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Question DetailsAsked on 4/29/2013

Who can repair old wood windows

We recently purchased a home that is approx. 17 years old. Some of the windows have some wood rot and some of the top windows in the double hung windows keep slipping. Is it possible to repair vs. replace the windows? How can I find someone I can trust to give me an honest answer?

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Yes they can be repaired even if there is substantial wood loss - the question is whether it is worth the cost. If the rot is pretty shallow (1/16 or less), you can just carefully double-mask the glass (so it does not get scratched, which makes it susceptible to cracking) and use bleach to kill the rot, hand or multi-tool or detail sander sand the damaged wood down (using good mold exposure protection), use wood filler to fill any holes or small cracks, finish sand, lightly paintable caulk the glass/wood joinn, put on sander/sealer to seal/prime the surface, stain it is desired, then give it 2 coats of the appropriate finish (a urethane or oil-based paint would be my recommendation). A paint works much easier, even if you have to repaint the entire window frame to match, because the wood prep has to be excellent to be able to use a stain and clear urethane finish and have it look good, whereas a paint covers a multitude of sins. A clear finish directly over the wood will NOT lookk good - once rot sets in, you are unlikely to get back a uniform wood surface to clear finish without staining darkly.

Also, there are packets of mold/mildewcide that you can mix into stain or paint to increase its resistance to mold, but I have never seen a brand that can be used in clear finishes.

If the damage is light, then it can be repaired in-place. It took me about 10 hours to do 5 windows over the course of several days (has to dry well after each wet product application) - assembly line, doing all of 1 operation on all the windows, then the next step, etc rather than one window at a time). If you have more than superficial frame damage, then you have to take the unit out and mill or (unlikely after 17 years) buy replacement pieces - can take 4-6 hours/window, assuming you have a fair bit of finish carpentry skill and the shop power tools.

If the rot has seriously damaged the integrity of the window frame, then pieces will have to be replaced. A good millwork company or wood window company (not your local Speedy Glass) can do this, but bear in mind labor cost is high, so repair is likely to cost as much as window replacement, not only because the repair labor is expensive but also because near half the cost is just in removing and replacing the unit - so while it is out, it is much easier to just pop in a new unit and have no mess or fuss with custom work.

Also, a new unit will likely have better thermal properties, which can save you a bit of money - though unless you are in a real cold zone and are replacing single-pane or one-piece metal frames with triple-pane windows with isolated frames, it will probably take 20+ years to recover the cost in energy savings. Bear in mind also that double-hung windows are about the worst from energy efficiency standpoint - because they have to be loose enough to slide, they have enough opening to let a lot of air in.

Of course, you must consider WHY the rot occurred in the first place. If on the outside, then probably due to poor or too infrequent painting, or lack of a protective overhang or roof overhead. If on the inside, assuming there is no staining of interior wall surfaces above or beside the window (which would indicate leakage of rainwater), then is it from condensation on the glass running down into the sill ? That can be an indication of excess interior moisture sources (showers, kitchen cooking without vent fan, house plants), inadequate ventilation, or blinds or curtains covering a cold window which then ices up from the bottom up as moisture in the interior air freezes on the window. The first causes can be remediated by use of or better exhaust fans in bathroom or kitchen, less house plants, etc (see referred to home show websites).

One after-thought - are your double-hung windows installed right side out - the top unit should be in the outside track, so the bottom of it (when closed) overlaps the outside face of the top of the lower unit. I have actually seen houses with ALL double-hung windows installed with the top unit on the inside because it makes them easier to grab and operate, but this makes the top of the lower unit a catch basin for snow and rainwater, which then seeps through the weatherstrip (commonly only felt) and down the inside of the lower unit.

If it is from interior condensation/icing because you live in a very cold region, you can only fully solve that by not closing curtains or blinds so the glass stays well above freezing on the inside, or at least opening all curtains long enough EACH day to evaporate any condensation on the window befoe it starts running down the glass, but that really makes for cold drafts and ruins your energy budget. In that case, vinyl windows (though they can still mold, just don't damage easily) are the most common solution.

The top sash slippage is not a big problem - see video at a home improvement show like This Old House to see how to adjust window sash tension/counterweights, or window contractor can adjust.

Hope this helped some - I would advise taking a few pictures and talking to your local millwork supply company about your problem.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD

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