How To: Open Stuck Windows in 4 Easy Steps

Historic WindowIf your house is old enough to have needed a new paint job in its life then you might have a couple windows that have been painted shut. If your house is as old as mine (1929) you’d be lucky to find a window that still opens. Over the years numerous coats of paint by lazy painters have typically sealed shut most windows on a historic home. But you don’t have to live with that anymore. If it’s just a few coats of paint standing between you and some fresh air then I can show you how to get things moving again.

The Tools

You’ll need a putty knife and a box cutter (razor knife), or a Window Zipper (If you’re planning to work on more than a couple windows you’ll want to get one of these tools. They make cutting the windows open a million times easier).

Check sash cordsStep #1 Inspect

To determine if it is paint that’s the cause of your problems we’ll need to check a few things. First, make sure the sash cords are still in working order. Pull on them to see if they are still attached to the sash weights in their pockets. If the pulleys turn and you can feel the tension from the sash weights then you’re probably in good shape. If the cords are missing or they are no longer attached to the weights then you’ll need to follow a more involved process which I’ll be outlining next week right here. So stay tuned!

 

 

 

Cut Int paintStep #2 Free The Interior

Most old windows have been painted shut on both the exterior and interior, so let’s start with the interior. Be very careful not to cut yourself or gouge the wood while cutting the windows open. Use the razor blade to draw a straight line between the sash and window stops on both sides. Then push your putty knife into the space along the line to gently break the bond. If you’re using a window zipper simply cut this line in one step. Split meeting railNext do the same at the meeting rail (where the top and bottom sash meet when in the closed position) you’ll need to have the sash lock unlocked in order to separate the two sashes.

 

Cut Ext paint

Step #3 Free The Exterior

Do the same thing as the interior except this time you’ll be cutting between the sash and the parting bead which is the square trim piece just outside of the sash. Then move on to the underside of the meeting rail. After that don’t forget to cut the paint and use your putty knife at the bottom of the sash where it meets the window sill like in the picture at the top of the post.

 

 

 

 

Open windowStep #4 Open Your Window

Now head back inside and slowly try to wiggle the window open. Even if you have cut all the paint out of the seams the window will most likely be very stubborn. *Don’t be too rough on the window! You may break the glass or bust the mortise and tenon joints that hold the frame together. It will take some elbow grease, but you should not be straining to make it open. If it is still stubborn keep using your putty knife to clean out the remaining paint. Once you get it moving a bit, gently keep opening and closing the window. It will continue to slide easier and easier. If you need to you can also add some dry lubricant like a graphite spray to help things move a little smoother. Now you can enjoy a little fresh air all thanks to your own effort and at no cost!

 

Here’s some other posts about windows you might find useful:

All About Historic Windows

Preserving Historic Windows

How To: Restring Old Windows

How To: Glaze Old Windows {Video Tutorial}

 

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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and author. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and son Charley.

http://www.austinhomerestorations.com

32 comments

  1. Pkumar on said:

    Great post and very informative. Window cleaners are often confronted with this problem of stuck windows. most of the time, they just move on without trying to fix it. But these tips definitely help if you want to try and open so you can clean them. Thanks for the info!

  2. Maggie on said:

    I just purchased a 1929 Bungalow with a couple modern updates but all original windows are still in place. This was a great tutorial on how to free them from the layers and layers of heavy thick paint that previous owners applied. Everyone is telling me to update them to vinyl but I can’t and won’t part with them. Only two have broken cords which I plan on replacing myself. Will be reading everything you have on this website.

  3. Paulina on said:

    Hi just found your very informative site while trying to make my 1935 homes windows operable again. Was thinking they were just painted shut but then thought maybe they were also missing pulleys. One window (over kitchen sink) has visible pulleys still attached to weights but all the other tall double hung windows in house do not. They all do have spring locks that it appears you would have to pull in on both sides of the window while sliding up, until they lock into a hole that only exists on the right side of the frame higher up. Do these types of windows require pulleys too that are missing, or no?
    Slicing through the paint on the inside of the windows hasn’t allowed the windows to open yet. But haven’t had a chance to remove the aluminum screen windows that have been placed over all the exterior, so that I can slice through the exterior paint, but it appears it will be necessary to get any of these windows working again!
    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

    • The spring locks are usually used in place of pulleys so once the paint is all cut free you should be able to pull the springs inward and operate the window.

  4. Robert Miley on said:

    Hi,
    I have a home built in 1833, and I am trying to get the window to stay open without propping it up. I don’t see any cords or pulleys on these windows? Any suggestions?

  5. Pat on said:

    Moved yo a house where the windows have been sealed shut with furniture glue How can I get them opened Please

    • No trick to it other than a lot of elbow grease and the steps I talk about here. One tip, if you can is to maybe try steam to soften the glue.

  6. elaine on said:

    Dear Scott,
    I have casement windows that roll out. One window i am unable to open. It is not painted stuck, my house is brick. This is a picture window made up of 4 windows, the windows on each end are able to open. Only one does. The screen which fits on the inside of the window no longer fits. Is this due to house settlement or the wood window frame warping? Can thisbe fixed?

