Let me first say, I'm not very proud of this post, but I think it's necessary in the interest of full disclosure.

So we've been on a bit of a painting kick of late. Though it isn't necessarily the most difficult of all DIY tasks, it is often some of the most gratifying and impactful changes you can make without breaking the bank, and you can usually complete it in a very short period of time. Actually, all of the work we've been doing in the kitchen and sun porch over the last few days was started rather innocently due to an outdoor painting project. Last weekend we had planned on doing some work on our bay window, and a trip to the hardware store to grab some gutter sealant turned into paint chips, and ultimately a gallon and two quart paint purchase.

About two weeks ago we had a bit of water come into our back bay window during a sideways rain storm, so we figured we should get up there and have a look. The back of the house also takes the brunt of the morning sun, and the paint on the bay window had started to peel from all of the harsh weather. We really needed to investigate the source of the leak, and also give the whole thing a coat of paint to protect it from the elements.

Though we could see some of the problems from the ground, as soon as I was on top of the sun porch roof I could see we have some serious issues. The raised panels on the lower portion had lots of paint flaking off and needed help.

The fixed window sash is almost entirely rotted on the lower portion of two openings.

The sill on the left hand window is almost entirely shot, and it feels like a spong when you press on it.

The glazing is also almost entirely shot, falling out in various places, an simply missing in others.

And to top it all off, there was some sort of a wasp or hornets nest in the corner of one of the window.

How much worse could it get? Well, I only had about two hours of daylight left when I started working, so there wasn't all that much I could even do. Ugh.

I started by sanding the raised panels to remove the flaking paint. This was a quick and easy way to prep the area for paint.

The unfortunate thing about these panels is that they're totally crappy, and it's completely my fault. I was improving the look of the bay window several years ago, and we opted to apply raised panels. All of the trim boards were done with Azek (PVC composite "wood" that doesn't rot). Well, it was all Azek except for the panels. The Azek in larger sheets were way too expensive for our project, and I didn't want to use MDF for this outdoor application (at least I did that right), so I ran out to the store and hastily bought some pine in 12" wide thickness that I could turn into a raised panel on the router. The big problem, this is crappy new growth pine, and they only had the material available in a finger jointed configuration, not solid pine.

Now years later, we're seeing the downfall of my ways. The extreme weather on this part of the house has made those panels contract and grow, but all of the individual pieces in the panel do that expansion and contraction at different rates, leaving gaps and cracks all over the panels. Those gaps and cracks also speed up the failure of the paint by stretching, cracking, and pinching, which lets water behind the paint, and ultimately results in wood and paint failure. Which leaves us with what we had today.

Bottom line - I need to replace the panels with something that will work better. But that's another project for another day, and I needed to do something as a stop gap measure now.

After the good sanding, I applied a good cost of penetrating Alkyd primer to any bare wood areas, cracks, or gaps.

Confession time: this was not my proudest moment.

Do you see the paint all over the glass, the rotten bumpy areas, the disgusting mess of a window that I was just painting? I felt like a battlefield medic, applying morphine in the form of primer and telling the window sash, sill, and raised panels, "You hang in there, everything's going to be okay!," knowing full well that it's a lost cause. In essence, I was just trying to make the sash comfortable until it passed, or in this case, until I have time to really fix it.

I slopped primer in every major gap, in the hopes it would seep in and seal the rotten wood at least until I have some time to actually address it. Like I said, not my proudest DIY moment.

The next night, as soon as I got home from work, I changed clothes and headed up on the roof to apply the topcoat. Before I started, I checked the weather to be sure I'd be in good shape. Monday was my only window of time to paint the window. It was clear, no rain anywhere near, but the next five days all had a chance of thunderstorms. So I got to work.

I only had about 2 hours to finish the whole project, but I was happy to see that my gratuitous application of primer had been successful. The sill and sash were not as spongy. Sure, they still looked horrible, but remember, another problem for another day. I had some painting to do, and I had an audience inside the window.

I started working on the left side and quickly painted the panel, sill, sash, and all the way up to the roof trim. I was using quite a bit of paint to be sure to, once again, get the best seal possible, but it was looking decent.

I knocked out the first section of three, moved onto the center window, got half way done and BAM, raindrop on my face.

