Home>Discussions>DOORS & WINDOWS>How are pocket windows supposed to work?
9 posts / 0 new
Last post
How are pocket windows supposed to work?

Hello - we just bought a 1922 cottage w/ a sleeping porch that is lined with "pocket windows". They each have a hinged door in the sill below them that holds them in place. When you lift the door, you can see down into the wall. I believe the pane is supposed to drop completely down into the wall, but they have no handles, and I'm afraid to lower one down - I might not get it back!

Can anyone explain how they were originally designed to work so I can restore them? Google has let me down.

Re: How are pocket windows supposed to work?

I've been in window manufacturing and installation for 35 years and I admit this is the first time I've ever heard of your situation. Sounds like someone was being very creative, and not a bad idea. If you can measure inside the wall to see how deep it is from the sill to the bottom and compare that to the window you will be able to tell if the window will be engulfed completely. If so, I would screw a handle on the face of the top rail to prevent the window from going completely into the wall as well as a means to lift it out again. Good Luck.
Calcats ;)

Re: How are pocket windows supposed to work?

Thanks for the feedback! I've been unable to find out much about them, only a few references on the web to pocket windows that drop down into the wall, but no pictures. I'll measure the pocket and experiment from there.

Re: How are pocket windows supposed to work?

I have only seen to similar configurations. One had a double hung window, you lift the lower sash and opened the door. The other was single sash that slid into the side wall and you could then open the door.

Check and see if you have any hardware attached to the top or side of the sash, possible a recessed handle similar to pocket door hardware or if there are stops down inside the door section. I would be concerned that if it slides down into the door section it would not be very water proof.

Re: How are pocket windows supposed to work?

I have several pocket windows in the house rather than on a porch. They are painted shut, but I'd like to get the one over the kitchen sink operable again. The structure of the window makes it look as though the single sash lifts up into the wall ... I've been a little afraid to pry it open for fear it will get stuck, so I'm postponing that project until fall when it is not 100 degrees every day in case I have a problem.

Any one else reading the thread have experience with this type of window? I'm guessing there have to be weights to hold it up just like a standard window?

Re: How are pocket windows supposed to work?

I've got 11 pocket windows in my 1918 Arts and Crafts home. They were used in sun rooms and sleeping porches in alot of these homes.

In properly working double hung ( 2 sets of weights for each sash), the windows will slide down into the wall below the window. You lift up the lower window enough to open the bottom sill plate which is on hinges. after opening the door you will see a wall cavity with 2 sets of slides for the windows to go down into. If just one window, it too will push up a few inches and after opening bottom sill plate door, you will find a cavity that goes just low enough to drop the window to floor level. Actually, in my sleeping porch, the windows drop below the floor level on the second floor which is kind of neat. If your weights and ropes and pulleys are still in good condition, the windows will go down as easy as they go up. Once the sashes are down low, it will be like having no window at all and thats why there would have been 2 sets of storm windows, one being metal screen and one of glass usually hanging from the outside from metal tabs and locked on the inside with a eyehook.

Also, part of the assembly would be flush mounted window handles and a top pull ring. Over the years, people probably caulked everything up but with a proper working old window and a good wooden storm window, the insulative factor is as good if not better that standard aluminum storms people put on even with double glazed windows. The pockets should be filled though if you don't plan on 'hiding' the windows like this. This window option was probably a hi-dollar one and meant to maximize airflow as if no window at all since in those days, TB was a serious concern and air flow in hot summer days was what people desired and the ability to quickly close up the porch in the event of rain without lugging the storm windows out or move heavy windows in the house.

I will be putting styrofoam insulation sheets in my pockets to better insulate the porches. I should be able to do this and still be able to lower the bottom sash window if I desire.

Hope this helps.

Re: How are pocket windows supposed to work?

I know this post is a little old, but I would love some feedback if possible.

I'm a college student who just moved into an early 1900's house that was converted into apartments- mine was once the sleeping porch, with windows all along three walls. The problem is, I don't know what to do about these pocket(?) windows!

Most of the sill "doors" were nailed shut, but I want to be able to open them for cleaning and air circulation. But I'm too afraid to move them around much, since I'm not sure how they are supposed to work.

They are single hung, with storm windows installed on the exterior. All of the sills are hinged, which open into dark, spidery spaces which look like they stop about my floor level. I pried one window inwards and noticed a rope and pulley system at the top of the sash.

I would love any suggestions to deal with these devils-

I'm poor and not carpentry-savvy, I am just worried about heat/chill, cleaning the glass and between the sash and storm windows, and keeping nasty crawling things inside the walls and out of my rooms. Should I try to temporarily seal the "pockets"? Can I pull the windows outward? (I can't tell!) Anything??

(I've got pictures I can try to upload if it would help)

Any help would be greatly appreciated- thanks!!

Re: How are pocket windows supposed to work?

These windows are known as "drop sash" windows and they were very common on wooden body trolley cars. In the heyday of wooden body electric streetcars, from approximately 1885-1905, street railway companies located in climates with wide temperature swings sought a solution for keeping their passengers comfortable. In the winter there might be freezing temperatures while in the summer it might be very hot and humid. The cars did have electric heaters, but air conditioning hadn't been invented yet. The earliest cars were wide open, then came cars with a closed section and an open one. (The smoking section was usually the inside compartment.) Next came "convertible" cars where the entire side of the car complete with fixed or double hung windows could be hung on the side of the car or removed entirely. The conversion took a day and several men back at the carshops so this was usually a twice a year affair.
From convertibles the next innovation was the dropped sash window. Wooden single or double hung windows were arranged to drop down into the sides of the car body, the pocket was hidden by a hinged lower sill. The windows are retrieved from the pocket by a leather pull strap or by pocket door-type flush mount pulls set into the top of the sash. There was even a less popular variation where the movable sash went up into a pocket in the roof of the car. Every street railway ordered their car bodies custom from major builders such as the St. Louis Car Company and J.G. Brill. After some horrific fatal crashes the industry switched to metal car bodies and with those came metal double hung windows. Liability concerns were prompting operators to equip their cars with grills to keep passengers from sticking their hands and arms out of the windows and eventually windows were restricted to only opening a few inches and pocket window arrangements disappeared.
I've seen pocket windows in a number of houses dating to the same time period; also common were "Hollywood" roller screens which were hidden in the wall, unrolling as the sash was opened. Many wooden streetcar bodies were repurposed as cabins as as well as for housing when the GIs returned from WWII. If your "old house" has a room that is long and rectangular and has many identical pocket windows, it could be the last refuge of an old streetcar.
For hands-on advice, visit your nearest trolley museum, I bet they'll talk your ear off about pocket windows.

Re: How are pocket windows supposed to work?

I saw Tom Silva fix one on "Ask This Old House" a while ago. Maybe you can find the video.

Sponsored Stories

TV Listings

Find TV listings for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.