Several weeks ago at pretty much the same time the mercury in the thermostat, like a migratory bird took that fateful wintertime dive to the south, I embarked on a type of endeavor that I always seem to be undertaking at inopportune weather periods. However, the project is one that I truly love as an old home owner. The project in question? Double hung window restoration and repair.

My hope, as with the Plaster Repair series we recently wrapped, is for these window restoration posts to be equal parts informative and enlightening, giving fellow old home enthusiasts the courage, information, and hope they need to keep, save, and restore their old windows. At the very least, hopefully you'll just enjoy seeing just how these old windows work, how to maintain them, and why they should be saved.

Before I go rambling on, I don't intend to give an indication that I am in any way "all knowing" when it comes to this topic. Instead, we are sharing the tips, tricks, and techniques that have worked well for us now and in the past. If you have experience in this realm, especially some that exceeds our knowledge or is something we leave out, we'd love it if you chimed in as well.

If you're not familiar with my frequent old window stance, I firmly believe and agree with countless experts that old windows are not only worth saving, but will easily outlast any modern replacement windows many times over. Additionally, when properly weather stripped, maintained, and protected with storm windows, a home's century old windows will likely be more efficient and economical than tearing through the house like a Tasmanian devil and replacing all of the original sash with "high efficiency" counterparts. I think I've alluded to this fact many times in many places over the years, such as during our recap of our master bedroom efforts.

The window I'm dealing with for this project is the lone double hung sash that occupies our master bathroom. To say it's seen better days, well, that's putting it more than mildly.

When we bought the house this window already sported a broken sash cord, BB hole in one of the panes of glass, poor weather stripping, flaking paint, and an upper sash painted completely shut. Over the years bugs, dirt, life, and the elements have had their way with this poor sash, leaving it in a torn and tattered state that allowed cold air to pour in through massive gaps surrounding the sash and lumpy/chipping paint.

Tough shape, sure, but the flaking paint and all of the problems aren't nearly enough to scare me away. The key here is a solid plan of attack to address all of the issues one step at a time. It doesn't need to happen overnight, but it does need to happen. In order to take on this window restoration I need to tackle it several distinct phases. 

  1. Disassembly
  2. Frame Paint Removal
  3. Frame/Component Repair
  4. Weatherstripping
  5. Restring Sash Cord
  6. Storm Window Installation
  7. Sash Removal and Repair (this is a multi-step one on its own)

My ultimate goal is to end up with a completely stripped and repainted window, clad in spring bronze weather stripping, with functional upper and lower sash, new glazing, repaired wavy glass panes, and a storm window hung on the exterior. Today I'll be primarily covering items one and two.

The interesting thing about this window is that it's original to the house but its six over six configuration is unlike any other original window we have. All of our other windows are the more typical two over two configuration...

...But somehow this window ended up in the mix.

In discussing with old home buffs and preservationists, they believe it was likely a scab or overstock item, used to save cost after the intended window was broken or possibly just missing from the original builder order. Sounds pretty reasonable, especially since builders then most likely had similar production and job site problems as builders today. I guess little has changed in 125 years.

Rather than try to "correct" a possible mistake, we're embracing this misfit window and will make sure it can stick around another 125 or more years. To accomplish this, our first step was to remove all of the window casings for stripping. It's not a necessity when it comes to window restoration, but we've been doing it through our whole house.

This step in the project actually took place more than a year ago. When we first bought the house I decided to strip the various casings and trim without removing them from the wall. My reasoning was spurred on by my irrational fear of breaking a piece of moulding, primarily because I didn't know what I was doing. What a terrible idea that was. It made the projects far more messy than necessary and essentially unbearable. Today, if I need to strip a piece if moulding you had better believe it's coming off of the wall.

What I've learned is that moulding removal is not difficult and one can do it without breaking any precious wood as long as one takes they time and doesn't lose their patience.

It requires only a few tools. Typically an utility knife with sharp blades, one or two pry bars, a flat bar, and a pair of nail pullers.

Usually the paint that's been caked onto the moulding over the years simply needs to be scored with the utility knife along the line where it needs to separate. This score line gives the paint all of the encouragement it needs to break at the right spot when removing the wood. Without the score you are likely to end up with splintered wood somewhere thanks to the ridiculous tensile strength of many layers of old paint.

The next step involves slipping the pry bar behind the first bit of the moulding and gently applying pressure. Sometimes you need to give it a little more encouragement, possibly with a hammer, to get the prybar in, but anything to separate the moulding from the wall needs to be done using gentle force by hand, nothing more.

