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Old Aluminum Storms, Maintenance & Repairs

Posted: Thu Nov 02, 2017 7:40 pm
by johnleeke
My own house is the history museum of aluminum storms, the previous owners had four rounds of them put up from the 1950s to 1980s, four different types and patterns. I'm maintaining and repairing them.

Surface Finish
They are all bare aluminum (not anodized) with a naturally oxidized surface. I leave that oxidation in place because it is a protective layer that limits further oxidation. Don't use any kind of cleaning solutions that are acid (like vinegar) or base (like ammonia) because the aluminum oxide is an amphoteric oxide, it can be dissolved by either acids or bases. If you remove the layer of oxidation down to bare metal it will just oxidize again, chewing up more of the metallic aluminum.

Track Lubrication
Every 8 to 10 years I clean out the running tracks in the frame with 400grit sandpaper, and sand off the face margins of the sash that run in the tracks, clean off all the grit and residue with vacuum brush and tack cloth, then lubricate the sash margins with Butchers Paste Wax, polishing off all extra wax with a coarse cloth. Don't use any kind of oil, it will hold dust and grit. Don't spray on silicone oil, it will make the exterior oxidized surface look splotchy and may cause finish problems on the surrounding surfaces.

Common spot repairs:
==> the little notches in the bottom of the side frame tracks (that the sash catches spring into) can wear out, I trim them deeper with a small metal-cutting chisel and light hammer
==> the frame corner miter joints sometimes let go, I tie the joint back together with L-brackets made out of 1/16" thick aluminum sheet metal custom cut to fit in there, fastening them with aluminum pop rivets
==> catch parts break or wear out, I make new parts sawing and filing them out of aluminum or steel stock, it's easier and quicker to just go ahead and make them than wasting time trying to find replacement parts that probably are not available

Cleaning Aluminum

Posted: Wed Jan 31, 2018 7:00 pm
by johnleeke
Don't "shine" it with abrasive and acid containing products. That dull finish is aluminum oxide that acts as a protective coating to prevent further deterioration. If you remove the oxidation, it will just happen again. Simply remove obvious gunk gently with a plastic or wooden scraper and lightly scrub with a bush and a dish detergent like Dawn Original, then rinse well with plain water.

Brasso and Bar Keepers both contain acid, which is likely to be left in the nooks, crannies and seams leading to a dark discoloration and corrosion of the aluminum. Brasso also contains ammonium hydroxide, which can have a corrosive reaction with aluminum. Will these products shine up your aluminum windows? Yes. Will these products make your aluminum windows fall off the building? No. But, I would not use them if you are interested in preserving the historic character of you mid-twentieth century house. That dull aluminum surface speaks to the age and durability of the material.

Re: Old Aluminum Storms, Maintenance & Repairs

Posted: Tue Sep 17, 2019 3:55 pm
by lohmann
John, I'm surprised to see no mention of paint. Have you ever painted aluminum double or triple track aluminum storm window systems? If not, why not?

Re: Old Aluminum Storms, Maintenance & Repairs

Posted: Sat Sep 28, 2019 9:04 pm
by johnleeke
I have painted aluminum storm on a couple of projects, for appearance, to change the color.
I don't recommend painting aluminum for protection. It usually does not need it for protection.
If aluminum storms get painted, some knowledgeable painter in the future will probably paint them again and clog up the tracks with paint and paint over the sash joints, essentially gluing them shut.