General contractor Tom Silva takes us on a house call to help a homeowner with a window issue. One of the original double-hung windows has a top sash that refuses to stay put, preventing the homeowner from using it for its intended purpose. With the help of a window restoration expert, Tom and the homeowner worked together to clean up the window opening and sashes, and to replace the sash ropes and weights for a more operational window.
Older homes have a lot of charming features. However, few have their original windows, as homeowners often replace them when they stop functioning properly. To keep a Victorian in its original condition without sacrificing functionality, general contractor Tom Silva and window restoration expert Alison Hardy repair a homeowner’s double-hung window to its original condition.
How Double-Hung Windows Are Supposed To Work
Double-hung windows actually serve a purpose, particularly in older homes. These windows have movable top and bottom sashes, and these sashes can work together to create ventilation in the home.
If the homeowner lifts the bottom sash a few inches while pulling the top sash down a few inches, they can take advantage of convection. As cooler air moves into the house from the bottom opening (cooler air is heavier than warm air), it pushes warm air upward. As the warm air nears the opening above the top sash, it leaves the home, creating a cooling cycle.
However, this can only happen if the window sashes stay in place. Windows in older homes often have window weights behind the jambs that help hold windows in place, and once they fall, it’s tough for homeowners to use their windows for ventilation.
How to Restore an Antique Window
- The bottom pane is held in by the front stops, and they need to be removed. Use the utility knife to score the paint between the front stop and the window jamb. Then, use a pry bar and hammer to gently get behind the front stop and pry it loose from the jamb. Be sure to go slowly and pry near the middle for the best results, and repeat on both sides. If there are screws holding the front stop in, remove them. Use a chisel and hammer to dig the paint out of the screw’s slot, and use the screwdriver to remove the screws.
- Carefully remove the bottom sash. Once out, disconnect the sash cord by pulling the knot out of the groove in the side of the pane. Quickly tie a slip knot at the end of the cord and allow the weight to drop. Repeat on the other side, as well. Bring the front sash to a flat surface and clean it well with cleaning solution and rags.
- Identify the parting bead or parting stop. These thin strips of wood in the jamb hold the top sash in place while also keeping the two sashes from bumping into each other. Lower the top sash all the way and then remove these parting beads with a chisel, hammer, prybar, or whatever other tools will do the job without breaking them. These strips are difficult to remove in one piece, but this should always be the goal. Also, you may only need to remove one bead and leave the other in place. Keep a hand on the top sash throughout the process, though, as it can fall.
- With the parting stop removed, pull the top sash out of the window carefully. Lift the sash so that it is just slightly above the sill. Bring the side of the sash with the parting stop removed into the home until the other side slides out of the groove created by the remaining parting stop. Remove the sash cords to free the window sash, tying a slip knot at the end of the cords. Clean the top sash in the same method as the bottom sash.
- 5. Use the scraper and vacuum to clean up the inside of the window jamb. Old paint build-up can prevent the sashes from operating properly, so scrape them away while vacuuming the chips. Also, ensure that any pulleys in the jamb are secure and working properly. Replace as needed. Note: It’s best to use a vacuum-attached scraper and a HEPA vacuum. The chips and bits of paint that come off older windows usually contain lead paint, and they can cause health concerns if not handled properly.
- Install new weatherstripping in the window sash tracks. First, cut the weatherstripping to length. Then, nail it into the jamb with the nails that came in the kit. Use a nail set to ensure that the heads of the nails are flush with the weatherstripping to prevent them from rubbing against the sash.
- To replace the sash cords, locate the weight pockets at the bottom of the window jamb and remove the screws to gain access to the weights. Pull them out from the jamb and cut the old cords loose. Remove the old cords.
Replace the Cords Using the X-pattern Method:
- Attach sash chain to the end of the sash cord. This will help with feeding the cord through the opening and prevent it from snagging. Leave the cord attached to the spool.
- Feed the cord through the front left pulley. Catch the chain at the bottom opening and pull enough cord through the pocket to then feed the chain through the front right pulley.
- Pull the chain back through the pocket and pull enough cord out to feed the chain through the back left pulley. Be sure to go behind the cord that stretches between the two front pulleys. Catch the chain at the bottom opening and pull enough cord to feed the cord through the back right pulley, making sure to go behind the cords again.
- Once the sash cord is fed through all four pulleys, remove the chain and attach a sash weight to the cord. Loop the end of the cord through the weight, then up and around the cord two times before slipping the end up through the two loops. Tighten the knot against the weight and trim the tail as needed.
- Making sure that the tail of the cord pointing up, place the weight back in the pocket. With the weight at the bottom of the pocket, mark the rope where it meets the pulley. Cut the rope and tie an overhand knot at this mark.
- Repeat those steps on the other back pulley and then again on the front sides.
- Place the top sash back into the window jamb. Attach the sash cords to the sash by placing the knots in the grooves in the sides of the sash and driving a short screw through the knot. Reinstall the parting beads to hold the top sash in place. A small nail at the top and bottom of the parting bead will hold it in place.
- Place the bottom sash in the window and attach the cords in the same way as the top sash. Reinstall the front stops to secure them in place. Wax the tracks if the sashes still stick a bit.
Tom teams up with a window restoration specialist, Alison Hardy to teach a homeowner how to properly repair a double-hung Victorian window.
After dissembling the window, they worked together to weatherstrip and clean the window. Alison shared steps to the X-Roping method that she recommends when repairing multiple windows at a time.