Dear PoP – Construction Question

Photo by PoPville flickr user Hoodsweatsh

“Dear PoP,

Got a question for your blog readers….We need to change a 2nd story door (on to what had been a deck) into a window, but have no money for a contractor….Any advice or helpful people out there? We can buy the material – or at least what we think we need – but we’re not sure we can do a good/effective job. The other windows in the house have come from Home Depot, so that’s not a concern. What has me puzzled is how to get the wall beneath the window up to the 18″ thickness of the brick used in the rest of the wall. Cinder blocks? Wood framing with a brick layer? Help?”

16 Comment

  • a locked and *securely nailed-in* double pane glass door without a handle becomes a window.

    i’m just sayin’, that’s all…

    • ah

      It’s a sensible thing to be saying — why not convert the door into a longer/taller window, instead of bringing the sill up to the same height as others?

      A contractor, which you should hire for any project, could probably do this a lot more inexpensively than what you’re contemplating.

  • suck it up and pay someone before you cause a mess

  • You should mimic the construction of the rest of the house. This will be pretty obvious when you take out the door frame. It’s probably two rows of brick, but it could be a wood-frame house with a single row of brick. But I’ve never heard of a wall in house (that’s not made of haybales, anyway) that’s 18″ thick, something isn’t adding up here.

    However, you should seriously think about how much you “need” to do this if you don’t know what you’re doing, can’t afford a contractor, and are seeking advice on a not insignificant project via Prince of Petworth.

    You’re talking about laying bricks and mortar, installing a window, and a lot of finish work. Both of these require skill and tools to do right. While I doubt you could do anything that would make your house fall down, there’s a very good chance you could do something that leaks, looks crappy, or generally doesn’t work very well.

    If you are intent on doing it yourself you should really find someone who knows what they are doing to actually look at the project and give you advice.

  • I assume that you mean the window is 18″ above the floor, not that walls are 18″ thick, right?

    As a do-it-yourselfer, I hate to say to get someone to do it, but you probably should.

    1) Old bricks are not like new bricks, and will be harder to find.
    2) you can’t use regular cement on old bricks.
    3) unlike framing or drywall where you can take your time and get it perfect, that mortar won’t wait for you, it will dry and once cement dries, your mistakes are there forever.
    4) bricks and mortar are heavy and laying bricks is a skill that requires a little bit of practice.

  • With bricks, every little imperfection or tiny mismatch will look quite goofy even though it will be functional. This knowldge comes with much experience in messing up masonry on my own.

    An expert mason can match mortar and, maybe, bricks. Hire someone but do your work to make sure they really know what their doing.

  • Agree with 3:37 and 3:41 else. You kind of need to know what you’re doing when putting in a window. Don’t want it to fall out. Don’t want it off kilter (or it won’t open and/or will crack). And the brick in the photo on this article is all wrong. Not only looks terrible, the new brick needs to be interleaved into the existing brick.

    This kind of thing is doable for the homeowner with the skills, but even with the skills, and the tools, it’s a LOT of work. And it’s really easy to make a craptastic job of it.

    Good luck should you choose to do it on your own. Send in regular postings of your progress!

  • Have you priced this out? I was amazed at how inexpensive masonry work is? It’s not cheap, especially not for someone’s whose good, but I went into it terrified at the cost and was pleasantly surprised.

    It’s hard to tell, but I’d be surprised if closing up that window cost more than $1k, materials and labor, perhaps even less.

  • @Stubs – $1K would be a miracle. A crappy vinyl special order window, just the window, is probably $350 or so. A decent one is going to be close to a grand or more. That’s just the window.

