WARNING!!! All installation instructions and demonstrations are intended for professionals trained in this type of work. Mobile Screen and Glass strongly recommends the use of a licensed contractor to perform any of these projects. Ignorance of required safety equipment, as well as safety codes concerning these installations, could result in severe injuries to those persons performing these installations, as well as those operating the repaired product!
Probably the most difficult and intimidating window repair project that most homeowners will ever attempt is the replacement of the window balances. Balance Installation – Replacement of these balances can range from the relatively easy (block & tackle balances), to the difficult (spiral balances with j-hook attachments). In the following, we will try to help you understand the workings of these balances, and what tools are necessary to make these repairs yourselves. Remember that when we refer to the “sash”, we are referring to that portion of the window that moves up and down.
Replacing Spiral Balances
Spiral balances are always round, and come in two common diameters (3/8” & 5/8”) and three different common attachment styles. Those attachment styles are what we call single-tip balances which have a single bar through the bottom of the tension rod that locks into a “foot” that is attached to either the side or the bottom of the sash, double-tip balances, which are most often found on windows that have a sash that tilts in toward the inside of the house, and j-hook balances, which have a small hook on the bottom of the tension rod that hooks onto the bottom of the sash. Spiral balances are always visible in the side lineals of the window, above the sash. Those are the most common types. There are some older windows that have different types of balance attachment systems, but as time passes those types of balances are becoming rare.
Spiral balances come as an assembly of two parts, those being the housing of the balance, and the tension rod that goes inside the housing where it is attached to a spiral shaped spring assembly. The lifting action of the balance is created by grabbing the tension rod of the balance with a “balance tool” and winding the balance with a clock-wise turn (clock-wise as viewed from the bottom of the balance, looking up). The more times that you turn the tension rod in a clock-wise direction, the greater the amount of lift you are causing the tension rod to generate. The balance is then attached to the sash by one of the three methods mentioned above, the other end of the balance being attached to the side lineal of the mainframe of the window, at the top of the side lineal, with a screw.
The balance tool mentioned above is essential to the removal of the old balances, and the installation of the new balances. The only other tool that can be used for this job is a pair of needle nose vise grips, which can be used in a pinch, but are not nearly as easy to use as a balance tool. We sell balance tools at Mobile Screen & Glass, they come in two different types; one for use with single-tip balances, and one for use with double tip balances. First, let’s talk about single-tip balances.
Single-tip Spiral Balances
In addition to the balance tool, the other things you will need to replace single-tip balances are: A Phillips screwdriver, and something to prop the window up in the fully open position. A small flashlight is also very helpful. First, prop the window up in the fully open position. Once you’ve done that, if you look up from the bottom of the sash, along both sides, you should be able to see the bottom of the tension rod, which has a hole in the bottom of it, made for grabbing with your balance tool. If you can’t see it, it’s usually because of dirt, lint, and grease that accumulates in this location. This is where your flashlight comes in handy. Usually, the dirt can be removed by blowing up along the edge of the sash, or by using your balance tool to fish the dirt out. Once you see the hole, hook the end of your single-tip balance tool into the hole, rotate the balance tool about ¼ of a turn clock-wise (to take the tension off of the crossbar that is locked into the foot), and then pull down. Be careful! The tension rod is loaded with tension, and it’s going to want to unspin in your hand. This is the point in time when you can easily bust your knuckles, so make sure you have a firm grip on the tool as you disengage the balance from the foot that it is locked into. Also, the balances may have been in your window for 20-30 years, and it may take a real hard pull on the balance to get it to disengage. Once you’ve gotten the balance to disengage, and have pulled it down enough for the crossbar to clear the sash, then slowly unwind the balance (in a counter- clockwise direction), until all of the tension has been removed from it. Then, unhook your balance tool from the balance, and let the tension rod fall to the bottom of the window. Do the same thing to the balance on the other side of the window. THERE IS NOW NOTHING HOLDING THE SASH UP BUT WHAT YOU USED TO PROP IT UP! CAREFULLY GRAB THE SASH, LIFT UP SLIGHTLY, REMOVE THE PROP, THEN GENTLY LOWER THE SASH ALL THE WAY DOWN.
Now that the balances are disengaged, you can remove the screw that holds the top of the balance in place, then lift on the balance rod while tilting it toward the center of the window to remove it entirely. Careful! As I said, that balance rod has probably been there for 20-30 years and it will be dirty, greasy, and nasty in general. Best to carry it straight out of the house or directly to a trash can.
To install the new balances, first make sure that the housings on your new balances are exactly the same length as the housing on the old balances. If so, then you can proceed, first by taking one of your new balances, and pushing the tension rod all the way into the housing, then carefully tilting it into the void on the side of the window. This can be kind of hard, and it’s easy to bend the balance housing, so be careful as you go to fish the balance down alongside the sash. Don’t drop it! It can be tough to fish out if you drop it.
