I started my career with an Indianapolis home builder as a service manager. As a division leader, I was responsible for managing “out of warranty” issues in my territory. The builder at the time was an originator of the “track built” concept in central Indiana but favored the more upscale style of construction. They were still using wood windows well into the late ’90s before vinyl took over. With a one year warranty at the time, that meant I fielded my fair share of rotten window complaints.
What’s great about a new home is everything is new! What builders fail to do is instill the notion that a new home still requires maintenance. I was put in some tough situations at points. What do you say to a homeowner in an eight-year-old house with rotted windows without a lick of paint or caulk on them? Should they have lasted longer? Maybe. Did you take care of them? No.
I will always be a fan of wood windows. Sorry vinyl guys, but your stuff is junk. You know what the best thing about vinyl is: they’re cheap! Buy 1, get 20 free! Wow, that screams quality. Wood windows add value, warmth, beauty and design functionality to a home but admittedly come with a price. Wood windows require significant maintenance for long-lasting life. What was once a common sense, Saturday afternoon project for our grandparents has become an oversight in our modern-day lives. Whether you’re a DIY’er or hiring it out, here are some tips to keeping your wood windows looking great for years.
- Wood windows need to be painted every five years. I recommend a high-quality acrylic latex paint in a satin finish. Even if your trim is a flat sheen, the satin adds an enamel finish that holds up better under UV rays and weather than flat paint does.
- Paint and caulking should be inspected and touched up every year.
- Cleaning your wood windows is just as important as painting them to keep them looking beautiful. Wash sills and trim just as you would the glass.
- Wood windows are very component-based. Several parts make up the frame. Check for gaps or separations between frame components and seal with exterior grade acrylic latex caulking. Tip: Don’t use silicone caulking on wood windows: The paint will not stick to it.
- Check the perimeter of the frame and trim where it meets the siding, brick, etc. for gaps as well. Not only is this a good entry point for water, but for air leaks as well.
- Check the corner joints of the sash, specifically at the bottom where the glass meets the wood frame. A gap or separation at this location is the beginning of a sash failure resulting in rotten sash frames or failed glass seals. Caulk any separations at wood joints. A dab of caulking can also be added to the corner joint of the glass and wood to help wick water away from the corner joint.
- On an all wood, painted window, I recommend removing the bottom weatherstrip seal from the sash. This is specifically for a casement window. Here’s the thought behind this: A casement window has no slope to the sill by design. The seal around the sash is not a thermal barrier. It is a storm shield meant to reduce the amount of wind-driven rain and debris from getting in around the sash. But, it is not weather tight. Water can still get trapped between the sill and the bottom of the sash causing the sill or sash to rot. By removing the bottom seal, this allows water to run out and air to circulate under the sash.
- Do not caulk a sash shut. This can actually do more damage by blocking moisture in around the sash and can be very dangerous in case of an emergency.
- Do not paint the vinyl tracks or the edges of the sashes on double-hung windows. The vinyl track creates a natural friction against the wood surface of the sash to provide a seal while allowing the sash to slide freely. Painting either the sash edge or the track will prevent the sashes from sliding.
- I recommend removing screens on double-hung windows annually to clean debris away from the sill that may have built up or become trapped. Debris in the corners of the sill can lead to moisture build-up and eventually wood rot.