Wednesday, January 16, 2019

For the Love of a Bubble Window - But Don't Try This at Home

So I should start by saying that on every one of our houses there is at least one project where the guys think I'm crazy.  Maybe crazy isn't a strong enough word in this case - stark raving mad might be a better phrase :-)

You see, I love the 'bubble' window on the front of the house.  It's such a strong design statement and is a WOW feature you see from the street or as you walk to the front door.

But it's a terrible design from a practical, weather resistant standpoint.

See the black tar paper under the window?  We discovered the sheathing was completely rotted away due to poor flashing and leaks.  The whole space was filled with rotten wood and insulation - and a stream of water would run across the floor after a big storm.  The original window just couldn't be flashed to keep it water tight.  What's the solution?  Our always practical carpenters said we should replace it with a regular window.  Something that could be well flashed and eliminate water penetration.  You want a fancy shape?  How about an octagon they said! 
The sheathing is so rotted, only tar paper and wet dank fiberglass was between us and the exterior siding
My response.  "NO!  Absolutely not.  It would completely spoil the look of the front of the house."

But coming up with a different plan was daunting.  After searching the web, I found a couple of options.  One was a plastic bubble, similar to what we already have.  And it was made in Maine - which was pretty cool.  But it was only a single sheet of plastic, had no insulation value and would have many of the same challenges to insulate and make weathertight.

Option 2 was to take a circular, double dome skylight and hang it vertically.  We already have 6 Velux skylights going into this house, so I've gotten to know their reps pretty well.  They agreed it was feasible....but would NOT be covered by their warranty.  Skylights are not designed to be hung vertically.  Ha ha - no surprise there!! I think they're in the 'she must be crazy' camp!
Photo:  Velux/Wasco 

But of course, we had to figure out how to flash it to eliminate the water issues - and that required one big design concession.  I can't have the original diagonal siding going directly up to the window.  Why?  Well, the diagonal siding creates ridges around the window that can't be cleanly flashed.
4 inch vertical grooved siding
So, we need simpler siding, that's easy to flash for the skylight.  And thankfully, we have simpler siding around the corner on the garage and the back side of the house.  It's plain 4" vertical grooved siding.   We could use a vertical band of this around the bubble window, to give us a smooth surface for weatherproofing.  And from a design standpoint, it's consistent with a product already used on the house!  Easy peasy, right?

The challenge?  While there was probably a lot of this available in 1972, in 2018 it took Jamie, my Hammond Lumber rep a lot of digging to find it.  But he found it!   In all of New England, it was only available from one location in Massachusetts.  So we ordered it and started detailed planning (the siding ended up in a railcar that got derailed and lost for a couple of weeks.....but that's another story.....seriously, renovating old houses isn't for the faint of heart).

With a rough plan in place, the guys got to work.

First step was to remove the old window and the rotted wood.  Then they could start rebuilding
And create a nice, clean new opening

Sure, it looks like an octagon at this point, but it will be circular!
Then they installed new sheathing, to provide a sturdy structure for the new window.

In the same approach that you'd use to mount a skylight on a roof, they created a 'curb' and completely weatherstripped it.  Then they mounted the skylight to the curb.

With the skylight in place, they started installing the vertical siding, to ensure a tight, waterproof seal.
And then it had to be finished on the inside.  Our drywall team did an amazing job of creating 'drywall returns' for a clean, contemporary finish.

Bendable corner bead to create clean, crisp corners
We had a pretty fierce Nor'easter the other week and the new bubble window performed like a champ!!  Hooray, we maintained the original intent, but created a weatherproof window for the future.  And while it's a bit of a change from the original, I love the new look!
Room with a view!!

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  1. You are such a problem solver Laurel. Well done, it looks even snazzier now.

  2. Your solution to use vertical siding with the new bubble window was spot on. It is a departure from the original look, but makes such a bold and beautiful statement. Bravo!

  3. It sort of reminds me of a midcentury camera. Bravo for sticking it out, it looks fantastic and is such a unique feature!

  4. Thanks so much for all the kind words!! We are thrilled with how it came out AND it's weathertight! Woo hoo!!

  5. Bravo! Way to keep the function in the design. Love the results.

  6. Love it. Is it just me, or does this remind anyone else of HAL?

    "Dave : Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
    HAL : I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."



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