Estimating home repair costs is challenging when you can't see the extent of the problem. At my handyman business, repair rotted window sill is a top handyman project. What might look simple when you start, can get complicated when you remove the rotted wood and find any hidden damage. The sad part is most wood rot could be prevented if home owners understood that routine (yearly) maintenance is critical to protecting their home.
When it rains, people cover up to stay dry. We know a brown bag disintegrates when it gets wet. When your home gets wet because of cracked paint or gaps which allow water to get into the wood, similar damage begins and can go unseen for years when hidden beneath the surface. By doing an annual inspection up close, you'll find these problems early and avoid the need to repair rotted window sill.
This article illustrate the various degrees of wood rot damage found by handyman technicians working for my handyman business. Starting with “routine maintenance” to prevent these problems, more complicated repairs increase in cost to where the window has to be replaced along with the framework holding the window in place.
Repair Window Sills Where Paint Cracked or Peeling
Home owners know they have to paint their homes periodically. What many don't realize is certain parts of a home's exterior need more frequent maintenance. Any wood trim that sticks out further than siding, has flat surfaces like window sills or is close to the ground where splash back occurs, are more vulnerable to wood rot. These areas should be inspected every year and repaired (scraped and painted) as soon as damage or potential exposure to water like cracked paint, is observed.
Pockets of Punky (Soft) Wood Mean It's Time for Repairs
When water makes contact with wood, it creates an environment where fungi and mold are able to grow because the wood provides a source of food. As long as the moisture remains, the breakdown of wood continues and it is mostly invisible, hiding behind paint or going deep into the wood.
Let's look at how repairs and related costs to repair a rotted window sill change as wood rot is left to continue over time:
- Small cracks or chipping paint on the window sill can be handled easily by scraping all loose paint and applying a high quality exterior paint … in under 30 minutes assuming you have the tools and materials (you want to include getting materials out and cleaning up).
- One or two small (golf ball size or smaller) pockets of rot can be cleaned out to remove all damp wood, and filled with a product like Bondo (normally used for repairing cars, forms a nice hard surface) which is easy to sand and paint … in under 60 minutes if you have the materials.
- When wood rot damage is more extensive (photo above right), you need to remove and replace one or more pieces of exterior boards. While technically, you should remove the window to replace the sill (3 to 4 hrs), most handymen will replace the sill in place … typically 1.5 to 2 hours, plus shopping.
Repair Rotted Window Sills When Rot Moving Up Vertical Trim Boards
While most wood rot starts at the window sill, the length of time the damage is ignored will affect the amount of damage that needs to be repaired. Where the damage in the photo above is large, it fortunately has not extended to either side of the vertical trim board. It also doesn't appear to have affected the window sill. The repairs are likely to include replacing the vertical board, and hopefully just cleaning out any punky wood on the sill underneath in 30 to 60 minutes plus shopping.
This type of repair is common when replacing the window sill, so together the repairs would take 2 to 3 hours plus shopping time as there are no standards for thickness of the window trim. When we replace window sills and other wood trim that is most prone to wood rot, we recommend using a composites like Azek which has no wood content. The material costs more but eliminates the worry associated with not doing the required annual maintenance to avoid a repeat of the problem in 5 to 10 years.
Rot on Window Jambs Surrounding Window
The photo above shows more extensive wood rot, and in fact required a new window as the damage extended into the jambs, the wood support pieces holding the window. While technically you can rebuild the window, the labor costs exceed the cost of a replacement window. Only with very old homes where the owner wants to preserve the authenticity of the architecture, do we rebuild windows.
When you look at a window you see the front of the window, the glass and the trim surrounding the window. These trim pieces are decorative, but more important they cover the gaps between the window and the siding to form a continuous weather barrier meant to keep water out. When moisture extends past the trim (window sill and/or vertical trim) boards, the wood rot starts to compromise the wood structure that holds the window.
Repair Rotted Rough Framing Around Windows
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and that is certainly true for this story. A customer with Masonite siding ignored black spots all over her siding which told us the problem had been there for 20/more years. The photos tell the story of this window repair where the entire rough opening inside which the replacement window would sit, had to be rebuilt. Each of these repairs is unique so providing typical estimate repair times is not practical … you simply don't ever want to get into this situation!
