Opening stuck windows in older homes can be quite a challenge. It is relatively common to find windows in historic homes that have been painted shut. The culprit is usually a lazy painter, or in the case of a recent Victorian Home restoration project, numerous painters who painted multiple coats of paint over the windows over time. This is the worst-case scenario, at best the windows of historic homes are simply stuck from lack of use. In either case, you can follow these five easy steps for opening stuck windows and letting the fresh air in.
Tools Required for Opening Stuck Windows
Before you get started you need to gather the proper tools for the job. You will need an X-Acto Knife or box cutter to cut through the layers of paint. If you plan on spending the entire weekend opening stuck windows, you may want to invest in a Window Zipper Tool like the professionals use. I also like to have a pry bar, putty knife, a block of wood, and a small mallet for stubborn windows, special instructions to follow for these tools.
Step 1: Window Inspection
A close inspection of your windows will reveal if the paint is the root cause of your problem. If you can see a buildup of paint where the window sash meets the frame, proceed to step 2. If the sash seems to be free, your problem may be related to the counterweights. In this case, you should read our article on replacing the sash ropes on historic homes.
Step 2: Cut through the Paint
Using the X-Acto Knife or Window Zipper, carefully cut through the buildup of paint. Cut a straight line where the sash meets the window frame. Care must be taken to avoid cutting into the wood. After you cut through the paint, you can insert a putty knife and drag it along the entire length of the score mark. The putty knife will cut through any paint that has run deep into the gap between the sash and the frame. If you purchase the window zipper, you can accomplish both steps at once.
Step 3: Separate the Upper & Lower Sash
Following the same method discussed in step 2, use the putty knife or window zipper tool to separate the upper and lower sashes. Be sure to unlatch the lock before performing this step. The area of concern is the meeting rail. This is the point where the upper and lower sashes meet when in the fully closed position. It is easy to overlook this area, yet oddly enough it is the most common sections to be painted shut.
Step 4: Free the Outside
All too often, homeowners overlook the paint on the outside of their homes when attempting to free stuck windows. Utilizing the same method, and working safely from a ladder, repeat steps 2 & 3 on the exterior of your home. Don’t forget to cut through the paint on the underside of the parting rail on the outside of the window.
Step 5: Open the Window
With the paint cut you should be able to work the lower sash free. Gently wiggle the window back and forth. Even though you have cut through all of the paint, the window sash may still require a little persuasion to get things moving. This is where the block of wood and small mallet come into play. If you can identify a section of the sash that is still stuck, you can place the block of wood on the sash and gently tap it with the small mallet. Did I say gently? I meant very gently!
You can also use the pry bar to gently push up on the sash from the bottom. Work the pry bar in small increments going back and forth between the lower left and lower right side. Place the wood block under the prybar to protect the sill itself. As you begin to free the lower sash, you can apply a dry lubricant, such as graphite, along the frame rails. Continue to move the sash up and down in small increments until it glides freely to the uppermost position.