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Window repair, replacement, adjustment and troubleshooting Q&A

Be sure to scroll down... there may be more than one question on this page!

Dear NH,

Have you heard of a tool that attaches to your power drill that is made to remove old window glazing? I have been searching for the tool (I know it is made), found your article on reglazing, but noticed you don't mention the tool.

Any help would be appreciated. A friend thought DeWalt made it, but DeWalt says no!

M

M,

Yes, I am familiar with the tool. It's called the "Putty Chaser". It works in your electric drill and has rotating carbide blades that remove the putty. There is a built-in guide to help you avoid chewing up the wood sash. The wood in old windows, especially if they have been weathered for many years, can be somewhat soft and easily damaged.

I have been looking at the product for years but, honestly, have not used it. Call me old fashioned… plus, I don't do too many glazing jobs these days. I have heard from other folks that it does indeed save time… but take this as "hearsay".

Though the manufacturer claims that storm window frames can remain in place, it seems obvious that some wide triple-track frames may restrict the tool's access to the leftmost and rightmost edges of the windows. Even with this caveat, it probably would still save time for the 3/4 of the job it can do.


Dear NH,

Maybe you can help me. I recently bought a house that has 27 double hung single pane wood windows. It's a 1920's-30's craftsman bungalow. I hired a lead abatement company to remove the chipping lead paint from the woodwork in the house, including the windows. They messed up pretty badly and in addition to not removing all of the lead, they ruined all of the woodwork including the windows. The wood was the original long leaf pine and the windows are wrecked.

I had priced having all of the windows rebuilt and the person recommended either mahogany or Spanish cedar (or maybe it was cypress). Anyhow, we need to replace all of the other wood in the house too including the casings for the windows and doors. The cost of doing this in mahogany is tremendous. Someone told me that you can buy these windows in wood, new. Do you know of a good supplier? Or, if you have information regarding the advice I have been given with regards to the wood choices, please feel free to let me know. I've been told that these two woods are extremely rot and insect resistant which is why he uses them for rebuilding windows. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

KK from Houston, TX

Dear KK,

Using such expensive woods is unnecessary unless there is an aesthetic reason why you would want to use them. Most new windows are treated with preservatives... that plus a coat or two of stain or paint will adequately protect them. This is not to say that some of the more durable woods have no advantages… it is just a matter of dollars. I agree with the window builder… if you are going to pay (dearly) for custom windows it makes sense to use the best possible wood for the usage circumstances!

Have you investigated ordering new manufactured pine window sashes and replacement balances (the track mechanism that holds the windows in the frame and also keeps them at the opening height you desire)? This keeps carpentry to a minimum since you do not have to remove the window frames or moldings… just the old sash, stops and balances. You could use a replacement window kit, but they are pretty much all vinyl coated… if you want real wood, ordering individual sash is the way to go.

Most any lumberyard can order replacement window sash in a wide variety of sizes. They also have catalogs to help you choose the best product. Odds are you really don't have to get custom windows made. You can also have the advantages of a modern replacement balance. You can even get balances that will allow your windows to tilt in for easy cleaning.


Dear NH,

My daughter just bought and older house with storm windows that are supposed to slide up in the spring so air can go through the screens. The storm window doesn't slide easily, some are out of track and some seem to stick. They are aluminum. Is there a lubricant that can be applied. Is there some maintenance she should do? Is this type of window that needs to be replaced. Things are going be getting hot here soon, so any help is appreciated.

D

Dear D,

You can use silicone spray or WD-40 to improve the sliding of the windows. Just keep it off the glass and the latches so they don't become greasy-feeling or smeared. This works 99% of the time. I wouldn't think of having the storm windows replaced unless lubrication doesn't work.

Even then, there may be binding on the windows from the frames due to settlement in the house. You can remove the entire storm window frame and reposition it slightly to relieve the tension. I can't really tell you specifics on this, because each situation is different. If the frames have
been painted, you may have to use a utility knife to break the paint seal. If the screws have been painted heavily, use the knife to clean the slots or drill them off.

You might have to relocate the screws, drill new screw holes, or even shave a little off the outside of the frame to allow for repositioning. However, once this is done (assuming the frames or windows are not severely bent or damaged) the storms should function just fine!


Dear NH,

I have an 80 year old home with wood casement (?) sliding type windows. Someone has cut the ropes that used to operate the counterweights inside the frame. The windows crash down when opened. How do I repair these mechanisms? I remember at some time seeing a handyman tip that claimed you could repair these without opening up the wood frame, but this hardly seems credible.

