Hidden costs can lurk around doors and windows

The fact that everything you can see looks good in your new condo or townhouse does not mean that all is well. Two of the places you probably haven’t thought to look can evolve into pesky problems later. The finishing details in these spots are frequently left out during the contractor’s final stages of ownership, before closing, and these typical oversights are two of my biggest pet peeves.

The first has to do with properly sealing your new windows. The standard double-hung window looks like two square boxes. They are stacked one atop the other, with glass in each. Most of these windows are wood-framed and clad with aluminum at the exterior. Sometimes simple wood “primed” windows are installed, and they aren’t covered with metal on the outside.

In any case, when you have wood windows the wood frames need to be sealed from the exterior elements and from the interior heat and humidity. When wood gets moist or wet, it thinks it’s in the forest again and begins to expand or shrink as it acclimates to the environment. Repeated wet / dry cycles cause rot, and the windows begin to fall apart.

The boxes or frames that hold the glass are called sashes and the two boards that meet at the middle of the window when it’s closed are called the mid-rails. The upper sash mid-rail usually sits behind the lower sash mid rail when the window is shut, with both halves locked together.

The inner surfaces of these rails are required by the manufacturer to be painted and / or sealed. Failure to do so will invite warp, rot and inoperable windows. If you have problems with your windows later, the manufacturer’s representative could void the warranty because they weren’t properly sealed.

If you’re having trouble envisioning this narrow little space, I will give you an easy way to check it. First determine that you have double hung windows, i.e. one glass box above another. Next, slightly raise the lower, or operable, sash. Lift it about three or four inches. The rear mid-rail will now be exposed and you can check if it has been painted as required. Simply look through the glass. If you see any bare wood, it will either need two coats of paint or another coat or two of polyurethane on the exposed surface. Insist on this detail to help keep your windows “stick free” for as long as you own them.

My second pet peeve is a lot like the first one. It requires a small make-up mirror to detect. Using a stool or ladder, place your mirror three or four inches over an open door in your new space. Like the mid-rail on your windows, this top edge should be painted or sealed.

Most painters don’t paint here for the simple reason that people like you don’t bother to look here. Neither will your family or guests, so why bother? Because if your door becomes warped and won’t close later on, you will not have a warranty from the manufacturer if the door isn’t painted on all six sides.

All six sides includes the bottom too. Put your mirror below the door in the same way that you held it over the top edge. If the bottom is not painted, insist that the edge be sealed.

In Chicago, where it’s common to install only single or double return air ducts on furnaces, bedroom doors should be cut down an inch or so at the bottom, above the finished floor, to allow for the re-circulation of room air to the furnace. Often, the bottom edge is not painted because contractors don’t bother to paint after cutting the door down.

Plenty of hidden items in your new home, from wiring to insulation, may require expertise to assess, but these two common problems can be quickly checked and easily avoided if you take the time to look before signing off.

If only all construction problems were so easy to catch.

Thomas Corbett is president of Tomacor, Inc. a professional property consulting company specializing in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work.