Part One: Windows and Trim

by Keith Dmytryck

It’s getting cold outside and you want it to stay that way. Outside, that is. You know what’s coming next. It’s checklist time. Once you dive in, the list could go on to fill a binder, but first things first. Here are some potential trouble spots that can hugely impact how your home and your wallet weather the winter:

1.    windows and trim
2.    roofs and gutters
3.    siding and insulation

This segment, an overview of window and trim check points, is the first of three.


Nobody needs to remind you to put up the storms. Check them first, of course. If they are loose in their frames, they need replacement. Storms okay? What are they going over? The best storm windows can’t compensate for cold air leaking through gaps in the frame.

Gaps may be camouflaged by dirt and debris, so window washing – at least outside – is an essential first step. Make sure you include the trim. If you have wood windows, eyeball the trim looking for decayed or broken areas — most likely at the bottom of side casings. If the decay is minor, dig it out, treat it with a bleach solution, and rinse. After it thoroughly dries, apply a wood hardener, fill with a wood rot filler, sand it smooth, then prime and paint. Replace heavy decay by cutting off the decayed area and putting in pressure-treated wood, which can be primed and painted in the spring.

The dirt removal has also allowed you see if light is leaking through from gaps caused by deteriorated caulking or cracked putty. If light can do it so can air. Cold air.

window draft testSome air leaks do sneak past the light test. In the interest of thoroughness – or if you prefer an easy alternative — hold a lit candle close to the seams. The flame shouldn’t bend unless you’ve stumbled upon a ghost or a birthday party. You can also burn an incense stick and watch for flickering smoke.

Check for gaps:
•    Where one section of the window meets another
•    Where the windows meet the frame
•    Where the frame meets the wall

Caulk all gaps where the trim meets the exterior siding and where it meets the window. For newer wood or vinyl trim, use a high-grade polyurethane caulk. Vinyl windows should actually not present a draft problem, if installed correctly (another reminder to vet your building professionals). Caulking on the interior of vinyl frames is mainly for aesthetics.
For older wood, caulk won’t do. You must replace the putty. This is a tedious job but worth it if you value the look of those old wood windows. (If the “old wood windows” are truly historic, they’re in a special category and need an expert in historic window restoration/replacement.)

Putty and wood need proper conditions to fully adhere and there’s no point going to all that trouble replacing putty that won’t keep its seal. So be prepared for the painstaking process of scraping out all the old and priming the frame where the wood meets the glass; boiled linseed oil is the most recommended, as it saturates the wood and provides better adherence.

It should go without saying that there’s more to these jobs than a brief checklist can tell you. If you have the DIY skills and are able to put in the time, there are many sources for detailed instruction online or (gasp!) at  the library.

If you don’t have the time or patience for this chore, and the list of supplies and the length of “step-by-steps” is daunting, it might be worth it to hire a pro. A qualified professional will do it right with a result that lasts. If you don’t have it taken care of, the inevitable heat loss will cost you both money and comfort.

South Shore home improvement contractorA trustworthy professional (think local for accountability) can also assess your situation and advise you on energy efficient replacements as an option to consider. “Trustworthy” is the operative word (with credentials and testimonials to prove it). You’ll get expert advice, not a hard sell to buy what you might not need.

You’ll always receive a free, thorough estimate and consultation from your South Shore home improvement expert Keith Dmytryck of Innovation Construction Co.

Chuckle of the Week
“It was so cold this morning!”
“How cold was it?”
“Well, I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.”