D

D,

Now you know why to this day they call your type of window "double hung". Each window is balanced with two foot-long cylindrical iron weights. They are attached to each side of the window with rope. This rope is routed over pulleys, which are located within the upper part of the window track. When the window is raised the weights drop within a hidden channel on either side of the window, counterbalancing the window so it remains in position... more or less.

Needless to say, the major maintenance for this style of window was replacement of broken ropes! To facilitate the repair, there is a removable panel in each side of the window frame, called a "pocket piece". When it is removed, you have access to a hollow channel, or "pocket", containing the counterweights and the rope. The front window stops and the parting strips must also be removed. This lets you take out the window sash, so that the new rope can be attached.

The new rope is tied to the counterweight, then looped over the pulley. The rope was cut to the right length, the end knotted, and the knot inserted into a cutout in the side of the sash. Reinstall the panel, and the job is completed. A very simple, awkward-but-straightforward procedure.

Unfortunately, many folks did not realize that removal of this panel was critical to the repair of these windows. Out of ignorance, they would paint the window frames without removing the panels, effectively gluing it into the jamb. When the poor handyman arrived to attempt a repair, he had to try to cut the panel loose, sometimes even necessitating paint stripping! Since the ropes could last for many years, multiple thick coats of paint often impeded the quick completion of this handyman's appointed rounds!!

There were other options. Some people would cut the ropes, letting the weights drop inside the frame. They would use wooden blocks to hold the windows up. In fact, there was a special design of block that was designed with cut-out steps. Something in my memory tells me it is of Amish origin. Anyway, when you open the window to the height you wanted, you put this wooden block in place, and just rested the window on the nearest step to your chosen height.

Back to the "handyman tip" you read... now that my brain is awake... perhaps it was referring to a replacement window balance. These are of varying styles, but all are self contained mechanisms that are installed in place of your existing... or in you case dysfunctional... window balancing system. In a nutshell, the stops that hold the window sash in place are removed on both sides, and your window sash are removed. The sash are sandwiched into these new tracks, and the combination window/track sandwich is put into your existing window frame and nailed or screwed into place.

These replacement tracks use friction to hold your windows in position. They are available in a number of sizes, based on the length of your window frame and the thickness of your sash. You can purchase or order these through any home store or lumberyard. They are popular with renovators and homeowners that don't want to bother with a true restoration of the windows.

If you do use these replacement balances, be judicious in your use of any lubricant on them, because too much lubricant may cause the sash to not hold position. You will be back to where you started!


Dear NH,

You have a wonderful and useful page. Thanks for so much information. The problem I have is probably not unique I'm sure. I have moved into an older two story home. It was built around 1905. Much remodeling has been accomplished but I am not sure how to deal with the old windows. How do I get them un-stuck. I don't want to replace the ones on the upper level. I checked the info. on how to glaze but was surprised to find nothing on how to get them to raise and lower. Can you help me out on this one? Thanks for your time and information.

SS

SS,

First, you should find out if they are painted shut. Get a putty knife and run it around the edge of the window, top to bottom on both sides. You might have to persuade it with a hammer, but do so gently.

If the putty knife moves smoothly along the window, or it is impossible to get between the sash and the moldings, the windows may be nailed shut. Sometimes, when the counterweight ropes would break on the upper sash, rather than do the proper repair, people would nail the upper window in place. Then, only the lower window would need to be maintained.

The nails might be through the frame in front of the glass, under the sash, or there may be a piece of wood nailed into the frame to hold the upper sash in place. Really, there is no book on this job. You just have to look carefully at the windows and eliminate every possible reason why they don't work.

The last possibility is that they are jammed into the frames due to age and settling of the house. In that case, your only option is to remove the moldings that hold the sash in place, and remove the sash. Once they are out, you can plane them or cut them so that they better fit the opening.

There are kits you can buy that can restore double-hung windows, through use of a spring-loaded track that matches the width of the sash. Of course, you could always replace the ropes and rehang the sash. You will have to get access to the side panels that hide the weights. If there is 50 years of paint covering them, you will have to get out the paint remover and patience to strip them clean.


Dear NH,

I have been helping a friend take care of some "minor" repairs and this one has us both in a snit. We cannot get a rollout window, probably installed in the late 1950's, to close properly. The bar at the bottom was bent and we were able to unbend it, but it seems to be catching on something that prevents it from closing the last 2 to 3 inches- any ideas and help would be appreciated especially with winter coming on.

