Where to start with old windows???

farmhousefanOctober 22, 2008


OK, I'm a newly-single (don't get me started!) young woman who bought a 200 year old millers house last December.

I'm in the process of a big kitchen re-do (the soapstone counters come in soon! Yippee!) and landscaping projects. So money is very tight.

As the temp drops here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, my thoughts turn to my oooooold windows. Wavy glass and all.

The previous owner did install exterior storms, but the windows still need work. Many panes are broken, they don't stay up on their own (probably why so many panes are broken!), they need repainting on the outside, and are drafty.

Where do I start?? I have fantasies of pulling them out, reglazing and repainting, and then installing some kind of "channel" in the jams that would a) create enough friction to keep the windows up when open and b) reduce drafts.

The big puzzle is that I can't see any pulley or rope or even a spot where the pulley used to be. Is it possible my style window predates this system? There are, however, big gaping channels that look like they held ropes in the bottom sash (boy the wind really leaks in through those spots).

I have an able carpenter but he's a "replace them" kind of guy. I know he'd do a good (and cheap) job but I don't even understand what can be done for old windows like this!

Any help is SO appreciated. Wish I could post a picture... just new to the gardenweb...???


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For this winter, cover the windows with the shrink wrap stuff. That'll block drafts.

Next year, take them one at a time, most cracked first.

Capsule summary: pull off the stop; remove the bottom sash; curse repeatedly, but replace the glass; if the upper sash needs work, pull the parting bead; remove upper sash; curse repeatedly, replace glass; scrape and paint sashes; find new sash cord (and maybe new pulleys); open up sash pockets to hopefully find weights inside; re-do cords; replace sashes; curse once more for good luck.

Seriously, old windows are a pain. But they've lasted this long and they'll last a while longer, given care. The new-and-improved windows your carpenter will throw in have a lifespan of probably 25 years max, and I'm being generous.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 8:49PM
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What the poster above me said!

Seriously, just get through the winter with adding plastic, living with them, etc. (Quick fix for cracked panes, or even ones missing little triangles at the corner: clear scotch tape.)

Meanwhile study up on windows. There's a good book "working Windows", by Terry Meany (get the latest edition) that will explain lots of window mysteries to you.

The great thing about rehabbing windows is that the project (unlike, say, a whole kitchen) can be done in manageable chunks and in most cases is something that someone with only basic remodeling skills can easily master. It's more time consuming and careful work than anything else. You can do just window at a time, too. And old windows, completely rehabbed will not only look best, but will be quite energy efficient. You mentioned storms .... are they the triple track aluminum ones (not so great) or better yet, nice wooden framed ones? Wooden storms can be easily and fairly quickly weatherstripped for a fast upgrade in energy efficiency. Aluminum triple tracks are not particularly energy efficient, but good at protecting your primary windows , and good while you have the primary sashes out for work during the warm seasons.

Actually, if you jerry-rig up some replacement panels, you could take out the primary sashes and work on them during the winter, one or two windows at a time, but you may want to just postpone until warmer weather. Completely overhauling a sash doesn't take all that much work, but it can take a couple of weeks or so because of time spent drying out before you can go on to the next step.

There's more window info at the Old House Web (http://www.oldhouseweb.com); Historichomeworks.com (he sells good booklets on window rehab and teaches classes in it) and of course, at my fave site: The Preservation Brief Series which I'll link to below. There is a booklet devoted to windows.



Here is a link that might be useful: National Park Service Preservation Briefs Series - all kinds of useful info for old house owners

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 9:47PM
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The windows in our 1820s house aren't rope and pulley, the type I had in my other old homes. I've had a few of them completely apart, and there is no evidence of it, nor space where it could have been.

I'm assuming they're the originals, or repairs of the originals, and the glass is very wavy, and even bubbly. A couple of them have little spaces where it appears a latching mechanism might engage in several positions to hold the double hungs up in an open position. Most of them don't have evidence of this and looks like if a person wanted the window open, then they'd have to prop it with something. Are rope and pulleys always found in house of this age? Especially farm houses, likely constructed by the inhabitants themselves? When did they come into use?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 12:01AM
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The windows in my 1832 Greek Revival have no pulleys or weights. On some there is a small push button that catches as you raise the window at various points and holds it open until you press to release. Others have a Cam attached to the side of the window which presses against the frame as you turn it to hold the window open by friction. At the start of winter I go around with "rope caulking" which you can buy in a box and peel off the length you need. I then press it into the joint between the upper and lower sash, along the bottom of the sash and anywhere else it looks like the breeze will come in around my triple track alum. combo's. Come spring it's easy to remove and since I would never consider replacing my wavey, 175 year old windows I think it's a small price to pay. Insulated curtains help to.
Good luck

