Painting windows sounds easy and no one thinks about color placement mistakes. But I have seen color placement mistakes on old wood windows and also on new historic replacement windows.
To understand color placement when painting windows you need to understand window design. This may seem pretty basic at first but it becomes more involved with replacement windows. Incorrect color placement on your windows will have a negative effect on the appearance of your house. Read on and you will see what I mean.
Basically you have two options when painting windows: paint your windows one color or paint them two colors.
Painting windows two colors allows your windows to pop like eyeliner on a woman’s eyes. This is important since windows are a character-defining feature on a building. Therefore. your window’s appearance should be a priority.
However, when painting windows using two colors, you need to better understand the parts of the window and know what to watch out for. Once you learn, you will be able to avoid color placement mistakes that could make your house look bad.
Proportion is extremely important for every structure. Proper proportion is what makes traditional architecture look strong and pleasing to the eye. Color placement mistakes when painting windows can alter the effect of proportion making the structural appearance weak as if wood trim were missing.
Window Sash and Casing Basics
To avoid painting mistakes you must first understand your window.
A window is composed of two basic parts. The Window Casing and the Window Sash.
In the image above the window sash is removed from the window casing.
The window casing – the pretty frame that holds in the window sash.
The casing is stationary and considered Trim on a house.
The window sash – the window part that moves up and down and fits inside the casing.
When the window sash is removed, the window casing is just framing an opening to see inside the house.
When painting your windows two colors, paint the window casing one color and the window sash the other color.
Sounds simple right? Then why do so many people do it wrong? Let’s look at this a little closer.
Mistakes when Painting Windows
This window is painted correctly.
In this example the entire window casing is painted the contrasting color red.
This is how it should be painted. The window sashes are one color and the casing is another color.
The casing is larger, has more surface area and therefore appears strong.
One common mistake is painting the face of the casing one color and the inside of the casing the sash color. This is wrong!
Painting the sash AND the inside of the casing the same color makes the sash appear larger and heavy looking. Instead, the sash should appear more delicate and the casing larger and stronger.
Do you see how the red casing lacks support and appears weaker just because of how it’s painted?
Note: In the casing there are channels holding the top and bottom window sash, allowing them to slide up and down (open and close). Most channels have been painted many times over the years, which results in paint build-up and difficulty opening windows. Stripping the paint is best if your windows are hard to open. If your windows open fine and you are changing colors, only apply a thin coat of paint.
Following these instructions may be simple for an old window but new windows are designed differently resulting in a not only wrong, but stupid look when painted.
Why this is Wrong
You have a window sash and a window casing that holds in the sash. There is no need for it to be complicated. Both sash and casing must be sized proportionally to make a visually pleasing impact on a building.
- The window casing must show strong structure because it supports an opening in the wall of the house.
- The window sash is more delicate and secondary to the casing. It should be strong enough appearing to be visible from afar and show enough strength to hold the window glass firmly.
Window Manufacturers Design New Windows Wrong!
We showed you an example above of what to do and not to do when you are painting your windows. Here’s an example of what NOT to buy since the manufacturer is the one making mistakes.
The first mistake was for the homeowner to buy a new replacement window! The homeowner selected nice colors but as you see the window manufacturer does not understand window design.
New windows are now designed with an extra trim. Manufacturers may believe that this extra trim makes the window look fancier. They may convince the buyer that it is more elegant.
The fact is that this extra trim overlaps and conflicts with the structural appearance of the window sash. Instead of a crisp transition, with a nice shadow lines between the casing and sash, there is now a new molding muddling the traditional look.
First let me say we are discussing the inside jamb part of the window casing. This window example is full of other design errors that we will not go into. To understand more about window design, click here.
In the example to the right, see the red window sash.
Now see the extra red trim on the inside of the window casing surrounding the window sash.
This extra red trim makes the sash appear heavier and the casing weaker. This is the opposite of how it should appear. There is also a fake sill that is painted the same color as the sash.
Instead of a crisp strong look, it is muddled, unbalanced, and out of proportion.
Here is another example. The image on the right was corrected graphically and it looks better.
See how the window casing appears weaker and the sash appears stronger in the bad version? -See how the window casing appears stronger and the sash appears weaker in the correct version?
So why not paint that trim yourself and your investment will be not be lost?
Yes, you can do that and it will look better. But it still will not have the effect or be as good as the traditional window we all know for older window sashes are a bit wider.
Additionally this trim is attached to the jamb part of the window casing and houses the tracks the window opens and closes in. It can be painted of course but I would not recommend it.
The next example illustrates another problem.
Window Painting Can’t Always Fix the Problem
This example shows a window casing and sash both the same color. Color placement does not come into play here but other issues do.
