One of the things I’ve loved about this leaky, creaky house we’ve called home are the warlbledy wooden windows it came with. Apart from the panes that have obviously been replaced due to baseball impact or misadventure, they all have the lovely bubbles, waves, and imperfections that mark century-old glass. Unfortunately, they also suffer from a fatal design flaw: The weight pocket on each side of each window is an open cavity which leaches our warm air outside.
Today I finally got the chance to install two Pullman window counterbalances, the first of what I hope are the solution to this problem. I’ve had them since early December but haven’t had the time to put them in. Here’s how I did it.
Seen here is what I have to deal with throughout the house: wooden casements hung with rope and pulley. Some are rope and some are chain; some windows have a mixture, and some casements have been opened to reattach the weights.
First things first.
I scored and pulled the sash stop molding off the window, exposing the whole front of the window and the nails securing the metal guide on each side. After I carefully pulled the nails along the front side of the guide on each side, I was able to coax the entire bottom sash forward, away from the casement, and put the guides to the side. After some convincing, I was then able to pull the rope out of the channel on either side of the sash (each side was secured with a toothed flooring nail, difficult to remove) and put the sash aside.
Now, here’s the first roadblock. As with everything else in this house, nothing is easy. Lots of other windows I’ve seen have had pulleys installed with visible and accessible screws for simple replacement. Why should ours be similar? As you can see above, there was nothing on the outside of the pulley that hinted at how to remove it. After some exploratory prying and bending, I was able to remove the left-side pulley and found that it was designed to be pounded in with a hammer at the factory, and held in place with teeth on the top and bottom.
Knowing this, it was then simple to bend the top and bottom of the casing and insert a long screwdriver to bend the teeth back. After that, the second pulley popped right out.
Of course, the hole left behind wasn’t large enough to fit the new pulleys, so I had to enlarge them vertically. I made three holes with a drill bit and then used a shiny new 7/8″ wood chisel bought specially for this job to clean up the hole. I did some test fitting for the body of the pulley and then chiseled out a mortise to countersink it flush to the casement. It’s ugly, but with a coat of paint, it’ll clean up well—I have to figure out how to make a rounded mortise with the next one.
Fun with fibers
Next was the boring part. Knowing I wasn’t going to pull the wooden molding off each window, I needed to find a way to get insulation into the cavity. These days, it’s possible to rent a machine and blow fiber insulation into your own attic (why anyone would want to do this themselves is a mystery to me) so I knew I could find the fiber on the consumer market. After some searching, I found it at at the local HD in a 20-pound bag, with the brand name Green Fiber. The nice thing about this stuff is that there’s no fiberglas in it, which makes it easy to work with. I made a wide funnel with some paper, taped it to the casement, and spent the next twenty minutes stuffing insulation into each cavity.
I predrilled holes and put both pulleys into place. From here, it was the reverse of what I’d started with: I attached each pulley tape to the channel of the sash with a sturdy wood screw, then slid each metal guide into the channel on the sides of the sash. Carefully guiding the whole thing back into the casement, I nailed the guides back into place and replaced the blind stop.
And there you have it. The window is in place, and the tape is just about perfect for a counterbalance—I’d say another added pound of pressure on each side would be perfect. It’s too warm outside right now to determine if it’s actually insulating or not, but we’re getting back down below freezing later this week. Total installation time was about 3 hours, but I could probably get that down to 2, maybe an hour and a half, if I could find a good fast way to get the insulation into the cavity. I’m going to do a test with my shop vac on reverse to see how well it might work (and how messy it might get). At $25/pair, window pulleys are a much cheaper alternative to replacing each window with vinyl, so I’m hopeful it will work.