Bruce W. Maki,
Recently I helped a friend remodel two bathrooms in an old 1890's
house. The upstairs bath had a tiny 30" square galvanized steel
shower stall that looked downright hideous. As far as we could tell,
the second-floor bath had been added in the 1930's or 40's. They
bumped-out the attic roof with a shed dormer to make some additional
space. The bathroom had ancient Masonite paneling with an embossed
pattern made to look like ceramic tile, and a previous owners had
painted over everything. The toilet and sink were very outdated and
in pretty bad shape, so he decided to gut the entire room, a wise
After shopping around for a replacement shower, I discovered that
plumbing codes no longer allow shower stalls smaller than 32"
square, but I did locate a dealer that could special order a
30" shower. Trouble was, it would take almost a month to get
it. The shower stall was positioned right next to the window, so
there was no room to install a larger shower.
So the homeowner decided to install a 4-½ foot bath tub instead
of the shower. That meant filling in the old window and installing a
new window a few feet away.
||This was the bath room after the Masonite
paneling had been stripped away. The old window is actually a
narrow pair of French doors that open onto the flat roof over
the attached garage.
This access to the garage roof made a neat deck, I'll
admit, but any deck that has access only via a bathroom is
pretty dumb. I could imagine somebody using the bathroom only
to be surprised by a sun-bather entering the house. The
homeowner decided to nix the deck access from the bathroom.
Removing the old Masonite paneling was easy but there were dozens
of tiny nails left in the studs. Many carpenters just pound in these
nails, but I contend that this practice is short-sighted and can
cause small problems later on. So we removed all of the nails, which
probably took a half an hour.
Of course, most rooms will have drywall or plaster. I have never
installed a new window in an old wall and left the drywall in
place... every window I've installed like this has been in
conjunction with a whole-room remodeling job. It may be possible to
install the framing for a window opening and leave the drywall
intact, but I don't know of any way. I could envision some ways of
removing a minimal amount of wallboard around the opening, but it
would involve some serious drywall patching.
|This is a replacement window, which
the homeowner bought by mistake. After explaining his
situation to the staff at Home Depot they steered him to this
I spent a few minutes trying to figure out a way to make this
first window work. I realized that I would need to build a sill and
jambs, which could take a few hours, and I didn't have any materials
for that. So I just drove to Home Depot and bought the proper
||The new window:
This is a new construction window, which is
distinguished by the nailing flange (right)
The window opening must be carefully laid out to determine the
proper places to cut the framing. This layout work is probably the
most important element of installing a new window in an existing
wall. Please read Framing A Rough
Opening For A Window Or Door for some sketches that explain how
a window opening is normally framed, and for information on header
Bracing The Structure:
Note that in many cases the weight of the roof (or floor above)
must be supported by braces. If I only need to cut one stud (as was
the case in this article), I have usually been able work with no
need for support bracing. In an article on cutting
an opening for a slider door I explain a few points about
||After I laid out the cut marks on the stud, I
made a slice with a circular saw, and finished the cut with a
|Using a reciprocating, saw I cut the nails at
the top of the stud.
When making cuts like these the saw blade may pinch badly.
Pinching is a sure sign that the weight of the structure is bearing
down on the blade, and that the structure needs to be braced.
||I cut the nails that held the solid wood
sheathing to the stud.
|I removed the unneeded portion of the stud. The
red arrow points to the mark where the stud used to be.
||I installed a header made from double 2x12's and
some plywood spacers to bring the overall thickness to the
same dimension as the studs.
Many carpenters make all of their headers this way... 2x12's
installed right up against the top plate... because it saves them
the time and hassle of cutting the short little jack studs (also
called cripple studs) above the header. Such tall headers may be
overkill for some windows, but the time savings is often worth it.
|I added some trimmer studs (left and right
arrows) and then a sill plate (middle arrow). These were all
nailed with 16d spiral twist nails, which are less likely to
split the wood than fat old common nails.
Sometimes when I'm doing remodeling work on old houses with
dry, brittle framing I use 3" deck screws (such as
Deck-Mate brand) and pre-drill the holes, especially near the
ends of boards. This prevents a lot of the splitting problems
that are common with old wood.
||The same scene, viewed from farther back.
|I installed the upper portions of the trimmer
studs. The red arrow points to an extra piece of 2x4 that I
installed, to make the window opening a bit narrower.
