Thursday, March 29, 2012

Is that all there is?

So, here I am, working on the house, minding my own business when I here a crash upstairs and the sound of broken glass.

Immediately, I thought of our dogs, Rocky and Kevin, but they were down stairs with me, and now they were barking up a storm.  So up I go to see what the racket was and walk into my office to see that the top half sash  on the left window dropped to the bottom of the frame, and the window pane was broken.

Bother.  All this hassle and a mess to clean up because a cotton rope decided to give up the ghost.

What's a sash - isn't that what Miss America wears?

Well, yes, but not that type of sash.

A sash, for the uniformed, is what one calls the frame that a glass is set into in a window.  Whether your windows are up and down slides, side to side sliders, crank out (or in) casement windows, all windows have sashes.

Our house is 95 years old, and back then, they most commonly built houses (in this part of the world) with what is called a "one over one" sash.  The "one" refers to the number of panes of glass in the sash.  So our house has one large pane of glass on an upper sash, and one pane of glass on the lower sash.  When these windows were new, one would lower the upper sash while raising the lower sash.  This created two places where air could come in (through the lower opening) and hot air could exhaust, through the upper opening.  This type of convection is what kept houses cool in the summer - along with canvas awnings, which we also have as well.

Each sash weighs about 10 lbs. (wood, nails, glazing, paint and glass) and in the good old days they were kept in place with two pig iron weights of  6 lbs each.  These weights were tied to cotton based braided sash cord, threaded over a static pulley and then knotted into place on the sash.  So a two sash window, will have FOUR weights, two on the left, two on the right, and two of these balance the upper sash in place, and two hold the lower sash up when you open the window.

Well, over time, people got in the habit of just opening the bottom sash by lifting it up all of the way up, and the upper sashes in most windows got painted shut.

And over time, the cotton sash cords rot from heat, or are weakened when they get painted and that paint tears at the cotton.  If the sash has layers of old oil paint gluing the window in place and rendering it immobile and the sash cord breaks, you hear a muffled crash.

However, as in our house, if the sashes are operable, and the cord breaks, and the other cord was already broken or slipped its anchor knot, the sash drops as there is nothing keeping it in place.

I have done all of the windows on our second floor, except this set.  So it was on my radar, but it wasn't on the schedule

But with finding this, I had to stop doing what I was doing and start working on this mess.  So I turned on the Sonos unit in my office, set it to shuffle and set about fixing what was broken.

Replacing sash cord isn't easy, and its a filthy job.  You have to dismantle the windows by pulling the stops, removing the sashes and the re-thread it with fresh cord, tie off the weights, and re-install the sashes.  And while you have the sashes out, you might as well wash them, right?  Then there is the glazing and the glass and the glazing points, right?  And then you have to paint.  But it costs less than ten dollars a window, and if you do it right, you don't have to do it again for your lifetime.

Four hours later - and after finding out that Lowe's doesn't carry sash cord - everything was in place and I looked like I had been in a bug tussle with a minstrel player.  The chases where the pig iron weights travel are chock full of 95 years of coal dust, soot and other grime, and now I was too.   My arms, my shirt, my face.

As I was picking up the last of the debris, I found the hardened brittle length of sash cord that held up the window and then gave up the ghost leading to this caprice.  As I looked at it, Peggy Lee was coming over the speakers, and she was singing "Is That All There Is?"

Is that is all there is, indeed.


  1. Let's break out the booze and have a ball...

  2. The last place I lived in New Orleans had chains holding the weights instead of cord rope (they were big windows) and they would rattle when you opened the window like a portcullis going up.