The sad part of this story. Even with these photos, the customer continued to deny they had extensive wood rot and structural problems. We boarded up the window and siding below the window so we could review the damage the next morning, and together with the customer, determine the best strategy addressing technical requirements and budget. She declared there were no carpenter ants and it was a simple siding repair job that could be done by a local handyman.
Want more tips on finding and repairing other wood rot problems?
- Sponge Test for Wood Rot
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Exterior Trim
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Windows
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Siding
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Decks
Enjoyed both your article but more so your comments, especially the comment from April 30, 2017. It’s too true: many customers want a fixed price and can’t understand why repairing and/or replace windows when rotten wood is a part of the project simply does not allow for a fixed price.
Trish, Wood rot is hard for homeowners to understand, even when they see it up close. Owning a handyman business meant I too often was the person homeowners got made at because they couldn’t afford repairs or were upset at the cost. Sadly it’s hidden and you don’t know until you open up the walls. I will always remember a siding job we did that I’d scheduled for one day as homeowner thought problem was just on one side of the chimney. Job grew to 6 days and we had to reside an entire gable end of the house.
There are some people that worry about adding skylights to their home, thinking it could increase noise, drafts and even unwanted light into rooms at times.
Hi Dalton, I love skylights in the right place so yes, you have to consider where the sunlight will hit people.
Of course I also know skylights can be problematic as my handyman business had to repair & replace them several times a year in New Hampshire. So my recommendation is the ONLY skylight to buy are ones from Velux which are top of the line but they rarely fail until they reach end-of-life which is roughly 20 years. Anyone installing these skylights needs to understand how roofs are constructed to be sure that flashing is installed correctly, as this & failing gaskets are the 2 biggest problems.
Thank you for all the information about how to repair rotted windows. I didn’t know that if there was extensive damage to the jambs that could mean you need to get a new window. I will have to see how much damage my windows have and see if I need to get new windows.
Good luck Deb as dealing with wood rot is never fun …
Enjoyed your timely article very much. Would like to know what type of experienced vendor should I try to find to fix the water damage on window sill and casing. I think that’s what it’s called. When I moved in the inspector pointed out that a ‘flashing’ was put in upside down which was allowing rain water to seep in, and recommended getting it fixed. I hired handyman and showed him the report and he said he ‘caulked’ the areas over all the windows on that side of the house. Sadly this did not fix the problem for long, as I am now seeing the paint and plaster cracking on the sill and up along side the sill. It’s been raining heavily and appears to pound on west side of house. Thanks for any suggestions.
Cookie, You’ve really got 2 problems, so let me summarize them here with recommended actions (and might be able to write more details in a future article).
Your situation illustrates a common homeowner problem & hot button for me. Homeowners should ALWAYS find & fix the source of a problem before repairing the symptoms that resulted from the problem. From your description here, it sounds like:
Removing & reinstalling each window will take 3 to 4 hours, plus materials … plus other repairs. Most homeowners are shocked at this cost which is why many handymen will try a “quick & dirty” solution like the caulking. It might work for a year but when there’s wood rot or severe weather, it won’t work for very long.
Some other ideas for you to consider & you might not realize it but typically, one side of the house experiences much more wear & tear than the other 3 sides. This is challenging when it comes to painting your home because that one side needs to be painted more frequently.
Who can do this work? I wouldn’t go with a window company as they rarely have the skills (they generally contract this work out) or time built into their pricing to make the necessary repairs. Remodelers won’t be interested in this small a job … so yes, you do need a handyman. You need to interview several of them & ask them to explain step-by-step how they’re going to address your problems and it should become clear who knows what to do, and by their attention to detail in your discussion … who will do the best job.
PS Make sure when the work is done, you’re there to watch things, learn (but don’t pester them too much) and make decisions on the spot when hidden damage is found.
