Saturday, August 12, 2006

How Bleach Saved Me About $1,000

As I wrote a few months back, many windows in our home need to be replaced. About the same time, I had a handyman come in to give me estimates on a few projects that needed to be done around the house—among them, of course, replacing a few windows (and not just the glass, I mean the whole shebang, to the studs).

He came upstairs to examine a few windows and said, “Did you want these repaired or replaced?” I looked at him like he was crazy. Surely he could see how the windows were rotting and moldy—or at least they seemed to me. Why not just take them out and start anew? He said he liked renovating old wood windows, and would start by cleaning the frames in a bleach solution and then filling in any holes or gaps with wood filler, caulking this and sealing that, sanding, and so on from there. (Painting those window cross-bar things seemed like a crazy idea, though!) And in the end, the estimate that he gave me for fixing them was higher than the cost of installing new ones, so I felt vindicated for wanting to replace them to begin with.

But then I got to thinking. It doesn’t take special carpentry skills to use bleach. Let’s see how they’d look if I gave it a whirl…

So I went upstairs armed with bleach, a roll of paper towels, and some old washcloths, adding some hot water to the bleach (no scientific formula here), and going to town.

This simple act worked miracles. The mold (or whatever that black stuff was, but it was gross) came off with not too much effort, though it probably took an hour or two to really clean each window. The windows weren’t rotted underneath, as I had suspected. I literally thought that they were in tatters.

From there, the job of sanding and painting them—even the grilles in between—seemed less daunting. I went out and bought one of those special window-glass razors, too, to peel the old decals and get the droplets of old paint off the glass. I think that was about $6. I filled cracks in the sills with a $3 vinyl sealant, and now it’s almost as good as new.

I did this on three windows. Yes, I used about 4 rolls of paper towels on them, haha, and yes, there was work to be done afterward, but it was very empowering to remember the old frugality mantra of “repair, not buy” and to see how easy it was to put that into action. In this case it was as easy as cleaning, not even really repairing. Yes, there were nail holes in the frames and such—and yes, sanding and painting the outside of these second-story windows is going to be difficult—but now I can put this $1,000 (or probably more, once you factor in the cost of labor) toward more downstairs windows that really do need to go, desperately—these as part of a major room demolition.

All of this just reminds me again how sad it is that some people are lucky enough to have their own homes but just don’t take care of them. This was about the 1,000th example, and I’m sure there will be more, of how the former owners didn’t take care of the home they lived in for 22 years. We are slowly trying to piece it back together.