Broken Window

After signing with the notaire, the first priority was fix a broken window in the attic.

Rain was pouring in and had already caused damp problems but had encouraged woodworm.

The window had probably been missing for many years, if not decades. The house had been unoccupied since the late 90’s. At 600m above sea level, all sorts of weather.

The room below had a wood clad and wall-papered ceiling and was looking worse for wear.

A pane of glass was missing and the oak frame had simply turned to crumpling dust.

Unfortunately, when we left for France we had less than 2 days notice to arrange accommodation, ferry tickets and covid tests. Packing a toolbox simply didn’t feature in our priority list. Therefore, the only tools to hand were what was left behind in outbuildings and available in local small hardware stores.

Luckily, we found several strips of mahogany in the barn that woodworm hadn’t got to. We also found a saw. At 16tpi, it was better suited to felling trees but did the job.

Behind the same barn, hidden in the brambles there were several sheets of hand made glass. This glass was probably getting on 100 years old and was full of blemishes.

100 year old glass found in brambles behind barn. Luckily, it was big enough to cover the hole.

In the above shot, you can see the rotten window sill. A pine martin had made it home. When I sat down, a small lizard also ran out. Woodworm loves damp wood so it had also set in. Luckily, only a couple of timbers in the entire house seem to have worm. We will be treating woodworm seriously and will take professional advice.

In nearby Guozon we were able to buy a cheap glass cutter for less than 3 euros. Unfortunately, whether it be the quality of the cutter or the hardness of the glass, the cutting tip refused to leave a mark. Within a couple of strokes the cutter dissembled itself, but luckily after searching through decades of attic dust it was reassembled.

The results of the first attempt was disastrous. Not only cutting tool explode, but after finally getting the semblance of a scribed line, the glass just shattered rather than cleanly snapping. This very old glass definitely didn’t break like any glass I had worked with before. It was very hard and full of air bubbles.

I had to rummage even deeper in the brambles for another pane of glass. Glaziers don’t open on a Sunday, it was -4 degrees and this 100 year old glass had probably been stored in the weeds for the best part of 4 decades. Things were getting a little desperate.

The second attempt was showing mush signs of being any any better. The score lines barely showed. Although the first break was moderately successful, the second attempt was again a disaster. However, at least this time the remaining pane although not the intended shape, did cover the hole.

The next job was to remove all the rotten oak from the bottom of the window with the saw we found. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of window left. Most of the window could simply be crumbled away in your fist. Then the piece of mahogany we found was glued and screwed in place.

This was always going to be a quick bodge. On return to the UK, new double glazed oak replacement windows and frames will be made, so not much time was spent making things 100%. With the mahogany on the bottom this window had suddenly gained massive amounts of rigidity. Some 2 pack filler was applied to fill the remaining gaps. Some things in France seem very cheap compared to the UK and visa versa. Filler in France is expensive and didn’t seem great quality, so on return to the UK, I’ll stock up.

The final step was to putty in the glass. Storm Eunice was on it’s way, winds were howling in and temperatures were plummeting. It was time to return to the UK. Measurements were needed.

Despite the freezing temperatures, the putty was beginning to set. This meant the window was really beginning to gain even more strength and with that the distortion was beginning to disappear. That meant I finally had a chance of shaving it to shape to fit to hole. It was still far from square but at least the cremone worked with gentle persuasion.

As Storm Eunice hit, we discovered the lead around the wonky lightning conductor was loose and leaking. The water wasn’t just coming in through the window, it was coming in through the roof in virtually the identical spot.

As a pine martin and rot had eaten away the window sill a new one was added out of parquet pine. This attractive wood board in France was a fraction of the price of the UK at £7 for 2 metre length.

With no time for more repairs, a packaging crate was placed to catch the dripping water. The oak is still solid, so once dry a bit of wood hardener and a fix to the leading should sort things out.

The window on the left of the house had no panes missing and opened and closed freely so no attention had been given to it. However, upon inspection it turned out to be in much worse condition than the one that had just been repaired. Both the window and frame were barely hanging together.

These windows should be reasonable simple to replicate. The real question is whether there is a need to go to double glazing. In February, it was -4 degrees in the morning, yet by lunch it was 24 degrees with steam coming from the damp timbers. Last year, locals said the summer was a bad one yet temperatures regularly broke 40 degrees. The noise insulation properties aren’t needed as the only neighbour is nearly 1km away.

Annoyingly as I finished the window, I went to lock the cremone lock and my frozen shoulder popped clean out of joint. Two days of being really careful and it cracks out doing something really simple – ouch.