With the moulding separation beginning, insert pry bar number two just above the first location and do the same thing, gentle pressure to free the moulding. Don't try to take off the whole thing from one spot or it will surely break. Instead, slowly work your way up a little at a time. If you work slow and steady you'll remove all of the moulding in single unbroken pieces.

If you do end up with a break or two, sometimes you just need to grab the clamps and glue to fix it up. With old trim it usually just ends up looking like a little more character.

Our next pieces in the removal sequence are the window sash stops. Sash stops come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but serve the same purpose no matter the window.

They install as the final piece between the window and the room and they keep the lower sash firmly in place. We have two styles of sash stops on our windows, one smaller and more intricate, and the other a simple round over bead.

Removing the sash stops is a fairly simple undertaking, but they are delicate pieces and need to be handled with care or they will easily break. Like the moulding, just start gently prying a little at a time until you break the nails free enough to take the whole thing off.

With the sash stops removed it's time to get into the real work on the windows. The lower sash should be relatively free at this point and can even be removed. In our case it was very easy to slide the lower sash out since the sash cords were both broken. We just had to life it up above the weather stripping and remove the sash from the window frame.

Once I had the lower sash out I started to remove the old zinc weather stripping. 

This weather stripping was added sometime after the house was built and it's not my favorite thing in the world. It requires the sash to be routed with a groove to accept the weather stripping and it makes the window difficult to maintain, and almost impossible to fully shut (as it sits in the way of the top and bottom of the window). Not to mention the fact that it was held in place by only three nails on each side, and several on the lower section, essentially making it useless in keeping the breeze out of the house.

I spent a lot of time making sure I took it out carefully and then removed all of the tiny nails left in the window frame. This is where the awesome new nail puller I recently picked up really came in handy!

Besides the weather stripping there was this weird rubber and metal thing nailed into the parting bead on either side of the window. I'm not sure what it is, but it seemed to be getting in the way of the window's ability to move, so I had to take it out.

The final item I took care of with the lower sash was the removal of the sash weight pocket doors on either side of the window frame. The photo below is of the top of the door, where a beaver or some other woodland creature seems to have gnawed it away.

These little doors are typically held in place by a single screw. In our windows these doors extend all of the way to the base of the window and ultimately cause an issue when water gets into the window's pockets. I'll be resolving that in a later step.

Removing the window weights is very easy. Just reach into the filthy dirty cavity that looks like a place where Dr. Jones might be hiding some ancient scrolls and pull the weight free. When when I take them out I immediately label them with a chalk pencil so I know where they will eventually need to be reinstalled. This is important as different sash sometimes have different size weights. Check out what 100 plus years of spiderwebs and dirt looks like.

I don't know how I did it, but the entire time I was working I only dropped one tool out of the window, which is really something given my tendency to somehow spastically throw things involuntarily while working in situations like this.

While the lower sash was easy to remove, the upper sash is a whole other issue. In order to remove it we had to first free it from its painted shut state, then remove the parting beads that keep it in place (similar to the way the sash stops keep the lower sash in place). It had been painted shut many times over, so we started by scoring the paint with a utility knife where we could.

Since this is a second floor window and there's no real way to reach the upper part of the outside of the window with just my reach, I used my tried and true trick of taping my Fein oscillating tool to the end of a long piece of wood...

...and hanging out of the window to make the necessary cuts. It's a surprisingly effective approach and works quickly and easily. If you do this, WEAR SAFETY GLASSES!!! I mean, I almost poked myself in the eye with my thumb at least four times.

Once the paint bonds are broken all of the way around the sash you can usually fit a pry bar in at the top of the upper sash and begin gently working the sash until it starts to move.

Even though there's still a tremendous amount of work left, getting the upper sash moving feels so great.

Removing the parting bead is one of the most difficult parts of the disassembly. The wood is so small and has likely been exposed to weather for so long, it's really difficult to get it out in one piece without breaking. On our window I was able to remove two of the three pieces without issue, but one broke in half on its way out.

I'll need to cut a new parting bead from some salvaged wood to replace the broken piece. The old parting beads aren't the same size as the ones you can buy at the store, not to mention the fact I don't want to put some new soft pine in there, as it will likely fall apart in a few years.

Once the bead was out and the upper sash was moving free, I was able to pull the sash down and out of the window opening. Among other things, I realized just how much I hated a previous owner of the house who apparently had the upper sash not only painted in place, but also caulked. Seriously?

The sash cord for the upper sash was still intact so I had to cut it with some scissors to get the upper sash completely free from the window. However, if you're trying to save the sash cord you have you can just remove it from the sash as it's probably held in place by a few nails or a screw.

