How to Fix a Sash Weight

sash weights

Our house has the old kind of sash weights. Those sash weights perform two functions. They counterbalance the window so that it moves up and down freely and, since this is Los Angeles, they knock together loudly in an earthquake letting us know the rough magnitude and whether we should duck under a table.

When we moved into the house nearly every sash cord was busted and none of the windows functioned. Repairing these old windows is as lost an art as Roman augury. Most homeowners and house flippers here throw out the old windows and replace them with the sort of cheap sliding aluminum portals like you find on 1970s era truck camper shells.

That’s too bad, since the old windows look a lot better and are easy to repair. Here’s how you do it:

1. Look for an access panel in the window channel. If there is one, you’ll be able to access the weights and tie the cord to them through the panel. We weren’t so lucky. If you don’t have an access panel you’ll need to remove the window trim on either the inside or outside of the house in order to access the weights and the broken cord. I chose to remove the outside trim since it would make less of a mess and be easier and more forgiving to patch up.

2. If the cord is still in good condition you should be able to just retie it to the weight and the window should be back in operation. If not, you’ll need to get some replacement cord at your local hardware store.

3. To install a completely new cord remove the window from the frame and locate the circular hole seen in the diagram below:

Screen shot 2015-06-24 at 5.12.29 PM
Tie a knot in the end of the sash cord and use a small nail to secure it in that hole. Thread the other side of the cord through the pulley and secure it to the weight as seen above.

Having lived with old windows now for seventeen years, I’m a fan. The cord/sash weight/pulley combo works a lot better than many newer windows I’ve dealt with. The downside is that the cotton cords break eventually. But they are easy to fix.

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  1. This brings me back to childhood, to the old house I grew up in. I’d forgotten about sash weights until now. I live in an old farm house now, with the original squiggly windows. I wonder if there are sash weights hidden away? I’m going to have to look.

  2. I love to hear about someone fixing things in an old house. I grew up in an old house, and now live in a farmhouse that is over 100 years old (I need to figure out how to reglaze some window panes!). Here in the midwest everyone, EVERYONE, is building new.

  3. Have you considered using something other than cotton cord when you replace these? Maybe parachute cord would last longer? I don’t actually know, but maybe someone does…

  4. I like the concept of this post a lot! I need to fix a broken sash cord (for the first time) but this didn’t really give me the confidence to go for it. Please take that as constructive criticism.

    How do you remove the trim without damaging it? How do you “remove the window from the frame,” let alone put it all back together? Don’t you have to repaint or recaulk the trim?

    • Hey Kay, If you do it carefully enough, you can probably get away with a little touch-up paint. This is why, in the case of our house, I do it on the outside rather than the inside.

  5. I’ve had 2 old houses (1918 & 1905) & have gotten to the point where I can replace sash cords with chain, upper & lower, in under an hour.

    Take off the inner stop mouldings, remove the lower sash, remove the divider moulding (can’t remember the proper name for it) on one side & remove the upper sash, & along the insides of the window you should find little ‘doors’ held in by a screw. Remove the screws, pry out the doors, & have a the replacement process. Reverse the process to re-assemble.

    Light chain (links made of sheet metal) won’t rot.

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