Several months ago, I moved into an old brick high-rise in the middle of Atlanta. I fell in love with the apartment for its large windows that look out at the Midtown skyline and flood the living room with natural light. However, like any structure built in the ‘60s, it’s starting to show its age.

Especially when it rains.

One could say that when it rains, it pours—straight through the sills of those big, beautiful windows.

I knew this wasn’t an issue I could ignore for a while, like the cold-only faucet in the master bath or the tacky plastic chandelier in the kitchen. Water is incredibly corrosive to a home, and even innocuous-seeming leaks can lead to structural damage, mold development, or both.

Drywall water damage can be an intrusive and expensive repair, as can mold remediation. Mold requires only moisture and organic material to spawn, so it can grow inside walls—and out of sight—for quite some time before it becomes noticeable.

Mold is also connected to health concerns, including respiratory illness and lung diseases, and outbreaks are difficult to kill without removing the infested material.

Needless to say, if you notice a leaking window frame, it’s important to act quickly.

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Here’s what you need to know:

Why Is Water Leaking Through the Frame?

window leaking during a rain stormAlthough more common of older windows, new construction is also vulnerable to water intrusion. Even the most robust building materials won’t last forever, and almost all windows will start to leak eventually.

There are several reasons a window will spring a leak:

  • Older homes. Buildings “settle” over time, and years of fluctuating temperatures and weather conditions cause wood to shrink and expand, sometimes shifting a window inside its frame and creating gaps.
  • Improper installation. Window flashing that is installed incorrectly can allow water intrusion. Installing housewrap or building paper instead of specially designed waterproof flashing also results in an ineffective barrier.
  • Compromised sealant. Broken caulking at the window seams, cracked glazing putty between panes, and an inadequate paint seal along the edges of the glass can all lead to water infiltration.

Identifying the Source of the Leak

Roof and/or wall leaks

Window leaks can result from a structural failing elsewhere in the home, such as an opening in the roof, upper floors, or siding.

If you notice water stains on the wall above the window or along the top or bottom of the frame, this usually means there is a leak inside the walls. From the point of entry, water will run downward, enter the frame, and collect along the flat surfaces of the top and bottom.

The source of a leak like this can be difficult to identify. If you cannot determine where the water is getting in, contact a window professional to help diagnose the issue.

Broken sealant

Windows leaking at the bottom corner of the frame or where the glass meets the sill typically indicates cracked caulking or glazing. Caught early, this issue can usually be repaired by stripping the old sealant and replacing it.

Unless you’re comfortable around a caulking gun, fixing old caulk or glaze should be left to the professionals. At best, mistakes will look messy, and at worst, you’ll have done a whole lot of work only to sop up another leak the next time it rains.

Window Repair vs. Replacement

professional window installerWhile sealant can be fixed without replacing the window, the problem may be more complicated depending on the severity of water intrusion. This is often the case for wooden windows, which are common of older construction.

Check for damp or soft wood. Start by probing the frame with a screwdriver, then open the window to check the inside of the frame and sash. If the wood gives under light pressure, it has started to decay and needs to be replaced.

Also check for puckering drywall or peeling paint. If the leak has affected the structure around the window, the best way forward is calling a reputable window replacement company. A window professional will perform a full evaluation to determine whether replacement is in order.

They will also help identify the source of the leak. Although the water may be coming from your window, it could be the result of a larger structural issue as discussed above.

Because even Best Pick window installers do not often specialize in the work required to locate and mend a hidden leak elsewhere in the home, the next step may be contacting a plumber or waterproofing professional. Keep in mind that replacing the window without fixing the leak will only lead to similar problems down the line.

Installing New Windows

In many cases, when a wooden window frame starts to leak, it means it’s time for a new window. Because wood is so susceptible to warping and water damage, consider weather-resistant materials when selecting replacement windows, such as:

  • Vinyl
  • Fiberglass
  • Composite (a blend of wood and fiberglass)
  • Aluminum or steel

While the cost for most of these materials may be higher up front, they are generally more durable than wood, require less maintenance, and tend to last longer.

In the end, proper installation and moisture-resistant materials are the best protection against window leaks. All Best Pick window and door professionals are licensed, vetted, and come highly recommended by your neighbors, so when you need new windows, you can feel confident hiring a Best Pick window expert.