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Book Review

Working Windows:
A Guide to the Repair & Restoration
of Wood Windows
By Terry Meany
Guilford, Connecticut. The Lyons Press.
Second edition 2002.
Paperbound, 233 pages. $14.95


It is not typical to review a book six years after its release, but if I haven't seen it before it's a good guess that most readers haven't either.

So many preservation and design books cover the obscure, the redundant and the repetitive. I cite the example of three Greene & Greene coffee table books published in one year, or the 300+ (really!) recent books about Frank Lloyd Wright. Not so with Working Windows, despite the majority of us living in homes with wood windows, and the mishandling of windows being the number-one building preservation problem, this book's subject matter is really not covered elsewhere.

Working Windows is a bit reminiscent of those "Dummies" or "Complete Idiot" books. Full of sidebar comments, personal reminiscences, attempted humor alternating with sound tips, including many that will be news to the old pro. The text assumes that the reader will be doing the work his/herself, but the information would be equally valuable to those who find themselves in the position of supervising the work of others.

Having occupied part of my misspent youth in the window repair trade, I can tell you that there is an immense need for this book. In our county there are only 3 or 4 people who specialize in this sort of thing. The vast majority of window repairs as covered here is being done by untrained painters who are rushing because they bid a flat price, by contractors who are resentful that they couldn't get you to spring for the new vinyl ones, or by the handyman who is also moderately skilled in plumbing, masonry, electrical and brush removal.

At first consideration, fixing your own double-hung windows looks like one of those things that nobody should try; sort of like taking your iPod fully apart and putting it back together. Not quite so. It's one of those old skills that went from ubiquitous to extinct without a pause. Unlike, say, building a backyard BBQ in the '50s.

I do hope that anyone with stuck, sagging, or ugly old windows will give this a read. In our great climate you can have quite a long time to get it put back together before the weather demands it.

There are a few nits to pick with this book. The author (who calls himself "Mr. Window") admits early on that he's not a historic preservationist. This leads to a few negatives. There is no discussion of the charms of older, wavy glass and the aesthetic importance of its preservation, and what to do if you break a piece. In the text, all possible periods are sort of generically mushed together, with little regard for what situations different eras might bring, and how to recognize when you might be over your head because of a window's historic importance. Mr. Window also gets way too far into some non-preservation techniques, such as covering damaged sills with sheet metal.

Anyone who has ever read another book on home restoration will probably roll their eyes and skip the percentage of the book dedicated to safety issues, the near-boilerplate nature of which hides those few issues specific to window work.

All-in-all it's on my list of books to have, especially as it seems to be the only modern treatment of the topic. If you can read it with a bit of a preservationist filter on, and can combine it with a study of specific styles, local standards and a bit of patience, your house will thank you for it.


Erik Hanson is a long time SOHO board member, South Park resident, and by trade a used bookseller.

2008 - Volume 39, Issue 3/4

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