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Community and Q&A

Replacing windows with minimal interior damage

ranson | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

We’re going to have 25 or so windows replaced in a 200 year old brick house. I’m looking at the windows, and I’m wondering if/how the windows can be replaced with minimal interior trim damage. The old windows all have exterior lead paint, but no interior lead paint. Ideally, it would be really nice if the window could be replaced from the exterior, so that I don’t have to replace all the trim and don’t bring the lead paint into the living space.

I’ve attached some photos. I’ve got two questions. Could these windows be replaced from the exterior while still appropriately air and water sealing? And if that’s not the best way to go about this, what should I consider?

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  1. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #1

    When you go to buy windows there are two styles, "new" and "replacement." Replacement windows are meant to go into the existing frame. You take out the glass and enough pieces to get to flat surfaces on the side of the window frame, and the replacement window attaches to those surfaces. You end up with a slightly smaller visible area.

    This assumes the existing frame is sealed and flashed properly. On an old house that's not a given, best practices have changed a lot in the past few decades. Although in a brick house it isn't quite as essential.

  2. walta100 | | #2

    I have to ask why do you want to replace your windows. Do they still operate?

    From a dollars and cents point of view you are unlikely to live long enough to save enough to recover the cost of new windows.

    From a green point of view sending old windows to the land fill and creating and installing the new windows seem unlikely to reduce your carbon footprint in the next 40 years.

    From a comfort point of view your current storm window and wood sash is a hard to beat compo.

    Yew the shiny new windows may look better without the storms and be easier to operate for a few years. I have seen many replacement windows that do not look better than the originals and most replacements are low quality plastic and do not operate well for very long.

    With most replacement windows the only thing keeping the rain out is a single bead of caulking and annual maintenance.

    Consider fixing your current windows it is not fashionable today I think a 200 year old house will sell for more money with old wood windows even if they are not original than with new plastic windows.


    1. ranson | | #3

      I think the windows and storms could be repaired fairly easily if we weren't also dealing with lead. However, Massachusetts has strict rules since we're deleading. We're legally required to delead. If we wanted to keep the windows, we would have to remove lead from all wear surfaces and all surfaces where the old paint isn't intact. Both my lead inspector and the first deleader that visited think that this would be a huge cost.

      If someone knows a licensed deleader in MA that can restore the windows at reasonable cost, please let me know.

  3. walta100 | | #4

    You may want to check your local rules but the way I understood the lead rules were very strict when the work was being performed by a contractor and all but non-existent when preformed by the home owner.
    If there are no children living in the home you may want to do the windows as a DIY project.

    You may find this article interesting note the craftsperson in the article is from your state.


    1. ranson | | #6

      The rules for homeowners for deleading (as opposed to lead safe renovation) are pretty strict. There's an 8-hour training course, and even with that, you're not allowed to do "high-risk" deleading like paint scraping, stripping or demolition. It does let you replace windows and doors though. Everything has to be inspected by a licensed lead inspector before and after the deleading is done, and you have to pull a permit with the state lead program.

      (It's all kind of funny because if we didn't need the deleading certificate, the same work could be done by any lead safe certified renovation contractor.)

      I should mention, the windows are not original. They're wood replacements that date back to the 1950s, our home inspector estimates.

  4. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #5

    I agree that in general replacement-style windows are cheap-looking and feeling, it's a compromise.

    Will your locality accept fixing the windows so they can never be opened (AKA screwing them shut?) In new construction it's common to have a lot fewer operating windows than in the old days, one opening window per room is enough if you have HVAC.

    I think we have to have a discussion about window anatomy and exactly what parts you want to keep and what ones you want to discard. From your pictures I can't tell exactly what kind of windows you have, they don't look quite like traditional double-hung windows with sash weights. Here is a picture of the parts of a double hung window:

    In a replacement job you would remove the following parts:
    interior stop
    inner sash
    parting strip
    outer sash

    You also cut the sash cords and let the sash weights fall into the wall. That leaves an opening with flat sides and top, a wooden sill on the bottom and the blind stop to the exterior. A replacement window -- a frame and sashes -- is fitted into that opening against the blind stop and then trimmed on the interior as necessary.

    To go the deleading route I would fix the upper sash so it can't open. Then you only have to worry about the lower sash and the pieces that it contacts. The pieces that it contacts are the interior stops, the parting strips, the side jambs and the sill. Usually the problem with removing the interior stops and parting strips is that they're painted on so if you're stripping the paint anyway removing them should be straightforward. It may be easier to replace the interior stops and parting strips than to strip the paint off of them, around me lumberyards carry replacement pieces for common window types. Often they're just a rectangular piece of straight-grained pine. It sounds like you've already stripped the side jambs and sill. Really it's a question of stripping the exterior of the window.

    And yeah, that's a chore, but it's not impossible if it's what you want to do. Probably it means reglazing all of the windows. There are tricks for making that go faster but it's a job no matter what.

    1. ranson | | #7

      Thanks. That sounds like more work than I can handle, and probably expensive work to have done by a contractor.

      The lead inspector and I both were kind of mystified by the test results, but the interior of the sashes and trim are just lead free. I suspect maybe the windows were originally lead free on all surfaces, but then someone refreshed the exterior with lead paint.

      These are not original windows. My home inspector guesses based on the style that they're replacements from the 1950s.

    2. ranson | | #8

      It sounds like making the window fixed isn't sufficient. I think the rationale is that if it looks like it should open, someone will make it open in the future.

      I don't see stops on the windows. I suspect this has something to do with how they were last replaced. The interior jamb trim seems to block the removal of the sashes. I don't see a way to remove the sashes from the inside without removing the jamb extensions and casings.

  5. ranson | | #9

    If the interior trim prevents me from removing sashes, is it okay to cut off the blind stops and pop the sashes out the exterior? Or would this be a terrible idea for window replacement?

  6. ranson | | #10

    I found out that I can get sashes dip stripped for around $75 each. Now I'm wondering how much it would cost to get the exterior paint stripped by a deleader, and how I could get the sashes out given the lack of removable interior stops.

  7. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #11

    OK, now I'm seeing what kind of window they are. The sashes are hung on springs in metal channels on either side. Usually that type is attached to the springs at the top of the sash and held into the window track at the bottom. If you lift the sash half way you'll see there are latches on the bottom, if you slide them toward the inside it releases the bottom. You can then pull the bottom out and tilt it until the sash is horizontal. From that position if you rotate the entire sash the top will pop loose.

    If that's not it, there is a way to remove those sashes, they just don't make windows that aren't removable otherwise you wouldn't be able to fix the glass if it breaks.

    I would remove them and see if there is paint on anything that they touch. You may also want to look into the cost of just replacing the sashes, especially if you can figure out who the manufacturer was. At $75/sash=$150/window plus the cost of repainting it might be cheaper just to replace them.

    1. ranson | | #12

      I have learned that a fair number of "budget" wood windows of the 20th century were built with non-removable sashes. Apparently if you can't shove the sash to the side and get it to slip out on the other, the only solution is to remove the trim blocking in the jamb inserts and then remove the jamb inserts.

      I'm now wondering if the greenest windows might be long-running lines from bigger manufacturers, where I'm maybe more likely to be able to get replacement hardware and sashes in 20 years, rather than having to scrap the whole window.

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