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What is the best (most efficient, least expensive) way to get our windows to open?
First break the paint bond with a utility knife. That is use a utility knife and cut the paint between the sash and window frame. Then use a thin putty knife and work your way around the sash to free it up. You may have to scrap or strip some of the paint in the channel the sash slides in.
a light shot of rust check will lubricate it as well
Most important is to work with patience and not to damage the sash or frame.
Thank you. Sounds like I've got my weekend project.
One thing to look for is aluminum slides. If you have them you must be extra careful not to slice into them with your putty knife. For this job I use a sturdy 4" or 6" drywall knife as it is thinner and will go into the slot without spreading the moldings. Start one corner in then rotate it perpendicular- a few taps will clear that section and leave you with a slot to start the next section in. You usually damage the paint some doing this so if you're repainting remember to move the sashes several times while the paint is drying so it doesn't happen again!
If the paint is still fresh and not too dried up, it would be easier to avoid cracks and ruin the whole window frame. After you got the window open, just do some retouches.
Patience is key. I did this on my house and nicked the windows a little just trying to get outta the heat.