Thursday, May 24, 2012

Big Time DIY: Saving Our Sash Windows

To distract you while you wait for pictures of the awesome stove all hooked up and glorious looking:

One of the greatest things about our 1917 house is all of the windows.

The windows on the other side of the living room.

Beautiful wavy glass, letting in amazing amounts of sunlight. Watching the seasons perform from the couch is part of the reasons we don't have a big ol' television on our living room shelves. We just don't need one. Nothing can compare to staring out these huge windows sometimes.
Big, giant however.
They are far from the most efficient things on the market and in our case, almost all of them have at least one set of broken sash cords. Which means, if you're not familiar with these types of windows, that even if they do go up, they have to be held open with a piece of wood or something and in most cases, the top window won't even budge after years of non-use. Which brings me to my "other project" I mentioned a few weeks ago. No, it's not as exciting as demolition but it is pretty exciting for us since we live in a house that doesn't have any air conditioning.

That's an old picture but it shows you the three windows front and center we're going to be working on.

We are re-cording the sash windows in the living room and building screens for them so that we can enjoy a nice breeze on those over 100 degrees days sure to come. Why not replace them? Cost, aesthetics, history just to name a few. This article from the New York Times sums it up pretty nicely.

Now, we have already done two other windows in the house (the guest bedroom window and the bathroom window) so the learning curve is pretty high at this point. Also, we are not re-glazing these. For now, at least.

Prior to doing the guest bedroom window, I had found several tutorials, including one at This Old House. None of them however, were like our windows. See, to get to the weights for our windows you have to remove the outside framing. We don't have a nifty little piece of wood that lifts out and gives us access to the weights like in most tutorials I have found.
So, to begin, we gathered our tools of the trade
Then got started by removing the two small pieces of wood, or stops, that hold the window in its track very carefully with whatever you can get in between it and the window casing.

In our case, we used a very thin but ridgid scraper.

Once the stops are removed, the windows are usually a little easier to move up and down. Or in our case, you have better access to run a utility knife along the edge of the window and disturb any paint that was holding them in place.

We carefully worked the bottom window out until it would slide up and then removed the metal tracks holding it in place.

I like to label them with a marker just for ease when you're putting them back.

Then your bottom window is free to be (carefully) removed and set aside.
Now you have better access to the top window and with a little push and pull action, we got it unstuck and moving like it should. To our delight, when we moved it we discovered that the cords were still there and were in good shape from many years of not being used so that saves a little time.

Next, we removed the outside framing (again, very carefully) with a pry bar, chisel and hammer and ta-da! There are your weights!

We fished out the ones that had been attached to the bottom window and whose cords had broken. We stuffed a little insulation down beside the window because, hey, why not, hen we started re-cording.

We bought our sash cord at the local Ace Hardware. (It's clearly labeled for that use.)

We got the bottom window, slid it into the casing and held the cord against the side to measure how much length we would need. You just want to make sure that the weight is not going to hit the bottom when the window is up or that it will run into the pulley when it's fully down.

After cutting our lengths of cord and setting the window aside, we tied a knot through one of the weights and slid the rope over the pulley.

(Slap some tape on it too because, hey, why not?)
Then we attached the cord to the window using a washer, a screw and a tiny finish nail for good measure. The most important thing here is to make sure that your screw is flush or below the edge of the window so that it won't keep it from going up and down. Test it out to be sure. Ours have a little track kind of hollowed out for the cord so it's easy to tell where they should be.

Repeat this on the other side.

Now it's time to put the metal tracks for the window back into place. This is one of those things that you kind of have to finagle to get it in the right place and under the window. We've found that it works pretty good if you slide the tracks into the window a little and then push evertyhing (gently) back in place.

Then you can nail your tracks back in place. Oh, did I mention to keep the nails you took out? Silly me! Keep your nails! Remove them carefully recycle them if you can.
Then you can put the two, long, narrow pieces of wood that were holding the window in place back. Hopefully, if you did a really good job of removing it, the nails are still there and you just need to drive them back out and hammer them back in.


All that's left to do then is putting back the outside frame pieces. On windows like these, where two windows share a piece of frame, you'll want to just tack the common piece back up until you are ready to do the next window.

