How-To: Building Window Frames

I promised my good friend Dean Davis that I'd put something together about my window frames. Not that there's a lot of rocket science here, but the old adage "measure twice, cut once" seems to be appropriate. They're made out of 1" PVC pipe, corner fittings, T-fittings, and painted black. Each frame has a strand of red, blue, yellow and green mini-lights zip-tied to it, culminating in a plastic electrical construction box which contains a 4-channel SSR. Click on any picture to see it full-size, where you can see more detail. These photos were taken in May, 2010 which is why you don't see any snow.

It starts by measuring what it is that you want to frame. In my case, I wanted to frame not only the windows, but the shutters, too. The mistake I made, however, was measuring the vertical length a bit too closely which makes it a little tricky if you have crank-out casement windows like we do. The windows open but it would be nice to have an extra inch at both the top and bottom.

I painted the frames flat black so they would blend into the color of the shutters. During the day, they're almost invisible from the street. Here you can see how well they're disguised as the left window has the frame; the right window does not.

Here's a daytime photo of our house from the 2009 season and you can see that the frames are fairly well camouflaged against the house. In fact, most of our display wiring and control boxes were totally covered by snow -- our mini-trees are 4' high but you can hardly see them, and I had to dig out our sign a half-dozen times so cars could see it from the street.
Since my house is completely sided with aluminum and I didn't want to drill a lot of holes in it, I fashioned an bracket out of some strap aluminum I bought at a surplus store for about ten cents each. The brackets are the key to hanging the frames as they fit over and behind the shutters.
Here's another shot of the bracket. It's just bent around the frame and not fastened at all. Here you can also see how some of the black zip ties I used to attach the wires to the frame.
Hanging the frames to the house is as simple as hoisting them up, slipping the bracket over the shutter and sliding it down. The entire frame is quite light -- probably about 5 pounds so it doesn't tax the shutters too much.
The other side...
To keep the frames from flapping in the wind, I drilled a small hole in the shutters on either side of the window and fastened the bottom of the frame to the shutters with zip ties. I attach them loosely at first so we can adjust them a bit so that the window can open, which I wouldn't have had to do if I'd given them a bit more clearance...(dang)... When the zip ties are snugged tight, the frame are very secure.
Here's a shot of one of the SSR boxes which are inexpensive light switch boxes from Carlon, available at your local Home Depot/Lowes'. They're mounted on the frame with screws and zip ties hold the cables secure. I like the Carlon boxes as they're very cheap and my SSRs fit neatly inside; I knock out the two bottom holes for wires -- either is large enough for the cat5 control cable. I seal all other knock-out holes on the box with Goop or silicone glue.
Zip ties? Did I mention zip ties? I don't recall how many are on each frame, but they've been through several winters and still hold securely. Lots of good sources to buy zip ties; these were 8 inch ties in 1000/pack from Home Depot.
Above my front door is an arched window, so naturally, I built a frame to match. In my sequencing I call this the "arch."
Here it is. The curved section of the PVC was made by heating/bending it.
Mounting the arch frame is a bit different since there aren't any shutters to attach the frame to. Instead, I used common pipe clamps, painted black of course, and I leave them in place mounted on the wood trim year-round.

To hang the arch frame, we just climb a ladder, set the frame in the bottom "hook" clamp and then unscrew the side clamps enough to fit over the frame and screw it back down. One set of clamps on each side holds it securely. If you look closely at the photo above of the arch window, you can see the clamps in either side of the window.
This is perhaps the most important piece of equipment I own -- it's a bicycle hanger hook screwed into a block of wood with some rope on the end. My house is a two-story, and mounting the frames on the upper-floor windows takes a bit of a different technique.

We open the windows upstairs and use the hook to hoist the frames up to the second story, temporarily letting them rest on the open casement window while we fasten the frame to some permanently installed hook-eyes in the wood just above the windows, using zip ties, of course. Then we fasten them to the bottoms of the shutters to keep them from blowing in the wind.
I store the frames in the garage next to my boat where they're safe and out of the way.
It's a simple bracket with a corner clamp on the top to keep them from sliding off.
They really don't take a lot of room -- only about a foot of space from the wall.
I hang a lot of decorations in the garage -- mini trees also get stored. The mini trees are stackable, so I hang bunches of them from other bicycle hooks screwed into studs in the ceiling.

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