By Jessie Strasser
Rethos offers classes all year long that range from homewoner workshops to Old Home Certified courses for realtors. While teaching communities across the region how to care for their homes is our priority, our favorite takeaway only happens once the classes are over - when homeowners take what they learned and apply it to their own projects.
For 10 years I lounged on my front porch, dreaming of how to make it cozier and more put together. This summer, I accomplished my decade-long dream. In 2009 I purchased a 1916 four-square home with original wood work and some original windows. I knew very little about house maintenance but gathered knowledge through the years, with the ambition to learn more. The house was move-in ready and as I filled it with furniture that fit in with the space, the front porch became a space of leftover furniture. It had original windows and during the winter there would be frost on the inside, so annually I would put up the plastic window wrap, and after winter take it, and some paint, off the trim every spring, leaving behind splotchy paint and tape residue.
Last summer I discovered Rethos (formerly the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota) and took a class about repairing old windows. It seemed like a good class to take to learn more about a part of my house that I knew needed to be dealt with at some point in the future. The hands-on class was great and I got a good foundation on how to remove windows, re-glaze them, and why it’s better than buying new windows. That fall, I found my first piece of furniture that set me on my path to the porch renovation. It was a dark purple love seat at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. It was the perfect color and size for my porch to replace the faded hand-me-down couch from college.
Over the winter I dreamed more of my porch. I researched products and techniques. I bought more furniture from ReStore, and shades for the windows when there was a good sale online. In April I took two more classes from Rethos. One was another window class taught by a different instructor. I got to hear different perspectives, learn a few more techniques, and ask the additional questions that I had thought of during the winter. I also took a Lead Safety in the Home class. I learned how to renovate with minimal disruption to the lead paint I knew was on my porch, and even tips on general cleaning of the house to reduce lead contamination. I bought the HEPA vac and scraping tools from Amazon that the instructor had recommended in the class. Now I just had to wait for the weather to warm up!
Before, during, and after Jessie's window rehabilitation.
Finally, in late April, I broke ground, figuratively. I cleared out all the furniture, vacuumed, and took some before pictures. I tend to be very detail oriented and thorough, some say obsessive, so first I removed all the non-functional hooks and latches from old decorations and old windows treatments that had been painted over for decades. I got a few bloody knuckles from a sudden give in the screw, sending my hand crashing into the stucco. I was using a lead rated dust mask and Tyvek suit to prevent inhalation of lead dust and tracking it into the house during this step.
Many people had suggested sanding the bad spots of paint and then just painting over the lead paint to encapsulate it. They underestimated my drive to complete tedious work for the end result I wanted: total lead removal! Through Youtube I discovered chemical paint strippers that would enable me to remove lead paint without generating dust. The product I tested and decided to use was Peel Away 1, which I bought at my local Sherwin-Williams store. Then, every Saturday, plus an hour here or there on weeknights, starting in May and ending in late July, I chemically stripped the lead paint from 10 windows (7 storms and 3 original wood) and 2 door frames. I discovered the product worked great on wood that had lead paint as a base layer, but wood that never had lead paint was much more difficult to strip. I also discovered the original paint colors on the windows were a dark brown and black combination!
In August I moved onto the next phase of the project. I got the new shades hung and they cooled my west facing porch by 10 degrees! I patched all the nail holes and dings from 100 years of wear and tear and life in the wood. My parents helped me sand and prime. For primer I used Lead Defender PRO from Home Depot to further encapsulate any paint embedded in the wood. We painted a fresh warm color up on the trim, using paint from Hirshfield’s. My Dad also trimmed out the storm door, which had never had trim. Paint makes such a large visual change!
“I bought the HEPA Vac and scraping tools from Amazon that the instructor had recommended in the class. Now I just had to wait for the weather to warm up!"
