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Ask the Architect

Windows that ‘literally stopped working’


Q. We have swing-out windows that need replacing. The weather has been just right for fresh air, but our windows don’t work. A company that will change them sent a salesman, and he suggested we get the kind that move up and down because they work better, are easier to clean and last longer. I wonder why we ever had the swing-out kind, why they have problems — they literally stopped working, and we couldn’t even move the crank to open them — and do you recommend changing them, or is there a less costly way to go? Before we spend a lot of money, we’re checking everything.

A. Windows make a building. Before windows, humans huddled in darkness like cave dwellers. With so many shapes, types and sizes today, it’s a tease to try to choose between being creatively artistic and being practical and legal.
Windows are required to do a lot more, because there are laws and requirements that go far beyond the many styles, features and appearance. There are requirements for light, ventilation and fire escape that can mean the difference between life and death, plus the amount of unimaginable stress and aggravation when an insurance company delays or won’t settle the loss of life or property to the full extent of the policy because the windows were illegal. As building designers, we are trained to follow all limitations before completing the composition, just like a car designer knows to follow strict limits on crash survival, seat, wind-shield size and passenger orientation.
Before you switch window styles, consider that a window must, by law, allow for 5.7 square feet of clear opening when it’s in the open position. Although an existing window can have a smaller opening in a building built before 2003, at least one window in each habitable room, like a bedroom or recreation room, must have an opening of not less than 4 square feet in the clear, open position. Switching from casement (swing-out) windows to a double hung (up and down) sash style cuts the opening in half and probably much less than the 4 square feet. It’s a shame that the salesman didn’t know or comply with the law, because people say things with such confidence and it sounds believable.
Before replacing the hard-to-open windows, try doing something that most people forget to do: maintain them. Casement windows are notorious for sticking and being difficult, mostly because the tracks at the top and bottom of the window need to be cleared of debris and dust and then lubricated, along with all swing-arm and gear hardware, with a silicone lubricant. Without that cleaning and lubricating, the cranking becomes a wrestling match, and can cause the cranks to strip the gear that rolls out the arms that move the window. For about $30 you can invest in a can of silicone spray, a can of compressed air and some paper towels. Good luck!

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question”  in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper,  architect.