Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mel Installs a Window -- Old and Reparable Wins Over New and Inflexible

As you may know, I have recently moved into a new home in Chicago's Uptown. It is a railroad apartment with approximately 20 windows, mostly original to 1917 and in varying states of disrepair. The worst one was in the kitchen, where, during a recent wind storm, the frame came apart and a portion of the glass broke (see second photo from the top of the unpainted frame and broken glass at rest on my stove).

I am dedicated both to reducing energy use and to making old things last as long as possible. This put me into a bit of an apparent bind -- Do I replace a window with a more energy efficient one or do I repair a window that has been doing service for 93 years? Thanks to the suggestions of a sympathetic contractor, an enthusiastic hardware store employee, and a lack of cash, I opted for the latter. What could it hurt to try out a cheaper and more context-sensitive approach, at least first?

I spoke about my dilemma with a contractor, Andrew. He introduced me to the idea of window repair and recommended a local hardware store that does this kind of work. At the store, the aforementioned employee countered all I had been told by someone who had given me an estimate for new windows some weeks earlier. He showed me products I could use to make existing windows more airtight. He recommended curtains for use during the coldest months.

Most convincingly, he said that old windows were made to be repaired, whereas new ones are not. He showed me an aluminum window, not ten years old, that was beyond repair from torquing. Have my windows not lasted most of a century?

I took the sash to the store and had it reglazed and the frame repaired and repainted. Once I got the repaired sash home, Mel (see top photo, where he is inspecting the work site) and I got to work. A counterweight had come detached and needed to be threaded back over the pulley (which, itself, was a little sticky and needed lubricant). The gap in one of the counterweight housings was missing its cover, so we made one. Next, the sash was unwrapped and hung (see second photo from the bottom). We used one of the hardware store suggestions and nailed felt to the inside of the frame. The window now closes tightly!

It is very gratifying to reuse the old. Sometimes our (American) assessment of things stops at that. Old, yes, but is it still useful? Can it be repaired? Is it, perhaps, more beautiful or complementary to its surroundings than a replacement? The answer to all these questions, for this kitchen window, is "yes".


  1. It does my heart good to see something old and well-made being kept in service - even (especially?) something as humble as a window.

    And that's a very talented assistant you've got there.

  2. Franklin:

    Yes, Mel is very good at what he does. What that is, exactly, isn't clear.


  3. That’s a great idea! :) You need not spend too much on your windows when you can have them repaired and still make them look good as new. These days, recycling is truly one of the most valuable solutions. And yes, your window looks very fine.

    ~ Roxie Tenner

  4. Your window will definitely stand out the most among those 20 or more windows in that apartment compound after the repairing jobs. Though I assume everything is done as of now. How has your apartment unit been so far?

  5. If it can be repaired, then repair it. Old windows have this rustic appeal that most new windows don’t have. Recycling was a very a bright idea, and you did a favor for yourself and for the environment as well. By the way, can I see the new look of your window?

    -Katie Nicoll

  6. Repair what can be repaired, and if it doesn’t work out, then it’s probably time to replace your old windows. You have nothing to lose in using old windows; after all, recycling old windows is more cost-effective than buying a new one. By the way, your new (old) windows look great! Good job!

    -Ronald Miller