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how to fix old wooden windows

Windows have the power to make or break indoor spaces. Great windows let ample light and cool summer breezes in when we need the relief. Bad windows let cold winter breezes in when we least want them. If you have beautiful vintage windows, they can add an artistic flair that most of us like to keep around. The problem is that these pieces may have been neglected over the years, causing them to become inefficient and unattractive. This begs the question, can wood windows be repaired?

If their former glory is fading, learning how to fix old wooden windows can allow you to preserve these beautiful pieces of historic architecture for many decades to come. Let’s take a look at the restoration route and whether or not it’s a project you want to tackle.

Why learn how to fix old wooden windows?

When most of us finally decide our windows need work, it’s often because they’ve deteriorated to a point where they are no longer functioning properly. They’ve become drafty, we’ve noticed leaks, and the wood has become visibly worn or rotted. Our immediate thoughts are usually that they need to be replaced.

The argument for replacement is a decent one. New windows are efficient both acoustically and thermally, and they look brand new. Getting new panes of crystal clear glass sounds nice, but when you’ve got beautiful wooden windows already, the fact is that a new set of windows probably won’t hold an aesthetic candle to the ones you’ve got. You also won’t get as much life out of a new set of windows as you will by restoring the solid wood ones you already have. Window restoration and repair is a fantastic alternative.

How do you restore wooden windows?

As is the case with most older technology, the concept and construction are simple, and the materials were made to last. Your old windows are likely made of high-quality wood that can be restored to their original beauty with a little time and elbow grease. The process isn’t terribly tricky, but it may take a little practice to get beautiful results. 

The basics of repairing wood windows

The first thing you need to do is assess whether or not they can be saved at all. If they were exposed to harsh elements for decades without any care or maintenance to keep them sound, it’s possible they are beyond repair. But, if they are in relatively good condition, save for a few pieces of rotted wood or broken panes, don’t go running for wood replacement windows just yet. When it comes to wooden windows, repair is often the best option. 

Vintage wooden windows have a pretty simple construction, meaning they are easy to disassemble and reassemble. When taken apart, each piece can be cleaned up, refurbished, or replaced. If you are dealing with panes that are simply missing or cracked, panes can be replaced relatively easily. If you have problems with the frame, the fix is likely to be a little more involved.

If you’ve only got a problem pane or two, but the wood is still in good shape, the fix may be as simple as partially disassembling the frame and swapping the glass. You’ll want to make sure to use putty to seal the glass and prevent movement and vibrations, but it’s a pretty straightforward process.

When you find yourself needing to replace parts of the frame itself, you’ll follow a similar process. You can disassemble the window and replace the parts that are not salvageable. However, if those parts haven’t completely deteriorated, you may be able to fix them with a simple combination of epoxy and sanding. If you can save them, the process is cheaper and easier.

If the windows have taken on multiple layers of paint throughout the years, some of the layers may contain lead. You should use caution when removing it. If you’ve never removed lead paint before, it’s best to consult a professional for help in determining how to fix old wooden windows with lead paint safely.

Modernizing your historical windows

If you like your current windows but you’re in the market for the acoustic and thermal properties offered by new windows, you can make your restored windows equally efficient with a set of window inserts. Our Preservation Series Window Inserts leave the appearance of your classic windows intact while offering outstanding protection from the heat and cold and blocking 98% of harmful UV rays from entering your home. They have been used to save historic buildings around the country and do the same for you.

FAQ

How do you repair a rotted wooden sash window?

If your old windows are referred to as either double-hung or single-hung, you’ve got a sash window. Sashes are the parts of the window that contain the panes and move up and down next to each other. The difference between the two types is that a single-hung window has a stationary top window and a movable bottom sash. If you’ve got a double-hung window, both sashes have the ability to move independently of one another. 

If you’ve found that your sash window has begun rotting, there are fixes that can allow you to keep it looking great. If the rot hasn’t progressed too far, you can use a wood filler to repair the damaged area. If the rot has gotten too bad for this option, you can cut out and replace individual wood sections or replace the entire rotted piece. Don’t let the whole window go just because one piece has started to decay.

Another common problem we encounter when refurbishing old windows with sashes is that the weights that counterbalance when the windows are open can be missing. If you’re missing some, but others are still present, you can use the ones you do have as a baseline for the weight needed for replacements. Otherwise, you may have to play around with it a bit to find the correct weight. While you’re checking the ropes and weights, make sure the pulleys are functioning properly and aren’t damaging the ropes.

How do you repair an old wooden window frame?

Years of shifting and settling with your home can cause window frames to lose their perfect right angles. The resulting gaps can cause air, moisture, and sound passage through the window. Stripping the window down and making sure the frame is square is a good starting point to refurbishing your windows correctly.

Wooden window frames experiencing rot problems can benefit from the same solutions we mentioned in previous sections.

Restoring old casement windows

Casement windows have been around since the 18th century and are a popular choice to this day. Unlike the sashes that slide over each other in sash windows, casement windows feature a pane that is attached to a vertical side of the frame with hinges. Kind of like a glass door. They are typically cranked open and provide excellent airflow. Early examples opened inward, as they usually had wooden window shutters on the outside. More recent examples open outward. 

Common problems with casement windows involve the crank and the parts that make it work, as well as bad weather stripping.

If you notice a draft coming through a casement window with a decent frame, you may just need to replace the weather stripping that provides the seal when the window is closed. It’s a very simple process and shouldn’t cause you to replace the entire window.

Problems with the crank or the mechanisms by which it opens the window are a little bit more involved but are certainly still doable. Most common problems can be fixed with a simple replacement part. 

Once you decide to learn how to fix old wooden windows, you’ll find that you can solve your window problems by yourself. Try fixing one. You’ll likely decide to tackle the others as well.

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