Cookie, I just found a blog post by a carpenter who would enjoy the challenge of fixing your wood windows, so that’s another option for you to consider. Here’s a photo description of a complicated repair … http://www.aconcordcarpenter.com/rotted-marvin-window-trim-and-sill.html
Thank you for being so detailed as to what is needed and who to call. I checked the link you sent. Too bad he lives in MA and I live in Central Coast California. Your explanation of the issue and process is greatly appreciated as I had no idea where this ‘flashing’ was supposed to be located, and seeing that link from the fellow in MA spelled it out for me. That the flashing on my window was installed upside down is insane. My windows appear to be metal or vinyl. Could not read the brand, but it looked like a large W with some print through the middle. Another label said AAMC Certification. My apologies for going on and on, I just can’t believe how much I learned from you and how grateful I am to know who to contact and what needs to be done to correct the problem. A huge thank you.
Just wanting you to know that because of you, I was able to interview 2 men, one of which wanted to do the ‘easy fix’ and the other who described the process needed, and it was identical to your explanation of what needed to be done. Pouring rain at this end so we will need to wait for a dry spell in order to successfully proceed. Couldn’t have done the right thing without your feedback. THANKS A BUNCH
Cookie, So glad you learned enough to hire the right handyman (guessing that’s who it is). Would love if you could send me before & after photos of the window(s) … so I can share them here.
I have had to learn this the hard way. It is so easy to think that you will address a problem and then forget about it. In the long run it costs more to fix. Addressing it early is best.
Absolutely Leighanne – it’s easier to learn how to caulk your windows than let them rot out and then need to hire a decent carpenter.
This is actually perfect timing. We have a couple super problematic windows. I will keep this in mind!
I have been lucky in this department. These are great tips and suggestions for people that are needing help in this department!
I’ve never thought about the repairs. We always try to maintain the house as much as we could to avoid any repairs or what not. I think this is a great guide!
We had all our windows replaced when we moved into our home. The difference in the heating was amazing right away. So important to address the issue
When you live alone, it is a must to learn these things of home improvements and repairs. And a good way to save money 🙂
I haven’t luckily had to deal with a situation like this. It seems it can turn into a real mess if not taken care of.
Oh boy I have definitely had to deal with rotted window sills in my day as well as other rotted things in our old house. In fact we just ripped off a rotted deck and replaced it. Always something.
sigh… my windows are like these bad pictures. I didn’t realize how easy it would have been to fix when we noticed the problem last year. I’ll tuck this away for next time and share this with hubby too. Thanks for all the details.
Tiffany, If your windows really look like these photos, they’ve been neglected for 5/more years. Please don’t delay or you might have to buy a lot of new windows & that’s when it gets really expensive.
Thankfully this isn’t something I have come across in my home yet, I can imagine it can be a bit of a nightmare for home owners and the longer you ignore the issue the bigger it becomes.
I haven’t encountered this in my house yet, but we DID have some rotting wood along side our front door. We had to have a guy come in and replace it.
Good education for me about saving the money.
Having good windows is essential to maintaining the health of a home. We have replaced all the windows in our home since buying it 8 years ago.
Good for you Heather & hopefully you’ll check your window sills every other year as they’re probably the original ones so they’re now much older than your windows … which could confuse some people.
Tina. So glad to find your blog. I just had 3 rotted window sills sawed out and replaced with PVC. Plus a minor repair to a portion of the wood trim on my storage shed. The handyman charged me $850 for labor. Is this realistic? Thanks. D.
Labor is generally based on the number of hours worked. My estimate for replacing rotted window sills is 3-4 hrs/sill, so if they took 10-12 hrs for actual repairs plus travel/shopping time for materials, I’d say this was probably a fair price.
Thanks a ton for your tips. I have learned a lot and I am now able to fix the things in my home without anyone’s help.
Michelle, The important thing is finding & fixing things when only small repairs are needed. Then it is easy for homeowners to handle the repairs so love your interest in doing it yourself!
I am renovating my aunts house she did not have the know how and no computer to google these things. So I have to try to rebuild some of the jamb at the bottom of the sash box. Painting and stripping of the windows is not too hard but this is going to need all my high school woodwork skills!! Quite nervous but has to be done and I like to think that anything you can do with money you can also do with time and effort. This may take some time!!
Good luck Eli & take your time to avoid mistakes which can require you to redo things adding time & money.
Am not a homemaker, but since am living alone then I must learn to fix things at home. Thanks for your tips!
Blair, The sooner you learn homeowner skills, the more confident you will become & it will payoff when you finally buy a house.
Wow it’s insane that the client would still be in denial about the amount of damage even after witnessing this. Thank you for sharing this valuable information and what to look for.
