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5 Design Flaws That Drive Me Nuts

5 Design Flaws That Drive Me Nuts
6875222 – very confused looking guy

Some many elements of our homes today are not real. Fake, faux, pretend. It’s a big illusion to make homes today look like the real McCoy of yesteryear. Why have shutters that actually function or balconies that can fit a human when we have pretend little versions of the real thing for cheap.

These faux houses have driven me crazy enough that I decided it was time to lay out the five things that absolutely drive me nuts about these fake homes struggling to make themselves look like the real deal.

#1 Shutters

If I see one more shutter glued to the side of a house that is too small for the window it’s meant for I may loose it. That means that my next trip to the suburbs will likely be fraught with freak outs.

Let me make it simple. Shutters must do only two things:

  1. Open and close
  2. Fit the window

If you can’t manage to install shutters that accomplish those two things then you are missing the point of having shutters and shouldn’t buy any. For more of my shutter angst check out this post!

#2 Balconies & Porches

What’s the purpose of a balcony or porch? No, it’s not to dress up and adorn the outside of your house. Tell me, if you have a balcony that can’t fit a single person is it really a balcony at all? How about a porch that doesn’t provide enough space for people to gather?

Architecturally speaking there is a general rule that a porch should be at a bare minimum 6′ deep, but actually 8′ deep or more is what makes it truly functional. Once you put furniture on these faux porches that are 4, 5, or even 6′ deep the space is completely consumed and leaves no room for anything else like, say…I don’t know…people!

Do us a favor builders and residential architects, leave room for us people on our porches.

#3 Voids & Masses

This is an architectural term for the way buildings are laid out on the exterior. Walls are masses and windows and doors are voids. The voids serve to break up the visual monotony of the mass of the structure and create visual interest.

Sadly most builders have forgotten this and only add voids to serve the interior needs of the floor plan which has no relationship to the exterior design. The fronts of most suburban homes are proportioned decently enough but the sides and back are usually as awful as architectural design gets.

#4 Gable Vents

This silly little thing drives me nuts. Gable vents were installed in older homes to allow ventilation into the attic. It allows air to pass in one gable end and out the other, thus keeping the attic cooler.

Most homes today use roof vents combined with soffit vents to ventilate the attic and these gable vents have fallen out of use. So, what do builders do to break up the massing of the gable ends? They slap a fake gable vent on the wall. Nice. Nothing better than spending time and money on a peel and stick vent.

#5 Windows

Where do I even start about the myriad of replacement aka “fake” windows on the market today? Some work some don’t. Some are expensive some are cheap. But all are ugly!

If you have original windows save them! If you are building new construction then at least use high quality windows that have some dimension and depth to them instead of the two-dimensional cheap builder grade pieces of junk most homes get as an after thought.

Hint: If your muntins are peel and stick or little pieces of plastic between the glass then I’m talking about you.

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26 thoughts on “5 Design Flaws That Drive Me Nuts

  1. Are the eyebrow (over-the-widow) pergolas the new “fake shutters”? These “mini-pergolas” do not really provide shade or shelter but are more of exterior window decor. Do you agree?

  2. Here’s the tragedy… we bought a little 1910 bungalow largely intact, except the windows had been replaced with vinyl. The silver lining is I get to relocate and resize them as they are again replaced. Does anybody make a decent restoration window?

  3. well this weekend im getting the keys to a 1920 Craftsman? Farmhouse? bungalow?. lol It Looks like a mixed breed but cool as can be. Its move in ready but the windows were painted shut, so my work is just beginning. good luck all

  4. Out of curiosity, just went outside with a tape measure and measure my 1918 bungalow wrap around porch and it measured 87″. That’s 7′-3″ deep.
    As far as the shutters, I learned their functionality very well when I lived in Florida.
    I’m glad I still have original windows. I took a window restoration workshop at the local historic preservation society Historic Columbia and another about energy eficiency in older homes and learned of the value of keeping and maintaining older windows. That the house does need to breath, but aside to do your best to properly maintain your windows, properly sealing the top (attic, roof) and bottom is the best course of action. They did one of those blow tests in onw of the historic museum homes where they seal the doors and put a blower and with a thermal reader you can see where were the points of air exchange.

