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Window washing is a chore that almost no homeowner likes. While the results are always worth the effort, the job can be extremely tedious and often downright tricky—especially if you have older-style windows that require you to climb a ladder to reach the outside surface of each pane. If your home features modern tilt-wash-style windows, however, the task might almost be enjoyable. With this system, gaining access to both surfaces of each sash is simple and safe, because the entire job can be done from the inside of your home.
Now, many homeowners with older-style double-hung windows can buy conversion kits to change their sashes to the tilt-wash style. Many other window manufacturers supply conversion kits for their own products. While the kits are not cheap—an Andersen kit for a roughly 3-ft. 2-in. x 4-ft. 9-in. window costs about $300—they may be the ideal solution for a few hard-to-reach windows. Making the conversion requires only basic hand tools, and you can expect the job to take 1 to 2 hours per window. And all of the work is done from inside the house.
Checking Your Windows
Before ordering the kits, determine if your windows are suitable for a successful conversion. The first step is to see if they are installed plumb, level and square and have straight jambs. Use a spirit level to check that the sides are plumb and that the sill is level. With the sash closed and locked, compare opposite diagonal measurements of the frame to see if the unit is square. If the measurements are within 1/8 in., you can proceed. If the window is seriously out of square or if you find other problems, the unit may need to be removed and reinstalled before putting in the conversion kit. In this case, consider contacting a remodeling contractor to evaluate the amount of work necessary to correct the problems.
Making the Order
To order conversion kits for your windows, you'll need the model number of your existing units. For Andersen windows, go to an Andersen dealer and obtain a catalog for Perma-Shield Narrowline windows. The catalog has a table that lists each window with its rough opening and overall unit dimensions and unobstructed glass size. Compare the dimensions of your windows with those in the catalog to find the necessary model number.
Each tilt-wash window conversion kit includes new sash and replacement side-jamb assemblies. The jambs and exterior surfaces of the sash require no painting, but it is a good idea to paint or seal the interior surfaces of the sash before installation. Be sure that any finish you apply is completely dry before proceeding with the installation.
Begin by lowering the upper sash of the existing window. You'll see two screws in the left-side jamb liner, just above the sash. Remove these screws with a Phillips screwdriver. Then, raise both the upper and lower window sash and remove the remaining screws from the lower half of the liner.
The left-side jamb liner is divided into two parts. Remove the bottom half of the liner by grasping its bottom end and bending it away from the jamb. Then, pull the liner down and toward the center of the opening until it is free. Use care so that the sill and trim do not get damaged in the process.
Lower the window sash to rest on the sill. Use scissors to cut the balance cords for the lower sash just below the head jamb. The sash springs will pull the cut cords into the window frame and out of sight. Remove the lower sash by pulling it out from the left side. Follow the same procedure for removing the upper sash.
Remove the remaining jamb liners, starting with the upper left side. Grab the bottom end of the liner and pull and twist it free. Remove the right-side liner using the same technique. Be careful not to damage the sill and trim.
Inspect the joints between the side jambs and the outer frame members. You may find excess glue that can interfere with the fit of the new conversion-kit jambs. Use a chisel to scrape away any glue that you find.
Installing the Kit
The new jamb assemblies come with the jamb liners nested in the liner retainers. Carefully pull the jamb liners from the liner retainers. Start separating the parts at the outer edge to prevent damage to the delicate veneer trim along the inside edge.
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Run a bead of silicone caulk approximately 1/8 in. in diameter along the joint between the side jambs and the outer frame. Next, place the jamb-liner retainers in the window frame and seat their bottom ends tight to the sill while engaging the barbed ridges on their back side with the kerfs in the wood side jambs.
Gently press each jamb-liner retainer against the window frame to engage the barbs in the kerfs. Then place a wood block against the retainers and tap with a hammer to completely seat them against the original wood frame.
Install the jamb liners against the retainers. The liners should be tight against the head jamb and the angle at their bottom ends must match the angle of the sill. Snap the liner into the retainers starting at the top and work your way down to the sill.
Locate the sash shoes by looking in the grooves that run down the side-jamb liners. Insert a large, flat-blade screwdriver into one of the shoe balance cams for the lower sash. Use two hands on the screwdriver while you pull the cam down until it is about 3 in. from the sill. Turn the cam 90° to lock the shoe in position. Repeat this for the shoe on the opposite side. Use the same procedure for the upper sash shoes, but lock them about 5 in. above the sill.
Install the upper sash in the window frame first. Hold the sash perpendicular to the plane of the wall while you engage the pivot pins on the sash with the sash shoes in the jambs. Engage one side at a time, while holding the sash at a slight angle to position the pins in the jamb grooves. When the pivot pins are properly engaged in the sash shoes, you'll hear the retaining springs click into place. Then, tip up the sash and press it between the jamb liners until it snaps into position. Repeat the procedure for the lower sash, and then check that the window operates properly.
Copyright © Popular Mechanics 2001. Reprinted by permission.