Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Leaking Windows and French Doors

"The Elusive Moby Dick"

He stood braced against the wind with the full force of the gale in his weatherbeaten face. The wind howled and the rain stung his eyes and dripped off his nose and chin as the storm built up to its full fury. He could see the blusters of spray lifting off the crests of giant waves in a dark and foreboding sea. But just hold on …... this isn't Captain Ahab standing on the rolling wooden deck of the Pedoq lashed by arctic gales as he followed his relentless quest for the elusive Moby Dick. No, this was Fred standing on a rather nice but deteriorating herring bone pattern parquet floor looking out over the sea from the bedroom windows of his plush and somewhat expensive villa not a million miles from Uluwatu. Indeed Ahab was nowhere in sight although it might possibly be that the designer of his windows was someone by the name of Moby Dick or something very similar.

You see Fred's house has a disease that is common among the select luxury dwellings of Bali. This insidious sickness enters through the brain cells of some unsuspecting architect establishing itself in a building during the early design stage and only manifesting itself months after project maturity and in times of meteorological challenge. This disease has been named “Haemojendella patheticus which roughly translated from ancient Javanese Latin means bleeding useless windows.

Of course keeping out the elements is nothing new. It can, at times, be a life and death issue and has been around since time began.

“Er …...... excuse me Almighty.”
“Don't bother me now, can't you see I am designing some rather splendid mountains.
Oh bother I've lost my train of thought now. What do you want?”
“We seem to have a bit of a problem sir.'
“A problem? What is it? Come on spit it out man.”
“Er... well it's the ducks sir.”
“The ducks, what about the ducks?”
“They … er …. they keep sinking.”
“The ducks keep sinking?”
“Yes I'm afraid so sir.”
“Do you have any idea why the ducks keep sinking?”
“Well sir we think we have an inherent laxative fault in the sphincter design department.”
“Ah leaky ducks eh, well don't you worry about that. Quality control have come up with a whole new species debugging system. It's called “Natural Selection”. All the ducks with faulty muscles in their rear ends will simply sink to the bottom never to be seen again. It's rather clever really, in time all design faults will progressively remove themselves from the system”
“Thank you sir, you're a brick.”
“I beg your pardon?.........”

Ducks are one thing but trying to find an architect in the island of the Gods who can properly design window and door frames to keep out the elements makes the quest for the elusive Moby Dick seem like a mere walk in the park.

It is surprising how small design faults can cause large problems. We all know of houses that just aren't designed to live in, I saw an apartment recently where when you walk in the front door you can see someone if they are sitting on the tut. Now that can be rather annoying and can lead to a certain nervous disorder which results in twitching and the constant need to look over your shoulder.

We may work hard at getting the layout right but inevitably there are things we never thought of. How many people design a house so that maintenance is easy. Last month a leaking hot water pipe under a bathroom floor resulted in one tile having to be replaced. Murphy's law of course meant that those particular tiles are no longer available and so a very nice bathroom now has one none matching tile right in the middle of the floor. If the hot water pipe had been installed in the wall and accessible from the none tiled bedroom side of the wall - no problem. It is also a very good idea to keep a stock of all the tiles used in your house for maintenance purposes.

A frequent problem and one particularly prevalent since the move to modern “minimalist” design is in the design of windows and french doors. Very often they are simply not designed to be weatherproof.

If your palace is in a position that is exposed to sea breezes and rain has a tendency to fall horizontally rather than vertically you will probably know what I mean. The Bukit is particularly exposed to the weather and so unfortunately this is also an area where many of the houses are poor in term of practical design. Many people find water coming in under french doors – it is the result of bad design and can be difficult to remedy.

I will not easily forget a house with a large beautiful living room with parquet floors and french doors down two sides. The doors had been designed with no eye for rain protection and in addition the wood had not been properly seasoned and had shrunk badly. As a result you could see daylight around the doors and when it rained it blew straight through leaving large pools of water on the parquet floor. Now parquet floors and water do not really get along with each other very well. This is a very tricky problem to solve and by rights, the house being new, should have had new doors installed, something that poverty avoiding developers are rather loathe to do. Definitely something to think about when negotiating your maintenance period agreement.

Another house I saw recently had windows exposed to strong Westerly sea breezes. Rain comes through and the Western walls of the house are damp but worse than this the window frames have absorbed moisture, they have swollen and cracked the concrete wall around the frame. Examination revealed that the windows are made from Binkirai wood which is very commonly used in house construction these days. Binkirai is considerably cheaper and more available than teak but has the disadvantage of being susceptible to swelling and cracking when exposed to the elements. If used it should be well protected with a multiple coats of good varnish and the varnish should be refinished on a regular basis as cracks open in the wood.

So what can we do to protect ourselves? The first thing to do is to check the design of your house, note where prevailing winds and inclement weather comes from and make sure that windows and doors on these sides of the house are properly designed and made.

The design of windows should incorporate some sort of baffling mechanism in the design to resist the direct entry of wind and water. Traditional designs used architraves, flat lengths of wood often decoratively moulded which are placed over the joint between the window frame and the wall to protect the joint. An overlapping flange was fitted around the edge of the window itself to protect the gap between the window and the frame when closed. These two sensible design features are often missing in modern design presumably to give that minimalist look (and, of course, to save money for the builder).

Sliding doors and windows can be particularly problematical. Pay attention to french doors and the design at the bottom. In countries where weather has long been a consideration french doors will always have some sort of threshold with weather sealing design built into it. Let go of that desire to have doors that pull back to reveal a smooth sweep of floor from inside to out. Nice idea but not practical. Doors need some sort of baffle along the bottom to keep the weather out.

Good design will also make use of overhanging eaves that provide weather protection from both sun and rain.

A final comment regards the way windows are made. Perhaps there isn't the inevitable small boy with a football to worry about in Bali but if you check your windows you are very likely to find that the glass has been built into the window and the only way to replace a broken pane is to have the whole frame taken apart. This can be particularly difficult where you have Georgian frames with many small panes in them. Perhaps it goes back to our footballing past but in Britain panes of glass are held in with linseed oil putty which can be taken out to repair the results of the inevitable up and coming David Beckham's “curled ball”. Linseed oil putty is not available in Bali. I could go into more detail but enough is enough and I wouldn't want boredom to set in.

If you wish to study the ultimate standard in weatherproof design you could examine a duck or two, but don't let anyone see you – I don't think they would understand.

Phil Wilson

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
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9 December 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
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