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Site built doors and windows with side vents

[Indondesian blue filigree shutters opening to the desert view: 29k]

Figure 1: The inset filigree shutters are from Java, Indonesia.

I designed this style of window frame with narrow vents for an old adobe house. It had double-hung windows that needed renovating. The frames and shutters are made with basic tools and simple butt joints; however, a cabinet maker could make a much more sophisticated version using the same ideas.

When I designed them, I wondered if the narrow opening would provide adequate ventilation. In the old, double hung window frames, the single new side vent actually let in more air than the old window opened halfway because I had eliminated all the extra wood framing the glass. The vents need to be narrow if they are to provide security and if the shutters are to be simple, single pieces of lumber.

For our new adobe house, the frames were made of 2 x 6 inch pine or redwood with a vent on each side of the window or door. We built them on the site and set them into the adobe walls as they went up. Redwood was used in exposed exterior walls and pine finished with a blue stain was used under the portal with the Javanese shutters and doors. The building code required that we use steel lintels over all window and doors and we had these made locally.

If I did this again, it would be easier to install the shutters and hardware, screens and the first set of molding for the glass, into the frames before setting them in the wall. I would staple plastic over the shutter and screen units to protect them until the adobe work was finished.

The window frames were set just slightly in from the outside of the wall. Ideally, have your carpenter make the bottom 2 x 6 board of the frame slope down at a slight angle to help rainwater run off. On windows not protected by the portal, we included strips of metal flashing under the frame and overlapping the adobe on the outside of the wall to facilitate runoff. Any gaps between the metal and the wood were filled with silicon caulk.

The photographs show windows and doors that were individually sized because we were incorporating the Javanese shutter insets and the large custom doors. The vented windows in the rest of the house use standard size sheets of fixed glass, 4 x 5 feet, set either vertically or horizontally, depending on the height of the wall. For vent openings over 4 feet high, we added cross-bracing. In sheltered locations under the portal, these double as small display shelves for pottery (see the last photograph).

[Exterior view of door and window framing with the door installed and the shutters ready to be inset: 47k]

Figure 2: The carved doors were a set of four house panels from Java. Brian Kelly sized them for us. I stained the new wood on the door to blend with the old. One of the Java shutters leans against the wall, waiting to be installed in the window above.

The window glass is set to the outside edge of the frame to minimize the area of wood exposed to the weather. We used 1/2 x 3/4 inch wood molding strips on both sides of the glass. We ran a bead of silicon caulk between the glass and the exterior set of molding strips before nailing them in place.

There is 4 inches or more of adobe window sill on the inside beyond the wood sill. I finished this with either rows of 2 x 2 inch ceramic tiles or with 4 inch Mexican tile. We sealed the inside walls and sills with a dilute white glue solution. After this, tile cement was applied directly to the adobe sill and the tiles laid and later grouted with a brown, sanded grout. I just beveled the grout to form the transition into the adobe, but edge tiles could also be used.

The side shutters covering the vents are 1 x 6 inch redwood or pine, matching the frame. They overlap it approximately 1/2 inch on all sides. This determines the width of the vent. Lumber dimensions keep shrinking, so check your measurements on new boards. The hardest thing is to find straight boards at ordinary lumber yards, so start looking early and often for your pieces, or you will have to custom order much more expensive, higher quality wood than we used.

The shutters are hung on the inside with surface mount cabinet hinges that stay in place when fully open and snap shut when almost closed. I used brass slide bolts at the bottom and spring-loaded, catch-type cabinet latches at the top on the inside. (On the doors, the slide-bolts are set horizontal midway up, with the catch latches at the top and bottom.) Aluminum screen was stapled to the outside face of the frame and finished with standard 1/2 inch screen molding. These narrow vents provide excellent cross ventilation and security. We can leave them open without worrying that someone will cut the screen, unlatch the window and crawl in.

For vents on exposed exterior walls, a strip of 1/4 round molding backed by closed-cell foam weather-stripping needs to be added to the sill after the shutters are installed and another 1/4 round strip nailed just above it on the shutter itself to help keep rain out. The shutters can be weather stripped around their edges, but I decided I would rather have the house breath in the winter when we have our fireplace and gas wall heaters running. So far, we've been comfortable.

[The interior side is stained a bluish-brown to blend with the adobe wall: 32k]

Figure 3: Interior view of door with one of the side shutters open. The basket yam mask is from Papua New Guinea. Small Chambri pots, also from New Guinea, sit on the cross-braces inside the vents.

In cold climates, a second set of shutters could be added to the outside and closed during the winter. I also had planned to have roll-down blinds of quilted fabric to keep the heat in at night, but haven't find that necessary either in our mild climate. We use evaporative cooling in the summer, rather than refrigeration, so again, it's useful to have an old-fashion style house that breathes.

I also decided not to use double pane glass, since we don't have large expanses of glass and the gain in R-value wasn't really that significant. The sun is so intense here in the desert that we don't need huge windows to get enough light into the house. Everyone comments on the lovely light inside, so even with our medium brown adobe walls, the house is bright. In the summer, I use rice paper or reed blinds to cut the glare on windows not shaded by the portal. Every room has light coming from at least two sides. There are some excellent discussions of light and window locations in A Pattern Language.

The Java doors are quite heavy and are hung with ball-bearing hinges. I used surface mount deadbolt locks on the inside (reasonably priced ones are hard to find in the USA, but common in Australia) and antique brass door pulls that we've collected over the years. Our doors open out rather than in. Since there are no screen doors, this works. The wind blows the doors shut rather than open. The dogs let themselves out to the portal if the door is unlocked, but can't come in unless we want them to. On a couple of high-traffic doors, I later added automatic door-closers.

The nice thing about the side vents on a beautiful door is that there is no ugly screen door obscuring it and on the windows, the view is just through the glass without screen in the way.

See also: Articles on Indonesian Furniture, Javanese Folk Art Paintings and Figures and New Guinea artifacts in our Art-Pacific's Guide to Artifacts.

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