A Window into Restoration

Ed Sanchez of Home Window Repairs talks vintage windows, old wood and the art of not giving up.

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Photo by T Christian Gapen

Keeping original windows in perfect shape is a passion for Ed Sanchez.


f the eyes are the windows of the soul, then you might say windows reflect the soul of a house. Victorian, Craftsman, California Bungalow, Priairie School ó all feature distinctive windows that add to their period charm. Maintaining those windows, and the look they impart to a building, is a passion for Home Window Repairs founder Ed Sanchez, who has worked on historic landmarks throughout Southern California, including the Laguna Beach Hotel, the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles and the Bembridge House in Long Beach. Heís also repaired windows on numerous residences throughout Ventura County, and most recently was involved in the window restoration project at Santa Paulaís Briggs School last spring. Ventana Monthly had the chance to talk to Sanchez about the ins and outs of window restoration and repair.

How did you get into the restoration business? I went to Cal Poly [Pomona] and got a job at JPL in electrical engineering. Everyone was trying to jump into management ó that was the path to advancement. But I needed to get out, I needed to talk to people. I got into the window repair business in 1983. There was no one doing it in Orange County, so I decided to be the first.

How did your business change through the years? I started out putting retrofit windows into homes. But I saw that there was a market for old windows. Iíd be pulling out these old wood windows, and I realized, ďThese are pretty good!Ē So I decided to get into repairing old wooden windows. The old windows were what people really wanted.

How did you learn your trade? I learned from an old guru in Maine named John Leeke. He was my Yoda. Between his help and doing it on my own, I kind of taught myself. I built Home Window Repairs in 1986. We donít just work on wood; we work on old aluminum and vinyl windows, too.

What are some of the advantages of repairing old wood windows versus replacing them? A lot of the older windows are made out of old-growth wood. It tends to be more resistant to bugs and termites. Today, redwood trees are usually cut down every 25 years. The truth is, if those trees donít have 100 years to grow, the wood isnít much more resistant to termites than pine.

Old windows usually have joints in a mortise-and-tenon design; thatís what I like! Itís more stable and takes more abuse. Most windows made before World War II were built like that. Those windows are still around today; ones made out of dowels . . . they eventually come loose. And of course, the grid pattern and scrolling of old windows is usually very distinctive; itís what makes it look like an ďoldĒ window. People like that original look.

If you look at a home built in 1900, those windows are usually in perfect shape structurally. I want to maintain that. Thatís my tagline: ďKeep the Quality.Ē

What are some of the things you have to do to repair them? Most are double-hung, and the panes are designed to move up and down. Not everyone realizes that, though, because their windows donít work properly or because the top oneís been nailed in. When I pull out the sashes, I can get in there and sand the edges down to the raw wood. Iíll coat it with a beeswax/orange oil combination to preserve it. Then Iíll join and tighten the pieces, and make sure theyíre seated properly so they can seal, and so they can be opened or closed easily with one hand. I can also weather-strip and seal them like a modern window ó that makes it quieter in the house and thereís no draft. I also fix the rope and pulley system: replace the sash cord, or adjust the weights to fix the balancing mechanism.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your work? Every single window is different. Each one has a different story attached. A problem with joints, the balancing mechanism is bad, a pulley thatís destroyed, weights clanging. If there are 10 of the same window in the same house youíre going to have 10 individual problems to solve. Most people quit at that point: They run into a problem, and they just want to replace the window altogether.

But thatís what I like the most! It takes a while to get the hang of it. Itís the art of not giving up. If I do my job right, the window will last another 30-50 years. Thatís a long time for something to last. Youíll get another lifetime out of your window.

Youíve said that you train your own technicians. What qualities do you look for? I look for, No. 1, a mechanic, and a woodworker second. When I hire carpenters, they get frustrated with the mechanical things that go wrong. They want to replace everything. Thatís not what we do. Itís a fussy thing ó so a technician needs to be OK with that. He or she has to be really patient, because if youíre not, youíre gonna break things! Youíve got to do the right thing so that when the window goes back in, it operates like it did back in 1919. And when I finally find someone and train them, watching them grow over time and get excited about what they do is the most rewarding thing.

What do you wish most people knew about what you do? Probably 95 percent of all windows that are thrown away can be restored to their original operation. Why just fill the landfills with those things? When you fight a window, it just needs to be fixed ó not trashed. Itís my job to make sure the window is structurally sound, locks easily, and opens and closes smoothly. I tell my customers, ďIf it doesnít work, donít pay me.Ē

Whatís your favorite thing about working in window restoration and repair? Something I just love is when I repair a window that has never really worked well before. And the homeowner can open it with one hand, the locks close ó they get giddy! It makes me so happy. 805.924.4004

ďEvery single window is different. Each one has a different story attached,Ē says Sanchez.


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