Sealing Up!

A huge huge huge issue with the Cross House is how, ah, porous it is.

Wind freely blows through the windows/doors and exterior cracks and exterior missing bits. Then, inside, any heat is lost because the second floor plaster ceilings are so damaged that heat just vanishes up…and out.

Since buying the house four years ago, I have made a huge push to seal the damn house up. To this end, as each window sash is restored, I then seal it with peel-away caulk. This is a process I really enjoy because, immediately, my efforts are rewarded:

  1. Cold air rushing through the edges of the sashes just STOPS. This thrills me.
  2. The sound from the adjacent highway drops like 87%. Really, the sound reduction always amazes me.

So, sash by sash, and by repairing damage to the exterior, the house is way tighter than it was in 2014. When I am finished, I surmise that the house will be tighter than it ever was. Also, I installed a return air system, so, for the first time, all the heat generated by the radiators recirculates.

I repeat:  I installed a return air system, so, for the first time, all the heat generated by the radiators recirculates.


Today, I sealed the triple stained-glass windows on the north upper landing.


A better view of the stained-glass. Tooooooo yummy.


Triple windows above, and below. I love this view. In person, the stained-glass is NOT washed out. The lower windows were sealed a few weeks ago.


All the first-floor sashes are now sealed.

On the second-floor, I still have to do the Octagon Bedroom, and Sewing Room.

About 70% of the third-floor sashes are sealed.

A big push for 2018 is to get all the second-floor ceilings repaired to stop heat from escaping.

When all this work is complete, and with the radiator system now up and running (gloriously!), it should be, I hope, affordable to heat/cool the house.

If so, this will be particularly remarkable as I am eschewing commonplace standards: I will not be installing storm windows, nor insulating the exterior walls. While such efforts would help, all my research indicates that sealing the house will offer the greatest return.

So, let’s meet again in a year or two to see if my hopes are realized.

The wine will be on me.




  1. Stewart McLean on February 19, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    No, Ross, I’ll provide the whine. I do it so well.

    • Leigh on February 20, 2018 at 9:18 am

      Hooray for Stewart, the whine connoisseur!

  2. Jason J on February 19, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    Have you replaced any of the window stops/guides?

    I have done that to all my double hung, followed by waxing the channels…I have very little air movement and no sound travel…

    Are you planning on having a company come out and pump installation into all the wall cavities? That would help alot with heat escaping. I have to install about two feet of insulation into our attic to meet the standards.

    Also installing gaskets behind all the electrical plates and chalking all the baseboards and exterior door/window trim does wonders..

    • Seth Hoffman on February 19, 2018 at 9:29 pm

      Although common, blowing insulation into the walls can create new problems, particularly moisture issues, and resulting premature paint failure on the exterior siding. These houses were not originally built with a moisture barrier beneath the siding, which isn’t an issue if the wall cavities are open, as moisture migrating from either exterior or interior can evaporate and quickly dried. Filling it with insulation, however, prevents this. I believe this is one cause of shorter repaint cycles on old wood-frame houses.

      The best solution to this, is to provide a small vented gap behind clapboards and shingles (a rain-screen wall), but that’s really only practical for new construction, or a complete re-siding job. I did it when I sided the garage to match the house, and it’s actually not much extra work or expense if you plan for it from the beginning.

      Attic insulation, is quite noncontroversial, though. Our current house is wood-frame with one wythe of brick. The walls are uninsulated, but reasonably sealed, and surprisingly warm. Aside from restoring the windows and improving the attic insulation, I don’t have plans for much more.

      Ultimately, I think Ross is on the right track with sealing up air infiltration. Air itself is a reasonably good insulator if it’s confined. Before modern insulation, “cold weather” wall construction sometimes used two layers of plastered walls, separated by battens. These two layers effectively provided an insulating barrier of air.

      • Ross on February 19, 2018 at 10:05 pm

        Thank you, Seth.

        The US Department of Standards regarding old houses recommends AGAINST blowing insulation into exterior walls, and for the reasons you detailed: the lack of a vapor barrier will cause rot.

        Learning this, and talking with old house owners, has guided my path.

        As I wrote, I will NOT be insulating my exterior walls, nor installing storm windows. My mantra, rather, is: SEAL SEAL SEAL.

        • Seth Hoffman on February 19, 2018 at 10:55 pm

          Yes, the benefits of easily-done work with commercial products (new windows, insulation) is often over-valued compared to more tedious work with cheap materials (restoring windows, sealing gaps and cracks. Yet another victim of modern industrial efficiency: cheap to build new, expensive to repair the old. The constant political need to keep stoking the consumer economy doesn’t help either. No stockholder makes anything on a glazier restoring old windows.

