WINDOWREPAIR .COM, INC.
A TALE OF SPRINGS, STRINGS AND PLASTIC THINGS
PITFALLS OF REPLACEMENT WINDOWS
WHY ALL THE NEW TECHNOLOGY IS ONLY TEMPORARY.
We can repair most makes. An initial visit is necessary to identify the parts needed.
On rare occasions we may actually have them in stock, but there are so many hundreds of kinds
that this is unlikely. For replacement window repairs and installation, we recommend;
Double insulated glass replacement must be performed by glass specialists in their shop. Most jobs can be handled by any local glass shop, the type that also do car windshields. We recommend Solo Glass, (617) 782-7213 in Brighton.
The following is a explanation of why we don't recommend replacing old windows unless absolutely necessary.
The double hung, rope and pulley window is a very simple thing; two cast iron weights total the exact weight of the window sash making it hang weightlessly. Repairs require knowlege of how the window works, but use only common materials available in most hardware stores.
These windows were installed in most houses from approximately 1850 to 1945. After the Second World War, the window was reinvented. It was a time of "progress is our most important product". Progress often meant throwing out everything old and starting over. What happened with windows is that the simple old system of counterweighting with cast iron weights was replaced with spring suspension systems. These systems have been invented and reinvented with various combinations of plastic parts that transfer the springs to the sashes. Every replacement window uses some variation of this basic combination.
A replacement window is any window assembly that was installed to replace a rope and pulley window. They can consist of just two new duplicate sashes and a set of spring-loaded jamb liners or a complete assembly including casing, and exterior trim cladding. All of them depend on suspension systems consisting of various combinations of springs, strings and plastic things. (See illustrations)
Every day, hundreds of them are installed, and hundreds of old wooden single pane sashes are sent to the landfill. This has been going on since 1945, with most of it happening in the last 20 years. So, how have they stood up? Not well, judging by what I've seen in my 15 years of repairing windows.
In the words of an engineer looking at the average replacement window,
"Too many things to go wrong."
And, when things do go wrong, break and fall down, you have a lot more trouble on your hands than if you'd stuck with your old windows.
The problems begin with the double insulated glass. This means there are two panes of glass in each sash. Since glass accounts for most of the weight of windows, you have now doubled the weight of each component. If any of the springs, strings and plastic things should fail, you have a window twice as dangerous as an old one! And, the insulated seals are subject to failure, and when they do they "fog" (develops a white residue which makes the window opaque). The glass must then be replaced, to the tune of $85 to $150!
A spring loaded suspension system has a serious flaw. All the time the window is closed, the springs are at full extension, such as all winter! How long it will take those springs to lose most of their tension depends on the quality of their construction, and the weight of the sash. But lose it they will, sooner or later, and when they do, you'll have a top sash that won't stay up and a bottom that won't open very far. This is not a fun window to live with!
A rule of thumb to keep in mind is that the larger the opening, the more likely you are to have problems with replacement windows. An assembly that works fine in the little demonstrator the salesman brought to show you may work less well in a larger window, since the components are the same, except for spring tension, no matter what the size. As the size of the opening increases, so does the strain on all the springs, strings and plastic things. And so does the friction. All of these replacement window systems were designed to produce a "draft-free" window. Whether or not they actually do is dependent on the quality of the construction and the installation. But one of the ways they do this is to have the sashes ride on some sort of weatherstripping system at their sides. So the bigger the window, the greater the friction. We have seen many cases where the friction was so great it increased the effort necessary to open the window to a level impossible for small, short, or weak people. A case in point was a old school building converted to housing for the elderly. The converting contractor had cleverly put double glass sashes in place of the original ones, then tried to adapt the original weight and pulley system by doubling the weights. This resulted in a system with so much inertia that most of the residents had to call the janitor any time they wanted to open or close their windows!
The result of these factors is that in very large windows, if anything goes wrong the situation can become dangerous. A 75 pound sash is not easy to open after its suspension system has broken. It is also dangerous to tilt. The worst case we've yet to be involved in (but there's still time!), was in an 18th century school building converted to expensive condos in downtown Boston. The openings were over nine feet tall, and recessed into a very thick wall at least a foot. These huge sashes were not working, and in fact the residents had not been able to open them since moving in nearly a year earlier, but couldn't find anyone willing to deal with them. We quickly discovered why. As we tried to tilt the heavy sashes, a step necessary to see what is wrong with the suspension, we were damaging the white painted walls of the recess. We then had to try to deal with the fact that the cam locking system which was supposed to allow the sashes to be removed was broken, because the enormous weight had been too much for the plastic thing involved. Once we got one out, and discovered the problem was in the broken plastic parts, it was even more difficult to get them back in without the cam lock, and more damage to the wall ensued. There are hundreds of different types of these plastic cam locks and we didn't have that particular one in stock so the window had to get re-installed while waiting for parts. Of course the condo owner was upset when he saw the damage and then in a few days found the glass fogging in one of the windeows we'd taken out. This double insulated glass was way past its engineering tolerances at that size, so much so that just handling it broke the seal! This was a no-win situation for everyone concerned, and probably means that we will put a size limit on the replacement windows that we will handle.
