The Home Inspection Professionals in Binghamton, New York

Members of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Proudly serving the Southern Tier of NY and Northern Tier of PA since 1989.

Contact Information:




1278 Vestal Avenue
Binghamton, New York   13903

Visit us on Facebook

Serving Broome, Tioga, Chenango, Cortland, Tompkins, Susquehanna and Bradford Counties

Ask The Experts
Windows and Doors

I am thinking of replacing the old wood windows on my 80 year old house with new vinyl windows, but I'm concerned about losing some of the historic character of the house.  Is there any alternative?

Anytime we replace an old house part with a new one, we will be reducing the historic nature of the house, but not necessarily its historic appearance.  New vinyl windows are vastly improved products over the initial offerings, with numerous options that provide a much closer imitation of old styles.  In addition, wood replacement windows are available if you prefer, built in custom sizes to install in the same manner as vinyl replacement windows, in existing window openings.  Higher end vinyl or wood replacement windows, of course, will cost considerably more.

There are some considerations to be made however before replacing your windows.  The first question is whether it is really necessary to replace the old windows at all.  If the old windows are not decayed or falling apart, they may be refurbishable.  Sash cords can be replaced, wood stops adjusted, glazing compound replaced, all surfaces repainted and lubricated, and storm windows applied.  It would be very hard to justify replacing well maintained old wood windows and storms with newer windows if energy savings was the only reason.  The cost of the new windows is so high that it would take many years to get your money back.  On the other hand, if the old windows are beyond repair, or the ease of washing newer tilt out windows is important to you, then by all means upgrade the windows.  The other consideration to make is whether the old window frames and casings that remain when you install replacement windows are in good enough condition.  If they are decayed, (and this can often be hidden behind aluminum wrapping on older houses), you would probably be better off replacing the entire window.  This is a more involved and expensive process, affecting your siding, and interior and exterior trim, but once accomplished should mean decades of good service. 

I am getting a lot of cold air coming in my old windows.  Is it possible to make them work better without replacing them?

Modern high quality windows are much better at keeping in heat and preventing drafts than old windows, but the expense can be hard to bear, especially if you want to replace all of your windows.  There are several simple maintenance steps you can take to improve the situation without smashing the piggy bank. 

Most of the windows we have in older homes are wood double hung type.  These are the windows that slide up and down.  Casement and awning windows which we find more often in newer homes can be better sealed because they swing into and latch against the window frame, rather than sliding.  Assuming you have double hung windows, the first step is to be sure that you have storm windows installed and that both glass panels, or sashes, in the storm windows are in the closed position, one fully up and one fully down.  It is amazing how many we find that are not closed in the dead of winter.  You can caulk the storm windows in the window opening, but be sure to leave small gaps in the caulk at the bottom to allow moisture drainage. 

Next we need to look at your primary windows.  There are various kits available to improve the fit and function of old windows.  In our experience most of these kits do not end up working all that well.  We suggest the following steps instead.  Often, the upper sash is not fully in the up position.  Check for a small gap at the top.  Push the window sash all the way up, or caulk the gap if the window sash can't be moved.  The window should have a sash lock.  The lock is not only designed to prevent thieves from getting in, but should hold the sash tight to the wood stops to reduce drafts.  Replace or adjust the window locks if necessary.  There are normally wood moldings or trim on either side of the window sash that form the tracks that guide the lower sash as it moves up and down.  These can be adjusted to fit tighter to the window sash, preventing rattling and drafts.  This step may require a hammer and nails, and may require lubricating the windows with bees wax to maintain easy movement, but should be well worth the trouble.  Lastly, we suggest that you caulk around the casings, which are the trim pieces that frame the entire window opening.  Air often enters between the trim and the wall finishes.  If these steps don't work, it may be time to start saving up more money for new windows.

When did safety glass become required, and how do I know if the glass in my shower doors is safety glass? 

Safety glass is required in new residential and commercial construction in locations where accidental personal impact is most common.  Modern codes are very specific about the exact conditions necessary to require safety glass, but in general terms safety glass is required at any glass enclosures for tubs, showers or pools, any windows or other glass used in a stairway location, any glass in doors, including storm doors, or the windows directly adjacent to doors, and most large windows closer than eighteen inches from the floor.  Safety glazings are designed to prevent serious injury if someone impacts the glass.  Safety glass comes in a few different basic types and can meet many different specifications.  Laminated glass, where plastic is sandwiched between the layers of glass to resist breaking, is most common in auto windshields, wire reinforced glass is commonly used in commercial/industrial construction and may be found in some residential applications, but the most common safety glazing in homes is tempered glass.  This glass is specially formulated and rapidly cooled, resulting in added strength and stress that causes complete breakage of the glass into tiny pieces, if the impact is sufficient, rather than sharp and dangerous large shards.  Tempered glass will have a faint etched label in one corner of each piece that will say “safety” or “tempered” and will indicate the standard with which it complies. 

