October 11, 2004 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I have older windows in my home that weren't taken care of properly (layers upon layers of paint, some don't open, broken weights, etc). Window replacement is about a year off, and I'm trying to get my rental unit up to snuff. Is there some good how-to repair advice anyone has come accross for old windows? I have a couple of fix-it books but they only have cursory info and concentrate more on installing new windows.
posted by sharksandwich to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
I have a book that is all about repairing old windows. I ordered it online, so I'll dig it out tonight and get you whatever info you need to order it yourself.

HOWEVER -- I have found that unless you're trying to do historical preservation, the best option you have is to just pry off the molding and sand the relevant pieces until you get smooth up and down movement again. Replacing the sash weights, and adding a little weatherstripping, can be done at the same time. Reassemble, paint, and move to the next window.

This is tedious work. I could not get a "handyman" type to take this job. And I have about 50 windows, so it would have been a serious payday. Good luck and I'll post the book info here tomorrow.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:32 PM on October 11, 2004

I have no links for you, but I strongly suggest using a heat gun to remove paint before you resort to sanding.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:36 PM on October 11, 2004

In my previous house, I had twenty-three windows, all original from 1939. They were in bad shape, in the same manner you suggest. I had them all replaced with vinyl windows.

Unfortunately, the installers did a poor job, and when I was restoring the house many years later, I had to remove most of the windows and re-frame in the worst cases, and remove them and re-trim them in the best cases.

When I was repairing the damage these yahoos did, it became clear that I should have simply repaired the old windows myself. Mechanically, they aren't terribly difficult to understand; the windows live in a channel and have rope tied to them which goes over a pulley at the top of the channel and is connected to a weight outside the finished frame of the window.

Paint removal is probably a job for one of the many paint-removal compounds out there, though in many cases you can simply score the paint with a blade of some sort and then pry things with a putty knife.

Most double-hung windows have access panels on the insides of the window channel, so you'll need to get through the painted-shut channels, open the windows and then get into the access panels to repair the rope.

Here's a link that might help.

These days, double hungs use springs and screw-channels. The parts are difficult to get unless the window company still makes that model. In my current house, I have several of these newer monstrosities to repair.
posted by tomierna at 12:38 PM on October 11, 2004

House in Progress may be of help.
They did end up replacing their windows but there is good information there on stripping paint from trim, pros and cons of heat guns and chemical strippers, etc.
posted by Coffeemate at 12:42 PM on October 11, 2004

the best option you have is to just pry off the molding and sand the relevant pieces until you get smooth up and down movement again.

Just what I was going to say. They can be baffling if you've never taken them apart before, but with that outer molding removed (may chip a lot of paint) the disassembly becomes easier. Several places I've rented have had the same window design, but I can't be sure, of course, that it's comparable to what you're looking at.
posted by scarabic at 1:31 PM on October 11, 2004

If you go to all the trouble of prying off the molding, sanding, painting and rehanging weights you may want to skip new windows in the future. Vinyl windows will never look as nice as wood and wood replacement windows cost real money. If you need a quick fix to get a few of them sliding you can try waxing the sliding surfaces. It should last a year until you replace them.
posted by caddis at 2:59 PM on October 11, 2004

The major advantages of new windows are a) double or triple panes prevent heat transfer, b) friction channels (with a spring-type weatherstrip) the same; c) modern window frames have fewer gaps; c) tip-in windows are a snap to clean; and d) you can get rid of the crappy aluminum storm windows you likely have. A major disadvantage is that original windows were made to many different sizes and specifications and you'll have to have yours custom-made, which can add to the cost, and installation mistakes or even failure can give you a new set of headaches down the road. But you can probably easily get a contractor to install those new windows.

That said older windows can be upgraded and insulated better. Remove the sash pulley mechanism (some prefer to simply insulate it better), foam insulate the gaps (pulley channels are a major source of leakage, by modern standards), install friction channels, and you'll have much of the benefits of new windows with the look of the originals. You may still be stuck with crappy mid-century aluminum storms, though; and you'll likely have to do much of the restoration yourself (you can shop out some of the stripping and reglazing work, though). Plan to do a room or two a year, unless you're ADHD; not only will this spread out a lot of tedious, marginally rewarding work, but you'll be able to learn from your mistakes along the way.

(My father started a window project in the 70s that still isn't done; and he had a contractor install windows in a rental unit, but the guy failed the measure twice, cut once rule.)

I wouldn't do anything more extensive than new weatherstripping and scraping off peeling paint if I were planning on replacing the windows, though. Maybe a glazing touch-up where glass is loose.
posted by dhartung at 11:55 PM on October 11, 2004

sharksandwich, here's the book I mentioned up top. Good luck with your project.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:32 AM on October 12, 2004 [1 favorite]

Just don't forget about lead paint risks.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:05 PM on October 12, 2004

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