Often the window opening will not conveniently span from
one existing stud to another, as was the case here. Typically
another stud (a "king stud") needs to be installed
to form one end of the rough opening. In some cases, where the
window must be placed at some exact location (such as the
precise mid-point of a wall) two new studs might be needed.
Whenever I install a window I try to do as much work on the
inside as possible before I violate the building envelope and invite
the weather inside.
||The other side of the new window location.
|I carefully removed and salvaged as much siding
||I removed more siding than I needed. That black
stuff is tar paper over top of the wood sheathing.
|I drilled 1/2" holes at a couple of
||Then I stuck the reciprocating saw blade through
the hole and cut out the solid wood sheathing.
A room with a new view.
||I removed the trim around the old door, saving
it for later re-use.
|Once I cut all around the door jambs, I just
leaned the door back and removed it.
Most doors are not fastened through the threshold (the
bottom piece), but many newer doors will have a bead of
caulking under the threshold.
||The Great Wide Open:
Now the weather is coming inside whether I like it or not.
|I applied a bead of caulking to the back of the
||I placed the window in the opening and tacked
one nail in an upper corner.
|I made sure the top was level. I only used this
small torpedo level because it shows up better. A longer level
After the top corners were tacked in place I measured the
diagonals to make sure the window was square.
||I nailed the rest of the flanges with 2"
galvanized roofing nails, the usual fastener for installing
new construction windows.
|I filled in the old door opening with studs and
oriented strand board (OSB).
||I applied tar paper to the bare OSB and 6"
wide Ice & Water Shield over the flanges on the sides and
top of the window.
This flashing must be applied to the bottom first, then the
sides, then the top, so water always flows over the sheet
|The view from the inside.
||The old door opening was simply filled in with
2x4's nailed to the framing around the old rough opening.
I was not able to find ½" x 4" bevel siding at any
local lumberyards, so I made some siding from my own stock of ½"
x 6" bevel siding. All I did was rip the siding to 3½"
wide on my table saw, discarding the thicker portion. I didn't even
sand the cut edge smooth, because this location is so far out of the
way that nobody will see the roughness. The siding I made was just a
bit thinner at the fat end than the original siding.
I also re-used some of the siding I removed earlier. I pre-primed
both sides of the new wood, and pre-painted the faces indoors
since the weather was too cold for painting outdoors.
|Before installing the siding I made new window
casings from the old door casing materials.
Note how some of the siding is mis-matched (red arrow). The
siding boards on the left side of the old door were not at the
same altitude as the boards on the right side. I had to decide
between applying the filler boards on a slope or letting some
be out of alignment. I chose the latter because this area is
almost impossible to see from the ground, and because I
believe that it's almost always wrong to intentionally install
||The top casing was a special two-piece deal. I
just cut it to length, slid the top flange under the siding
above, and nailed it in place.
|I completed the siding just as dusk fell. I was
lucky to be able to do this outdoor work in Northern Michigan
in mid-December. Normally there would be at least a foot of
snow on the ground.
You can't really see any of the nail heads in the above pictures,
but they can be seen from the ground. They aren't really obvious...
they make the siding look dirty more than anything. While
pre-painting siding is a good idea, the paint still needs to be
touched up... when the weather warms up.
The Inside Story:
||The finished window from the inside.
After the drywall was installed, finished and painted I
installed the window trim.
|The wide jamb extensions were made from pieces
of ¼" thick by 3½" wide solid red oak, which Home
Depot sells. The casing is just ordinary "colonial"
casing in red oak.
Jamb extensions can be made from any solid wood, or even plywood
with an edge-banding of veneer. For many windows I make extensions
from 1x4 clear pine. The ¼" thick wood I used here made
installing the casing rather tricky because I could not leave much
of a reveal. Usually I would leave about ¼" of reveal from the
edge of the jamb to the edge of the casing. If the jambs are not
perfectly square I can adjust this reveal and make it look
half-decent. But with this very thin wood I had to be extra
accurate, which meant placing shims behind the jamb extensions and
lots of additional time getting things right.
Since doing this job I have done some cabinet making with oak
veneer plywood and adhesive-bonded oak veneer edge-banding, which I
bought at Home Depot for about $5 for a 25 foot roll. It worked
great. The edge-banding has a hot-melt adhesive on the back of the
wood, and all you do is heat the wood strip with a regular clothes
iron. Next time I think I'll try making jamb extensions with plywood
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