When the sash is totally free you have yourself a giant gaping hole in the side of your house. Congratulations. It's about at this point in the project where it undoubtedly begins raining, no matter if the forecast stated a 0% chance of rain. Sorry, don't have any advice on that, it's just the way it is.

At this point you also have a clear view of your sash pulleys. Our pulleys are a small version of what I've seen in salvage yards, but they're pretty easy to remove. They're held in place by a single screw at the top and the angle of the mortised opening at the bottom, so removing the screw and adding some downward pressure with an inserted screwdriver usually does the trick.

Like the sash weights, I always mark the pulleys with a chalk pencil so I know where to reinstall them in the window when I'm putting them back in. They're all just a little different and it's important to put them back where they came from or you won't necessarily get a good fit.

There are two things I love about these pulleys. First, they're stamped with a patent date of Feb. 1879. After finding so few dated items in our house, I just love seeing it. And second, since these pulleys are a bit minimal, there's very little paint to remove from the face. A little paint stripper and a run on the wire wheel and these four pulleys are clean and ready for another century of service.

On our windows the paint has been built up so many times over the years that it's beginning to interfere with the operation of the windows. Before we move into the next phase of restoration and reassembly, I like to strip all of the paint on the interior of the window frame. It's a great time since all of the sash, parting beads, sash stops, and pulleys have been removed. I'm using the SmartStrip stripper that requires about 12-24 hours, so I put on the first coat, cover it with peel away paper (wax paper), and let it be for the night.

While allowing the stripper to work, I went ahead and put up a sheet of plastic over the window. This is not required, but apparently my spouse has some requirement that windows can't just be open holes when you're not actively working on them. It's a weird job site rule, but who am I to argue with the GC? 

I do have to say, she's probably right. When I took a break for lunch while paint stripping a bird flew into the house through the open window and pooped a few times on our wainscoting. On one hand, that's gross, but on the other, at least he knew it was a bathroom.

The plastic also does a great job at keeping the cold out when, in the middle of your project, it suddenly drops from low 50s overnight to "frost warnings" and the low 30s. Remember my poor timing issue? Perhaps not, this has been an inordinately long post.

To strip the window frames you can use a simple flat scraper for pretty much everything, as there aren't typically any special or intricate areas to worry about. In our case, there were so many layers of paint that we needed to do two applications of the stripper. However, this did give a great glimpse into the many different colors our house's trim had seen over the years. Green, pink, and 20 shades of beige, just to name a few.

Once completely stripped the window frame is ready for our next steps, wood repair, paint, and reassembly. We'll be covering those items in coming weeks as we give a blow by blow of each step necessary to tackle this project on your own.

What do you think so far? Does it seem like something you could handle to this point? Or does it seem a bit overwhelming? I do have to say, doing one window at a time rather than a giant house with 30 plus windows definitely makes it more bearable.

Comments 30

Comments

threadbndr
12/16/2013 at 12:42 PM

Thank heavens not one coat of paint on the interior of the windows - though many on the outside!

I have broken sash cords all over the place, though. I REALLY want to learn how to fix those. And how to make storm windows for the three windows on the porch where they are missing altogether.

Many of my windows have c1960 aluminum storms, and others were 'upgraded' with modern windows (all on the back of the house, thankfully). So I'm debating what to do about that for both ease of current use and resale down the road.

Alex
12/17/2013

We'll be doing a whole tutorial on how to restring the sash cords in the next few weeks. It's relatively simple overall but not very quick given the level of dis-assembly necessary.

Resale is tough as it all depends on the buyer. I know we'll never buy an old house that doesn't have at least some (or preferably all) of its old windows, while I'm sure there are plenty who would never buy a home that has old windows.

12/16/2013 at 1:42 PM

One at a time is definitely the key here. I've only done a couple on our house so far. We have a total of 42 windows, so it's going to take some time to do them all.

Unfortunately Maryland seems to be the replacement window capital of the East Coast. It makes me sick to see an otherwise well preserved house get the vinyl or aluminum window treatment all because people believe the hype from the window companies.

Alex
12/17/2013

42, wow, I don't even know how to think about that! We've got 10 windows on our entire house, and only 5 are original that I care about. 42...

Laura C
12/16/2013 at 1:46 PM

Great post! I love these super-informative multi-step posts.

Tanja
12/17/2013 at 11:16 AM

Totally agree! Though I don't think I'll ever have to salvage any old sash windows these posts are quite interesting and often funny.

You guys always put so much effort into your projects and your blog posts. It's amazing and I'm sure there's so much valuable information to gain through your blog for any renovating home owner. Sorry for any mistakes, English is not my native language.

