a story about living small

Tiny House Construction Update: Windows and a Small Setback.

Window Tape
Photo by Kevin Hoth

Part of building a house with no experience is learning as we go. We make mistakes, sometimes cringing, sometimes laughing, mostly agreeing that each snafoo will add to the charm of the finished product. But today’s mistake turned out to be pretty expensive, and a little tough on our morale.

Two months ago, we found four high-quality, double-paned windows at ReSource, a reclaimed building materials warehouse here in Boulder. We scooped them up for $120 total, a steal, and proceeded to design and frame the house around these windows that we’d found. When we bought them, an employee had assured us that the windows were all meant to sit vertically—and we thought that we might try laying one on its side, for the large window at the front of the house.

Fast forward to August. We’ve just finished breakfast and are out on the porch scrubbing down those ReSource windows, prepping for an afternoon of window installation, when Christopher realized that the largest and oddest-shaped window was actually not meant to stand vertically, the way it he had designed to sit in the frame of the house. It’s meant to be a long horizontal window.

Window Love

Now, you might think to yourself, as we did at ReSource when we first bought them, back before we knew anything about windows or how they are made, “Why does it matter which way you install the window? Why not just stand it up straight anyway?” Well, it turns out that if you don’t install a window the way it was intended to be placed, with the bottom windowsill at the bottom, it leaks. And these windows, when we turned them on their side and sprayed them with a hose, leaked a lot.

I wont lie—we felt pretty glum that afternoon—our excitement to install the windows we had bought at the very beginning of this process fading into disappointment  the likes of, “We feel so stupid…we can’t believe we didn’t realize they were horizontal windows from the very beginning.”

Yet, making stupid mistakes is part of the process of learning. And our dismay at the oversight was a sign of how much we’d learned since then. We now know how windows are made! And what to look for when purchasing them, when fitting them into a half-constructed space.

We ate lunch, and started to feel better. We drove out to ReSource and searched for other windows that might fit the holes we’d already framed. We found one, oddly shaped, deep triangular window that we decided would work for the large, six-foot tall window space, with a little patch-work. We love that it’ll let light into the kitchen and give us more space for storage. The new window doesn’t open, but the sill is deep and will make a perfect shelf for a few small plants.

Trapazoid Window

We decided that we could make the large window in the front of the house work, and for the two remaining spots, on either side of the living room, we decided the best option was to swallow our reclaimed materials dream,  drive to the hardware store, and purchase two brand-new windows. Buying new windows ($135 each) only highlighted what a great deal we’d gotten at ReSource, and we’ll save the other, unusable windows, for another project.

Moral of the story? Mistakes happen. It’s what you do with them that matters.

Window With a View
Photo by Avy Harris

Avy Harris

~ written by Merete Mueller, 9/13/11

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4 Responses

  1. Confession. We did it too. We purchased 6 windows intending to lay them on their side only to realize from my father that because of the “J Channel” they can only be hung in the orientation intended by the manufacturer. Windows went back. Money exchanged. No windows. DOH!

    September 13, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    • TinyHouse

      Yeah, it caught us off guard for sure. But that’s what this is all about -learning to be self-sufficient. I can buy windows now, new or used! – Christopher

      September 14, 2011 at 1:29 am

  2. Daniel Aragon

    Nice window install, flashing all around except the bottom – pro. Also, I’ve made mistakes that are harder to fix…

    September 14, 2011 at 9:56 pm

  3. Katie

    The house looks absolutely great with the odd shaped window. Only, it’s not odd. It really opened my mind up to other options. And, I am sorry to say, but, it helps the rest of us out to learn from your mistakes. I know that does not give you comfort, or help ease the pain in your wallet. lol

    There are a lot of us out here saving and riding out this economy, waiting until we too can build our tiny houses. I have this feeling that there will be an explosion of them cropping up soon.

    So in short, that you so much for teaching us through your sharing your efforts, trials and errors.

    September 16, 2011 at 11:22 am

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