairwell down to the basement.  We started this project about a year ago.  Finally, another few hours of work and this project will be finished.

….well…. unless you consider this next upcoming project part of the same project.  I like to think of it as a new project so that it let’s me check things off the list.  In this same hallway down to the basement, the top stair landing looks like this:

It’s some sort of tongue & groove planks, but they’re pretty ugly.  And there are a few unexplainable holes in it.  So we’re going to replace it.  That by itself would be a pretty simple job.  But a view of the same platform from below is a head-scratcher:

It might be kind of hard to tell, but the three 2×4’s supporting this platform are pretty random.  There are a lot of little chunks of wood all nailed to each other with no specific pattern or method.  Also, it’s not really clear to me what’s supporting the top of the stair stringers, so I’m probably going to try and figure that out as long as I’ve got the platform out of the way.  Anyway, this will sort of be one of those projects that I won’t know how involved it will be until it’s too late to turn back.

I also want to replace the three basement windows (which I wrote about here).

Finally, our soffits & fascia all over the outside of the house are in desperate need of repair.  Meaning, they’re pretty much falling off the house.  So this is a high priority.  In theory the project should be pretty easy, but in practice, I expect it will be a long and frustrating job – lots of standing on ladders, and there will undoubtedly be a lot of rotten wood involved, so who knows what I’ll find.  Also, I can’t ever leave the project unfinished overnight or else those bastard squirrels will climb back up into the attic…

Anyway, it doesn’t sound like much, but I expect it will keep us pretty busy all summer.  Wish us luck!

Load-Bearing Windows & Unsupported Sill Plates

I’m starting to look forward to the next home improvement project, which will probably be replacing three small windows in the basement.  The current windows are basically inoperable.  The two that are currently closed won’t open, and the one thats currently open won’t shut.  It may be a tricky project, though, because the reason two of the windows won’t open is because they’re currently helping to hold up my saggy old home!  So I could really use some advice from the great wise interwebs about how to approach this project.  If you’ve got any tips, I’d appreciate if you let me know in the comments.

But first, since I know not all of my readers (including myself) are up to snuff on their construction terms, let’s do a little review of the part of the home known as the sill plate.  As shown in the graphic below (which I stole from Fore Front Home Inspections), the sill plate sits on top of the foundation.  The floor joists & band joists, and subsequently the rest of the entire house, rests on top of the sill plate.  So it’s important, y’all.  What I’m trying to get y’all to understand is that the sill plate is supposed to be supported by the foundation (as opposed to, say, a piece of glass…)

OK.  Now that we all know all about sill plates, let’s look at some photos of how my house was constructed. The sill plate on my home appears to be a 1×6 or 1×8 (instead of the more modern standard of 2×6 or 2×8).  The three windows in my basement are cut right at the top of the foundation, leaving nothing left to support the sill plate.  Take a look:

You can see the white foundation, and the sill plate resting on top of the foundation.  Above the window, however, there is no header to support the sill plate.  Thus, two of the floor joists are resting on the unsupported portion of the sill plate.  As you can guess, the sill plate has sagged under the weight, and now the window is helping to support the sill plate.  In fact, part of the reason the window won’t open (other than that fact that somebody nailed it shut) is because it’s supporting the weight of the house.  Take a look at this close-up of the top left corner of the window:

The sagging sill plate creates a gap between the window frame and the sill plate towards the edges.  And yes, if you’re wondering, cold air gushes through that gap at the corner of the window.  The same sag is visible in the following two photos from my basement as well:

Now, before we go hating on the peeps that constructed my house back in 1905, we should remember that nearly every home in South MPLS was constructed the same way.  If you live in South MPLS, head down to your basement and see if you can recognize the something similar.  Also, total sag after 100 years is only about a 1/4″ – not exactly critical… the rest of the house is WAY more wonky than these joists….

So all this leaves me with a few key questions that I would love to have some help answering from the all-wise interwebs:

1. Anybody got any great ideas about how I should try to construct some sort of header in this small space so that the new window isn’t supporting any weight?  This is probably one of the main reasons why these windows are commonly replaced with square glass blocks (I’m hesitant to call those blocks “structural”, but they’ve gotta be stronger than some new vinyl window…).  Obviously, I’ll want to temporarily support those floor joists while I’m replacing the windows…

2.  When I replace the windows, do y’all think I should try to jack the sagging sill plate back up into it’s original location, or should I just embrace the sag and try to support it where it currently is?  My biggest worry about lifting it back up into place is that doing so would probably cause lots of problems elsewhere (cracking walls, doors that won’t shut, windows that won’t slide very well, etc.)  I’m not sure it’s worth it, especially since Mel and I aren’t planning on living here forever – at some point we’ll be moving on to bigger and better homes.

3.  I’m not entirely clear on exactly how the old window framing is constructed.  If you’ve got any experience with how these things were constructed, I’d appreciate you sharing your knowledge with me.  For example, the piece of the window frame immediately beneath the sill plate – how far back on each side of the window does that thing extend?  Do y’all think that’s something that should be removed with the window?  Or is it embedded far enough back into the foundation on each side of the window that I’m better off just leaving it in place?  Or should I cut it off on each side?

4.  You may notice in a couple of the photos (especially the last one) that there are concrete wedges on top of the sill plate between the floor joists.  Any idea what this is?  It’s actually a mound of dirt piled on top of the sill plate covered in a sheet of concrete.  What the heck is this all about?  Was this just an early version of spray foam trying to insulate that space?

5.  Finally, when I install the new windows, do you guys think I should stick with the combo storm window / interior window setup I’ve currently got?  Or is  a single, newer window going to be good enough?  I really like the idea of being able to open these windows.

Finally, as I hang my head in shame, take a look at this last window from my basement:

Now if that dryer duct through the window isn’t classy, I don’t know what is.  The duct tape falling off just adds a special something.  Observant readers will notice that sagging is not a problem with the sill plate above  this window since the window is parallel to the floor joists, and is thus not supporting any weight.  Also, a related project will be re-routing that dryer duct so that it’s not venting through the window.  And yes, freezing cold air is gushing through this window as well….