The windows in a house are designed to bring sunshine and fresh air inside. Unfortunately, in some homes, windows have broken glass panes and rotted wood, or they rattle like a bag of bones and let in cold drafts. Although they differ in design, basic maintenance is the same for all types of windows. By figuring out how your windows are supposed to work, you can keep them in tiptop shape and detect problems before they become serious.
What's your style?
Not all windows look and work alike. Some slide, crank or swing open and closed; others, such as picture windows, have no working parts. The window frame, which encloses all the basic parts of the window, may be made of wood, vinyl, or metal. Wooden window frames require painting, but those made of vinyl or aluminum are nearly maintenance free. Because metal conducts cold, wood windows are preferred in climates with cold winters.
The most popular window style is the double-hung window, shown in Figure 1. Double-hung windows have an upper and a lower sash (the inner frame that holds the glass panes in place) that move vertically in separate channels. The sashes are separated by a small piece of wood called a parting strip. The upper and lower sashes have meeting rails — that is, the top rail of the bottom sash and the bottom rail of the upper sash meet and are slanted and weatherstripped to form a tight seal between the rails. A locking mechanism secures the sashes together at the two parting rails to create a tight seal and to minimize air infiltration and heat loss.
Figure 1: Although windows differ in design, basic maintenance is the same for all types.
Other common window styles, shown in Figure 1, include the following:
- Casement windows have hinges on one side of the sash and swing outward when you activate a lever or crank. Because the entire casement sash swings outward, these kinds of windows provide full ventilation and unobstructed views. Casement windows are easy to open, so they're commonly used where humidity or heat can build up, such as above kitchen sinks, in bathrooms, and on walls that connect to porches.
- Sliding windows open horizontally and bypass each other in separate tracks mounted on the header jamb and sill.
- Awning windows are hinged at the top and swing outward via a crank or lever.
- Hopper windows are hinged at the bottom and swing inward.
- Jalousie windows are made of a series of horizontal glass slats that are joined so that all the glass slats open or close together when the crank is turned. The drawback to jalousie windows is that the cracks between the slats offer an avenue for air infiltration.
At least once a year, put together a maintenance kit and inspect, lubricate and clean each window. Window duty isn't a particularly pleasant way to spend a weekend, but annual maintenance adds years to the life of your windows. Be sure that your maintenance kit includes the following items:
- A small paintbrush for cleaning dirt and debris from the window channels
- A handheld, battery-powered vacuum for sucking up loose dirt
- A roll of paper towels
- An aerosol can of spray lubricant, such as WD-40, for lubricating channels and locks
- A selection of both Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers for tightening any loose screws
First, open the window and use a hand vacuum or small paintbrush to clean the debris from the windowsill. Then wet a paper towel and wipe down the sill to remove any residual dust.
Inspect the window unit for any loose hardware. Metal window channels or guides are attached to the side frames via small brads or screws. Renail or tighten loose guides. Check the window locks to be sure that screws are tight: If they aren't, retighten them. Lubricate the locks with a shot of spray lubricant.
If window locks are fouled with paint, remove the locks and soak them in paint remover; then clean, polish, lubricate, and replace the hardware. Use paper towels to wipe away any excess lubricant.
Modern, double-hung windows don't have ropes and sash weights the way older model windows do. Instead, the sashes travel vertically in metal channels that are positioned on either side of the window. The channel on one side is spring-loaded, and the spring tension holds the window in position. But when you move the window sash to the middle of the frame and then pull sharply to the spring-loaded side, the sashes slip out of the frame easily, ready for repair or cleaning. This easy-access feature has been available on double-hung windows for several decades. To check your windows, press against the metal channel on both sides of the frame. If one side yields to hand pressure, your window sash can be snapped out of the frame. Use graphite or any other dry lubricant to grease the metal window channels in double-hung windows.
- Casement or awning windows are operated with a crank or lever. The windows open via an arm, which may be a single linkage arm, double sliding arms, or a scissors arm. By opening the windows fully, you can disengage the arm from the track, which permits you to lubricate the arm and track or to free the window sash for easier washing.
If you have casement windows that are hinged on one side and swing out via levers or crank handles, open the windows fully and use spray lubricant to oil the hardware, including the crank or lever, the hinges, and the lock.
With the arm disengaged, you can also service the operator mechanism. Check the owners' manual provided with the windows for instructions on removing the cranking mechanism cover. Of course, owners' manuals, like able-bodied teenagers, have a way of disappearing when you need them. If you can't find the official instructions, look for a couple of screws on the housing cover to which the crank or lever is attached and remove them. Lift off the cover, apply a bit of light grease to the crank gears or opening levers, and then replace the cover.
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