First Aid for the Ailing House

Q: In the very near future, I will be replacing five wood windows with new vinyl windows. The windows are your standard-sized bedroom windows -- no fancy designs or dimensions.

I would like your recommendation on what brand names are reliable and have a good track record. When I ask around with builders and people connected to the window business, I can't seem to get a brand name that most people feel good about. Comments are made (positive and negative) about Marvin, Pella, Andersen, Sierra Pacific, etc. I also remember reading one of your columns where you expressed concerns about Pella windows.

I have always trusted your judgment and would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Take care and thanks for all the guidance and advice you have given homeowners over the years. -- via email

A: To keep the record straight, Marvin and Sierra Pacific do not make vinyl windows. Marvin makes all-fiberglass (its Integrity line) and fiberglass/wood windows, while Sierra Pacific makes wood and aluminum-clad windows. Andersen and Pella offer vinyl windows.

My concern with Pella followed its steady refusal to honor its warranty on both doors and windows a number of years ago. Pella fought my clients for months, blaming poor insulation, until the company was threatened with litigation after I became involved and wrote a scathing report. When this became public through my answering a reader's question about Pella windows in my syndicated column, I received several responses from other readers who had had similar experiences.

I do not know if Pella has changed its modus operandi, but I have stayed away from recommending its products ever since. If a manufacturer does not honor its warranty, or offers terrible service, I feel that it does not deserve to be patronized.

I used to install many Pella windows in the '50s and '60s, as one of the top-of-the-line products for years, and had them in our house from the '60s until these unfortunate incidents. This was a time when Pella did do a good job of taking care of its customers.

My research and contacts in the industry speak highly of the Interstate Materials Inc. vinyl windows, series 88, which is only available through accredited retailers. To find a retailer in your area, call Interstate's toll-free line: 800-338-9997. If you are in Vermont, Acme Glass (802-658-1400) in Burlington, Vermont, is an accredited retailer.

In recent years, I have had very good experiences with Marvin windows and doors. They are competitively priced, are of high quality and are very energy-efficient, and Marvin's customer service has been excellent.

Years ago, I was retained by an architect to investigate why all the Marvin windows in her house were rotting. Instead of dodging the bullet, Marvin volunteered that their preservative-treatment subcontractor had done a very poor job. Marvin replaced all the windows at no cost to the homeowner.

When we remodeled our house extensively, we used Marvin windows and doors throughout with great satisfaction.

Q: I live in a home that has moisture year-round in the basement. It's causing the sill around the home to rot. Is it worth fixing? I still have a mortgage. -- via email

A: I certainly think that a house is worth fixing rather than abandoning it, if that is what you are asking.

Every effort should be made to track the causes of your extreme moisture condition.

You haven't given me much information, but here are a few hints: If your foundation is made of concrete blocks instead of poured concrete, and the blocks have been waterproofed from the inside, their cores may be filled with water that leaked in from the outside and became trapped in the cores.

In such a case, check the grade around the foundation and make all necessary repairs to it and to any appendages leading water toward the house (walks, patios, exterior basement stairs, driveways, low spot under a deck, etc.), and follow this with the drainage of the blocks.

You may need the help of an experienced contractor or engineer. Draining the blocks can be done by using a star drill and a hammer to drill holes in the mortar joints of the blocks as close to the floor as possible. Using an electric drill is dangerous; if water suddenly surges, it may cause a serious risk of electrical shock.

You will need to drill holes between blocks and in two or three places for each block, as some blocks have two cores and others three. You only need to drill holes in the bottom row; water will flow down to them.

You'll have to plan on dealing with the water coming out. If your house has an old stone foundation and a dirt floor, you will need to make sure that water cannot enter the basement by checking the conditions outside as mentioned above. Then you'll have to do something to control the soil's moisture by either covering it with heavy plastic, which you can buy in agricultural and building-supply stores, or by pouring a concrete slab over a stone base and vapor retarder.

When this is done, hire an experienced contractor to make any necessary repairs to the sill.

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