Safety glass of one sort or another has been around for a hundred years, but has been slowly improved and has only relatively recently been used residentially.  There is no specific date that we can use to determine whether safety glass was installed, since codes vary by location and are modified over time.  Generally though, we should be able to expect that most patio doors and shower doors used tempered glass by the early 1970's.  If you can't find the label indicating that it is safety glass, you should assume that it isn't, and plan to upgrade to a safer enclosure.

My storm windows are all iced-up on the inside.  The wood inner windows don't have this problem.  What can I do to prevent the ice build-up on the storms?

A little frost on your storm windows is quite normal and nothing to worry about.  A heavy buildup of ice is another matter.  The first, and most important, concern is that there may simply be too much moisture in the house in general.  The usual suspects for excess moisture should be checked out and corrected as necessary.  These include wet crawlspaces or basements, clothes dryers exhausting into the house, hyper-active whole house humidifiers, chimney blockage at gas appliances, and lifestyle issues, such as excessively long, hot showers, or the chronic boiling soup pot in the kitchen.

The second likely issue leading to ice on the storm windows is too poor a seal at your wood inner windows, and too good a seal at your storms.  If the windows are the old double hung type from the era when they were held up with sash cords, or are even older and are held up by sticks, they probably leak massive amounts of warm moist air from the house into the space between the windows, causing the ice. 

Usually this ice problem is worst at second floor windows.  This is because warm air rises through the house.  On the 1st floor cold air is pushing its way in through the windows to replace the rising air.  On the second floor warm air is pushing out through the windows, causing the condensation and ice that you see.  In either case, poorly sealed windows are a problem.  If you can't see your way clear to replace them, it would be cost effective to apply heat shrink plastic window covers on the interior, or weatherstripping, or removable caulk at all the cracks and gaps.  Also, the storm windows should have drains, or weep holes, built into the bottom of the wood or aluminum frames.  Many people mistakenly caulk the bottom of their storm windows, trapping the excess water in the sills.  If this occurs, all that ice buildup could easily result in rotted window sills, or wall damage below, as the ice melts.  Make sure you provide some drainage, whether you have heavy frost buildup or not.

The ropes on my windows are rotted out.  I've seen some metal spring inserts which help hold the window up and new aluminum guides that can be used which also provide a better seal.  What would be my best choice?

Unless your windows are deteriorated and need complete replacement, we believe your best option is to simply replace the ropes.  The methods you mention only use friction to hold up the window sash, which is unreliable, and the weight of the sash remains.  Ropes or sash cords are a better way to hold up a window sash.  They are tied to counterweights in the adjacent wall which actually balance the weight of the heavy window, making operation much easier.  Missing sash cords can make old windows hazardous, especially to children.  Replacing sash cords is not difficult and requires minimal tools.  The first step is to carefully pry loose and remove the sash guides which are the thin trim pieces at both sides of the lower operable window sash.  They are normally attached with finish nails, or in the case of better quality old windows, are secured with screws.  Removing these will allow you to take out the lower sash.  You will then see a small removable section of wood on the side of the window frame.  Loosen the screw and remove this panel to find the metal counterweight.  The hard part is sending your new ropes over the pulley at the top of the window frame and down to the bottom of the wall cavity to attach to the counterweight.  It may help to attach a bit of fish line and a small sinker to the end of the rope to send down first.  The only other tricky part is cutting the rope to the right length.  You will want the rope to be short enough to prevent the weight from bottoming out in the cavity when the window is fully open, but long enough to allow the window to fully close.  The upper end of the rope will slide into the shallow slot in the edge of the window sash.  Tie a knot in this end of the rope.  The knot will then nest in the round hole at the bottom of the slot on the edge of the sash.  Nylon rope will last much longer than the old cotton rope, but nylon is slippery.  Make sure to tap a nail through the knot to hold it in place on the edge of the sash before you reinstall the sash in the window opening.  That's all there is to it.  By the time you finish replacing the ropes on the first window you'll be an expert.  The rest of the windows should be a breeze. 

I have an unheated but enclosed porch with storm windows across the front of my house.  Do I also need to add storm windows to my front room windows, or is that just a waste, since the porch is enclosed?