    To do this in a not-half-assed way you need:

    1) Old brick, which your contractor will likely not provide. Go alley picking and look for houses being gutted.
    2) A mason to lay the brick
    3) A window sill for the outside, probably like a 4×6 cut to the right size and shape and finished/painted
    4) Someone else who knows how to put a window in
    5) Finish work inside – plaster or drywall, casing around the window, a sill for the inside which will certainly have to be custom-made unless you don’t care if it looks anything like the other ones in your house. Then there’s casing around it, maybe you can re-use what’s around the door
    6) Painting

    If you hired someone to do this properly, either you’d have to find a great handyman with a knack for details, or a contractor who would get several tradesmen to do each of the parts.

    This could easily be 3K. And then of course there’s the problem with little jobs like this that involve lots of little details: most people don’t want to do them, and so they way overbid them.

    Your best bet would be to try to find a highly-recommended handyman guy who can actually do everything himself reasonably well. But I really doubt anyone who doesn’t suck would do this for less than 2 grand or so (including materials).

    This could easily be two full days of labor to tear down the old door frame, build up the brick, frame for the new window, and all the finish work. That’s a couple g’s no matter how you slice it especially if there’s more than once person involved.

    • I wasn’t very clear, I think about $1K for the mason. Installing a window and the interior finish work is definitely DIY-able, but the brick work, much less so.

      I agree, if you paid someone to do the whole deal, much more expensive, I was only referring to the brickwork.

  • Brick workers (not the one’s with the websites, the actual guys who do the work) are some of the cheapest guys you can hire in DC. I agree with everyone else, but just saying “hire someone” is unsatisfying. So here’s the information you need if you still want to be informed when hiring someone. Also you can source the material yourself so you don’t have to pay the material bump.

    You can get historic mortar at Fragers in Capitol Hill. All you really need is a mortar without “portland cement”. All the ratios and getting your mortar tested for exact composition doesn’t really happen in DC. Lime + Sand + Water. Fragers carries it and they have people who will help you. They also have the tools you’ll need. Plan to spend a chunk of change on mortar and don’t skimp on it. When you’re new to mortar, you waste a lot. Also getting the consistency right so that it’s easy to work with is important.

    I have no idea where to get old bricks except that old bricks are everywhere. I dug 60 of them out of my backyard when I did landscaping so they’re around. You’ll have to find a source for old bricks in DC/Baltimore. It’s remarkably easy to estimate the number of bricks you’ll need and you can call for a cost.

    When you put bricks in they need to be damp. So you soak them in water over night. Also the bricks in the wall need to be damp so you need to expose them then keep them wet with a towel and plastic. Bricks need to be and stay damp before and after you apply the mortar. This is so the mortar dries slowly.

    You need to consider how you’re going to anchor the bricks. Normally one row overlaps another by 1/2 a brick, but you have a straight wall on either side. You probably have a 2 brick thick wall. You’ll want the type of bond (pattern) and match the rest of the wall. Most DC houses are American Bond. Google it. I’m not sure how wide your window/door space is, but I’d be concerned if it was a double door.

    There are a lot of resources on the web. You can start with the Brick Industry Association. There was a “this old house” on repointing in DC that may be useful. Also there are some decent videos online about brick work. Also buy yourself a book or hit the library.

    You don’t have to have a perfect match for color at the end of the day. There are plenty of bricked over windows in DC that look fine to the average buyer.

    Good luck. If you want to practice with mortar, you can come help me with my house 😉

  • Occasionally, if matching the bricks is very important and the bricks are an unusually rare color or style, masons will remove bricks from an inconspicuous place (like from the back of the house, behind the porch, etc.) to use. Obviously this is going to add to the cost.

  • Slightly off topic, by why do you need to turn the door into a window? Just curious.

    As to the topic, based on the questions asked, it doesn’t sound like you have much experience DIY experience, let alone masonry experience. I echo everyone else that strongly urges you to hire someone who knows what they’re doing (or work closely with someone who does).

  • Any suggestions for a good mason to do this project (I have the same problem)? Name/Phone?

    On the other hand I could replace the now missing balcony, but that would cause even more shade in the back yard since it is on the shady side of the house.

  • I would put in a Juliet Balcony. GIS it. Cheaper and honestly a future buyer will value it more than a window.

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