Q: On one side of the house, I have old-style wood windows with the lead counterweight on a rope. They were painted closed decades ago. I am planning to replace them with vinyl windows. When I did this in a previous house, the contractor pulled out the old aluminum windows and dropped the new vinyl ones right in. But with all the extra wood for the old window guides, I don’t see how it will be done and not look really bad from the inside.

These windows cost a lot by themselves, and I am concerned that I will also have to factor in the cost of reframing the window to remove all the old window guides. How does this all work?

A: Good decision to replace the old wooden double-hungs. Even painted shut, they’re an energy disaster. The ones that are operational are worse. They leak air like a sieve.

Replacing those antiques with energy-efficient models will certainly show on your winter utility bills. And if you go with a low-emissivity (Low-E) coating on the glass on the south and west sides of the house, you’ll reduce the heating effects of the summer sun.

These coatings help control heat transfer through windows with insulated glazing. Low-E coating is a microscopically thin and virtually invisible metal or metallic oxide layer deposited directly on the surface of one or more panes of glass. The low-E coating reduces the infrared radiation from a warm pane of glass to a cooler pane.

Installing vinyl replacement windows is a fairly simple matter and should look just fine once the job is done. The old wood windows are constructed with an upper sash and a lower sash that is separated by a wood parting bead. Both sashes are designed to move in two tracks created by the parting bead, inside stops and outside stops. The inside stops and the parting bead are removable. The outside stop, however, is not, and will become a support for the new window.

Once these parts are removed, the opening is a flat rectangle. The vinyl replacement window fits neatly in the hole without any of the outside trim having to be removed.

The first step in installing the replacement window is to carefully measure the length and width of each opening. Do not assume the opening is square. Raise the lower sash and measure the distance between the side jambs in three spots: near the head jamb, at the base, and near the middle of the window. Record the shortest horizontal measurement.

Next, measure the height of the opening at each side jamb and in the center. Record the shortest vertical measurement. These two figures are the size of the replacement window.

Now you’ll need to take apart the old window. To remove the wood sashes, first remove one of the inside stops. These are the wood pieces that create the channel in which the sash moves. With a utility knife, score the joint between the stop and the jamb.

Gently work a thin putty knife into the joint. Start at the bottom of the stop and loosen it. Once the putty knife is in the joint, insert a thin pry bar in the opening and work the putty knife up the jamb. Slowly work the putty knife and the bar up the stop until the stop can be removed. Go gently because the object is to save the stop so you can use it again.

With the stop off, pull the bottom sash out of the channel. Since the windows are painted shut, you probably will have to loosen the sash with a putty knife. Once the sash is out of the channel, you’ll see where the sash cord is attached to the sash. Firmly grasp the sash cord and cut it. Slowly lower the weight and stuff the cord over the pulley and into the pocket. Repeat with the cord on the other side.

Next, remove the parting beads. Since you don’t have to try to salvage them, a hammer and wood chisel are the tools of choice. Finally, remove the upper sash in the same way as the lower sash. Remove the pulleys from each side of the jamb, leaving a flat surface for the new windows. The final step is to squirt a little expanding foam insulation in the hole left by the pulleys. Stuff some newspaper in the hole, squirt in the foam and let it dry. Some will probably ooze out the pulley hole. If that happens, scrape it flat with a stiff putty knife after it has dried.

The final step is to tilt the new window into place. Lay a bead of caulk against the outside stops. Place the window. The window should be centered and square in the opening. The window has predrilled holes in the side of the frame. Shim the frame snugly to the jamb and screw it to the jambs. Replace the inside stops you so carefully removed and caulk and paint. Finally, from the outside, run a thin bead of caulk around the outside of the window frame. That’s it.

For more information on this process, go here.


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