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 1:03PM
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I moved into a 100 year old house a few months ago. The windows are in rough shape: they've probably not been glazed for 30 years or more. I found a skilled handyman who will rehab them for $250. each, starting with the worst. I figure it will take me a few years to complete this project. He pulls out the sashes, fixes the storm/screen if needed, sands and repaints, reglazes, repairs broken glass as needed, replaces the rope pulley (most are broken), and restores the hardware. He's done 4 so far and they work as good as new. Make sure no one talks you into replacing windows when most can be rehabbed.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 1:54PM
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While you have the sashes out waiting for putty and paint to dry, it's a good time to strip old paint, repair, & repaint the rest of the window. The jamb & trim are much easier to get to & you don't have the worry of breaking old panes. If your openings are large & wide, it's a lot easier to stand in them or work from the inside rather than to work on a ladder. On 2nd thought, your Federal era windows are probably smaller than my Greek revival ones but it's still easier to do the repairs without the sash.

For some reason, I think weighted sashes came into being around the 1840's or early 1850's but it's a distant memory & I don't know where I read it.

FWIW - to restore a window is a HUGE job if you do correctly, but well worth it. I've done about a dozen over the years & there is no way I would pull out more than one at a time especially if I'd never done one.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 2:53PM
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"On some there is a small push button that catches as you raise the window at various points and holds it open until you press to release."

Paul, that is what I was trying to say, but you phrased it much better. That's why I was thinking, if she can't find the skeletons of a rope and pulley system, it's probably because the house never had one.

There is a big difference between houses of the very early 1800s and those Civil War age and older. That's when you started seeing mills sawn lumber, and more attention paid to the form vs. function.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 3:39PM
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I thought I would pass along this tip as well as it's something I only realized after I had been working on my windows.

My building was built before 1850, so most likely had 6 over 6's and 9 over 9 smaller-paned window sashes. However as early as the 1870s, I can see that the present 2 over 2 sashes were in the windows (I have pics of this.) Those 2 over 2 windows are what I still have today, in many cases with lovely glass,(unless you're trying to look at birds with binocs) but were definitely not likely to be original to the house. At least that was always my theory.

However recently I realized that I had absolute proof of that for two reasons: first, I have those little spring loaded pegs that stick into holes in the jamb to hold the sashes up and some very well-worn pin holes could never have been used with the present sashes based on the clear mismatch between the location of the hole and where the pin is in the sash. Not in every window, but in a few. But now I believe I have (finally!) recoginized the definitive clue that all my window sashes were changed out at one point.

In order to remove the upper sashes of double hung windows you have to remove the parting bead (the long rectangular piece of trim that lies against the upper sash and between the upper and lower at the sides when the are both raised.) And in every single window in my house one of the parting beads shows signs of having been pried out: either it is broken and repaired; or is subtly, but obviously if you know what to look for, a replacement piece; or even more commonly, you can see traces of the tool used to dig it out with little gouges (made by the same width tool) still traceable even after many years of repainting.

One or two sashes, especially adjacent ones or on a single side would indicate premature failure of windows sashes due to accident or excess weathering. But to find that every single window frame has the same tool marks means that the windows were removed en masse and the only really likely reason for that would be a stylistic upgrade when large glass panes became more popular and less expensive.

So now, of course, the question for me is do I re-upgrade again with more "authentic" smaller pane windows (which I think would be prettier on my house), or do I let my at least 175 y.o. replacement windows stay? I keep an eagle eye out for some foolish person who still has the older windows but is throwing them out so I could scarf them up and reuse them. Meanwhile, I have rehabbed the 2 over 2 as a steady project, so pretty soon they'll all be done. With my luck, I'll probably find a full matching set of little-paned sashes about a week afterwards that will a need complete rehabbing!

So as you work on your windows, look for evidence of parting bead removal, because that will give you a clue as to whether you present sashes are original.



