Monday, May 18, 2009

Repairing Historic Windows

Final Session- Your Old House Workshop Spring Series

On Monday, May 11, 2009 as part of the “Your Old House” series, Steve Jordan, a historic home and window repair expert for over 30 years and the former rehab advisor for the Landmark Society, shared with me and 20 other eager listeners how to replace broken sash cords and pulleys, and how to maintain the energy efficiency of original double-hung windows in homes built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Jordan it is important to restore and maintain these windows because they are built of sturdy old-growth wood and are designed to keep cold air and noise out of a house for many years. This older wood from the forest is well aged and not as affected by damage from water and insects as is wood from newer trees. The mechanics of these windows are also well built. In windows that are being used consistently it is common for sash cords to last 30 to 50 years before replacement is needed. If a window is not opened or closed very often sash cords will be in good condition for 100 years or more. Jordan is also an advocate of maintaining historic windows because they are an integral part of the original architectural design of the structures from which they come.

Jordan reviewed how to replace a sash chord by showing examples of what kind of “Spot” cord to use for replacement cord and how to access the pulley and the weight in the window frame. He also showed the alternative less durable sash tape and sash chain and pulley systems. Jordan reminded us that if a window is painted shut it is important to remove the paint seal around the entire window with a pry bar before starting any work because, “paint is stronger than wood” and the window might break otherwise. Many times repairs are required because paint has gotten into the pulley system or has dripped onto the sash cord and made the sash hard to move along the rope.

Jordan showed how to add flexible bronze weather-stripping at each opening where air might seep through a closed window — between the frame, and the sash, and the meeting rail, where the sashes come together. He also explained how sashes should be regularly maintained to ensure that air is not coming through any part of the window especially were the glass panes are placed into the sash at the muntins. According to Jordan, by adding weather-stripping, and storm windows, historic windows are just as energy efficient as modern replacements. He pointed out that many times the restoration cost of historic windows is much less expensive than purchasing many new windows.

This talk was interesting to me because I have lived in a home built between 1910 and 1930 for most of my life and I enjoy learning about architecture — but had never studied windows before this workshop. I had not realized how many important working parts there are to a window. I am now inspired to look at the six windows in my downtown Rochester apartment, built in 1921, to consider how I might restore each one to make it more energy efficient.

To learn more about the work that Steve Jordan does with historic window restoration and in other areas of old-home repair please contact him at

Posted by Padraic Collins-Bohrer - a long-time Landmark Society volunteer and an enthusiast of Rochester architecture and history.


Saver said...

I live in a home built in a similar era as yours. I recently repaired my historic windows with the help of an expert. It was actually fairly cheap considering most of the cost is in the labor, and I did the labor. Many people prize the wavy glass that comes from those windows.

Masako Magnini said...

Oh! Repairing old windows is so challenging! You need to assess the windows closely so the design won't look different from the original.

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