22 May 2012

DIY: replacing a windowsill

It took me six years of home ownership to finally understand the purpose of gutters. I mean, I understood that gutters collected the rain run-off from the roof and caused it to flow over here, to the side, all orderly-like. But if the gutters are clogged, psshhh, who cares? So the water runs off the roof. What’s the big deal? I don’t want Mr. P crawling around on our 2+ story roof to clean our gutters, and it’d cost me hundreds of dollars to hire someone else to do it, and anyway I am not standing directly in the roof run-off so I AM UNAFFECTED.

In other words: I did not clean my gutters for six years.

Then one night, I suddenly realized that our wooden windowsills on the upper-floor windows were, like.... gone.


Ohhhh. So maybe I’m not in the run-off but... ohhhhh.

Rookie homeowner mistake, for sure. Both the sill nose (the front part of the windowsill) and the sill (the part the window closes on) were totally rotted from years of rain dripping on them. The lack of a fresh coat of paint didn’t help, either. And while I didn’t notice the rotting at first, we then had that big hailstorm and BAM. Giant falling ice chunks + rotted wood = missing windowsill.

The other window in the upper front of our house suffered a similar fate:


The windowsill itself wasn’t rotted on that window, but the sill nose was on its way out.

Because these were the front windows, this neglectful damage was 100% obvious to any potential buyer. And our neighbors. Who were probably sort of pissed at our shoddy-looking house.


The missing screens, which were being repaired due to damage from the same hailstorm, just emphasize the abject neglect. Ugh.

So yes, this absolutely had to be fixed before the house could go on the market. And it’s something that I felt like I couldn’t do myself, especially after studying a cross-section of a window at my local big-box hardware store and having the store employee tell me I’d probably have to take out the window and remove all the interior and exterior window mouldings to install the sill at the proper angle and oh yes, of course I’d need to buy a sawzall to get out the rotted stuff et cetera et cetera.

Not three minutes later I told Mr. P that we were going to have to leave the store immediately, lest I have a panic attack in aisle 24. I mean, you’d panic too if the temperature of the store suddenly increased thirty degrees and all the air was sucked out.

Clearly I was ill-equipped to repair the sill myself, but I also didn’t have a local handyman. I did, however, have a not-so-local handyman, who brings his own tools and works for the princely sum of a pepperoni pizza and a birthday present.


Now you know: I didn’t ask my parents to help me paint the deck because I used up all my daughter-needs-a-handyman credit on these windowsills.

Unfortunately, because I wasn’t doing the work, I couldn’t take photos every step of the way. Free handymen do not take kindly to “okay, now hold the saw still until I get the angle of lighting just right!” and anyway, I had to leave for class (professors cannot skip class as readily as students) so I wasn’t there for all of it. But I can walk you through the steps! And we’ll start with the worse of the two windows, which needed both a sill and sill nose.

First: my stepdad took a cue from the hail and knocked off any other rotted wood that would easily come off. Then he used a hand-held reciprocating saw (like this one) to cut a nice, clean line in the remaining sill.

And then my stepdad really wowed me because, you see, when we went to the hardware store that morning, he told me we weren’t going to buy the $20 piece of windowsill. We were going to buy a $2 2x4. And he was going to cut it into the correct shape. I doubted it was possible but CHECK OUT THIS PERFECT FIT:


That’s after puttying (with this stuff) and caulking – and the first photo is totally out of focus, MY BAD – but hopefully you can see the seams he matched. I still cannot believe he made a windowsill out of a 2x4.

After attaching a new piece of sill nose, priming, and painting.... ta-da!


It’s true I’m skipping many unpleasant steps, such as taping garbage bags over the puttied-but-not-primed windowsills during an overnight downpour, but it was worth it. You can still see a bit of the seam if you look for it on the windowsill, though it’s nowhere near as obvious as, oh, chunks of windowsill falling to the ground.


The other window’s sill nose wasn’t as bad, so rather than try to cut off and replace the sill nose, my stepdad just thoroughly patched it with the same putty:


That looks... awful. But after it was sanded, primed, and painted:


Hooray! And the putty even held up relatively okay when power-washed (oh yes, there’s power-washing coming up).

Not having step-by-step photos doesn’t make this the most helpful DIY post, I know. But. BUT! There are a few lessons here, dear readers:

1) Don’t dare try to put your house on the market with rotted windowsills. We interviewed our realtor before these were fixed, and told her we were getting to it, but every. single. sentence. she said for the rest of our meeting contained the phrase, “... and you’ll be fixing the windowsills.”

2) You can repair a windowsill with a 2x4, $15 in supplies, and a pepperoni pizza if you know the right people.

3) Now you know why gutters should be cleaned out.

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