This is a top of the line Pella wood window with clad aluminum on the exterior.
The extra trim on the inside of the casing is less obtrusive since it is not painted in a contrasting color as the other examples.
Unfortunately a problem still exists.
With this extra piece of trim you don’t have a sharp shadow line where the casing should have an edge. Shadow lines are what brings buildings to life.
This is an expensive window made to “accurately” copy a historic window. It fails at that.
If you go to the Pella website they show many top of the line windows but only images of the interior, not the exterior.
This really is a problem – how would they know what the windows will look like from the outside based on this?
A homeowner can buy a nice wood window based on what they see on the inside and assume the exterior is like a normal everyday window.
Most people wouldn’t think they’d be installing new windows that could have such as drastic impact on the appearance of your house. They might be surprised when these windows are installed.
Maybe they don’t notice – but they should if they care about their house and their investment.
Without the sharp definition of a traditional window it looks sloppy.
The salesperson may say this resembles fancy molding. Please understand that molding is designed based on classic rules of architecture. A baseboard molding has its roots in ancient Greek temple design. This is not a place for “artistic license”.
If this homeowner wanted to paint his window sash a contrasting color he would not be able to do so. With this design the sash would be too thin. There is not enough visible sash for a contrasting color – it will not be noticed.
See the example below.
Notice how the extra trim creates a sloppy look. The painted sash is so thin it is hardly noticeable.
Replacement windows today are “maintenance free” – meaning they cannot be maintained! These windows are self-contained systems. If there is a problem, they are designed to be removed intact. trashed, and replaced again!
All hope is not lost for in 15-20 years the windows will have to be replaced and a new more realistic design may be available.
Here is a display from Home Depot.
The age-old design of the window casing showing strength to the subconscious mind is now reversed to show the window sash to be stronger than what supports it.
The average homeowner is not a window specialist. They/we are at the mercy of trained sales-people.
If your goal is to save energy with new windows, you’ve been hoodwinked. That is just a scam to perpetuate window sales. Read the truth about windows here.
A homeowner orders Anderson 400 series replacement windows. They order green windows because the green window sash would look nice with a white trim and yellow clapboard.
From the 1840’s to 1940’s a popular window sash color was dark green. When used on a light color house this splash of color adds a nice accent effect without competing with the other colors.
The average homeowner assumes they will be getting a replacement for what they have. Who would think there are so many design issues to be aware of. Energy efficiency is complicated enough!
When the salesman explained everything it all sounded great. The homeowner was just looking forward to some nice color combinations on their house.
When the windows came in they received the upper and lower window sashes combined into a single window unit.
Both window sashes were green like they wanted but the entire window unit which includes the jambs were also green on the exterior.
In this image the Anderson 400 window unit is installed.
Here is the problem:
As you see the jamb part of the window unit is visually part of the window casing and should therefore be painted the window casing color which is white.
When looking at this window at an angle the jamb is visible and you can see there is too much green. The window therefore appears heavier.
The homeowner has two options to correct this problem.
One option shown to the right is to paint the jamb part of the Anderson window unit to match the casing.
This is how a window should appear.
The problem is that with this design the sash part is very weak looking.
Another problem is that you are painting the jamb which contains the slider tracks for the windows to open. I really don’t recommend messing with this for you may hinder operation of the window.
The second option is to paint your trim to match the window as in this image.
This is not exactly what the homeowner had hoped for but this is the best option for a window designed in this way.
My Advise if You Must get New Windows
If you must purchase a window similar to my examples, to get the best look on your house you must purchase a window in the color you want for the trim on your entire house. This way you won’t have to paint a complicated jamb with window channels.
To let your friends know about painting windows correctly, I have created an Infographic. It only covers the basics and hopefully will lead readers to this page for details. My hope is for homeowners to understand what they are buying and the impact it has on curb appeal.
Here it is – I hope this helped you. Please share it on your favorite social media site and help improve curb appeal!
What About Storm Window Color?
Storm windows must match your exterior window sash color.
What About the Window Sash Interior?
The interior of the window sash must match the interior woodwork.
Remember Old House Guy offers a virtual house painting service . We will make sure your house is painted correctly and no mistakes are made.
Another Problem – The Edge on All Trim Must be Painted.
Painting the Sash Channel
If you are doing a full restoration the channel that the upper window sash slides in should NOT BE PAINTED. This area that will touch the upper sash as it slides downward should be oiled with Linseed Oil. The reason is that a build up of paint will make the window difficult to open. That is if you are using the upper sash. Otherwise if already painted just apply a very thin coat of paint to match the trim color.