 We all know that a single layer of window glass is very poor at preventing heat loss.  You may even find ice building up on the inside of a single glazed window.  What makes two layers of glass much more effective than one is the trapped air between them.  Air is a good insulator as long as it can't move around.  This becomes quite apparent when you compare a cold and windy day to a cold and still day.  You retain much more heat if the air isn't moving.  The ideal thickness of air between the window panes is around an inch.  Less air provides less insulation, while more air allows slow convection currents to develop that will move the heat from one surface of glass to the other.  In your case you have several feet of air between the pane of glass on the house wall and the other at the exterior wall of the porch.  This is plenty of room for air movement and plenty of heat loss.  It would definitely be worthwhile to add storm windows.  Unfortunately, there is probably a 3 inch air space between the applied storm window we're recommending and the inner window.  That would be 2 inches too much.  The thinner and fully sealed airspace in a modern thermally insulated window is part of the reason for the greater heat savings that it offers.  But new insulated windows are very expensive.  It will take a long time to earn back in heat savings the money spent on new windows.  So add a few relatively inexpensive storm windows, save a little heat and increase your comfort at minimal cost.

I am interested in buying a ranch house built in 1955.  I have been told that the bedroom windows won't meet the fire code.  Will this prevent me from buying the house, and what can I do about it? 

The bedroom windows probably do not meet modern “egress” requirements.  Living space rooms require an adequate direct means of escape to the exterior in the case of fire.  A fire that occurs outside a bedroom could prevent escape unless a direct exit from the room exists.  Any room with a door that exits directly to the exterior would of course be acceptable.  If the direct means of escape is a window, there are minimum requirements to ensure that a person really could get out in an emergency.  Some older ranch style homes have bedroom windows that are too small and too high off the floor to satisfy modern codes.  Basically, the opening must be no more than 44 inches off the floor, the minimum opening size must be no less than five square feet, the minimum height of the opening must be 24 inches, and the minimum width must be 20 inches. 

Codes apply and are generally enforced when a house is being built, or if major remodeling is being done.  It is unlikely that anyone is going to require that an older house meet modern “egress” requirements as a part of the sale.  However, it is important that an adequate means of escape is available if you are going to live safely in the house.  It is relatively easy to replace a window with one of the same width but taller.  Window manufacturers have windows designed to meet “egress” requirements that might fit in the existing opening if the sill height is lowered.  Ensuring adequate escape routes is important in every home. 

The walls are damaged below several of my windows and getting worse.  I believe this is due to leakage around the windows but I can't find where it's getting in.  Do you have any suggestions?

There are many possible leakage points around a window, and under extreme conditions almost any window can leak.  You don't indicate the type of windows you have, but two situations resulting in water damage are common.  Many homes built in the 1950's and 60's had aluminum framed sliding windows.  These windows are usually drafty and have very poor heat resistance.  Frost builds up on the inside of the cold metal frames in winter due to condensation which eventually melts and seeps into the walls below.  Caulking between the metal window frame and the window sill can help prevent damage, but replacement of the windows is usually the best option. 

Another common scenario occurs with older wood framed double hung windows with exterior metal storms.  To reduce heat loss homeowners often caulk their storm windows along the sill.  This traps water between the inner window and the storm which then seeps into the walls.  Storm windows are designed to allow drainage.  The caulk should be removed or weep holes should be drilled in the bottom edge of the storm windows. 

If your circumstances are different from the examples above, the source of the water may be at the top of the window.  You should seal between the window frame or trim and the exterior finish using a good quality exterior grade caulk, if your siding is masonry, wood or aluminum.  If you have vinyl siding, caulking is not feasible.  Water can easily work its way behind vinyl siding.  A special flashing called a drip cap is required at the top of the window frame to prevent this water from entering the window opening.  The drip cap extends up and under the siding above the window and down over the top of the window frame.  This added piece of trim is often omitted, but can be retrofitted. 

Water leakage from any source can be difficult to trace.  Professional help may be necessary if these simple solutions don't work. 

I am planning on replacing my 30 year old windows and would like to know which windows would be best.  I want them to be efficient with minimal upkeep.  There are so many choices of type and quality I don't know which way to turn.

There are way too many types of windows and window options, as well as your personal preferences to consider, to be able to give you any definitive answers.  But perhaps we can give you some general principles that you can use to narrow your selection.

First, in most cases it is very hard to justify replacing the windows just to save money on heat bills.  Windows are expensive and it may take decades to earn your money back.  Most windows can be repaired and tightened up to reduce drafts cost effectively.  However, if ease of operation and low maintenance, in addition to heat savings, are your goal, let's look at what's available. 

