Legacy Post: Replacing the Basement Windows

Taking a look back at one of our
First major projects at 173
Some 25 years ago!

Apparently, basements and cellars are very different things. A basement is a story of a building partly below curb level but with at least one-half of its height above the curb level. A cellar is an enclosed space having more than one-half of its height below curb level. Usually, if a cellar has any windows, the windows are too small for an adult to fit through.

And Here At 173?

Take a look at the picture below. See that long gray shelf?  Well, that's the top of the foundation and the first step you see as you're looking down is about ground level.  That said, by New York City standards, 173 has a cellar because less then one half of the space is above ground.  

"It’s just one of the old-world fears, carrying over.”
“What’s that?”
“The fear of the cellar." - Josh Malerman

But - 173 isn't in New York City, nobody lives down there (of course that conjures memories of some horror movies I've seen), and I like the sound of basement better, so - 173 has a basement!

What They Were

173 was built back in about 1927 and when We purchased the house in 1997. The basement windows had every appearance of perhaps being the original 70 year old windows. As in the picture below, they were 3 paned, wood framed windows hung by a couple of hinges from the framing of the window and were at various stages of fit. Some of them had a bit of a gap, mostly on the sides of the windows and sometimes even on the bottom of the windows. One of the windows had a broken stile so I fabricated one out of a piece of scrap wood.

The stile I made was out of proportion width-wise, mostly because back then I really didn't have the tools to make it properly so I made it fit knowing full well we'd be replacing those windows sooner rather than later.  In that first winter here at 173 I was amazed no pipes froze.  

Give me a window and I'll stare out it. - Alan Rickman

But looking back, I'm not sure just how bad they were. Also, there may have been some kind of homemade storm-type of window on the outside. You know the kind, install them in the fall and take them out in spring.  

On at least one window we had to put plastic over it during the winter.  It was at this juncture it became clear we really needed to replace those windows.  Nonetheless, replacing the windows was almost an afterthought.


In 1998 we had family come from Germany to see the house and visit. I think they stayed like 2 or 3 weeks, maybe it was 3 or 4 weeks even. The plan was to put in a new floor in the basement which we did. It was a huge job and I should really tell that story sometime!  But, unplanned was replacing the basement windows.  I don't know whose idea it was but, seemingly on the spur-of-the-moment, I was off to Curtis Lumber to pick up new windows.  Those German guys were crazy talented and I think that day or the next, the windows had been installed. 

Installation my interesting, a little different than I usually see.  The windows and the window frame, sill, etc. were removed.  At this point you usually see people put in a new sill and framing, but not here.  173 has a poured concrete foundation, so instead of the framing, the windows were screwed directly to the foundation walls using huge TapCon screws.  For posterity, I should note that the TapCons were driven in with the Craftsman drill my parents got me for Christmas around '94(ish).  

That drill is a little underpowered for that task, but it got the job done.  However, to this day the drill has a terrible sound to it, but it still works!  But with the Dewalt corded drill I picked up back in maybe 2010, and my cordless drills and drivers, that ol' Craftsman is semi-retired these days!

 Anyway, after the windows were affixed, the entire framing inside and out was just concrete.  The concrete at the bottom of the window is nicely sloped to shed any rain or moisture.  And I gotta say - these any years hence, they're still in perfect condition!  Here's a picture of the kind of window installed.  This isn't my picture, but I don't feel like going down to take a picture right now! 

And here's a shot from the north side of the house...

Just For Fun

So while those windows were really old and basically falling apart, a couple were in fairly decent shape so I made use of them in a couple of creative ways. First, for the front porch I used a window along with its original hinges to make a kind of rustic bookcase, in the style of the barrister bookcase (kinda).  Add a few books and knickknacks and it made a nice decorative element on the front porch.

I also used a window for the shed I built for the back yard, and there it hangs to this day.  I like being able to keep some original elements of ol' 173 whenever I can!

Thanks for stopping by and taking a little trip back to 1998, it's been fun to reminisce! See you next time!
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