          We do yet differ on our opinions regarding storm windows, though. The insulation value is simply be a matter of choosing to spend a bit more on heating costs (if we really cared about more about heat/cooling loss than anything else, we wouldn’t put big holes in our walls and call them windows in the first place, even in new houses!). I value them more, though, for protecting the carefully-restored primary windows. They were made for resisting weather, of course, but constant exposure to driven rain does accelerate their deterioration and shorten maintenance intervals.

          I’ve yet to decide on the ultimate storm window solution for our current house. It currently has plain single-hung aluminum double-track windows that are reasonably solid (albeit ugly, and the annoying kind with the sliding screen on the INSIDE that you have to fight with each time you want to open/close the exterior glass). There appears to be evidence of the raised lip on the outside stop for spring-tension sliding screens like your house, but I haven’t investigated closer for other hints of what once remained. The attic has a few stray large screens, but they don’t appear to be the original vintage.

          I’m currently split between authentic wood storms (perhaps with changeable glass/screen panels in the bottom half), or high-quality modern color-matched aluminum flush-mount aluminum storms. I’ve got years to decide before it becomes a priority, though.

          • Stewart McLean on February 20, 2018 at 11:36 am

            -I am in the long process of restoring a house that has the original wood storm windows on the first floor, although the second and third floor window have had aluminum replacements installed. The originals are one piece sash, although I am unsure if the definition of sash requires that it be able to be opened or not, that cover the entire opening on the exterior of each window. None of the originals have changeable bottom panels. They are attached by being placed on a sort of hardware at the top from which they hang. They have a conventional hook on the inside at the bottom to secure them in place. During weather when they are most needed, one can undo the hook and prop them open to allow breezes to enter air. There is a set of screens that were used to replace them for the summer, which are stored in the basement. With central air conditioning, which I plan to install, It is preferable to keep the ones with glass, than to change out for those with screens all year long. The one exception for me is the windows in my bedroom. No matter how hot it gets outside, I prefer to sleep with a ceiling fan running and the windows, with screens installed, open to the outside air. The loss of cooling during the day through those few windows is outweighed by my perception of the health benefits of sleeping with the windows open.
            I have no idea if any single piece pairs, storm windows/storm screens, are being commercially made today. I like the idea of a changeable lower panel, rather than having to switch the bulky windows themselves. I think they would have to be custom made to fit each window.
            I just looked up sash on line. It is the correct term for these storms because they are able to be opened. One of the definitions from Wiktionary: Noun
            sash (plural sashes)

            The opening part (casement) of a window usually containing the glass panes, hinged to the jamb, or sliding up and down as in a sash window.

          • Seth Hoffman on February 21, 2018 at 3:26 pm

            Thanks for the input, Stewart. I can’t really bring myself to install windows that can’t be opened (at least easily). Although we use air conditioning during the hottest summer months, we do enjoy fresh, cool air when temperatures allow during spring and fall, and cool summer nights.

            There are a number of millwork shops still making traditional wood storms of various styles, often at considerable expense, however. I’ve run across some that will cope and stick the parts, and ship them loose, leaving the user to assemble and do final trimming to size, which kind of appeals to me. If I only had a couple to do, I’d even go as far as getting some router bits made and doing them myself, but that would be a foolish use of labor for an entire house of windows.

  3. Seth Hoffman on February 19, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    BTW, when I read it the first time, I missed the all-important “as” preceding “each window sash.” For a moment, I thought you had finished them all! Having completed the long and tedious effort to do them in our last smaller house, and now looking ahead to doing them all in our much larger new house, I was about floored!

    Anyway, kudos again for restoring the amazing original windows. I just passed one of the houses we toured when home-shopping last summer to see that the buyers had replaced the original wood sashes with white plastic crap. The originals did need restoration, but were far from gone. It was a sad reminder that most people do not see them the way people like us do.

    • Stewart McLean on February 19, 2018 at 9:53 pm

      To quote a famous fellow,” Forgive them, they know not what they do”.
      I can only say that when I was young I thought that wood windows could not really be restored, and was advised that the vinyl ones were great. The power of successful ad campaigns that get us to dispose of something good at great expense, to make our lives “better”, constantly amazes me. The young and or foolish believe it if you repeat it enough. I find myself muttering, “I will not make this a political post” as I realize that I may have already done so.

      • Ross on February 19, 2018 at 9:59 pm

        I did a great many foolish things when I was young.

        And I still do foolish things when…old. Just, thankfully, not AS many as when young.

        • Stewart McLean on February 19, 2018 at 10:03 pm

          You are forgiven. Now forgive me so we can go out, absolved, to do more foolish things.

          • Ross on February 19, 2018 at 10:07 pm

            You are forgiven, my son.

