How to Fix a Stuck Window

  • Replacement Windows
  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, old windows have their charm but they also have their maintenance headaches.

    TOM: One of which is how to get them moving again if they get stuck. With us to How to Fix a Stuck Windowtalk through the step-by-step solution is Tom Silva, the general contractor on TV’s This Old House.

    Hi, Tommy.

    TOM SILVA: Hi, guys. How are you?

    TOM: So, it’s hard to paint a window, sometimes, without it getting stuck. And the adhesive quality of paint is something, really, to behold.

    TOM SILVA: Boy, it sure is. And once that window’s stuck, getting it free can be a challenge.

    TOM: So, where you do – what do you do? How do you approach this? Because you want to get it moving and you don’t want to break the glass.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, you definitely don’t want to break the glass. You don’t want to hit the sash, around the perimeter, with a hammer because just by hitting the wood …

    LESLIE: You don’t?

    TOM SILVA: No. Well, just by hitting the wood, you could break the glass. But a 5-in-1 tool is a great tool to have. It’s a stiff knife. Also, I’ve used drywall knives or wide putty knives. They work great. And they also have a thing called a “sash saw.”

    TOM: A sash saw. OK.

    TOM SILVA: A sash saw is a little, tinny saw with a little, black handle. It looks like a heart.

    TOM: OK.

    TOM SILVA: What you do is you place the sash saw flat against the surface of the sash and you run it down where the stop bead meets the sash.

    TOM: OK.

    TOM SILVA: When you pull, it’ll cut through the paint. Just go back and forth so it’s almost like a file. It opens up that joint. You can go across the bottom where the stool meets the sash and up the other side.

    TOM: So you – basically, you’ve got to get that opened up on the inside. Do you also do it from the outside, as well? From both sides?

    TOM SILVA: Yep. In some cases, you’re going to have to do it from the outside, too. Because they’ve painted the meeting or the parting bead into the sash, also.

    LESLIE: So once you’ve done your vertical, sort of, parts of the sash, what do you do on that bottom horizontal edge between the sash and the sill? Because that gets stuck, too.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. Well, again, the sash saw will run in there. If you can’t get the sash saw in there, a putting knife – a stiff one – or even a drywall knife works good. You just tap it in gently with your hammer and move it along. And you’ll actually feel the window pop away from the paint when you’re real close to finishing.

    TOM: Now, one mistake, I think, that a lot of times homeowners make is they try to take their hands and sort of drive that window up by pushing the upper rail of the sash. And that can actually pull that whole sash apart.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. And you can actually break the glass and you’ll cut your wrist, so you’ve got to be really careful by doing that.

    TOM: Bad idea.

    TOM SILVA: Wear gloves – a good pair of gloves – when you’re doing it. Gloves with a cuff on it is always important.

    What I like to do is I’ll take a narrow or a thin flat bar and I’ll take it outside, get on the window sill and have two of them, one on each side of the stiles of the window. You don’t want to be in the middle and putting any pressure. And then you just gently tap it in on each side and the window should come up gently. But you’ve got to work it easily, take your time, because the glass will crack.

    LESLIE: And you’ve got to think that this is occurring because you’ve been painting a lot over years. So we’re probably looking at, potentially, lead-based paints. I mean you’ve got to be careful with this.

    TOM SILVA: If you’re worrying about lead paint, you’ve really got to think about a HEPA vac, you’ve got to think about protecting yourself. You’ve got to make sure you use a P100 or an N100 respirator. You want to make sure that you cover your skin around. Again, gloves. It’s important. You’ve just got to be careful with lead paint.

    TOM: Safety counts.

    Now, once you get this window moving again, you pick it up and you find that, uh oh, it falls down. It completely slams shut because the weights are broken.

    TOM SILVA: Mm-hmm. Yeah, they’re cut in the lines.

    TOM: But now you’ve got yourself into a whole ‘nother scenario (inaudible at 0:24:05).

