GIMME SHELTER- Sticky business: Elbow grease opens windows

Russ Melton, Charlottesville Handyman ServicesQ: I have older windows in my house, and they keep getting stuck when I try to open and close them. How do I unstick my windows? 

A: Unfortunately, there's no easy answer to this question... well, that's not entirely true. If your old windows are too hard to open and close, it can make sense to replace them. The efficiency of new windows these days is so much better. But if you're determined to keep your beautiful old windows, be prepared to use a little ingenuity and elbow grease. 

First, you'll want to see if the sash cords attached to the weights inside the window casing are broken or stuck.  If one of the sash cords on either side is broken, the window will be lopsided when you try to open and close it. Replacing the sash cords can be difficult, as you'll have to get inside the window casing, so you might want to hire a carpenter or handyman for that. If the sash cords are not broken, you can put wax or paraffin along the cord so they won't catch as much as you move the window up and down. 

Your window frames may also be swollen or warped due to weather or age. In this case, you'll want to remove them and either sand or plane their edges until they fit properly.   

Of course, the most common cause of stuck old windows is paint. Your old windows have probably been painted over countless times, and the build-up on the frames and casings can cause them to stick. In fact, the upper frames of old windows, which are not usually pulled up and down, have often been covered with so much paint over the years that they are frozen in place. 

Sometimes all it takes is a little lubrication to fix the problem, maybe a little WD40 sprayed into the window slots, but most of the time you're going to have to get rid of the old layers of paint. Depending on how thick the paint is, you can either scrape it down, apply stripping chemicals, or use a heat gun. Remember, you just want to get rid of the paint between the edges of the window frame and the slots they run in. The more thorough stripping job you do in and around this area, the less likely your windows are to stick.

Unsticking those upper frames is a little more tricky. You'll probally have to run a razor knife between the window frame and the casing on the outside, which will require a ladder on upper floors. Then do the same on the inside to separate the paint. Next, try to carefully bang it loose with your hand or a rubber hammer. If the upper frames are still sticking, you'll have to strip the paint on them like you did on the lower frames.