Farmhouse Energy Efficiency: Letting the Natural Light In

While we thought 2018’s move here and the 75% DIY kitchen remodel that came with it during our first months here was crazy, I gotta say that 2019 took us to even greater heights with “learning how to do stuff we’d only paid folks to do for us in the past”. The biggest piece of that project?


You see, in moving out to the country and getting about a hundred times more bang for our buck in house and land (Before: 900 s.f. one-story house with basement and woodshed-sized ‘garage’ on a standard 0.1 acre (50’x100′) city lot; After: 2,200 s.f. two-story house with attached double garage on 5.6 acres, 8 miles from the Pacific), we also learned some things about energy efficiency.

Mainly? We have a lot of dang windows in this house.

Which of course is a great thing for natural light in an area of the state known for 86 inches of rain per year, right? Heck yeah! But with this many windows comes a couple of key things to look out for: energy efficiency from the windows, and staying dry from the elements when the on-and-off sun/rain/sun/deluge/sun/sprinkle type weather inundates us in the fall and winter!

Above’s what our house looked like when we bought it. Old metal roof, 3 leaky nasty old skylights (with broken-off handles), a dilapidated second floor deck, an upstairs door to this deck that would occasionally fly open in one of our many winter windstorms (…and turning on every fight-or-flight response in me since it was just outside where we slept), and sooooo many windows. So many.

When we bought the house we knew that the 20ish old beastly storm windows would need to be replaced. There was significant dry rot in at least three or four, obvious air leaks in almost all of them between the panes, and they were not keeping us warm by any stretch of the imagination. Without a wood stove and reliant on a 14 year-old heat pump that brought heating bills to over $250/mo in the winter, we needed to make some serious investments.

So for the past 12 months, we’ve focused on all that light coming in (and leaking air/water), and figured out ways to get much of it done for extraordinarily cheaper than calling a contractor, including:

* When we had our scheduled roof replacement, it was a complete tear-off job, so for a fairly small fee, we had them also remove the skylights and board/roof over those holes. We did the interior patching (insulating the holes with free leftover pieces of foam insulation a neighbor had in his garage) ourselves including the drywall. Yes, so we technically shut light OUT but were not left in the dark. Both bedrooms these skylights had been in? Still would have 1 or 2 windows apiece in them for ample natural light.

* After getting a few bids that added up to well over $20,000 (not to mention mixed reviews on every single one), we asked our neighbor who used to be a contractor if he had any ideas, and he offered to show my husband how to swap one out himself… including replacing the gnarly old exterior frame on the window. Sweet! My husband had been wanting to gain more DIY skills and this one ended up being tremendous for both of us. We spent just under $4,000 to replace all of the non-garage windows ourselves, saving 80% (I mention ‘non-garage’ because that structure alone has 4 windows and therefore didn’t make it onto the high priority replacement list) and feeling super empowered to boot! We economized, buying as many as we could from the big box store which – amen – was almost the entire back of the house, and then through some research learned that our local hardware store could direct-order and deliver custom windows as well…and ultimately bought 9 windows at the same time to take advantage of the bulk discount (not thinking we’d ever get these all done this year). We ‘splurged’ the most on the exterior trim, upgrading what were obviously pine 1×4’s to cedar finger-joint trim. Because hey, without good trim, you don’t have a good window.

* Because of the window and roof replacement, we made the wise decision to hold off on pulling down the second-story deck. Hallelujah!  Not only did this make replacing all but two of our upstairs windows a breeze, it also later became a godsend when we were covering up the old skylights with drywall as well as when we needed to get 4×8 sheets of plywood upstairs when we were tearing out the nasty particleboard ‘second-sub-floor’ to remodel our master bedroom. Why? I could slide up the pieces to my husband standing on the deck, much easier than navigating a narrow corner staircase with a 4×8! When we did deconstruct the deck, it all went to good use (nothing went to the landfill) – I used almost all of the wood to construct our nine 4’Wx12’Lx3’D raised beds in the garden!!

* I also pulled out the upstairs door and built a window frame walled that off with scrap 2x4s, insulation and drywall (thanks Bob Vila for the how-to video!). The best thing about that? The screen door on it replaced the dying one leading into our hothouse, and the door itself replaced our window-less back door…a great thing since our next door neighbor usually pops over for a visit that way, haha.  (Both old doors found homes via Craigslist by the way).

* We were fortunate enough for my husband to know a handyman customer at his work who volunteered to loan us his scaffolding in order to easily replace the two windows on the side of the house (AKA, our master bedroom). That was rad…and husband liked the climbing part (usually).

Soooo…this is what the house looks like a year later with the new roof, new Energy Star double-paned argon-filled windows…

I’ve included snapshots of the exterior trim work, interior ‘fancy’ trim (yay Pinterest!), the repurposed door, and the new window where the door once was in our hallway…we are STOKED because as the rain and wind amps up for the winter, we feel safe and secure in our farmhouse as we sleep.

Yep, and if you’re thinking what I’m thinking in those ‘After’ exterior shots…?

The siding is next on the list. Oh totally yeah.

The house always looked like a dull white to me, and then after adding the new white window trim I realized it was clearly a deathly shade of a very pale bluish-gray. And considering every winter we guess how many shingles will pop off during an evening windstorm? And that the former owner decided to grow clematis and other stick-to-the-siding plants on several sides of the house, equaling bubbling and missing paint? We can’t just paint over it. Too much scraping for shingles that aren’t that great in the first place. But that is not going to be a DIY.

Yes, my 2020 goals are taking shape…

But we did learn SO much through this process and encourage anyone to try it. Here are a few lessons learned…

  1. Definitely have a buddy help you! Husband thought he could do this solo and while with the smaller ones he technically could, it’s MUCH faster having a partner to assist with window prep, hold it while the other person nails in the fins, etc.

  2. Make sure you get windows that are either all slider or all up-and-down style! We didn’t even conceive of that when we were buying the first ones retail, then realized on halfway through doing the back of house ones, that the bathroom and hall windows we’d put in were not sliders like the rest, and look less than stellar if one is assessing how matchy-matchy things are. It’s fine, but not my ideal ideal!

  3. Buy more caulk than you ever conceived you’d need. Same goes for window flashing. I think we went through three or four contractor boxes (a dozen in a box) of caulk alone. Buy these things from a big box store so that the return of any unused product doesn’t cause anyone to have a fit.

  4. You can DIY a mini-scaffold for those huge main floor windows that are just a bit too far off the ground to safely install. Scrap 4×4’s, plywood and drill/screws. Bam. We actually moved it into our hothouse after everything was installed and have a bunch of plants on it now. Yay for re-repurposing!

  5. Always assess EVERY piece of trim at the lumberyard. Both places we got cedar finger-joint trim just grabbed everything without looking and loaded them into our car. We soon found out that not all were perfect, and that was on us. Oy vey!

  6. Start small – do one window the first day. Nothing like working til the wee hours to make up for overestimating your abilities.

  7. Keep a tarp nearby! We replaced our 2nd or 3rd window on a clear day in early Spring, and just after nailing the new one in to the frame, the weather changed dramatically and it began to…snow (dude, we live on the coast, this is NOT normal). Another time the rains came very suddenly and in both cases, it was a huge amen for having a tarp and a few nails nearby to quickly cover up a project in progress to keep your house safe and dry when you live in a “wait 5 minutes and the weather will change” environment like Oregon 🙂

  8. Celebrate every installation! It can be a relationship-testing project, haha, so I found it is vital after the bickering that often comes with opening a hole in the side of your old farmhouse to then sit back, look at each other, and congratulate each other on a job well done!



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