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Basic Double Hung Window Repair

"I have had so many requests about the old fashioned double-hung windows that I thought I would reprint a few letters that appeared in previous newsletters.  Eventually I will expand on these topics, but this is a start and hopefully will be helpful to those in need!!"  NH

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.



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 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, so the windows now crash down often when opened.

How do I repair these mechanisms? I remember at some time seeing a handyman type tip that claimed they could be repaired without opening the wood frame, but this hardly seems credible.


Dear Dan,

Now you know why to this day they call your type of window "double hung". Each window is balanced with heavy 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.

The major maintenance of this style of window was the ropes would need periodic replacing. To replace the ropes, a removable panel in the side jamb is removed. This would allow access to the hollow channel, and also allow removal of the sash. The new rope was 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. Reassemble frame. A very simple, awkward-but-straightforward procedure.

Unfortunately, many folks did not realize that removal of this panel was critical to repair. Out of ignorance, they would paint the side jamb without removing the panel, effectively gluing it into the jamb. When the poor handyman would have to attempt a repair, he had to try to cut the panel loose, sometimes even necessitating paint stripping. The ropes lasted a long time, so multiple coats of paint often impeded the quick completion of his 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, now that my brain is awake, perhaps they were referring to a replacement window balance, replacement track or jambliner. 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. They are popular with renovators and homeowners that don't want to bother with a true restoration of the windows.

Some of these replacement tracks, also called jambliners, or window balances in commercial jargon, 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. 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.

Jambliners can be difficult to find, but a good place to start is Blaine Window Hardware. They have a variety of styles and multiple sizes that, hopefully, will match your needs.


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