Alex
12/17/2013

Great! Glad you guys enjoy them. I know it can be a little dry, but I'd rather be dry and full of useful info than the alternative.

Bonnie
12/16/2013 at 2:16 PM

Wow, that looks intense!

I noticed the recently renovated home beside yours is on the market. Any plans to open house crash? My coworker and I tried to look through the windows but couldn't see much. I'm dying to know how it looks!

Alex
12/17/2013

I don't think we'll be doing a post on that one, but I know there are several photos available online. Alt smile

Terri Koller
12/16/2013 at 3:59 PM

I share the feelings of Laura C. I too love that you guys share your step by step adventures. My windows don't have pulleys, they have a long metal piece with a push button that allows the window to move up and down. Do you know anything about these things or what they are called?

Alex
12/17/2013

Are your pulleys sort of like a metal tape (almost like a tape measure) that coils up into the pulleys? I've seen these before on homes. It seems to be a step between the sash weights and the spring balanced windows. Is your house an early 20th century home?

Leah M.
12/16/2013 at 4:04 PM

Your timing may not have been great weather-wise but it's perfect for me as we're stripping and repainting our windows in the next month or two. I will be reading with enthusiasm. (I have a question about Peel-Away and glass but you might address that in a later post.)

Alex
12/17/2013

Great! At this rate you might beat me to finishing the project, I still have several steps to go. Alt smile

As for Peel Away and glass, I've gotten it all over the glass and it doesn't seem to affect it, but it does soften the top layers of the glazing putty a bit.

aussiebeachgirl
12/16/2013 at 8:25 PM

It gives me hope when I see people restoring rather than tearing down these lovely old buildings, so well done you! And thanks heaps for this amazing insight into the inner workings of sash window restoration. I feel empowered now to let hubby give it a go in our next home which we're hoping will be an early 1900s Queenslander with sash windows! Cheers, heatherAlt smile

Alex
12/17/2013

I have no doubt he can handle it!

Terri Koller
12/17/2013 at 11:26 AM

I am so grateful that you share your step by step adventures, thank you to both of you. With regards to your windows I will be tackling this eventually as well but I don't have sash cords....instead I have metal pieces with little knobs on each window. You push in on the Knobs to open or close the window but I don't know what they are called or how to replace. Any suggestions?

Alex
12/17/2013

I know exactly what you're talking about. I've seen a few of these sash pins in different places, and even a few other pressure stays that work similarly. I'd start searching eBay and other salvage outlets. You'll probably be able to find a whole bunch if you're patient.

Larry Johnson
12/18/2013 at 10:19 AM

Google "sash window hardware". You will find many websites that offer sash pins. I buy stuff like that from Kilian's Hardware, but there are many others.

Larry Johnson
12/17/2013 at 2:19 PM

I'm a window restorationist. Good piece. I have one quibble, though. The zinc T-track weatherstripping going with the stiles looks to be in very good condition (based on the photo). I normally remove it very carefully, clean it and then use screws to reinstall it when reinstalling the restored sash. It's a very good system and equal to anything you could retrofit with. This has been borne out by testing.

Larry Johnson
12/17/2013 at 2:25 PM

Further note on the weatherstripping: reinstalling with screws allows you to easily remove the sash for repairs, cleaning or having to re-rope. Same if you reinstall parting bead with screws, which allows easy access to the outer sash.

Larry Johnson
12/17/2013 at 2:39 PM

Lastly, points to you for your work and for writing about preserving old windows. Independent testing has borne out the energy-efficiency of a weatherstripped, restored old window, with a storm, versus any so-called replacement. My compliments.

Alex
12/17/2013

Larry, thanks for all of the great info, and for the kudos! I'll definitely be using your tips when I start to reassemble the windows, especially the screws in the parting beads. I've always thought nails are short sighted here since the outer is essentially locked in place.

For the T track zinc, I think my dislike of it is simply personal preference and largely unfounded bias (total honesty here). I've seen failures in the wood of the window caused by the groove that's been routed. I know the spring bronze isn't nearly as tight, due to the pulleys and other areas that must prevent snagging, but I just like it for some reason. It feels more maintainable long term. Ultimately it shouldn't matter too much with storms in place. I would have had to get two new pices. There were a few areas on one side that had been smashed and then crimped/bent back into position, leaving some gnarly pieces. Also, the way it was installed meant the window's meeting rails couldn't line up. It seems it shouldn't have been installed on the top or bottom of the window, just the sides.

I can't wait for you to see what I eventually do with this project, I think you'll like it for sure.

