DEAR TIM: Some window sashes in my home are in good shape while others are falling apart. Can I purchase window sash replacement kits that will allow me to maintain the character of my older home? Will the replacement window sash still use the old rope and cast-iron weight? I would love to get a replacement tilt-in window-sash kit to make washing windows easier. Do you think I can do window sash repair, or is it a better idea to buy a new one? Melissa D., North Andover, MA
DEAR MELISSA: Window sashes can absolutely be replaced in many instances without having to alter the actual window frame. The best part is you can buy new window sashes that look old. A window sash consists of the frame that holds the window glass, and the actual glass you look through. Typically the window sash moves while the window frame that surrounds the sash is stationary. The best analogy is to compare a window sash to a door.
Window sash replacement kits have been available for years. These marvelous products allowed me to replace broken or rotted window sashes with new sashes, while the window frame and all interior and exterior woodwork trim was left untouched. The homeowners who I worked for were amazed at how quickly they could enjoy functioning and energy-efficient windows with minimal mess and disruption to their homes. The new window sashes were able to be ordered to fit the existing openings like a glove fits a hand.
You may be able to find a new window sash that will have the groove to accommodate the rope that attaches to the cast-iron weight, but I would not do that unless this is a specialized historic preservation project where you want the windows to be exactly like the old ones. The new window sash replacement kits come with sleek spring-loaded jambs that connect to the window sashes. These sleek jambs are highly efficient, and keep air infiltration to an absolute minimum.
I feel it is best to remove the old window weights, and fill the void space with special expanding foam insulation that stays flexible. This foam insulation will do a great job of stopping air leaks, and will also help to make the inside of your home quieter. Air leaks around windows are a common source of noise pollution. Sirens, irritating road noise, train whistles, urban din, etc. will disappear when you stop air leaks around windows.
You will love your new replacement tilt-in window-sash kit after it is installed. Cleaning windows has never been easier. I have these type of windows at my own home, and really appreciate not having to use ladders to clean second-story window sashes. The tilt-in feature allows you to readily remove the entire sash from the frame if you prefer to clean windows or repaint the exterior of them on a work stand within the room. Widow maintenance couldn't be easier with the tilt-in option.
Repairing window sashes may be possible depending upon the degree of damage. If serious rot has caused the window sash frame to be loose or distorted, it may be better to buy a new sash. But if you have some spots of rot, you can buy special epoxies and injectable wood fortifiers that will make the old window sash like new. The epoxies are sandable and paintable once cured.
The decision to repair or replace should also focus around your fuel bills. Window sash replacement kits can make a considerable difference on your heating and cooling bills as the glass within the sash can be ordered with a Low-E coating and special inert gases between the glass panes. This glass option coupled with the air-tight jambs makes for a highly efficient window. You will be more comfortable inside your home, and the upgraded windows will be more attractive to a future buyer.
One of the great features of window sash replacement kits is that they are do-it-yourself friendly, and they can be done one or two windows at a time. You can save thousands of dollars in installation fees if you try to install the new window sashes by yourself. It is possible to build installation confidence by starting with a smaller window on the rear of your home or some other window that can't be seen from the road.
Be sure you select a window sash replacement kit from a name-brand window company that has made this line of products for years. This will be vitally important if you choose to replace only so many window sashes a year. This may be your plan, if you have a tight budget. If at all possible, try to replace all window sashes at the same time so the job gets completed. At the very least, always replace all of the sashes on any given side of your home at the same time for a more uniform look.
Keep in mind that measurements are very critical. If at all possible, get the window dealer to come to your home to take the actual measurements. If you supply the measurements and make an error, you will have to purchase new window sashes to replace the ones that don't fit.