DIY Tip: Install Replacement Windows

Replacement Windows are Unique in the way they are Measured and Installed

I grew up in the building industry.  When I started with my grandfather’s company, there were no sub-contractors other than licensed trades (electricians, plumbers, HVAC).  We built everything from the foundation to the shingles.  This DIY series will offer tips and secrets the masters in the industry use every day.  Some of these tips are guarded secrets but others are unknown even to most artisans today.

Craig Walker

It’s sad to Professionals what a Well-Intentioned Owner Will do to his Home

Among the many building blocks of my construction career are two specialties for which I trained extensively.  The first was a period early on where I installed doors for a production builder.  The second was where I became a dealer for Don Young Windows where I sold and installed residential replacement windows.  I have seen thousands of both done properly and many more done incorrectly.

The devil is in the details, as they say.  Have you ever seen a door that works perfectly some times then sticks during other times of the year?  Does your door only latch to the striker plate when the temperature is right?  Is one of your windows harder to open than the others?  Do you feel air blow in around your windows?  Each of these issues is caused by a different problem, but each occurs for a similar reason.  The reason is process.  My training for each application focused on the proper procedure with which to handle and install the manufactured component.  Unlike carpentry where you can “doctor” the work to make it fit or function, the strict limitations within which a manufactured product can function properly requires a specific process for preparation and installation.

ATX Design Build
Never use expanding foam around windows or doors

When hanging a door, one should never shim both sides of the jamb.  Level the hinge side frame then shim for reveal not for swing.  And, for goodness sake, never use expanding foam between the jamb and frame.  Recently, manufacturers of this detestable product have labeled the can with a warning about making this error.  Don’t be confused.  We will cover hanging a door in a later blog.

My motivation for this article hit me on my way home from work last week.  An older brick home nearby was surrounded by several work trucks.  Workers were industriously removing bricks from the front of the house.  As I passed by the following evening, the mill finish aluminum windows were being removed and new flanged windows were leaned nearby, ready for installation.  The third day found the new windows installed.  Window tape and some sort of insulating foam surrounded the new windows in the ragged holes where bricks had once lain.  The fourth day, I drove past as a mason lay concrete block in the hole in the ragged brick veneer between the window and the old brick.  As you can see from the photo below, the blocks are poorly installed and unsightly.  The owner would have been better off keeping the old windows rather than ruin his home.

ATX Design BuildI am going to speculate here.  I believe the home owner ran the job himself.  He hired someone he found on Craigslist or the like.  The labor he hired had no experience nor knowledge on how to properly install a replacement window, putting the owner in the position where he had to handle providing the materials and the know-how.  As a result, his project became a debacle which demolished the exterior of his home.  His “fix” for the botched job was a cinder block band-aid.  A few dollars were saved, but the job looks like a poor add-on.  The workmanship is shoddy from the cheap concrete block  served to trim the installation to the brick and block installation done by someone who obviously had never done masonry work before.  I couldn’t see the interior, but I am certain there were extensive modifications needed to accommodate the newer, thicker windows.  I realize I seem overly critical, but every professional builder suffers when a job like this is performed.  Someone somewhere – even someone reading this blog – will believe this job was a success because it did the job in the most utilitarian way.  If a doctor reattached an arm to an amputee and put it on backwards and in a manner where it was of no use, was he successful?  The arm is attached and it is somewhat functional.  Oh well, enough complaining.

The replacement window industry has been around as long as tin men have run over vinyl siding with shiny new Cadillacs.  In the 70’s the craze for energy efficiency spawned an entire generation of products and high pressure salesmen to peddle them.  With that highly desired product offering came the need to quickly and efficiently install it.  Few “home improvement companies” would have lasted long if they had been faced with extensive interior and exterior renovations with each sale.

Home improvement products are a specific product line.  The industry is sales driven with high margins and typically feature a one-call-close sales structure.  The “Tin Men” have disappeared with zip-up boots and derby hats.  With a more knowledgeable consumer has arrived a reasonable business model where reputable remodelers provide energy-efficient products as an added feature to the more traditional fare of the modern renovator.

Window Replacement Involves a Saw Zaw and some Creative Caulking

Replacement windows are built differently than builder’s grade flanged windows meant for new construction applications.  The replacement window is typically between 2 3/4″ and 3″ thick.  The window is built to the nearest quarter-inch because the measurement for the window is derived by measuring within the inside of the finished sheetrock or trim.  If the home has a brick exterior, the dimension is derived by measuring within the brick around the window opening.  In a brick application, the sill of the window frame will be built with a slight pitch to accommodate the soldiered brick sill.

Replacement windows have no flange.  The window is installed similarly to a door in that screws are sunk within specific points at the inside center of the window frame to secure the unit.  The existing window is removed by cutting the flange between the interior sheetrock/trim and the old window or between the brick and the existing window.  Once removed, the replacement window slides into place snugly inside the sheetrock or window trim.  The thicker window allows the installer to adjust the “reveal” of the unit in or out to create the desired cover for brick or interior sill materials.  Once secured, caulk the joint where the new window meets the sill and/or brick.  To insulate the new window, the manufacturers recommend a strip of fiberglass insulation is installed around the window.

The construction industry is easily accessible to anyone who feels up to the task.  The proper methods of going about the tasks required by the industry are as detailed and skill-necessary as any highly technical job in other fields.



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