We think you will find that the premium priced, or super efficient windows, will not save enough energy to justify the price, although a modest upgrade such as Argon filled windows are generally considered to be worth the added cost.  Each manufacturer has several lines with varying quality levels; the mid-ranges are probably your best bet. 

Most manufacturers make either vinyl or aluminum clad windows which will reduce maintenance costs.  The overall quality of the window is probably more important than which type of cladding you choose. 

When choosing windows for replacement, it is important to recognize that there are two types of windows you can use; stock windows, designed primarily for new construction, and replacement windows.  Replacement windows are quicker and easier to install, because they are designed to fit in the wood frames of your original windows. Installing stock windows is usually more complicated, because you will be replacing the entire existing window units, not just the moveable sashes.  But, when deciding which type to use, you should be considering the condition of the original window frames, sills and trim.  They may also be due for replacement.  If you choose to replace the entire window units you will probably be best served by replacing them with those of the same type and manufacturer as your present windows because they will be more likely to fit in the rough window openings in your exterior walls. 

Your best bet is to get a good general contractor on site to evaluate what you have, take some measurements and see what would work best for your particular situation. 

I have a sliding glass door that does not slide easily, especially when it's hot and muggy.  My home is 30 years old and this is the original wood framed sliding glass door. We clean and lubricate the tracks regularly, but it seems to get worse every year.  What do you think is the problem and what would I do to fix it?

There are many possible problems as well as solutions for binding doors.  Without being on site we can only speculate, and offer some suggestions.  Wood swells under high humidity and shrinks when dry.  The fact that your door has the most trouble in summer would indicate that the problem isn't likely to be caused by decay or worn parts, but rather from normal seasonal changes in the wood components of the house, including the dimensions of the door itself. 

If pulling or pushing on the door near the bottom makes it work better than at the top of the door, the binding must be at the bottom.  If that is the case we would try either or both of the following:  Sand the lower edges of the faces of the door to reduce the material that might be in contact with the sides of the track, or adjust the roller wheels downward to lift the door slightly, reducing possible friction of the wood against the sides of the tracks. The adjustment screws are usually under caps on the lower face of the door.  The doors lift up and out of the track for servicing, if necessary.  

If it's the top that's binding, the same basic procedures may be appropriate, but the wheels would be adjusted downward to reduce friction at the top, and the top edge of the door faces should be sanded. 

Sometimes the weight of the door frame pushes down on the wood jambs on each side of the door unit, causing the track to bow slightly upward in the middle.  You may also notice that the top or head jamb of the door frame is sagging.  Either of these can result in binding.  Correction usually requires removal and reinstallation of the entire door unit.  Shims may be placed under the track at the side jambs to effectively level the sill. 

Try the easiest solutions first.  Start with cleaning and lubrication, then try adjustment.  If all else fails, remove and reinstall the unit.

My walk-out basement door binds every winter.  This year it's so bad I can't even open it.  What do I need to do to prevent this next year?

All doors are vulnerable to minor changes of position, and can easily bind or fail to latch with fluctuations in humidity and temperature.  In your case, however, the binding is likely to be due to frost heave.  When water freezes it expands.  When the ground freezes, the water in the ground causes the soil to expand upward as much as two inches, depending in the amount of moisture in the soil and the depth of the frost.  If the ground, or any stone or masonry walkway or stoop resting on the ground, is close to the bottom of the door, the upward thrust caused by the frozen soil will push on and deform the door's threshold, causing the door to bind.  In most instances the problem goes away when the ground thaws.  If at all possible you should try to provide more clearance between the walkway or soil and the bottom of the threshold.  If the pressure is being caused by a walkway, it may be possible to chip or cut away the material that is directly below the threshold and allow the rest of the walkway to move up and down.  It may also be helpful to improve the drainage in the area to reduce the amount of moisture in the soil.  If feasible, we suggest replacing the soil with well drained crushed stone. 

Frost heave can affect decks and porches as well as walkways.  We often find decks that are out of level and are higher away from the house than they are next to the house.  This uplift is caused by frost heave.  If the support posts or piers are not deep enough in the soil, or the piers are not smooth sided and vertical, the expanding ground will lift the piers and posts.  When the ground thaws, the soil shifts slightly, preventing the relatively lightweight deck from returning to its original position.  This small amount of uplift is cumulative over the years, resulting in decks that slope toward the house.  This is the opposite of porches which tend to settle away from the house.  Porches include a roof and are typically much heavier than decks.  If they are subject to frost heave, their weight allows them to fully resettle, or even drop to a slightly lower position with each frost cycle.  This is one reason why so many porches are settling and pulling away from the rest of the house.