What?!? Rain?!? What happened to my clear sky for 500 miles in every direction? I checked the radar and sure enough, some jerk of a storm had materialized out of nowhere right over our area and was headed our way.

It was raining, not hard enough for me to stop painting, but hard enough for me to be pissed. No joke. I was so mad, and I'm usually the more level headed and calm type of guy that everyone always says "Oh, Alex is so calm, he never gets upset or lets stuff bother him." Well, it's not actually true, some stuff apparently does, and in this case all it took was a little water.

I kept painting through the very light drizzle, then I checked the radar again, it was getting worse, and it was coming right for me. I could see the drops on the sill of the not yet fully cured paint, but I persevered, undeterred from my goal of making our dying bay window presentable for at least a few more seasons.

I was losing daylight, I was losing energy in the hot and mosquito infested air, and I was losing patience with mother nature. Here's how I felt.

See...not my proudest moment.

I kept painting through the rain, stopped for a moment when the rain got a little too hard, and then started again when it slowed. I finished up painting and thought to myself, "Seriously, what moron comes home from a long day of work and gets up on the roof to paint the house in the rain?" This guy right here, that's who.

As soon as I got down off of the roof, while the bats ventured out into the sky looking for their dusk meals, the rain stopped, just like that. I had completed the work on the bay, had given the sash, sill, and panels a stay of execution, and had finished what we had set out to do before being rudely interrupted to paint the kitchen. What did I have to show for all of this effort? A white bay window and an annoyed attitude. So I wrapped up the work and headed to bed with paint on my hands and arms, battle scars from a lackluster endeavor, but one that had to be completed.

Sure this looks way better than before, but it's by no means "good." My plan, some day (hopefully soon), is to add some storm windows to this bay window, remove the fixed sash, and add an operable sash in each of the openings. I'll also replace the panels on the lower portion of the window. But until that day, I'll live with rotted wood that's paint covered, paint lazily slopped on the window where glazing has fallen out, and sash that I can almost put my finger through. Why? As a shameful reminder of how I'm not done with this project yet.

Oh, and the source of the leak that actually got me up on the roof, I couldn't exactly put my finger on it. But I think it was caused by a little bit of flashing that had somehow been pushed up and was allowing rain to get in behind it and into the ceiling. Since I can't be 100% sure, we'll just have to wait until the next sideways rain comes through and watch for water.

Do you have any tasks or projects like this? Where you know you could/should do it better, but you've got to leave "well enough" alone? I feel like we've had our fair share, and I can't imagine we're the only ones.

Comments 14


Karin K
8/15/2012 at 12:16 PM
You should be proud! How many homeowners would have just called a contractor when the leak was spotted? And besides...that's an awesome picture of you at the end. :)
If there's anything positive that comes out of this, it's that photo. :-)
Katie Boyle
8/15/2012 at 12:46 PM
Ah, yes! The finer side of Alex comes out! Shall we call it DIY dementia? Keep telling that window it's going to be just fine. :) We miss y'all!
Few have seen it live and in person, consider yourself lucky. It's like seeing Bigfoot out in the wild.
8/15/2012 at 12:59 PM
This entry really struck a chord with me. I have been reading your blog for some time (found you through Brooklyn Limestone). I find your mix of humor along with helpful DIY tips very refreshing and entertaining. For this one, I just had to comment. My husband is usually the calm, patient one; I'm more of the hurry up and get it done one. So this really struck home. It's been about a year since we wrapped up our 18 month diy exterior painting project from hell. My husband is fastidious about how he goes about completing a project and so sometimes days turn into weeks that turn into months. Many times I saw his frustration, over a bad paint job done by the previous homeowners (no prep, one coat), bubble to the surface and the cursing would ensue (not his finest hour). During the project, he uncovered many unpleasant "surprises", so there were times when I saw him coming down the ladder with that same expression! However, my patience and his perseverance paid off and we couldn't be happier with the result. But now we're faced with a similarly frustrating problem that is our dormer windows. We had rain leaking in from a sideways storm this past spring and thought is was from the new roof we had recently installed. Fortunately, the roof is fine, the windows not so much. Unabashedly, while the roofer was here inspecting the damage, we agreed to his offer to "repair" the broken seals in the windows, the actual culprit to our water intrusion issue. Knowing that this is a very temporary fix to a permanent problem, it goes against anything we've ever done with previous diy projects. Since this isn't something that can be addressed overnight, we've decided good enough until we find a suitable solution.
Thanks so much for the comment! I know what you mean about hitting a chord. There have been several blogs that I read often that one day I read something and think "THIS IS MY LIFE TOO!" It always feels good that others experience the same types of things.

