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Understanding Single-Hung Windows

Understanding Single-Hung WindowsDepending on the part of the country you live in and the style house you own, you may have either double-hung windows or single-hung windows. These two types of windows can look very similar if you don’t know what to look for, but knowing which you have is important.

The operation of the bottom sash is almost always guaranteed in sash windows, but in a single-hung window, the top sash is stationary. It can be removed easily, but it is not designed to be operable like the bottom sash. In double-hungs, both sash are operable.

You can read a little more on the history and working of a double-hung window in “Why Are There Double-Hung Windows”

Single-Hung Windows

Single-hung windows are more common in older homes (pre-1850s) and colder climates. While the double-hung was the king of the windows in warmer climates, the single-hung was a simple and effective option in northern portions of the country.

In a single-hung window, the bottom sash functions much the same as a double-hung window, sliding up and down vertically in the jamb. Sometimes there is a rope and pulley balance system but more often, single-hung windows use some different balance systems like spring bolts, sash hooks, tape balances, or other simple regional solutions to hold the sash in place when open.

Historic single-hung windows, while simpler than their double-hung cousins, are more varied in their design and mechanics. They may look the same from the street, but often, the working of the window will vary by age and region.

The easiest way to tell if you have a single-hung window is to look below the top sash on the exterior of the window. Double-hung windows will have a small space between the sash and the jamb allowing it to slide up and down. Sometimes that space is caulked or painted over making it difficult to see though.

Single-hung windows usually do not have that small space. They are supported by an, often removable, piece of wood trim that is set into the jamb below the sash to help hold it in place. Sometimes this piece of trim is not as easily removable and it is an integrated part of the jamb. You can see both options in the photos above.

Also, there is often no parting bead on single-hung windows.

Working With Single-Hung Windows

Single-hung windows are much the same as double-hung windows when it comes to repair, removal, and restoration. The bottom sash is held in place by a small piece of trim on the interior side called a stop.

Once the stop is removed, the bottom sash can be raised above the stool and swung inward. Depending on the type of hardware being used to balance the bottom sash, you may have to remove the hardware first if it is in the way or disconnect it from the side of the sash.

Once the bottom sash is out, then often the top sash can be removed very simply (unless an overzealous painter has made you job more difficult).

Window stop block
Notice the stop screwed in place below the top sash. This indicates a temporarily disabled double-hung window.

In certain cases, you may see a simple stop block attached underneath the top sash. Don’t be fooled, this is usually a modification done to a double-hung window when the ropes on the top sash have broken and someone didn’t have the time or knowledge to replace the ropes. It’s a quick fix to keep the top sash from sagging down, NOT a sign that you have single-hung windows.

The repair and restoration of single-hung windows is exactly the same as with double-hung windows. The only real difference is the mechanics that you are dealing with. While they may be different and often times unique they are usually much simpler.

You can learn more about how to restore your windows on my resource page How To: Repair Old Windows.

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14 thoughts on “Understanding Single-Hung Windows

  1. Hi, I’m trying to understand your explanation on the difference between single/double hung windows. I have a 1927 Craftsman style bungalow with 6 over 1 windows. I recently had all the lower window ropes replaced so the windows now stay open but how do I know if they are double hung and the top window has just been painted shut? I was going to use a serrated window opener on the top windows but I thought if they are really single hung and I break that seal, the window will fall. My windows have wavy glass so I want to be careful. Should I be able to see the ropes for the upper and lower window from the inside? Sorry if these are stupid questions but I wasn’t completely clear after reading the blog. Thank you.

  2. I am trying to restore some single hung windows that are in very bad shape. If I have single hung windows, do I still need to take the top sash out using the instructions that Scott has for double hung windows? Or, do I need to scrape, glaze, sand, and paint the windows while it is still on the frame outdoors. Thanks!

  3. I have learned so much about replacing and repairing my windows but what I don’t find his how do I put a fixed top sash back in and hold it in place? I don’t want it to be operable just to stay up and fixed but I can’t seem to find anything about that topic

    1. If it is a single hung window then it should have a backstop below to hold it in place otherwise you can fasten a block of wood under the top sash to hold it in place.

  4. Sorry my previous comment seems unclear to me now.
    To be clear, I need to see how to cut the detail into the FRAME for the
    lower sash to ride on…… I can figure out the sash construction but am unclear on the detail where the top and bottom sash meet so they won’t be drafty.

  5. I ‘d like to make some “mini” s.h. wdws for a camper . Do you know where I can see a plan or method for cutting the side stiles and the meeting rail detail? I plan to downsize the sashes to 3/4 inch thick and make the frame accordingly.

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  8. I’m starting to restore 20 of single hung windows in my home. I’m trying to decide how to decide if the top sash needs to be sealed up when I reinstall it. Seams like typical sealing w/ caulk would be a mistake. Should I put in some sort of weather stripping when reinstalling the sash? If I don’t do anything, won’t air leak around the sash if the fit is loose at all?

    1. If it is a single hung and not a double hung that you are trying to “convert” to a single hung then I fail to see why caulk would be a mistake. You want to leave some route for moisture, typically along the bottom edge outside.

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