    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 9:39PM
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$250 is a deal per window I think. My dh used to do that as part of a businesss that he had. It was so many years ago I don't know how to compare or remember what it cost then, but it takes a lot of work. He also insulated them carefully. He has done many of our windows, but not all. New windows don't look the same no matter what the sales people say! We had to replace a couple that were rotted but that's it fortunately.
I am here to plug interior storm windows. They have made an incredible difference in comfort level here in 20 below zero land. Dh measured and ordered them custom, since every window is slightly different, having been built on site when the house was. We used to have a track system that held heavy plastic (reusable) and I just about cried every year when we put them up cuz they just weren't nice to look through after the first year. The interior storms are one big pane of glass. and the frame isn't too intrusive on our plain woodwork. They cost under $200 each which is a lot, but its less expensive than new windows. The problem is storing them. So we strategically take down the ones where we want to put in screens. And had to clear out space in the closets, not really a bad thing lol.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 8:37AM
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Hi kathy, thanks for your post. I remember you saying this on another thread and it's good info.

How are the interior storms secured in the frame during the winter? Do you have to screw them into the frame, or is there a less intrusive method?

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 10:12AM
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Most of them have 'latches', if they're wooden. They simply fit into a groove in the sills, and you swing the latches in to secure them. That's how the wood storms are in one older house I own, anyway. My parents always had that ritual each spring and fall with their wooden storms. The could not be installed from the inside, and meant ladder work. When people became elderly and were faced with that biannual chore, that's when so many homes ended up with swing-in modern units.

We have aluminum storms on our old windows, and they're a giant pain in the yazoo and aren't terribly efficient, like was already mentioned. That's because there were no wooden storms when my husband bought this house and they did allow a homeowner to have screens and storms in one unit, and also have each one stored in the window, so that when it came time to change from one to the other, it was already in place and could be done from the inside. Our house is terribly tall with twelve foot room heights and we hire professionals to access anything second floor or above.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 12:49PM
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There is a track (a "U" shaped piece of plastic) at the top of the window opening which has double stick tape and/or screws (we put the screws in). Then the whole frame is pushed out by springs so its squeezed outward on the sides. There are also 2 holes, one on each side on the bottom for pins to go into. So when you take it out the top track remains.

I've posted below a link to interior storms. The one that we got is innerglass, the third from the top. It is in CT and we are in NH so that was part of our reasoning for the choice of this company. There are lots though!

I guess if I had beautiful old woodwork I might not want our choice, - but maybe I would not sure about how many colors are available. But you know a house that no one can afford to live in doesn't end up being preserved.

Good luck!


Here is a link that might be useful: Interior storm windows

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 9:43PM
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I've been busy restoring my 80+ yr old windows. Get yourself the book "Working Windows" by Terence Meany.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 2:29AM
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Interior storm windows are the way to go. We have had them in two antique houses going back 25 years. You can go to your local glass shop and get them made for you. Harvey Industries is the company most shops get them from. You need to get windows that are 1/2 to 3/4 inch larger that your existing windows as they will fit on the trim surrounding. Our current home 1840 cape cod style has 9/6 windows the storms were $50.00 each. We put them in a closet for the summer and clean them and reinstall for the winter. Go with glass as the plastic ones will scratch easily. You could try Panel Air Company in Brockton, Ma. that is who I bought the 40 storms for our 1809 colonial we sold a few years ago. I'm not sure if they are still in business as it was 20+ years ago. Please don't fall for the false 40% savings the new window guys will try and sell you on. One of my neighbors just spent $650 per window before installation for replacements(Historic District) the bill came to almost $40,000, his old windows were fine and his grandchildren will never see a return on that investment. Good luck with your decision and happy glazing.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2008 at 6:59AM
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You must start by finding a good carpenter who understands and enjoys restoring houses.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2008 at 10:19AM
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Your windows may have a small piece of spring steel (intended to provide friction) like mine do (house was built around 1760).

I modified the exterior storm panes by adding insulated glass panes (double glazed panes) to all of the available storms - an addition to the house has triple track aluminum storms/screens. The exterior storms work very well and are easy to change in my one story house.

I like the aesthetics of the old glass with its bubbles and waves on the original windows.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2008 at 12:32PM
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Just have to put in my plug: I'm glad you want to restore instead of replacing.

Our 120 year old original windows may need some tlc, but they are in FAR better shape than the 40 year old windows the PO put in when they remodeled the kitchen. Those are rotting, leaking, and falling apart. They really don't make em like they used to!

    Bookmark   November 15, 2008 at 3:41PM
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