Quick Fixes for Old Windows

With the cold air rolling in now that we’re headed into the Fall and Winter months, it’s that time for folks living in older houses to check their windows. Most vintage Arts & Crafts houses still have their original double-hung windows, although they seldom operate as smoothly as they did ninety or a hundred years ago. Replacing them is costly and often destroys the integrity of the house, so here are a few tips to make it easier for you to live with old windows.

Painted Shut – Originally a homeowner could either raise the lower half of a double hung window or lower the upper half. Many painters, however, later decided that lowering the upper half was unnecessary, so they simply painted over the seam between the window sash and the surrounding casing.

Breaking the bond between these two boards without breaking the old, brittle glass requires more finesse than brute strength. First, use the point of a utility knife to slice through the paint over the seam. Make several shallow passes rather than one deep one to avoid slicing the wood or your hand. Then, slide the blade of a metal putty knife into the seam, working your way around the sash. You should hear a popping sound as the sash separates itself from the casing.

Do not use a hammer or even a rubber mallet to pound on the window sash in hopes of breaking the paint bond. All that will break is the glass. The palm of your hand is all the force you should use.

Loose Latches – Those interlocking latches that pull the upper and lower halves together invariable come loose. Simply inserting a large screw will not work, for the screw is apt to split the wood. Instead, remove the screws, add a drop or two of woodworker’s glue into the screw hole, then jam in a few slivers of wood cut with your utility knife. Let it dry, then reassemble.

If the hole is completely ruined, carefully enlarge the hole using a drill bit, then glue in a hardwood dowel of the same diameter. After the glue dries, drill a smaller pilot hole for the screw.

Paint over the Glass – Sloppy painters mean more work for us later. Be careful, however, of simply grabbing a paint scraper or even a flat razor blade and begin chipping away at the paint spread over the glass. You are apt to pop off a chunk of paint that had also been covering the wood sash. Instead, first use the tip of your utility knife to score a line between the paint you want to remove and the paint you want to remain, then carefully use a razor blade to remove the unwanted paint without chipping.

Window Weights – To make raising the lower window easier, many originally had ropes attached to them that went up and over a pulley mounted in the casing. Each rope was attached to a heavy weight that hung inside the cavity. These cotton ropes often rotted and broke. When that happens there is nothing you can do to repair and replace the rope without dismantling the entire window and casing.

Good luck!