Somewhat in tandem, I also started the nitty-gritty work of re-glazing the 3 original windows. I decided to work on the windows while they were still in their frames, which is NOT how either of the window classes taught how to do the work. I did this because I didn’t want to risk damaging my unmarred woodwork inside the house. Working vertically did make this step a lot harder, but looking back I would still do it this way.
I removed the glazing, slowly, by chipping away at it with a glazing tool. I got the glazing tools both from my local store, Guse Hardware, as well as Nicollet Ace Hardware (I wore a few out). The glazing was rock hard and not even touching glass anymore in some places, so it was definitely time to be replaced. I removed all the old glazing from the 12 panes of glass before removing any glass, both for security and air-conditioning purposes.
Then one weekend, I removed all the glass (breaking some of course), then chipped out the rest of the old putty. I applied Penetrol, from Guse Hardware, to the rabbet, as suggested by the Rethos instructors. Next, a layer of Nu-Puttie from Frattallone’s Ace Hardware, followed by the glass and glazing points. Being the detail-oriented person that I am, I wanted to replace my broken wavy glass with similar wavy glass, which is not really made anymore. I asked around Facebook and Nextdoor and found that a local glass art shop, Glass Endeavors, may have the glass I desired.
I brought my broken pieces in. They had wavy glass, measured and cut it, and off I went. This process repeated every time I broke glass. Sadly, in the end, I replaced 6 out of the 12 panes of glass, mostly due to breaks occurring while pushing in the glazing points.
Next, I added my glazing of choice, Nu-Puttie) to the glass, sealing the rest of the joints, with occasional breaks to attend the state fair, throw two birthday parties, and get ready for the new school year! As a perfectionist, I found glazing to be a frustrating process. I couldn’t get it perfect enough. When I was done, I painted over the glazing with an oil-based primer, and then painted with the same latex paint I had used on all the trim. The windows were done! I also caulked or used stucco patch compound on cracks and holes in the stucco on the porch walls.
After taking a few of our classes, Jessie Strasser completely transformed her front porch. On the left is where it started, and on the right is the finished rehab!
I spent September and October working on the porch floor. It had many layers of lead floor paint. My wise mom suggested I put laminate over it and then the lead wouldn’t be disturbed. But oh no, I had to eliminate the lead. So, I spent my September Saturdays using Peel Away 1 on the floor. Once all the paint was gone I was left with a decision: paint, or sand and finish as a wood floor. I really liked the grain of the wood and thought it would be really cool to have a finished wood floor to go with my wood ceiling. I went to Pete’s Hardwood Floors to rent the equipment and be taught how to sand and finish the floor. I came home, nervous and confident. I sanded an hour and the floors looked splotchy. I messaged Kadee from Pete’s and she concluded that the paint stripper didn’t get all the way down to bare wood. There was some layer of stain or varnish that I had to sand through. I sanded another hour or so before quitting, dejected.
The next day, Dad came to the rescue and sanded for many more hours. We checked out the results. It was still splotchy in many areas and he had sanded down nearly a quarter of an inch. I concluded that even if we could eventually sand through the splotches that we would never end up with that smooth finish for a natural wood look. Now what? Paint? It’s now October and floor paint takes a long time to fully cure, especially at low temperatures. Mom suggested laminate again. “It could be done this weekend,” she emphasized.
So, we went to Lowes, looked at options, and talked to an employee. He said for wanting waterproof and the temperature range my porch would see we should look at vinyl planks. We chose the SMARTCORE Pro interlocking vinyl planks that were waterproof and warrantied for temperatures between -20 to 144 °F. It required no acclimation period and had a pad on the back of it, so we were able to install it all the next day. Dad also installed baseboards to cover the expansion gaps on the edges for a finished look.
Lastly, we installed storm windows over the three original windows so I wouldn’t need to use the plastic wrap method ever again. We added furniture and celebrated with a pizza party. The project was finished before the first snowfall! Now I can just sit on my cozy porch and enjoy the fruits of my labor….next year.