Help! My window is stuck! Now What?
Homeowners repeatedly ask questions about their existing windows, and the majority of the more acute and immediate questions, are regarding windows that simply will not operate.
There are a number of issues that could cause your windows to be stuck in the open or closed position, or simply not work. It really doesn’t matter whether the window is a single or double hung a casement, slider, etc.
Summarized below are the most frequent reasons that cause issues with operation.
- Painted shut / Probably the most common issue, is that the window is painted shut. It is a rare instance unfortunately when a painter that has been contracted to paint, either the interior of the exterior of the home, actually goes around the house and ensures that the windows are not painted shut. The easiest method for freeing the window, if it is painted shut, is to run the blade of a utility knife along the interface between the operational leaf of the window and the frame. This situation can occur on all types of windows, and if the entire perimeter of the sash to frame interface is painted shut, the inability to break this bond is extremely difficult.
Be careful as you move the utility knife along the perimeter of the operational leaf of the window. In many instances the force required to actually cut the paint, between the leaf and the frame, is considerable, and the chances of slipping is high. If the blade slips, it can mark the face of the window or slip and cut your own hand.
Another method that could be required is to impact the actual operable leaf with a hammer. Make sure to distribute the force along the operable leaf, by placing a length of 2X4 along the frame that you are exerting the blow from the hammer on. DO NOT simply hammer the frame, you will mark the frame and could crack the glazing on the window. With the blow being distributed along the length of the 2X4, you are less likely to damage the window. In many cases, the actual impact from the hammer will break the paint seal around the operable window, which has caused the bonding of the frame and the sash.
- Jammed, due to an out of square frame and operable leaf. If the window has not been installed correctly, there is a good possibility that the operable leaf has simply jammed or racked within the frame itself. Or if during the past operation of the window, an incident occurred that caused the frame and the operable leaf to shift out of line. The solution to this problem is a little more complicated than merely breaking the bond caused by over painting. If the operable leaf is jammed within the frame, the removal of the perimeter trim on the window might be required to actually reposition the frame, and free up the operable sash.
Prior to removing the window trim and ruining the aesthetic appearance of the window unit, try to identify the area of the window unit that appears to be racked (the term racked, means out of alignment) or jammed. This is usually possible to determine, by visually examining the entire perimeter of the window unit. What you are looking for is an unequal space between the actual operable leaf and the window frame. If the frame is out of square, or the sash has become racked, there should be a visual identification of an unequal spacing between the frame and the operable leaf. Once this area is located, the correction of this situation is to return the window unit to the most accurate, in square assembly, as possible. This is accomplished by racking the operable leaf, or even the frame itself, with a focused blow from a hammer. Like the distribution of the hammer blow to break the bond caused by the paint, the blow from the hammer to straighten, either the frame or the operable leaf, should be distributed over a large surface. Recommended to achieve this distribution is once again, the use of a 2X4 to distribute this blow. However, the 2X4 in this case is used in the vertical position, with the end of the 2X4 positioned against the frame or operable sash in a location that will, hopefully re-align the window to allow opening or closing. This is a tricky situation, and care must be taken to tap the end of the 2X4 several times to attempt to re-establish the in square orientation of the window unit. Be extremely careful that the blows are small and controlled; damage to the actual glazing of the window unit is easily done, with this attempt to re-align the window.
If this does not correct the situation, and you are sure that the window is not simply painted shut, then the window trim must be removed. Once the window trim is removed, the actual attachment of the window frame to the buildings framing must be evaluated. If the connection is achieved with nails or screws, the easiest method of freeing the frame from the actual home framing, is to cut the fastener with a reciprocating metal blade.
- Broken operating mechanisms. There is a possibility that the window unit’s operating hardware has failed within the frame itself. If this is the case, it is suggested that the window sash or operating leaf be removed from the frame. If the window unit is a single or double hung window, the removal of the window sash or operable leaf, could be achieved by pulling out the top of the operable unit, and separating the sash from the frame. In some windows, the actual window jamb can be pushed into the sides of the frame, to establish the room to remove the operable leaf of the window unit. In most cases, the only method of correcting broken hardware is to remove the hardware and replace. There are very few situations where the hardware has failed and is repairable without replacement.
- The OBVIOUS. I have been asked questions regarding the failed operation of window units, and in many instances, it is nothing, but the inability to understand the locking mechanisms of the window. In most situations, the locking mechanism of the window unit is a cam type lock, which swivels around to engage a locking strike plate, attached to the frame of the window. Make sure the window is FULLY unlocked, and if there are two sash locks, make sure both are unlocked. In addition, on many window units, there are various means of child proofing. In many cases, there are actual stops on the side jambs of the window, which limits the ability to open or close the window. Make sure that these child proof pieces of hardware are not interfering with the windows operation. Take your time when evaluating the window unit, especially if you are unfamiliar with the specific operation of the unit. Each type of window has a different method of locking and protection and the understanding of the window hardware is essential to the proper operation of the window unit.
- Casement obstacles. As we have noted, in other webpages within this website, a casement window that swings out or even in, must have room to swing. The improper placement of a piece of exterior furniture or even the installation of new shutters, etc. could limit the operation of a casement window. Although this sounds like a common sense issue with the casement operation, you would be surprised at the number of inoperable casement windows that are simply, not free to swing open.
- Old, never used. If the window is an old window, and has not been operated for several years, there is a possibility that the operating leaf of the window, has basically attached itself to the frame. This can occur if the windows are constantly wet, or moisture is constantly present between the window frame and the operable leaf. Time has a tendency to adhere wood together, if it is not properly maintained and the windows have not been used. The wood has not literally joined, however the buildup of dirt, mold, as well as deterioration, may have caused the operable leaf to stick to the frame.
The same procedures that are recommended for painted shut windows should be used to attempt to free up this type of window. If you are successful in freeing up the operable leaf from the frame, I strongly recommend that the interface between the two, be cleaned and repainted to ensure that this interface does not bind up again.
In general, once the windows are operational, clean all of the interfaces between the operable leaf and the frames. I recommend the use of a good paste wax be applied, once the entire window is freed up. Cleaning, repainting and the application of a good bond breaker or waxy sliding material, will ensure that you are not back attempting to open the same window, in several months.
If you are having your home painted, whether interior or exterior, make sure that part of the scope of work for the painter, is the ensuring that all windows and doors operate properly. This is important, due to the fact that second and third floor windows are not readily available for the home owner to work on. In addition, this should be the responsibility of the contractor to ensure that all windows and doors are operational. The painting shut of windows and doors, is a very common occurrence, and can be easily remedied by knowledgeable homeowners who hold the final payment, until all windows and doors are operational. Remember, money is the primary catalyst to obtaining a good and thorough job. Hold the money, until you are satisfied!
If you are purchasing an existing home, take the time to investigate the operation of all of the windows and doors. Make a detailed schedule, that identifies any issues or concerns, and make the correction of any issues, a part of the requirements of closing on the home. It is extremely frustrating to purchase an existing home, and find out that half of the windows and doors have operational issues. This same suggestion should be followed for all operable interior doors and windows as well. Again, money is the catalyst, and most sellers are extremely anxious to sell their homes, make them give you operational doors and windows.
Windows and doors are extremely important, and substantial money can be spent on an existing home, in an effort to achieve operational status of all doors and windows. Try to make this a responsibility of the seller, and not you, the buyer.
Bottom line; remember that windows and doors are glazed with breakable glass. Be careful when pounding on the frames to free up the operation, glass breaks, and can be extremely dangerous, once it is broken!
If the task of freeing up the windows and doors becomes too daunting, there are professional contractors that will have their own secrets and methods for ensuring that all of the doors and windows are operational. Hire the professionals, if you are unsure of your abilities, or are intimidated by the safety aspects of trying to correct windows and doors that are not operating correctly.