There's nothing quite like owning a home with history, made with the solid construction of eras gone by. The solid oak of the walls and hardwood floors, the architecture that took style into consideration as much as substance, and all too often, timberframe sash windows that herald back to the elegance and style of another age. Unfortunately old homes have their own host of problems, sometimes caused by settling, and sometimes just from the wear and tear of the passage of time.
Timberframe sash windows can be some of the most common problems that an antique home owner will have to face. When working properly they can be nearly as energy efficient as modern windows, when things are quite well maintained, a number of problems can present themselves. Sash Windows that haven't been maintained can rattle in their frames, let drafts come into the home, or have counterweight strings that need replacing. Thankfully, these old windows tend to be fairly simple to repair with a little bit of guidance. There's a few steps to find out if it's going to be a simple repair, or something more complex.
When the window is in overall good shape, which is often the case when you simply need to rehang the counterweights in the frame. These panels are typically identifiable as a rectangular piece marked out in the side of the frame. This panel will generally be found fit into the side of the window, and will be just large enough to access the weights themselves. These do not exist in every case, but it's certainly the first thing you want to look for. Don't fret if your initial investigation doesn't turn one up, especially if it's been repainted, sometimes you might have to dig around a little for them. Be cautious when trying to remove them, you might want to check for screws.
If your work is a little more intensive then simply replacing the weights and strings, or if there's no knock-out panel, you're going to have to go a little deeper. You'll want to grab yourself some kind of sharp implement, often a box cutter will serve best, and use it to clear away any paint or caulk from around the window. After this you'll want to carefully remove the trim and sash, prying carefully so as not to crack, split, or break them. Be sure to mark them as you remove them, to prevent yourself from having any trouble resetting them.
When you get down beneath the surface, you're bound to find that the house has settled and the frame is no longer square. Since you've already got it open, it's time to invest in some shims and a little time to square up the frame, helping everything to seat properly. Squaring the frame will help the window slide smoothly and keep the breezes from getting in. Sometimes you may have to go a bit beyond shims and use lattice strips to help square things out.
While you've already got everything opened up, make sure to give everything a good cleaning. Getting rid of old caulk, nails, screws, broken grass, and the rest of the detritus will make sure that everything is ready to go back in square and clean. If there are only a couple coats of paint and it's in good condition, there's no need to clean it away. Before you put everything back together, be sure to sand things down and get it looking as close to new construction as possible.
At this point you're ready to fix up the glass, replace the weight and strings, and putting the window back into it's fitting good as new. Once you've got it all back in place, you're going to need to make sure you've caulked it all down, sealed up the windows properly, and applied paint where you want it.
This is just a basic overview of how to break down old windows, get them square, and set them back in again. If there's more than just replacing the weights you're looking to do, you're going to want to look into a more complete guide on the repairs. But this is a good way to get things straightened out and clean again, if no major repairs are needed.