That way it will come off much easier. The other side however, you can caulk around to form a nice seal between it and the siding and so hopefully, it will last for years to come.

My dad built the screen while I was at work a couple of weeks ago so I missed that process. There is still another to be made though, so hopefully I will be around for that project to take some pictures. We used an old carpentry book of Conan's for instructions on how to make this type of screen. I primed and painted the screen yesterday and we put it up last night. Maggie loves sitting there, watching the birds and of course, we love the cool breezes that wash over the top and under the bottom. It's sure to be amazing when all three are done because it's basically floor to ceiling windows. I can't wait for a famous Kansas storm to blow through and bring those chilly winds so we can enjoy them to their fullest.

Up next: I found something in our basement that is awesome and if I can lug it out of there myself, I'm going to share it with you guys and ask for some friendly advice.


  1. Yay for old windows! My sister replaced all of hers from her post-WWII house in KC with those kind they slip into the existing sash, blech. Yes it takes time and effort to do properly, but old windows can be practically as energy-efficient as new when all the old paint is scraped off and they're reglazed and caulked and insulated. And when they work correctly again, like yours.

    However, there is no freaking way you could pay me enough money to live in Kansas without air conditioning, I don't care how great the windows are. Please tell me central air is on a long-term plan, cause otherwise I'll feel both incredibly sorry for you, and incredibly hot for the next 4 months when I visit your blog.

    1. Your sister sounds like my hero if she's already done a house full of these! I actually get kind of ill thinking about doing all of ours before we start painting the exterior next year. It's pretty easy when you have a porch or a roof to stand on while you do the outside but otherwise...Now, about this AC situation. Yes, central air is in our long term plan. How long term? Not sure. Since we have new ductwork for the central heat it would be easy to install but it's just soooooo expensive to run! I will tell you this, I have flatly refused to have children in a house with no air conditioning. That is a scenario I will not be a part of.

  2. LOVE our old windows!!! Our entire downstairs is original, but someone along the way put in half-arsed poorly fitting replacement windows in upstairs and I HATE them. One is fogging and none of them lock correctly. We had to fix some cracked panes when we moved in, and have had to replace most of the cords and build screens. Our dining room windows Needed a complete overhaul and are SO BEAUTIFUL now! :) Everytime I open up my downstairs windows and feel the cross breezes, I wonder how the former owner lived for TWELVE YEARS with all of the downstairs windows screen less and painted shut. It boggles the mind. I truly believe that double hung windows are a genius invention, and it's a shame that not everyone recognizes them for the treasures they are.
    YOUR windows are GORGEOUS!!!! I adore the shape of the panes.

    1. TOTALLY agree with you about these "genius invention" windows. I mean, as long as the wind is blowing (which is pretty much a guarantee in Kansas) you get an amazing breeze. IF they all open : ) Good for you guys for sticking with them and fixing them. Like I said, it may not be the most glamorous part of a remodel but when someone sees that you can open the bottom AND top of your windows they will be amazed. It's the details that are special in these old houses.

  3. Your windows are awesome... but I have to ask... you mentioned This Old House, but how have you not mentioned your article in said magazine?! I read the digital edition immediately when it comes out and I was so happy to see your living room in the mag! Congratulations!

    1. Ummmm...because we didn't know when we were going to be in it. Thanks for the heads up! They kind of stopped communicating with us about it so I didn't know when/if we were going to be in there. I'll have to go and pick one up today : )

  4. You certainly did a great job with the window. With the window sash able to move again, you can enjoy the cool breeze entering your living room. But be sure to check your window every once in a while. Being installed in 1917, it clearly can have problems related to aging and weathering.

    1. Yeah, because of the horrible drought here in Kansas this year that particular corner of the house settled a little further. So unfortunately, after all the hard work I think one of the windows is stuck again.

  5. What I love most about huge windows is that it allows for more sunlight in the house! Natural lighting creates a different kind of atmosphere and it affects the mood of the people as well. Your old house now has a touch of something new!


Comments are the fuel that keeps this blog going. Leave one! Heck, leave two!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...