Creators Syndicate

Dear James: The wood frame windows in my vintage house are pretty deteriorated. I want to repair them, not replace them, to maintain its character. What repairs to them can I do myself? — Don H.

Dear Don: People are often surprised by the significant impact of window style on the overall appearance of an older house. Unless the frames are totally rotten, you should be able to repair almost any part to return them to almost like-new condition.

If a lot of them are in very bad condition, get a quote on having them all replaced. It might end up being less expensive than repairing them. Some of the major replacement wood window manufacturers may be able to closely match frame profiles and styling of the old windows.

It can be hazardous when inspecting and repairing windows, so take proper safety precautions. Wear heavy work gloves because cracked window glass may splinter when you move a window sash to check it. When using a ladder, make sure it is supported on solid level ground and always have a helper steady the ladder.

Typical problems to inspect for are rotten areas in the sill and joints in the frame where moisture may have collected. Also be sure to look for gaps where the frame meets the house walls and for deteriorated and missing putty. Slide double-hung windows up and down to check for broken ropes on counterbalance weights. On hinged windows, check for rust and frozen hinges.

Wherever you find a spot where the painted finish is broken, probe it with a screwdriver. It may be rotten under the paint from years of trapped moisture. Chisel out all the rotten wood. Use a wood repair kit, which consists of a hardening resin and wood filler. When the rotten spot is filled and sanded, paint it with sealer to block any more moisture.

You will no doubt find some hinged casement windows that won’t swing open. This is most often caused by a buildup of many coats of paint, which makes them stick closed. If you find frozen or rusted hinges, it is best to replace them. Replacement hinges should be easy to find.

If you find gaps between the frame and the wall opening, check it for rot first. If the wood is sound, caulk the gaps. Use standard acrylic latex caulk on narrow gaps. It accepts most paint very well. If the gaps are fairly wide, either fill them with foam caulk or backer rope and then caulk over it.

The most difficult task will be replacing broken counterbalance ropes on double-hung windows. This requires removing the sashes and disassembling the window frame to get access to the weight well. To remain authentic, install new ropes and rebuild the window.

Another option is to install spring-loaded tracks that hold the window in any open position. These are fairly simple to install and they look almost the same as the original setup. If you do this, fill the weight well with insulating foam to be most energy efficient.

Take your time and chip out any old cracked putty and replace it with new putty. Don’t rush this task and just cover some bad old putty spots with new. You will just end up having to do it again properly in a year or two.

Send your questions to Here’s How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit