Can you fix double-hung sash windows with broken ropes?

In which we discuss the traditional, double-hung sash window and concerns about repair.

This was one of the first questions we thought of, because while re-roping sash windows doesn't constitute a large part of our business, it is something we are asked about frequently. It's not something many people know how to do, or how to do right. Many people, I suspect, don't know it is even possible, like the woman Jeremy saw on a television program about remodeling. She was having all of the windows replaced in her home, she said, because, look, they've all been broken for years. She held up a broken sash cord as the evidence of the window's unrepairable brokenness.


This kills me. There can be good reasons to replace sash windows in a home (although I would argue that you'd probably get better results, in terms of energy efficiency, by replacing your bad storm windows and then making sure every possible opening on the seal between window and house was caulked properly) but broken sash cords is not one of them. One of the very coolest things about traditional double-hung sash windows is that they can be fixed with $5 worth of rope and some knowledge. The windows in my house are newer, and each time one of them breaks, as they are doomed to do, I sigh and cut another 2x4 to prop them open, because the track mechanisms are plastic, proprietary, and, I suspect, impossible for the layperson to replace.


Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't say replacing sash cords was always easy, because it's not. There are a variety of problems one can encounter, from discovering someone has removed the weights and sold them for scrap, or some industrious soul at the height of the energy crisis in the 70s blew insulation in the weight tracks, or (worst of all) inadvertently breaking the glass in the window you were trying to fix. Metal weather-stripping can be cantankerous; the trap doors and openings to reach the inner workings of a sash window can be so small that it makes one suspect that the Earth was peopled by hobbits when they were built. (Or possibly, and more horribly, attests to the ubiquity of child labor.) Despite all these possible detours, replacing a broken sash cord is a cool project, one that can acquaint you with the elegant and clever mechanism that makes a sash window work. Plus, stuff that works makes your life work too.


My next blog post will be the primer Anders wrote for this question. It contains a fair amount of specialized language and terminology, but we realized that couldn't be helped. Things have names, and can't be called “the thing” or “the other thing” or “no, the other other thing” without frustration setting in. It should no doubt include a picture, but, as I said before, we are a work in progress.