Depending on potential window repairs, this project can take a whole weekend.
Make room—this DIY requires a lot of supplies!
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What you'll need:
Palm or orbital sander
Heat gun (with a glass protection nozzle) or hair dryer
Sandpaper (various grits)
Window glazing putty
Window paint or stain
Painter’s tape (optional)
An old house comes with a lot of charm—and sometimes, that charm needs an update. Old wood windows generally require more maintenance than newer vinyl windows, so many homeowners opt for window replacement rather than a restoration. Nonetheless, if you live in a historic building or simply want to preserve your home’s classic facade, restoring your old wood windows may be worth the extra elbow grease. Here’s how to get started.
Prepping to Restore Old Wood Windows
Photo: PaulDaniel / Adobe Stock
Sometimes an old timber window isn’t worth saving, but it’s usually the newer varieties that need a full-fledged replacement. The average window has a life span of 20 to 40 years, but most of the time, you can restore historic windows piece-by-piece (though the cost of window repairs dramatically increases if the windows are more than 70 years old, according to HomeAdvisor).
You can find the materials for your DIY window restoration at your local hardware store, though prices will increase if you need to replace wood or glass panels.
To determine whether or not you need—or actually just want—to install replacement windows, inspect your old windows. Make sure the window sashes (the part of the window that holds the glass) fit well in the frame and aren’t warped. Also, look for:
Broken seals along the caulk
Broken or rotted wood along the frame and window sill
Failing mechanisms (like a window that’s stuck closed or won’t lock)
If you find significant damage, you may want to hire a local window replacement company to install replacement window frames. If your old windows require repairs, wait until spring or summer so the wood won’t warp as much in extreme weather.
Remove the Glass
If you need to make major repairs to your window, you may want to remove the glass completely (especially if you’re replacing a broken pane). There’s always a risk you could shatter the glass while you’re working on the window, but you could also shatter it while removing it—so proceed with caution.
Use a heat gun or hair dryer to soften the window glazing (the putty-like material that seals the glass in the window sash), and gently scrape the glazing off the frame with a putty knife. Use pliers to remove the glazing pins around the windowpane.
Then, use a glass scraper to remove glazing on the glass. Tap the glass to loosen the pane, and work your way around the window sash. Carefully remove the glass and safety store it.
Strip the Paint on the Window Frame
You may want to strip and repaint your window or touch up certain spots. It depends on the state of your window and what you’re hoping to achieve. At the very least, you should remove any paint that’s chipped or flaking with a paint scraper. You can use a chemical paint stripper to get rid of larger areas of paint—which may help if there are stubborn layers from years past, but ventilation and protective gear are essential.
Restoring old wood windows isn’t just about looks. It’s also about making the necessary repairs. If some of the old wood has rotted, you may have to hire a local carpenter to craft a custom replacement part. If damage is minor:
Fill cracks and holes with wood filler.
Repair splintered or broken pieces with wood glue.
Remove and replace broken or rusted hardware.
Sand Down Your Window
To create a smooth surface for painting, you’ll need to sand down the window frame and sash using your orbital or hand sander. Always sand as little as possible so it doesn't get warped and the pieces still fit together.
To do this, move slowly, and start with a 40-grit sandpaper to get rid of large nicks and imprferfections. Go back with a finer sandpaper to smooth out the surface. If your window has a lot of details, you may prefer to sand it by hand.
Clean the Window
Before you paint, vacuum over the wood to remove dust from sanding, then clean the area with mineral spirits. When working with chemicals, always wear protective gloves (though be aware that mineral spirits can break down latex).
Paint Your Old Window
Once your window is clean, it’s time to paint. Start with a primer or pre-stain (unless you purchased a two-in-one paint product). Once that dries, apply a wood stain or enamel paint for windows. This will prevent your window from sticking in the jambs and ensure that the paint can withstand the elements.
If you didn’t remove the glass, apply painter's tape before painting. Allow your paint to dry between coats, gently sanding with 240-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface and help each coat adhere.
Reinstall the Glass
Photo: wabeno / Adobe Stock
Once your final coat of paint dries, reinstall the glass pane in your window sash. If your original glass was damaged, install a brand-new pane.
Carefully fit the glass in the sash, securing it with glazing pins. Fill the edges (where the frame meets the glass) with glazing putty. Work the putty into the gaps, so it’s an airtight seal, then remove excess putty with your putty knife to smooth the surface as you go.
Restoring Old Wood Windows Yourself vs. Hiring a Pro
The cost of replacement windows is anywhere from $200 to $1,800 per window. You can save a significant chunk of change if you decide to restore your windows on your own rather than replacing them. The problem is that restoring a window can be complicated—especially if you live in an old house with fragile or severely damaged windows that aren’t standard sizes—and time consuming. It can take 16 hours or longer to tackle this project, depending on the existing window damage.
In this case, you may need to enlist a local glazier to make glass repairs or a local carpenter to fix portions of rotted wood. Even if repairs are minor, you may still want to hire a replacement window installer to upgrade your windows (think: double or triple panes) and help reduce your overall energy costs.
What is the best paint for wooden windows?
Whether you choose oil-based or water-based paint, make sure it’s enamel paint. This type of paint dries in a hard finish, so your windows won’t stick shut.
How much does restoring old wood windows cost?
Most homeowners spend between $164 and $533 on the cost to repair and restore their windows. It depends on the problem, but you can cut costs by making repairs on your own (as long as you do it right).
When is the best time to restore windows?
Depending on your climate, restore windows in the spring or summer. The cold and damp temperatures in the winter and fall can make wood swell, which leads to a wonky repair.