    • Elaine, it could be either settling or warping of the wood. The simplest solution is to pry the window open and plane down the sides that are too large to fit anymore until you get smooth operation back.. No trick to it just trial and error until you find the right fit.

  7. M. Jaye on said:

    I have an issue. I was using Flex Seal where the glass met the metal on the sliding door while it was open. Somehow the door itself is stuck…..closed. How can I pry the door open?

    • I’m not familiar with Flex Seal. Sorry I can’t be of help.

    • Aly on said:

      When ever you use any spray mastic or anything like Flex Seal ALWAYS ALWAYS mask off what you don’t want it to get on.
      If it is a wooden door remove stops and use a window zipper to attempt to release the door from the glue like substance. If that doesn’t work, I am lost as to how to open your door without taking it apart totally. But when you figure it out, post your method here and on the Flex Seal site. It’s great stuff, but you have to be very careful not to let the item you have sprayed touch anything else for some time. I have a newly ‘Sealed’ plastic watering can that is now a permanent planter on my patio.

      • Aly on said:

        I reread your post and see that it is metal. If you have a small pry bar (adding padding), very carefully pry slightly along the length of the door. It may not be stuck the full length.

  8. Traci Ellis on said:

    I have a few push out windows that appear to have some kind of plaster on them on the out side of the window which prevents the window from opening out. What can I use to open them without damaging the wood frame and be able to take advantage of the window or replacing it?

    • It’s hard to tell what you’re dealing with here. Send me a picture at Scott @ thecraftsmanblog.com and I’ll see what I can do.

  9. Alex on said:

    I live in a tenement flat and so can’t get out to free the exterior. Is there a way that I can try to do this from the inside?

    • Alex it depends on how much paint is on the outside. You might be able to, but it usually requires access to the outside where the bulk of the paint and caulk has been applied.

    • AlexB on said:

      In a tenement, you need to look at freeing up the parting bead to work the top sash free from the inside. They’re only held in by friction and paint. With the parting beads removed you can pull the lower edge of the top sash towards you, which along with cutting paint from the inside and parts you can safely reach outside, is often enough to free it up.
      You’ll need to remove one of the staff beads and bring the lower sash in first. This is often made easier if it is already fitted with ‘simplex’ hinges and releases for cleaning, e.g. in Scotland.
      Parting beads can be brittle. People often factor on replacing them. If your tenement is ~1860s or later they are usually a standard size and you can buy modern ones with draft excluding brushes easily.
      Once the lower sash and parting beads are removed, you will be able to open the sash pockets on the side, and check that the sash weights for the top sash are still attached. If neither weight is attached, hanging from a cord in the pockets for the top sash (i.e. not the weight directly inside the pocket, but the one beyond that towards the outside world) then you will need to free the top sash with great care to stop it falling and damaging you or the window.

  10. noreen dygert on said:

    my problem is a push out window I am trying a similar effort such as yours tonite I have tried silicone now I am trying WD 40 This window has been fine since I moved here 4 years ago I painted outside windows last summer

  11. Alice on said:

    Works great! Thank you. I had tried a putty knife alone before on our crank-out windows, with no luck. Thank you for the box-cutter idea, along with the pic of the right one.

  12. Hi Scott,

    The weight pockets were very hard to open. I found this post and understood why! http://mnwindowrestoration.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/open-weight-pocket-door-from-top/
    The kerfs were made when the jamb was in place and the cuts were not completely clean. I used a hammer and putty knife to seperatel the wood on the vertical kerf as well on the horizontal kerfs. I needed a few size flathead screwdrivers, awls and a mini crow bar to crack them open. A mega pain but finally repaired 2 window sash cords and they are back to working order ! :)

    • They are often only partially cut thru Kelly, but sometimes they are a royal pain like in your case. Way to get it done!

  13. Kelly Starr on said:

    Hi Scott, my husband and I own a 1921 Craftsman which has every single original window. I’ve begin to restore and repair the ones that have broken sash cords etc. One thing is I can’t seem to open the weight pocket once the stops and sash are removed. Do you have any tips or tricks on how to pop the wooden door open? Thanks :-)

    • Kelly, the pocket doors are going to be either screwed into place or occasionally the are nailed. Remove the screw if it is present and then you’ll have to pry the door open. The doors weren’t always cut all the way thru so it sometimes require some muscle to pry it off the first time. And remember each door is unique and will only fit back where it came from. Be careful not to mix them up! Good luck!

  14. Charles on said:

    This window likely has lead-based paint. Be safe and follow epa.gov/lead instructions so you don’t poison pregnant women, kids or pets with toxic dust or vapors.

  15. Jennifer Santos on said:

    Well it sure helps to know how to open up those paint sealed windows. A friend of mine had to hire professionals to do all of these for her but it sounds pretty simple so thanks for the tips. Nothing can enhance a home more than having pretty windows that you can actually use.

    • Jennifer – Glad to help! Yeah, if you’ve got a DIY spirit you can tackle most of the smaller historic window repairs on your own. Which is probably best because unless you find a historical specialist in your area most contractors don’t have a clue what to do with these windows. Send us some pictures when you finish!

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