  5. So I do agree with all of these points, but I want to raise a question. Take shutters for example. I could see how glued or bolted shutters could improve curb appeal if done semi properly (semi because properly would be fully functional but perhaps one could save money the glued way but look functional). You could even argue decorated half porches offer some curb appeal (again not the same as a well done fully functional porch) Thoughts?

    1. David, I’ll agree that there are varying degrees of good and bad. For instance are operable shutters that are falling apart better more attractive than properly size but non functional shutters. Not sure.

  6. My house is a 1930s farmhouse, and all but 4 of the original windows are intact, but they are in horrible shape. My husband wants to replace them with new, but historically accurate windows. Do you have any sources that prove old windows can be just as energy efficient as new windows? The efficiency aspect is his main argument for replacing rather than restoring what we have.

    1. Ashley,

      I’m an Architect, and restored all 40 windows on my 1924 Colonial Revival/Craftsman hybrid home. I cheated
      a bit and had them sent out for paint removal, but I did everything else, including removing the glazing,
      after a good soaking overnight with paint stripper, scraped the setting beds, re-glued the corners so they
      were rock solid, oiled, sealed, and varnished the sash edges, then primed, reset the squeaky clean wavy
      glass, and glazed each sash (my wife helped apply the putty, which I tooled. I even wire brushed the sash
      weights, hosed off, and primed with a water based rush converter so they were a nice satin black, and no
      longer dusty. Cleaned all the hardware, cleaned and oiled the pulleys, and installed new ropes.

      We also had Humphrey aluminum storm windows installed, that are fully gasketed, and color matched to our
      trim paint. The air space between the window and the storm units, made the house SO quite (and we lived on
      a busy street. You see the airspace is a GREAT insulator, that “hi-tech” windows can’t match. I don’t care if it;s
      argon gas, krypton, triple glazed, fairy dust, or whatever. What the window industry won’t tell you is that 75% of
      insulated glass units FAIL, and need replacement. Single glazed window won’t fail for a LONG time. And nothing
      is as good as dead airspace. Our storms could have used a low-E coating, but our budget would’t allow it, I wish
      I had been able to.

      I was the project Architect for Boston’s Symphony Hall years ago, and they restored the original clerestory windows.
      The BSO was very concerned about maintaining the hall’s acoustics, so we had studies done by the acoustical engineers, and it turns out the most soundproof window was the originals, with a laminated glass wood storm window,
      but their research found the airspace was the most critical. AIR is the most efficient insulator. My home also had blown in cellulose in the wall cavities, and closed cell spray foam in the attic. If I had insulated the basement walls, then that would have been a big help.

      Tell your husband to read the National Park Service briefs on the historic preservation of windows, and you can verify
      everything that I am telling you. The window companies are LYING to you. The payback for replacement windows is
      very long, at least 25 or more years. Now with the aluminum storms, and paying for the stripping, I spent about the same as a decent vinyl (if there is such a thing), replacement window, that will only last about 20 years. My old-growth Douglas Fir windows could easily last 500 or more. And with the storms protecting the four coats of latex paint, I haven’t seen any deterioration in the 10 years they have been installed. I can also open the windows with my pinky finger, they glide SO smoothly. And the beautiful, original, wavy glass is still intact, which is so much clearer than the newer glass.

      They say the windows are the soul of a building, which is so true. I have seen so many historic buildings ruined, for the sake of “rehabbing”, or “updating”, when 99% of people haven’t a clue as to what they are doing and should be kept as
      far away from historic buildings as possible. It would be like someone going to a plastic surgeon for a minor facelift, and coming back with their eyes gouged out, and skin removed (in the case of vinyl siding). That is how drastic the character of your home will be compromised. Oh, and by the way, did you know that vinyl contains asbestos too? The salesman probably wouldn’t tell you that, even if he knew, which they probably won’t.

