Saturday, March 12, 2011

Everything Old is New Again

I'm a big fan of taking that which has been used and making it useful once more. Especially when it can be turned into something I reeeeeally want. Pallets have done a lot for us in the past year but, though they are versatile, they couldn't help me on this project.

What was on the docket in this instance?
We were spoiled in many ways being on established farms, and one of the greatest elements they each offered was season extension. Particularly in the area of seed-starting. We'd been wishing all last year for somewhere to put our starts that would be out of the excessive cold, heat, rain, snow, and such, but didn't have enough acceptable indoor window space.While I would like to have a greenhouse (ideally one big enough to house a full-grown avocado tree) we didn't have the supplies on hand for that. In fact, at the onset of winter, which is project time, all we had was the hoard of windows that were removed from Mom's house when she put in energy-star windows. And the old ones were the original single-pane variety, most with original glass, I imagine. And, greedy me, I wanted something that wouldn't let all the hard-earned warmth seep out.

This is where our contractor friends came in. They build, they renovate, they remodel, and they replace old windows with new ones. A lot of times, they told me, the old windows aren't all that bad. Over the course of a month, then, I got: one 6'-wide sliding glass door, very nice; a 6'-wide hinged glass door, somewhat nice; four double-glazed windows, two without their frames; and a transom window, which I didn't use. Margo's dad has done the same project at their house, so I got four more windows from him. All free, and diverted from a landfill. Margo's dad would probably have found a good use for them, but our other two friends assure us that that's where most casualties of remodeling go.

For a greenhouse I would need three or for times as much glazed surface as this, plus the thought put into corners, a roof, and an independent structure to support the whole thing safely. In the meantime, though, I had already found what I thought would be the ideal temporary situation: Mom has a shed at the end of the drive, and that shed has a south-facing garage door. I figured I could just frame the opening of that and put the doors and windows in, which I proceeded to do.

Other, more experienced individuals might have jumped right in and gotten the whole thing done in a day or two. I, however, have no particular experience with this kind of thing, and took it slow. I also have an 8-month-old, so that made things a little slower yet. But with advice from Margo's dad, and a little physical help from my friends, I got the whole thing assembled. The results are very pleasing: on average the temperature inside the shed is 12°F warmer than outside, with the added benefit of sunlight and shelter from the wind, rain, snow and ice that have since bombarded it. The kale, cabbage, alfalfa and clover are up, and the leeks and onions are starting to pop out. Hurrah!

There were a number of steps after the windows and doors were procured. After measuring the size of the opening and the dimensions of the windows I made little paper cutouts of them all, then played Tetris with them. This part would have been extra work, except that a few of the pieces weighed 100 lb or more in real life. Easier to move around paper cutouts. Once I found a setup that worked, I marked the area out on the shed floor, put the windows and doors down, and measured to see if it really worked out. It did, mostly.

What I didn't have yet was the lumber to frame it, but I had a contact for that, too. Our family doctor, who lives a few minutes down the road, had a new office built a while ago. She said the construction crew had this big dumpster, and she was amazed at the things they threw in there. So she would often check it and take out any wood she thought might be useful. She invited us to take anything we might need. Between that and some scrap barn wood, I had all the 2x4's I could use. So I measured once, twice, sometimes thrice, and cut. Again, it worked out mostly, and any mistakes were readily corrected with a chisel.

It was 9' high, 16' wide (but not soft as a downy chick) and just a little too unwieldy for me to manage alone, so I called up a couple of friends to help me move it into place. Zach, Seth, Mom and I got it moved where it should be, "finessed" it into place with a mallet, and finally screwed it to the opening.

Over the course of the next week or two I seated each of the windows and fixed them with beveled trim (thank you, table saw) to hold them in place. I have some silicon to seal the cracks, but I'm not sure if that will really make a difference.

As I said, the whole process has had a good result. Better would be if the shed were insulated - it has plywood exterior with vinyl siding, no ceiling, and vents in the "attic" space. But it works good enough for starting plants, has opening windows on all sides to keep moisture from rotting things, and is sturdy. So I'm not complaining.

This project, from supplies to advice to labor, could not have been done without the community of friends and family that I can claim. Or, rather, it could have been done for a moderate expense. But all I bought were screws and nails, and that was it. And, while Zach and Seth were over helping, their families, plus Margo and Alten, were in the warmth of the house enjoying cheese, crackers, and play-doh. It was like a very small barn-raising :)

For anyone else out there interested in building with windows and doors, my main advice is to find a company or individual who does renovations. I understand they are happy to have a positive use for the windows they remove; they feel good about not throwing away perfectly good windows, but are also saved the expense of hauling and depositing them at the dump.

As a side note to any of you serious writers and editors out there, you may have detected my relatively frequent use of the consummate (though nebulous) semicolon in this post. In the same way that I hope to have built a pseudo-greenhouse that won't fall apart, I hope I applied the semicolon appropriately. But then, if you don't try, you'll never learn!


  1. I love it! Nice work! Miss you all. We are moving to State College, PA in less than 3 weeks, so I think the girls and I will try to make a trip to visit you sometime this summer once we're settled. It would be great to see the garden all nice and green!

  2. Hi,

    Seeing that you’re a green advocate (and blogger) I wanted to reach out and see if you were interested in an article that I recently have written. It's on the Olympics and the steps they're taking to go green and decrease the environmental impact that it has. While sports is something far from the topic of your blog, I think that you will find it interesting and informative, and not overwhelming on the sports content, besides a few facts on the last Olympics, it is primarily about the Olympics going Green.

    I'm looking to spread awareness of the fact that even though the Olympic Games are fantastic and unifying, they are it's quite a carbon-rich event and are not that environmentally sound.

    Nerissa Barry

  3. Wow. How do I avoid making this blog a magnet for comments like the one above, which was posted almost identically on at least 32 other blogs?
    Ah, well.

    Hey, Bekah! We're glad to have ya'll closer! And we welcome your visits whenever you can come...

  4. Spectacular... it's beautiful, I can't wait to see it. Uncle George is definitely smiling to see his tools put to such use, and with recycled materials!