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. Well, now you’ve got to take the sash out, alright? So then you’ve got to get to your screws that are holding your stop beads into place. You get those free, you cut those out and then you can pull the bottom sash out.

    If the upper sash needs to have sash cords, also, then you have to break the pane away from that window to make that operate, get the stop bead out or the parting bead out.

    TOM: Right.

    TOM SILVA: That’s a little piece of wood that you can pop that out. And then you can pull the top sash out. Once you have it out, you’ll see there are little doors on each side that there’s one screw holding each one in. You take the screws out, you pull the boards out and you can then see the window weights.

    TOM: And you’ll probably find it right there in the bottom of that part of the wall cavity, if you’re lucky, right?

    TOM SILVA: Yep. And it’s usually behind the lower sash.

    So once you get that out, you take the window weights out, you take the old cords out, get everything out of the way, get it cleaned up. Now, the next thing you want to do is you want to take a pencil and you want to mark on each face of the sash the location of the holes that are in the sides of the sash.

    TOM: OK.

    TOM SILVA: And they’re probably 6 or 7 inches down. But just have a little reference. You could do it with a piece of painter’s tape. Mark that location.

    Alright. Now, push the sash away. Now you’re going to take and you’re going to push the cord down the pulley until you can get the cord with your hand. Tie it to the weight and push it back into the opening. Two on each side if you’re doing the upper and the lower.

    LESLIE: Has sash cord advanced at all over the years or is it still strictly like a cotton …

    TOM: Cotton rope?

    LESLIE: Yeah, cotton rope?

    TOM SILVA: Pretty much cotton clothesline, you know. A good one – you didn’t have to use a sash chain that they – brass or gold color. And they’re a little noisier but people liked them because they were original and they want to use those, also.

    TOM: Alright. So we freed up the sashes, we fixed the weights if they dropped. What about the replacement jambs that sort of are spring-loaded, if you don’t want to go through the trouble of having to find those weights again?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah.

    TOM: What do you think of those? Do they work?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, they do work. They call them “spring balancers.” There’s one that’s aluminum or vinyl. Some of them have a padding on them that’s – basically, it becomes a compression-balance system. And that’s also an insulator, also.

    The benefit to using those are you don’t have to worry about the pulleys, you don’t have to worry about the cords. My suggestion, in that case, would be take the pulleys off, take the weights out, fill the cavities with insulation.

    TOM: Ah, good point.

    LESLIE: Yeah.

    TOM SILVA: If you’re going to fill the cavity with insulation, it’s tricky but you’ve got to get it in there so it’s nice and tight. You can actually blow it in. If you wanted to rent a cellulose machine, you could blow in …

    LESLIE: But not an expandable foam?

    TOM SILVA: You’ve got to be careful with expandable foam. I’ve used expandable foam lots of times. It’s got be open-cell and you’ve got to know what you’re doing. You’ve got to make sure that you not only insulate the two sides, you’ve got to insulate across the top and underneath the sill. Because if you have an old window, you have a space there that’s probably 2½ to 3 inches wide across each side, 3 inches across the top and probably 3 inches across the bottom. That’s where a lot of your air is leaking.

    TOM: You know what I love about this project? It’s one that can take 15 minutes or a whole weekend.

    TOM SILVA: A whole weekend, absolutely. Yeah, yeah, no doubt.

    TOM: You never know what you’re going to find when you’re working in an old house.

    TOM SILVA: If you – but if you’re going to use a compression balancer, one with a foam on it, you may have to plane your windows down just a little bit or cut them on a table saw, just a little bit, to make up for that. You just don’t want to take too much off, because you want the windows to fit in that opening snug.

    TOM: Make it two weekends.

    LESLIE: Right.

    TOM SILVA: Right?

    TOM: Tom Silva from TV’s This Old House, great advice. Thank you so much for helping us free up our windows once again.

    TOM SILVA: Always a pleasure to be here.

    LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit

    TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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