      I hope this helps.


  7. Interestingly, even my 1892 foursquare porch isn’t wide enough! Don’t know what they were thinking, but I wish it had been constructed another 2 feet deeper!

  8. Reglazed many of our 27 windows in our home of 93 years young. Built in 1925 with expert craftmanship. I have replaced window cording on most of these wondows when the 94 year old cprding gave wsy and dropped the wimdow weights. Love the wavy glass pattern. By the way these standard windows are huge and have a much thicker glass.

  9. I just finished reglazing the original windows on my 1920s cottage home. Most panes still have the original “wavy” glass. They really look nice and it really was not hard to do.

    1. Reglazing my windows has been a nightmare. I am lousy at it. And then I smacked a window to open it and the lack of good glazing caused the glass to snap and drop a big chunk down on my wrist, sending me to the emergency room. Very lucky how it cut because it could have been a fatal slash. All said, I want to finish my windows but am at a loss. I cannot afford to have someone come and clean them up but don’t know if I have the talent to do this. Anyone ever thought of using that rubber seal product instead of linseed oil and glazing compound? Just an idea….

      1. Is practice the key here? First get all the resources – there are any number of books – Scott Sidler has one. The national trust for historic preservation, a website called Historic Homeworks. First collect information, then go at it slowly and don’t go around smacking things. Sometimes it seems like the difference between talented and not so much is just that it takes longer to learn.

      1. NO WAY! I’ll bet a restored window would actually cost less than a replacement?

        I did our three front living room window storms last Spring – with the guidance of you and your blog – they’re not perfect, but they are better than they were (with replacement glass). I’m so busy at work, I can’t make time for lunch some days, so I don’t think I’ll get to the windows themselves till NEXT Spring.

        If you COULD help, I think that would be completely awesome. I live in PA, outside of Philadelphia.

      2. Scott, your company can restore windows nationwide now? Tell me more! I have an 1880’s house in northern Michigan with 8 sets of original wavy glass windows and the front door (and their storms) that I want to restore. I’ve never done this before and I don’t want to ruin them. I’d love to hire someone to start the project and at least guide me the rest of the way, but a google search doesn’t show any resources around! How do I find knowledgeable help?!

        1. Michelle, for out of area clients we typically have the sashes shipped to us for restoration and then ship them back. We also send you a free book and video detailing how to take care of the site work that needs to be done whether you want to do it yourself or hire that portion out locally. With the resources we send you anyone who has the time can do learn to do the site work.
          Check out the link to get a quote for your windows: https://austinhistorical.typeform.com/to/mWOZ3o

  10. I see this all the time here in northern Florida where the shutters are half the size of the windows and nailed/screwed to be merely a visual ornament.
    But the real ire should be directed to the architects that design these idiotic plans. Go to almost any website showing house plans and look at the single story ones. In every design, whether the interior height is 8 to 10 feet, the roof is a massive creature all it’s own extending upwards 30 feet, or higher. It is only when you get into the multistory ones do the roofs begin to flatten out, some. Then you get into the multiple gables with or without real functional windows that have no relation to the floorplan.

  11. As a child of suburbia & the 80’s housing styles, it absolutely blew my mind when I realized what shutters were actually meant for; that they weren’t just window “dressing” nailed to the siding. It was something I’d never given any thought to really (because what kid goes around thinking about stuff like that?) until I moved to Charleston, SC and hurricane preparations became a thing and I saw shutters that actually moved and did what they were meant for all along. With fresh eyes I looked back over the neighborhoods of my youth and .. mind blown.
    Also, amen to the porches part. I tend to alternate between silent sneers and silently sobbing when I see those.

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