If you have single- or double-hung windows in your home, you may or may not be aware of a component called the window balance. Since it’s discretely hidden from sight, when it’s working properly, it’s probably not something you think about a lot.
However, when your window balance stops functioning, it can make opening and closing your windows much more difficult, and you may need to replace it. If you are facing these kinds of issues, here, we talk about window balances and all you need to know about them.
If you’re interested in learning something about block and tackle window balances – something we’ll be covering below – you can check out this video before reading on.
What is a window balance?
Let’s start with the basics. What is a window balance?
Window balances are devices found in single- or double-hung windows. These types of windows may be too heavy to open or close just by your own strength, and a window balance is a device that is designed to help with this.
The window balance is incorporated into the frame of the window, and it helps with opening or closing the window as well as making the action smoother and less dangerous.
How do they work?
There are several different types of window balance, and they all work in slightly different ways. However, the basic idea is the same.
In essence, they work to “balance” the weight of the window sash, making it easier to raise or lower. (“Sash” is the technical term for the part of the window that slides up and down when you want to open or close the window.)
As you lift the window, the balance helps you push the window up, reducing the amount of weight you feel and the amount of strength required to open the window.
Then when you pull the window down again, the balance helps you close the window while at the same time helping ensure it doesn’t slam down too fast, potentially trapping your fingers.
Without a window balance, single- and double-hung windows would be quite an effort to use and wouldn’t be a particularly convenient style of window to own.
What are the different types of window balance?
Generally speaking, there are four main types of window balance: block and tackle window balances, coil window balances, weight and pulley window balances and spiral window balances.
You don’t necessarily need to understand the mechanics of how they work, but you should know how to identify the type you have in case you need to replace it, so let’s have a look in more detail at each type now.
- Block and tackle window balances
In modern windows, the block and tackle window balance, also known as a channel balance, is one of the most popular choices. It incorporates two or more pulleys that work in conjunction with a cord and a spring to help reduce the amount of weight you feel when lifting the sash.
You will be able to identify a block and tackle window balance by the spring that’s located in the top section of the balance that is visible after you remove the sash from the window.
- Coil window balances
Coil window balances are another type of popular modern window balance, and they look quite different from block and tackle balances.
They consist of a coil of metal that uncoils when you close the window and coils back up when you open it, helping to reduce the weight you feel.
They are easy to spot because when you remove the window sash, you will see the coil of metal, which is quite different from the spring and pulley system you would see if you had a block and tackle balance.
Another name for coil balances is “constant force balances”.
- Spiral window balances
Spiral balances, also known as tube balances, are less common today, but you may find they still exist in older houses.
Spiral balances are so called because of the spiral rod contained in the tube (the tube containing the spiral gives them their alternative name). The rod is attached to a spring, and this helps support the window, making it easier to open or close.
You can identify one of these if you find a metal tube when you remove the sash.
- Weight and pulley window balances
The weight and pulley window balance is another of the older designs and is less common nowadays.
As the name suggests, it works by using a set of pulleys that lift and lower a pair of counterweights that help you raise and lower the sash. Each counterweight should weigh half as much as the sash itself.
You can identify one of these by the counterweight located either side of the window when you remove the sash.
What other variations exist?
Although these are the most common types of window balance, the problem lies in the fact that there are also some other less common versions, and even within these main categories, different sub-categories exist.
Furthermore, they come in a range of different sizes to match all the different sizes of window, so your first job when changing a window balance is identifying exactly which type it is that you have in your window.
How do you know if a window balance needs to be replaced?
Window balances can remain in good working order for a long time, often as much as ten years or more. However, they will eventually fail and need replacing.
It can happen suddenly or gradually. You may notice that it seems to require more effort to open the window than it did before, or perhaps it seems to open or close too easily, shooting up or slamming down at the slightest touch.
These are the kind of symptoms of a failing window balance that can appear over time, but on the other hand, you might also find that suddenly one day the window is almost impossible to open or close – or that it slams down dangerously fast.
Whichever of these scenarios you encounter, they are all good signs that it might be time to replace an old window balance with a new one.
How much does it cost to replace a window balance?
If you want to have a broken window balance replaced, the amount it will cost can depend on many factors, including the size of the window, the type of window balance you have, whether it is a single-hung or double-hung window and even simply where you live.
However, that said, to give you a very rough idea of how much you are looking at, to replace the balance springs for a single-hung window, you are probably looking at around $200 for parts and labor – although this can vary, depending on the factors we mentioned above.
Can you replace a window balance yourself?
If you want to replace a window balance yourself and are confident of your DIY skills, it is possible to do it without the help of a professional.
First, you need to identify the type of window balance you have, and then you need to work out exactly which model you have so you can buy the replacement.
If you choose the wrong type, either it won’t fit properly, or you will find that it doesn’t balance the window properly and the window is either too heavy or too light.
The first step is to remove the window sash and determine what kind of balance you have. When you know what you are dealing with, you then need to work out which model you need to buy to replace it.
If you have a block and tackle window balance
If you have a block and tackle balance, remove the balance and look for a stamp. This stamp is a code that will tell you the weight of your window, and you will need this when buying a replacement.
If you can’t find the stamp, try checking the balance in the other side of the window or even try looking at balances in other identical windows in your home.
If all else fails, you will need to take the sash out and weigh it manually.
Once you have worked out how much the sash weighs, you also need to measure the balance. When you know the length and width of the balance as well as the weight of the sash, you can then start shopping for replacement balances.
If you have a coil window balance
After removing the sash, look for any stamps on your coil balance. If you can’t find one, weigh your sash and divide by the number of coils in your assembly.
You will also need to identify the type of pivot shoe your system uses. Once you determine this, you can start looking for replacements that match.
Can I replace only one side at a time?
It is recommended that you replace the balance on both sides at the same time. Otherwise, you will have one that is weaker than the other, which will make the weaker one more likely to fail.
Seemingly complicated – but not too difficult to understand
Window balances can seem a little daunting at first since there are several types and a wide range of variations.
However, if you know what you are looking for and understand how they work, anyone with a reasonable level of DIY expertise should be able to identify a window balance and replace it themselves.