And then there's the claims of "energy efficiency" and big savings on your heating bills... what they don't tell you is that this same efficiency and these same savings could usually be obtained with exterior caulking, or new storms, or weatherstripping. (See "Drafts- The Real Story") The fact is that "R-Value" is based on the assumption that each pane of glass is worth one R. Therefore, two panes of glass equal two "R's" whether they are in an old window or a new one! So, if you have a good storm window, and your original windows close and lock, they are worth just as much in "R-Value" as a brand new, double insulated tilt sash window!
When replacement window people claim substantial energy savings, they may be basing them on comparing their window to yours without a storm (an unfair comparison), or on the reduction of infiltration by "cladding" the extrerior trim, which could be duplicated with a tube of caulking! And, double insulated glass does nothing to reduce drafts; only weatherstripping, good storms and caulking do! See The Draft Test.
Here is what you can expect when you let a replacement window salesman into your home, based on testimonials of many of my customers, and what they themselves have told me:
First, they are required to spend a minimum of 2 hours with you, burying you in facts and charts and demonstrations. Just remember the facts; they are comparing your old window as it is, to theirs. What they’re not telling you is that you could make your old one just as energy efficient as theirs.
They have a set of ploys to make you sign a contract- they are not supposed to leave without a check.
And, because you are breathing, they will offer you a sale that is ending tomorrow- so you have a day to decide or you will lose the "bargain".
So if we've explained everything adequately so far you should know that the next time a window replacement company calls you and claims you could "save lots of money" by buying their windows they are, in effect, lying. They are making an unfair comparison, because they are assuming your old windows have no storm and need exterior caulking. If you have a good storm, adequate caulking, and weatherstripping on your original sashes, there would be no difference in the energy losses between your window assembly and theirs! And, what you have will far outlast what they are trying to sell you! They claim their windows are "maintenance free", yet if you restore your old windows, by the time they need maintenance again those plastic windows would be in a landfill!
You could ask them some pertinent questions although it is doubtful that the person on the phone would have the foggiest idea of how to answer them. Regardless, those questions would be, on what comparative R-values are you basing those claimed savings? Your window is worth how many R's and what rate of infiltration? And you are comparing it to an old window in what condition and what values are you giving it? How many years will be the payback time for your windows?
A word about "tilt sashes". You know, how they trumpet you can just tilt them in to clean them? This works fine on the little demonstrator they bring to your house. But now try to imagine tilting in and holding onto a window that is longer than your arm can reach and weighs over fifty pounds! This is what has happened to hundreds of people in old buildings with large windows in the Boston area! Also imagine this fifty pound sash held in place by two little plastic clips, which will be the case with most replacements while tilted for cleaning. It doesn't take a leap of imagination to see that most breakage of components happens while tilting for cleaning.
What the advertisements don't tell you is that replacement windows are much more difficult and expensive to repair than old ones, and there are very few people who will do it. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Windows"- how many pages of window advertising do you see as opposed to how many under "Window Repair"? The parts for these "modern" windows are not available in your local hardware store the way maintenance materials for your old windows were.
We simply ask people to realize that new windows are not automatically better than old ones. There are excellent ones on the market- but you must pay for them. In this business it is truly a matter of you get what you pay for. We have been advertising under window repairs since the early 80's and have seen hundreds of cheap replacement windows at their worst- with broken plastic parts, fogged glass, terrible drafts and falling sashes.
For instance, on a cold day one March, we visited six different homes to give estimates for repair of replacement windows. They were all very nice condos in the Back Bay and Beacon Hill areas of Boston. All had been renovated and fitted with various types of replacement windows.
It was the end of a very difficult winter and we felt sorry for these people as we surveyed what they had been living with: most of their windows were festooned with towels, caulking and plastic, in an effort to stop the drafts that were invading their homes.
In another case an elderly couple had all their windows replaced in two stages, two years apart. When they called their contractor for the second set, he was using a different brand. Three years later parts began failing and glass fogging. They called the contractor, but he was out of business. They were lucky to find our repair service, and lucky that we were able to locate parts.
We've seen countless cases where someone purchased a condo or old house full of replacement windows only to find various problems a short time later, but no record of who made them or installed them. And we've seen too many cases of replacements in converted nineteenth century school buildings where the openings are so huge, that the strings, springs and plastic things were strained beyond their engineering.
How old is your house? Your windows have lasted that long- do you think a plastic window could do as well? When we restore them, we are bringing them back to their original condition (or better!), and since they already lasted for as long as your house has, they could last that long again!
Consider restoring your old windows as a viable option, and compare our prices with what you'd be getting in both cases. Give us a call, and allow us to give you the information that will allow you to make an informed choice.