Repairing Double-Hung Wood Windows – On the House

Repairing Double-Hung Wood Windows

By on December 28, 2015

We grew up in our Nana’s house, which isn’t very relevant to this article, except for the fact that it was a turn-of-the-century home that was literally inundated with double-hung wood windows. And naturally, guess who was assigned the task of repairing and maintaining those contraptions. For some reason, even though dad was the handiest guy in the neighborhood, we were the chosen ones. Every time a sash rope broke it was our responsibility to take the task to hand and make the repair. If you have an older home with double-hung wood windows then you know that every so often the ropes that hold the counter weights rot and break – sending the counterweight into window oblivion. You also know that there is nothing harder to open than a double-hung window without the help of BOTH counter weights. Actually, we got pretty good at making this repair. After successfully completing one it became fun. There really is a specially good feeling of accomplishment that comes with successfully completing a project – of any kind.

Here is what we used to do to make the repair. And by the way, the process is always pretty much the same:

  • First, prepare the work area (put a drop cloth on the floor to protect the carpet. If the floor is hardwood cover it with a sheet of ¼” wallboard. This will prevent damage to the floor if a tool or window part drops).
  • Next, remove the trim pieces from either side of the window opening that keeps the lower window in place. Nothing else prevents that window from falling out so – BE CAREFUL! You can easily end up with a window on the floor – not to mention broken Use a sharp chisel to pry the trim away from the frame of the window. It might also be a good idea to first break the paint connection by running a razor knife blade the full length of the trim. Doing so will reduce paint chipping and in many instances will eliminate damage to the trim. NOTE: Use a wedge between the side of the window and the frame to hold the window in place while you remove the trim. Once the trim is removed the wedges are pulled out and the window and its frame will literally fall out of the opening.
  • The next step is to remove the lower window. The weight ropes are usually held in place with a small nail or screw. Remove the fastener from each side (careful – don’t drop the window) and then pull the rope away. Move the window to a safe location. Just a note to remind you that this is an absolutely perfect time to repair the frame, re-glaze the window — and yep – it’s a good time to sand and paint the frame as well.
  • With the bottom window safely out of the way the center trim can be easily removed so that the top window also can be removed. Even if there is nothing wrong with the weight ropes attached to the top window it is smart to replace its ropes as well. Removing the trim is a big part of this job and once the trim is out it is a mistake not to renew all of the ropes at once. Anyway, when one rope goes it is an indication of what will follow soon with all the other ropes in that opening. Make sure to slide the top window to the lower position and wedge it in place before beginning to remove the center trim. NOTE: The outer trim that holds the lower trim in place is mounted onto the inside face of the frame. However, the center trim piece is usually recessed into a dado. So, you’ll want to be careful to keep that fact in mind as you use your chisel to pry it loose. In other words the back of the trim is below frame surface. After using a sharp razor knife to break the paint seal – on both sides of the trim — slightly imbed the tip of a sharp chisel into the side of the trim. Tap lightly with your hammer. You don’t want to split the trim. Next, place a wedge or small block between the chisel and the frame to act as a fulcrum. Prying the trim out will be easier using this technique.
  • Next, remove the upper window in the same way as the lower window was taken out. Place the upper window away from the work area.
  • Next, remove the four weight chamber covers. These are normally held in place with screws and if painted may require some tweaking. To loosen the paint connection between a screw and the surrounding area simply insert a screwdriver into the slot and tap lightly with a hammer. This will accomplish three things: 1) It will clean the screw slot, 2) break the paint seal, and 3) slightly loosen the bond between the screw and the wood that it is imbedded in – making its removal a whole heck of a lot easier.

With the covers removed all you have to do is replace the ropes remembering to make sure that the new ropes match the old ones in length. Put everything back together in reverse order. Oh, one last note. This is a great time to make sure that the weather stripping is up to snuff.  And, that’s all there is to it.

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