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Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

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Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  littlesapphire on 8/19/2011, 9:59 am

So I've been thinking a lot about making a cold frame this year so I can continue gardening into the fall and maybe winter months. My idea was to make a 2x4 foot square that's maybe 6 inches tall and put it right on top of my 2x4 box that's nestled next to my house (that way I won't have to trek through so much snow!). And then I thought I would either get a piece of plexiglass or a piece of heavy plastic to put on top. Then in the spring, I can remove the top and use the box as a highrise elsewhere.

Well, while doing laundry today, I happened to notice/remember that we still have a couple old storm windows that never got taken away when we replaced our windows last year. So on a whim, I measured the smaller ones, and they're 2x3 feet! I wouldn't mind losing an extra foot if it meant using materials I already have. I'm extremely frugal.

The problem is, I'm worried about how safe this would be. They're really old storm windows... probably in the neighborhood of 50 years old or so. They're made with thick glass, but of course it's probably not tempered and is only a single thickness. I'm not worried about anyone falling on it and hurting themselves because the box is in a very secluded place in my yard, but I still have doubts.

I really want to go with plexiglass, but I used to work in a hardware store so I know how much it costs (roughly 3 cents a square inch, which makes a 2x4 foot piece close to $30) and that seems way too expensive for my tastes. I don't really want to use the plastic sheeting because I think it'll collect a lot of water and might sag in and crush the plants.

Anyone have any thoughts?
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  westie42 on 8/19/2011, 10:50 am

That all sounds close to my own thinking. I just disassembled an old rear projection big screen tv from a neighbor to get the plastic fresnel lens out of it plus a few other smaller glass optical lenses. That big front screen is usually 3 layers and only the center layer is fresnel so there were two large pieces of plexiglass left over. Not sure the opaqueness is truly what you desire but they are there. A fresnel lens sold on CL could bring $40+ unless you wanted to do some cooking or the likes using concentrated solar power. To demonstrate my new lenses power I started a small pile of kindling on fire in two minutes. Still trying to figure how not to waste the plexiglass. Next time there is a city wide appliance collection I will be out there scrounging like any good hermit should.

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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  boffer on 8/19/2011, 11:42 am

I'm in the small minority whenever this question gets asked. You couldn't pay me to use single pane glass for a cold frame. It's not a pretty sight when someone has a body part go through a pane of glass.

The small independent glass shop near me sells the old take-out glass when they install new windows. Patio sliding doors, glass doors in showers and tubs, storm door glass, and windows in or near baths are all tempered (unless really old). The shop sells them for $5-10. Pretty cheap for peace of mind.
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  westie42 on 8/19/2011, 11:55 am

My side door has a single pane plexiglass composition in it and I have watched someone try to break into with a tire iron to no avail or show of damage it can be some tough stuff if properly used.

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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  UnderTheBlackWalnut on 8/19/2011, 2:35 pm

Boff - how do you know if the glass is new enough to be the safer kind? You mentioned "take out" glass from sources like patio doors, shower doors, etc. For example, we will be replacing my mom's 22 year old shower doors soon....is that too old? :scratch:
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  boffer on 8/19/2011, 8:11 pm

For years, tempered glass has been identified by a stamp/label that you can see in one corner of the pane. You can easily see the stamp on your car's side windows and rear window. (Windshields are a different type of safety glass, and don't have the stamp.) I can see similar stamps on glass in the doors of my house. I have one set of frosted glass shower doors that I can see the stamp.

I'm still googling for some firm dates about mandatory use/identification requirements for tempered glass in the home. It was in the sixties and seventies that the big conversion occurred where building codes began requiring the use of tempered glass in various areas of the home, as well as in commercial applications.

If you can't find a stamp, then you can sacrifice one door to find out what you have. Envelop one door for easy clean up. Whack it with a hammer. A bunch of chards means single pane. A bazillion itty bitty pieces means tempered.

I know that old windows have been used for cold frames since forever. But single pane glass that is used for purposes other than its original intent scares the crap outta me. YMMV.
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  shannon1 on 8/20/2011, 4:05 am

In the org. SFG book, or on the PBS show ( I can't remember which) Mel gives directions on how to make cold frames from old windows. I do agree with Boffer one should put safety 1st. If some one was to be hurt no money is saved. If you have no children or pets than IMHO that would be much less likely to happen. In the end it is up to you. I am a big fan of reuseing things rather than just adding them to the land fill. I guess I am just on the fence when it comes to this one.
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  littlesapphire on 8/20/2011, 10:19 am

I'm still trying to decide which way to go. I'm going to the hardware store today to find out how much a piece of plexiglass would actually cost rather than go by what I think I remember it was, lol.

