You know when people talk about all those problems coming from "inside the beltway"?
They are talking about us. We live in an inner suburb of DC in a little house built in 1935. Our home has plaster walls, hardwood floors, beautiful radiators, and a lot of authentic charm. Things feel real here, and lasting.
maybe not lasting.
We're trying to learn how to live in a house with plumbing that resists running the dishwasher on the same day that one runs the washing machine. Unless we are prepared to mop the basement, we are limited to one cycle a day.
We've also spent the last decade listening to wind whistle through the crack in the front door and enjoying the slit of sunlight shine through that crack and reflect on the gleaming pine floor.
Our house was built before air conditioning and we have chosen to keep it that way. To keep cool, we run fans and keep the air moving through our house by opening our windows. These ancient windows were constructed with lead weights counterbalancing the weight of the sash. By pulling a cord over a pulley at the top of the casement, windows such as these could be raised and lowered.
However, as is very common in old houses, our sash cords wore out and the weights dropped to the bottom of their wells. At that point, the windows stopped working properly and could no longer be held open normally. Each summer for years, we risked amputating our fingers by unlatching our window hardware and trying to get out of the way as both the original window frames and the storms guillotined downward. We then propped them up with sticks, toys, or shoe boxes to let the air come in.
Then, it would begin to rain. We'd frantically try to close the windows (which required re-latching the windows in order to prevent the top frames from falling) without more than a few bloody fingertips.
This process was not safe. But these old and inefficient windows had another problem: when we turned on our heat, we were heating up not just our home but the entire neighborhood. In fact, I sometimes wondered if my family and our inefficient house might have been the real cause of global warming...
Although I am usually a firm believer in repairing rather than replacing the material things in our life, we eventually decided to replace our windows with highly efficient windows rather than repairing the weighted sashes and then replacing the storm windows.
After looking into various possibilities, my family chose wood composite windows rather than vinyl or aluminum. We sought out windows supported by both Energy Star and the Forest Stewardship Council.
On the day of installation, my son and I enjoyed watching the young workers knock out all our windows and open the whole house up to the sunny day. Within just a few hours, everything was back together. They then replaced the door—with one far less charming than the original door but much less, um, breezy.
Our house is now quieter, warmer, and full of light. (And our pocketbook is quite a bit lighter as well…)