      • Mark on February 20, 2018 at 4:03 pm


        Sounds like we’re embarking on a similar quest. Most of our first floor wooden storms were intact but 2nd floor was a mix of exterior and interior aluminum storms. Ugly and degrading fast. We’re fortunate in that we still have an old fashioned sash shop close by that makes traditional storms at very reasonable prices. We only have 5more to do this summer. Every one was custom made with various round and arched tops. They have made a great difference visually and for drafts. I also sealed a number of windows using the peal away cUlk to reduce air flow.

        • Seth Hoffman on February 21, 2018 at 3:51 pm

          You are fortunate to have a good local shop who can make them! I need to try and find something in our area and see what my options are.

  4. Jonathan W on February 21, 2018 at 12:25 am

    What product do you use to seal the windows? I went looking and asked at my local home depot…they had no idea what I was talking about..

    • Seth Hoffman on February 21, 2018 at 3:21 pm

      Well, your first problem was going to Home Despot! It’s about 5 minutes closer than Menards for me, but whenever I try to save time going there first, it ends up being a dissapointing delay on my way to Menards, that has what I really want.

      In all seriousness, most hardware stores and decent home centers call it. It’s often called “rope caulk”. A number of manufacturers sell it, and you can get it in several colors (brown, white, gray) to match your interior finishes. Here are a few links:

      • Ross on February 21, 2018 at 4:54 pm

        Hi, Seth,

        I am using Peel-Away caulk by DAP.

        This is very different than rope caulk.

      • Jonathan Wilkerson on February 21, 2018 at 6:52 pm

        I agree. But sadly, all that I’ve found is home despot and lowes. Sure we have Ace Hardware, but they’re very limited with inventory. Big businesses have taken over in my city of 150k. I can almost never find the exact stuff I need.

        I’ve been looking for old house parts, and even scrap wood for years, and haven’t found anything. I currently (desperately) need a exterior back door, but the dimensions are wack(29×77), and our “re-store” has a limited inventory and I can’t use what they have. I do not want a particle board door, nor do I want to spend $1,000 to get a custom one, and buying a whole new frame and door doesn’t appeal.

  5. Stewart McLean on February 21, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    Hey Seth,
    -My father would have responded to your statement about “a foolish use of labor” with “what’s time to a hog”. I do have the correct tools. Although I would at least get a price from someone who has the exact setup for windows ready all of the time, I find that I do things like making storm sash because I have never made them before. For me life is the journey rather than the destination.
    – At the moment, due to the fact that my wife and I are separated, I am considering the benefits of selling the property the way it is. If I do decide to finish it, it would be to sell it for a profit rather than a loss. Neither alternative would be likely to include wood storm windows because I would rather invest the time on and in my period federal townhouse. The first floor of the townhouse had been converted to a storefront office in the fifties to sell window shades which were made in the several thousand square foot warehouse appendage in the back. I am taking my time getting my shop set up for the long haul of nearly unfettered unmarried bliss, while taking the relatively well preserved second and third floors into my residence.
    – As usual, if the journey sets something more intriguing in my path, I may switch to that. I love to pause in my journey to see if I still have interest in the original destination. My goals are to learn new things while enjoying the ride. Neither house has historical significance, but I like them both. My 87 year old mother is my last true fetter, which limits my travels to the area around Baltimore. When she’s gone, anything goes. Anything else can be taken with me or let go. I am likely to take my hoard of miscellaneous items that I want to restore with me, which is why I am taking so much time in giving it some order. I am also pondering if I know someone who would actually enjoy the hoard to inherit it.

    • Seth Hoffman on February 21, 2018 at 6:00 pm

      Oh, I am no stranger to spending vast quantities of time restoring or replicating things most people wouldn’t even consider (we are already talking about window restoration, haha)! I’m getting to the point where I at least make a fleeting consideration of the value of my time now, though. We have a young daughter, and time with her is becoming more valuable to me 🙂

      PS, apologies to Ross for turning this comment section into an old-house forum. He should have known it would attract fellow detail-obsessed old-house enthusiasts, though 😉

      • Ross on February 21, 2018 at 6:03 pm

        No apologies necessary.

      • Stewart McLean on February 21, 2018 at 7:38 pm

        -We are sharing our values in our writing, which is a door that was opened when Ross shared his through political posts. It is a tribute to his valuation of free speech that we are comfortable sharing our thoughts on his personal forum. In doing so I now see that I began. initially it was subconsciously, to put my own values in my writing when sharing house knowledge. I try to engage people when I tell stories as examples. Those stories can not be told with out being a product of my values and sense of humor.
        -A case in point. Seth wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could get your daughter to love being with you while you worked if she could thereby share your interests. That would be getting a double benefit, triple if you can get enthusiastic unpaid labor in the future.

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