PC from Rochester, NY

PC,

By rollout window, I assume you mean casement... a single window sash that swings out either to the left or the right. Though I have little experience with windows of 50's vintage, I know that modern windows such as Andersen casements develop a similar problem as they age. The problem is often related to the actual cranking mechanism, or "operator".

First, of course, you should try and eliminate the more obvious culprits… loose screws or rubbing wood. By trying to push the window shut from the outside while someone inside operates the crank, you should be able to either identify and/or eliminate these physical obstructions. You might have to disconnect the operator to swing the window open wide enough to do the repairs.

In cases like yours of "partial" failure, the window closes most of the way but stops short of full closure. Why this happens in understandable when you look at how the operator arms that pull the window work. In order for the arm to move out of the way as the window closes, it folds up or slides to a position that is almost parallel to the window. In this position, the operator is under the most mechanical stress and thus gear slippage or even breakage can occur.

Unfortunately, there is no repair for these mechanisms... just replacement. If you can determine the manufacturer, you just might get lucky and find parts available. If not, I am afraid that you may have to replace the window.

For the time being though, you should be able to push the window shut from the outside. Lock it if you can… or tape, nail or screw it shut so it doesn't blow open at an inconvenient time... like during one of your famous snow storms!


Dear NH,

I am looking for anything good or bad about vinyl windows vs. wood frame windows. I am looking at replacing all the windows in my home and vinyl seems to be the mode for what I have seen thus far.

DW

DW,

Great question, especially since I am considering the very same project on my home! My old wood windows need miles of window glazing and the sun has destroyed the stain/polyurethane on the inner surfaces. (And, frankly, I will do whatever I can to escape from doing the repairs!) Fortunately, the window glass is not falling out yet.

Not too many years ago, I would have been a little hesitant recommending 100% vinyl windows. However, recent chemical advances and design improvements have brought vinyl up to the same quality as wood, aluminum or vinyl-clad wood windows.

There are three primary concerns to be dealt with. The first is aesthetic. The second is quality of the window. The third is the contractor's expertise and reliability.

Windows can come in a number of configurations... 100% wood, wood inside and vinyl-clad wood outside, 100% vinyl inside and outside, and of course anodized coated aluminum. If the interior trim in your home is stained, not painted, you may want to consider wood inside / vinyl outside to maintain the appearance of your woodwork. If your interior trim is painted, though, vinyl or aluminum would be the top choices for minimal maintenance. However, be aware that you should not paint vinyl windows!

Aluminum is perhaps the toughest of all the available options and modern aluminum windows do not have the heat-transfer problems that plagued older windows... excessive condensation and even freezing in the winter! They may over time need repainting if the finish deteriorates. This is a strictly aesthetic issue... aluminum does not rot or rust. Vinyl or vinyl-clad are the most maintenance free, never needing anything other than occasional cleaning. Wood, on the other hand, is a maintenance hog needing regular repainting to prevent deterioration and rot!

Comparing quality among manufacturer's is almost impossible. Over the years, even the major manufacturer's have produced some "dogs". The only rule of thumb I can give is to never purchase a window that you can't first look at, touch and operate. Have a salesman show you how they work and then try to work them yourself. If they have special features such as "tilt-in" or easy removal, be sure to test this feature, too. Some folks find these mechanisms very difficult to operate
.
You should inquire about the warranty, the availability of replacement parts, how long the manufacturer has been in business and (if you are really motivated) do some Web searching to find out what other people say about their products! With major manufacturers such as Andersen and Pella, parts are available for 20 years or longer.

Concerning the contractor, it is important to do a little investigation unless you have found them from a very strong referral. We have an article on our site about how to choose a contractor... this should get you started and help you miss the big traps! ( Visit our "Articles" area and look in the drop-down menu for "Contractors, hiring tips")

Ideally, the installer should have some experience with replacement windows. If not, you should expect a much lower labor quote than the more experienced competition. Otherwise I wouldn't take the chance. You can save some money working with a newer installer but you must be willing to accept the added risk! Installing replacement windows is not brain surgery, and any experienced carpenter can do a fine job if he (or she) takes the time to do it right.

NH

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Jerry Alonzy, the founder of Naturalhandyman.com

Written by Jerry Alonzy

Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.

As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+ and Facebook.