This is one reason why I would want the whole house to be built using concrete materials, no wood at all. Especially in our place where the labor and material cost for repair is really high.
I don’t have any experience with concrete construction so it’s something I want to learn more about …
Tina this is great advice! And I am saying this as someone who is replacing her own windows (and blogs about them http://twopluscute.com/installing-a-new-construction-window/).
I’ll give you one more yuck factor for rotting sills: besides mold and fungi, bugs too, love the wet nest they make there. One of the windows we replaced had maggots growing in (charming eh?) and it was one the squishy to the touch spots you mention.
Do you still run a handyman group in MA or did you stop?
Dionne, Haven’t ready you entire post yet (I will when I have more time) but curious why you went with new construction vs replacement window?
I sold my handyman business in 2011 because I enjoyed the blogging, teaching, marketing, etc much, much more. Guess I love learning too much and once you’ve got all your business processes in place, it’s not as exciting. I sold the business to Dennis Turmel who owned the adjacent MA territory (I had southern NH) and he’s still running the business … so curious why you asked?
I put new construction because everything had given way over the years. Rotted sils, moldy smells, popped casing, and much more. Wasn’t worth keeping anything of that. Starting with a truly clean slate, resonated more. 🙂
Asked out of interest, I have things to fix that are too heavy for my back and I consider hiring them out.
My parents just went through this kind of repair with their rental property and it was not a fun job. But it was well worth the effort!
Danielle, Sadly many homeowners put this off & then it becomes an issue when selling the house. It’s cheaper, less stressful & just plain smarter to fix odd rot problems before they get out of control.
This is such an informative post. It gave me more ideas about the do’s and don’ts and what to check. Still considering making a budget for the maintenance & maybe twice a year, check on my windows for preventive maintenance.
Anosa, Think you only need to check your windows once a year. You might want to check my spring home maintenance checklist for what else should be covered, https://hometipsforwomen.com/spring-into-action-maintenance-checklist
Such interesting information! I am planing to move to my own home so this is so cool for me! thanks for sharing
Good post! These things are all so very useful if, like me, you have no clue about DIY, repairs etc!!
Donna, Just be sure to remember that you #1 role is to get the repairs done quickly … and that doesn’t mean you have to do the work!
Good tips to know as we live in an old house. Over time, these problems crop up and need repairs. Thanks for sharing with us.
Good luck as older houses need a lot more maintenance & repairs
As a new homeowner this post is very helpful! We are starting to make some repairs to the outside and I have been wondering the costs of window repair. Thanks for the informed post.
Tiffany, Congrats on your first house! You’re smart to focus on exterior repairs because wood rot is the worst, so find & take of it sooner rather than later. Don’t get discouraged as you’ll catch up, have some new skills & be able to then make some improvements that you’ve dreamed of.
This is great information for new homeowners. I didn’t even think about this!
Great tips. We have to do some fixing up on our old house (we rent that one out). Will keep this in mind, but hoping it’s not too bad.
We are needing to replace our windows. We are dreading the cost, for sure.
Window companies will always try to sell you replacement windows for the entire house. I like to tell people that it’s better to get good windows, even if you stretch it over 2 or 3 years. Start with windows in the rooms where you spend the most time – the kitchen, family room, etc. Replace these windows first so you’ll get the benefit of more airtight windows.
Jennifer Quisenberry @ The Awesome Muse
This is really helpful to me. We are about to paint the exterior of our home, and we need to take care of a few places in our wood siding and around some windows. This helps me know what I need to do and look for when we have someone come out for the work.
Jennifer, Some painters have a team member that’s good at wood rot repairs which can get complicated. Other painting companies will tell you to find someone to do this first, before they paint because they don’t have those skills. What’s important is fixing the problems first, because painting over them will cause the paint to fail within 1-2 yrs.
What a great post. Anyone with, well, windows would have this problem! I’m on the east coast and the humidity is nuts around those window sills. Thanks.
On the east coast almost everyone has these problems because of wooden window sills. In Arizona, the windows are aluminum & there aren’t any sills, with the windows sitting inside stucco openings.
Our windows all need to be redone. Maybe something that can be done over the summer.