Once you have it in along side the sash, screw the top of the balances in place. With the top of the balances screwed in place you can now raise the sash back up and prop it up again. As you raise it up, the tension rods of the balances should fall out down the side of the window and come to rest at the bottom. If they don’t it’s probably because the got hung up on the foot that they lock into. The best way to get them to drop on through is to grab the bottom of the sash and run it up and down a few times. Usually this will cause them to fall past the foot, and on down to the bottom of the window. Then prop the sash up in its raised position.
Now take the bottom of the tension rod and push it up to a point about 2” below the bottom of the sash. It will spin as you do this. Then hook your balance tool into the hole on the bottom of the tension rod and wind it in a clockwise direction. The amount of turns that you will want to wind it depends on the size of your sash. The smallest of sashes (18”-24” wide) will usually take 6-10 turns depending on the height of the sash and whether it’s a single-pane window or a double-pane window. The largest sashes (42”-46”) can take as many as 14-16 turns. Once you’ve wound the tension rod to what you think is the appropriate amount of turns, hook the cross bar on the tension rod back into the foot that it was originally hooked into. Once you have attached both balances, then remove the prop, and run the sash up and down to make sure that the balances stay attached, and to make sure that the sash stays up when you leave it up. If it starts to slide down, you may need to put a couple more turns on the balances to add lift.
Double-tip Spiral Balances
As mentioned previously, double-tip spiral balances are most often used on tilt sash windows. Tilt sash windows are windows that have two tilt latches on the top of the sash which allow you to tilt the sash toward the inside of the house. This is especially handy for cleaning the outside of the lower sash glass. To do this the right way you really need two people, one person on the inside, and one person on the outside of the window. To remove the balances, first remove the screen. Then, have the person on the inside of the window raise the lower sash up to about half the way that it can be opened. Then that person should push the tilt latch tabs toward the center of the window and tilt the sash toward the inside of the house to a point where it has been tilted down to about a ninety degree angle. This will bring the bottom of the sash to a point where it is facing the person on the outside of the window. At this point you should first look to see if you can grab the bottom of the balance with a forked end balance tool without removing the sash. If so, proceed to the next paragraph. Otherwise, that outside person will then see, on the bottom edge of the sash, two bars (pivot pins) about 2½” long, that go from the outside edge of the sash into balance shoes that slide in the mainframe of the window. They will also see a screw in each of the pivot pins. If they loosen those screws they will be able to slide the pivot pins toward the center of the sash, RELEASING THE SASH! DON’T DROP IT! Set the sash aside.
When you tilted the sash down to the ninety degree angle you activated cam locks inside the balance shoes that locked the shoes in place at whatever level they were at when the sash was tilted. They will remain locked in that position until the sash is reinstalled, and tilted back up to its original position.
Now that the sash has been removed you should be able to see the entire balance, including the bottom of the tension bar where it locks into the balance shoe. Take your double-tip balance tool and grab the bottom pin of the double tip assembly with the two forked tines of the tool, then rotate the tension rod slightly clockwise. This will take the rotational pressure of the spring off of the tension bar, and you should be able to remove it from the lock-in assembly of the balance shoe. Slowly unwind the balance in a counter clockwise direction until all tension has been removed from the spring. You can now let the tension rod fall to the bottom of the window, and remove the screw from the top of the balance, releasing the balance completely.
To install your new balances and reinstall the sash, follow the above directions in reverse order.
You may also need to replace your balance shoes. To do this, once you have the balances removed, take a straight blade screwdriver that will fit snugly into the u-shaped hole in the balance shoe where the pivot pin goes, and rotate it (clockwise on the left side, counter clockwise on the right side) ninety degrees. This will free the shoe to slide up and down in the channel. Usually there is a cut in that channel at the top of the window that allows the shoe to be pivoted out of the channel. New shoes install in reverse order from removal.
J-Hook Spiral Balances
J-Hook balances uninstall & install in exactly the same fashion as single-tip balances, but are slightly more difficult because of the size of the j-hook. It’s just hard sometimes to get the j-hook to slide down the edge of the sash and drop out of the bottom. For this reason, it’s usually easier to remove the old balance by just letting the top of the balance go after you’ve removed the top screw, thereby letting it fall down to the bottom of the window, then pulling it toward the center of the window for removal, even if that means bending it a little bit. But that doesn’t work for installing the new balances because you can’t afford to bend the balance. None the less, sometimes the new balance can be installed from the bottom by pushing the sash up as far as it will go, then sliding the balance into the opening on the side of the sash very gently, while working the bottom of the balance from the center of the window toward the side. The other option is to drop the balance down from the top, just like with the single-tip balance, putting the top screw in, then, once again, running the loose sash up and down to get the bottom end of the balance, the j-hook end, to drop free out of the bottom. Then wind the balance, as described above, and hook the j-hook onto the edge of the sash where it was originally attached.