I asked hubby what he thought about using an old window, because he's usually the more cautious type, but he was just fine with it. We have no kids and only indoor cats, and the side that box is on hardly gets any traffic along it.

The neighbor that lives on that side is very old and sickly, so he and his wife live most of the year in the next town over next to the lake. There are kids in the house on the other side of us, but they're almost never outside (kids these days, right? I remember actually playing outside when I was their age).
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  mtowne on 8/31/2011, 8:52 pm

Too bad you're not closer to me. We are in the process of having our windows and sliding door replaced. I had them save the old (1970's vintage, double pane) windows for me to make a cold frame, but I have plenty more than I can use. The installer also suggested the sliding door might be better (I haven't decided what to do yet).

If anyone in central CT is interested in a few of these windows, let me know - if you want to work together to build a few frames, even better (DH doesn't want anything to do with the garden, other than eating what it produces). I think there are 14 windows, each about 2-1/2 by 3 feet.

Anyone have some good plans for building such a cold frame?

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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  madnicmom on 8/31/2011, 9:07 pm

I've been in my Habitat for Humanity store a couple of times eyeing a single pane window to convert to a cold frame. I'm all about recycling on a budget , so I feel comfortable using it. Now to just bring it home!
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  UnderTheBlackWalnut on 8/31/2011, 11:30 pm

I'm with Boff on this one - check out the Hab for Humanity restore and see if they have an old shower door or a tempered glass window...nothing wrong with recycling, I plan to do it with some old shower doors, but please please be safe - single pane windows can truly injure someone if broken. I'd hate to see a pet or a child or even ourselves when we are working with the frame, become injured. Smile

I, too, am hoping our dear engineering genius Boff will come through with some plans or pics of how he's building his... Smile Pretty please with a cherry tomato on top! Smile
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  boffer on 9/1/2011, 11:24 am

The extent of my 'planning' is to look at the materials I have stashed and create from there. Since tempered glass can't be cut or drilled, my cold frames are sized around them. Panels of the size in this picture can be awkward and heavy, and you'll appreciate it if they are hinged.

These are four years old. I plant the left one in mid-February and the right one in mid-March.




If I was starting from scratch, I wouldn't mess with a cold frame. For the last two years, I've been able to compare SFG boxes with covered wagons to my cold frames. There hasn't been any significant difference in growth rates between the two. If you have a SFG box already, it's just too easy and cheap to put hoops on it. Plus, the hoops can hold shade cloth, or tulle for bugs, or be a lattice.


Since this picture was taken, I've retro-fitted all my boxes for hoops.

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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  FarmerValerie on 9/1/2011, 11:36 am

The biggest problem with old windows like you mentioned, 50 years old, is lead paint. That would be my biggest concern, after that, you would need to caulk around the panes because the seal is probably no good. We too have several old windows and have considered "doubling" them. However, by the time I scraped and repainted, bought caulk, sealed them, doubled them, I could have saved a lot of time, and considerable amount of money picking up some pvc pipe, a couple of u brackets, and hooped a box. I'm with boffer on this one, just hoop it, find some old Christmas lights at a garage sale, and maybe a bigger light for really cold nights, and be done with it.
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  madnicmom on 9/1/2011, 11:59 am

Question Boff, on the hoop houses, What is the spacing of the PVC pipes? They look really durable.
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  boffer on 9/1/2011, 12:14 pm

I spent some years in construction, so it's really hard for me to build spacing of anything larger than 24 inches. Not because of the strength of the supports, but because whatever materials used will start to sag. So I aim for 24 inches; I don't have a problem going to 30 or 32. I don't like to go smaller than 20 because the hoops start getting in the way of my...girth.

I put a PVC ridge pole in too, on the underside of the hoops, and secure it with two zip ties at each hoop.

Reminder: the gray PVC is UV resistant and is found in the electrical department. The white PVC is not UV resistant and is found in the plumbing department. For gardening purposes, fittings are interchangeable.
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Re: Old window cold frame? Thoughts?

Post  madnicmom on 9/1/2011, 5:59 pm

thank you! I was thinking 24 inches but didn't want to guess. We get a few gusty winds here in the winter so by going every 2ft instead of just a covered wagon, it would be better.
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