Our door frame needs some repair as the sun and dry heat takes it toll on it. Time to get to work
Tara, Best not to delay. Doors have more problems at the bottom where rain water hitting the step below will bounce back up & hit the door or the wood just below it (called the kick plate). Make sure you also check that … and it’s best to paint/stain wood before it gets dried out … for future planning, e.g. put a reminder on your calendar every 2 or 3 years.
So sad! When it comes to home repair, prior estimation is really important for you stay within your budget. If I can fix the damage myself, I do it carefully. But if this needs an expert help I also take chances.
Alice, Good for you trying to handle repairs yourself. You can also save money by grouping small projects for 1 or 2 visits from your local handyman each year, and buying the materials ahead of time reduces their billable hours.
Thank you for this. We just bought a house, so I’m still learning about repairs and all of that.
Congrats Amber, Avoid getting overwhelmed by putting a list together & prioritize things. Safety items should be #1, then water damage which includes wood rot … and eventually you’ll develop a schedule for ongoing maintenance.
This is good to know. I live in an old house and you never know when something like this could happen.
I can imagine damage this bad will cost a fortune to repair. Being in denial about the state of things is clearly not good! Eek
You got it & scary how bad it gets when ignored for years. One homeowner I met with had holes from the outside of her home all the way indoors. They only discovered it when remodeling their basement to create a bedroom for their daughter … and sadly, didn’t have the money to make repairs.
Where is the estimated cost for the repairs? Did I just overlook it on the page?
Sara, Good question and I probably omitted the hourly rate as it varies depending on where you live. When I sold my NH handyman business in 2011, I was charging $84/hr for my technicians (MA was charging $92). When you hire an established company that does background checks, insurance and office staff, their costs are higher which I believe is justified because you’re getting a service which is guaranteed. At the same time I know you can find solo handymen on Craig’s list for $35/hr or more and they might be fine, and sometimes not. Shopping can take an hour, and basic wood, nails, etc aren’t terribly expensive but a new window installed will cost you at least $250.
And it’s all relative as I had one bathroom remodel where we discovered the window inside the shower had to be replaced. The cost was about $1,000 because the window had been leaking (from outside) for years. We had to add some structural support joists to the wall & rebuild the rough opening for the window, replace all the insulation in that wall, put new drywall up (tape & mud), prime … you get the idea.
The customer wasn’t happy so in the future, I’d write that type of invoice up as 2 jobs – the original bathroom remodel which came in on target, and make the window/exterior wall a separate invoice to try and avoid being blamed for exceeding my estimate.
Although this time I’m unsure if this might be best for the users. I’ll be sure to submit something else though.
Mary, Having dealt with more than 30 homes that had this problem to a varying degree, it’s really not optional to repair rotted window sills as ultimately the siding will disintegrate as it did in the last house shown.
What happens if the rot has spread to the siding as in the case that you’ve described in the post that I’m responding to?
Thinking worst-case scenario in my home’s window sill repairs…
Martha, If the wood rot has spread to the siding, it’s almost certain that you’ve got serious problems. Here’s a list of things that probably need repair:
What is a good way to get better at estimates? I just started my own handyman/carpentry business and I keep shorting myself.
Dave, You’re right that estimating is tricky & maybe I was able to get really good because we were doing about 35 jobs a week, with maybe 100+ projects in those jobs. So let me try to give you a few pointers.
Never give a fixed estimate! For example, I would say it should take between 2 and 4 hours to install a storm door & explain that it often depends on how many pieces we find in the box because when the housing bust hit us, manufacturers saved cost by leaving the assembly to buyers. It can easily take 2 hours just to lay out 20–25 pieces on the lawn, and follow the directions to assemble a storm/screen door you buy at the box stores today.
Then it can take another hour to properly install it. And when homeowners buy crap, I would have to do to their home, analyze the situation and show the customer where the manufacturer didn’t include an important piece … or because their door was unusual. Then I’d give them their options. These discussions are never fun because the homeowner just wants it done & they blame you for a problem caused by the manufacturer, builder or even their kid.
For customers who insist on a fixed price, you can explain that you’ll have to add contingency, maybe 10-15% more time to cover surprises. You should also review the work once you get there, and list out potential problems that will cost more … right on their invoice, and get them to sign this before you start.
Hope these tips are helpful.