Alison Hardy
12/17/2013 at 7:21 PM

I agree with Larry, you should keep the interlocking metal weather strip. And you can get new pieces. You may have to work through a professional like Building Preservation Services in DE, but if a window is designed for interlock it will be very loose with spring bronze.
You are right that the weak point is the meeting rail. The J channel on the upper sash gets filled with debris or paint or both and the flange on the lower gets bent. It's a bad design, but when it works it's and awesome draft seal.
Keep on keeping on! You are doing great work.

Alex
12/27/2013

Alison, thanks for the advice on the meeting rail. I'm sold, I'll be applying new J channel on all of our windows rather than the springbronze. You're absolutely right, the way the meeting rails are cut to accommodate the J channel pieces would have never worked with the spring bronze.

Also, thanks for dropping by. With your input, you are now the 2nd person who has been on This Old House that has helped us with our home (the first being Fred Mashack from the DC season who did our salvaged cast iron entry stairs).

12/19/2013 at 9:55 AM

Another great post showing your dedication to old home restoration - AND your sense of humour.Alt smile
We have solid wood windows in our house, but they're not thermal (!!???!!!)... but thank god no one tried painting them before we bought!! I couldn't imagine an undertaking of this magnitude!

Wayne Baumgartner
1/6/2014 at 9:43 AM

With the ominous 'polar vortex' coming into DC tonight, I was finally motivated this weekend to try to add some weatherstripping to the double-hung windows in our Capitol Hill home. This post is very informative about how to take apart our windows (which look exactly like yours, down to the beaver-eaten, water-leaking weight pockets!), and I managed to replace the broken sash cords that have been bugging me for several years.

I am very interested to hear how you do the zinc weather stripping, and if you are successful finding a local supplier.

Elizabeth
1/17/2014 at 2:27 AM

This is incredible.

Thank you so much for sharing so much detail. And I love how proud and excited you are about "another 100 years" for your windows and sash pulleys. I couldn't agree more!

Paul
10/26/2014 at 11:33 PM

I just started restoring the first of 16 original windows on my 1890's Denver home and your tip about using an oscillating tool to cut through the paint and caulk between the top sash and window frame was a huge help. It took about 15 minutes and saved me many hours of frustration using a utility knife. I can't imagine I would've ever got it unstuck without the oscillating tool I bought for $15 (a cheap thing from Harbor Freight that actually works great). Thanks for the tip!

By the way, after you strip the window frame, do you paint the parts where the sashes travel? I'm thinking I might try to stain them white or maybe use spary paint to avoid to much paint buildup.

John
11/16/2014 at 1:52 PM

Great tutorial! Been slowly doing all our 160-year-old windows in a similar style as you - rope, stripping, repair, re glazing, etc. One difference is that when I removed the inside trim (5"), the weight pocket was fully exposed, full height of frame (80+"). So I caulked the points behind the outside trim (1-1/8" x 5") where it met the studs and frame (full height), just in case. For overkill, I cut a piece of blue foam and set it into the caulking, filling the width of the back of the outside trim inside the pocket with some extra insulation quantity. Obviously the foam thickness can't interfere with the weight's travel in the pocket. Did all that help? Can't say for sure, but I feel better... Alt smile

Jean Ibrahim
6/14/2017 at 11:50 AM

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. I just bought a duplex with some old, old windows (originals from 1931). Would you know if there are any excellent local professionals that can do just such a restoration. My windows are not in as bad of shape as what I see above. But I'm having trouble finding someone that can do a restoration job this summer.

Thanks,

JEan

Since you've not signed in yet, you will need to fill in your name and email below. If you have a Facebook account, save yourself a step and use Connect to login.

Denotes a required field.

Please enter full URL, including http://

You can use Markdown syntax in your comment. And you can also use lots of Emoji!
  • Search

  • Login
  • Follow
  • Advertising

If you're looking for information on advertising and sponsorships, head on over to our sponsorships page. You can purchase site sponsorships in a few easy clicks. 

Toolbox Tuesday
Open Housing

  • Popular Topics
  • Comments
  • Blog Roll
  • We're Featured!

Old Town Home has been featured in the following places and publications:

The Washington Post
 
Washingtonian Magazine
 
Domino
 
Old House Journal
 
 
Apartment Therapy House Tour
 
Washington Post Express Feature
 
Home & Garden Blogs
 
© 2017 OldTownHome.com. - Privacy Policy
Login Below
or
Sign in with Facebook
Connect

Unexpected Error

Your submission caused an unexpected error. You can try your request again, but if you continue to experience problems, please contact the administrator.

Working...

Working...