I'm also very happy to hear that you find our humor enjoyable, we know it's not for everyone.

As for complex exterior paint projects, our current house is far too small and simple to really have much complexity, but I actually have an odd desire to own a classic Victorian that has a beautiful, but difficult to maintain, four or five color scheme. Call me masochistic, but something just seems to gratifying about keeping something so unique in top shape.
8/15/2012 at 3:45 PM
That photo of you actually made me laugh out loud! But oooooh I so know how you felt, haha.
I just felt it captured the moment too nicely not to include it.
8/16/2012 at 11:52 AM
I feel like ALL of our exterior paint projects are just like this - better than before, but not a long-term solution. This post got me thinking -- do you or anyone else among your readers have tips for keeping exterior paint on 200-year old clapboard siding? Our 1793 house, like most houses of its day, has no insulation - just lathe and plaster, with no room to blow in or add anything - can't keep paint on it to save its life. After have a full scrape and repaint several years ago (which we were told would solve our paint-popping problems, due to the multiple layers), we had the same issues, which only seem to have accelerated. We can't afford that every year, so we have resorted to just maintenance re-painting - but it isnt cheap either (especially when you have to do it every couple of years!) and just doesn't solve our bigger problem. Any thoughts?
8/16/2012 at 3:52 PM
Oh, I can SO relate. I need to get all the sash weights restrung on my dining room windows, and I'm dreading the whole 'look, glazing to replace' part that will come along with that - urgh.
8/21/2012 at 4:16 PM
I have an historic restoration company and have battled this same issue for years. I can tell you this, there are few solutions other than a complete rip out and start over. I would have cut plywood to fit the window, sealed it, and be done with it until such time as I could replace the entire thing. There is a product made by Abatron based in the D.C. area that sells a plasticizer you inject into the rotted wood, then you scrape out what is loose and use a 2 part epoxy to rebuild the missing/damaged wood. It can then be sculpted or painted over. I have had many tell me that Bondo is the same. I don't know, excpet that the Abatron is very expensive. You should not order more than you think you will use in a short time either, as I can testify.

That said, I think there is a leaking roof or siding issue that has led to this damage. I have a bay window on my 1878 house that had a cedar shingle roof. When I replaced the main roof with a steel one, the roofer deliberately broke the shingles on the bay when he placed his ladder, allowing the rain to pour in through the roof to the studs suporting the bay windows. Not that he had a clue how to roof this complicated little bay, he was just having a snit fit. The rot on my sills and jamb casing was identical to this, although the damage to my window sash was not as severe. I would suggest replacing the sills with whatever you can in the line of the plastic Azec materials if possible, or if with wood, having a metal shop sculpt a sheet metal overlay on the sill itself to protect it. That can then be painted and sealed to prevent water penetration through the sill. It will need to be in a complicated z z pattern to go under the window sash (and above the horizontal stop if the window incorporates it) as well as wrap the exposed portion of the sill and around the bottom edge, and if possible, enough to nail on the siding. If you are removing the side trim anyway, run it under that, then nail the diside trim over it and caulk well. Incorporate a bead of caulk on the bottom edge under the sill about 1/4" back to function as a water stop for runoff. I sure dowish you luck, and better weather!! Wish we could have some of that rain here in Texas!!
phyllis sattler
8/25/2012 at 12:56 AM
Alex this is fantastic. AND exactly what I was looking for,for our recently added bay window. I do not like brackets and when googling raised panels,this came up. I appreciate your information about the problem you are fixing. This was a huge help. Thank you so much.
12/29/2012 at 4:18 PM
Why not remove the whole window and replace with one that is appropriate? It looks out of place - a 1980's addition to an old house.
Hi Jeff. That's definitely a plan for the future -- removing the solid panes and installing operating sashes more true to the period. But for this instance, we needed to fix it fast in order to avoid future water damage.
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