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What You Need to Know When Replacing a Window in an Existing Wall

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When it comes to home repair jobs, few solutions can create a more dramatic change than replacing your home windows. But while many other projects can be handled with a little work and a good blueprint, replacing a home window needs serious work and a good deal of technical knowledge.

So, replacing your windows is no easy job. You’ll want to identify what type of window you’ll be using, the specific steps required for replacing the window based on the size of the opening, and what materials it will take to create the right fit for your new window. Here are a few thoughts you may want to consider:

What is Your Frame’s Condition?

The condition, or even presence, of the window frame is the first significant factor in matching the proper type of window to your replacement job. If you are building a new window frame, removing a damaged frame, or otherwise exposing the wall down to the studs, choose new construction windows, also known as full frame replacement windows. Pocket replacement windows can be installed in projects where the window frame is not being removed, is in good condition and properly leveled.

The size of your window will also play a part in which style of window you should purchase. Replacing a window with a window that is an equal size will make a pocket replacement window more likely. However, upgrading your window to a larger size will mean removing the previous frame and constructing a new frame to fit your larger window as part of a full frame installation. That means a full frame replacement window will be required for the job.

Removing the Old Frame

Selecting a full frame replacement window, as the name infers, typically means replacing the pre-existing window frame, sashes and screen. This can usually be accomplished with a utility knife, screwdrivers, pry bar, hammer, putty knife and circular saw, depending on your current window.

To safeguard your home exterior trim when uninstalling the frame, place a block of wood between the wall material and window, and then use a pry bar to clear away the old window trim.

Full Frame Window Options

Two window choices can satisfy your needs when working on a full frame window installation: Nail fin windows and block frame windows.

Nail fin windows are common in new construction projects, or any remodel where the walls will be pulled to the frame (studs). These windows have a thin piece of metal added to the window itself that runs around the perimeter of the window frame. When affixing the window to a new frame, this nail fin attaches the window directly to the house’s studs and is placed between the interior and exterior of your home.

Applying a nail fin window can be both labor-intensive and may require the building of a new window frame or removal of siding so the person placing the window can attach the nail fin to the studs. Nail fin windows are more convenient to install in new construction (for example, when adding a room to your house), as the window is placed before the rest of the wall is built around it. Further, if you are looking to install a nail fin window to a present wall in a part of the house where a stone or brick exterior would also have to be damaged, the process might not be worth the effort needed.

Block frame windows offer an option for situations where nail fin windows would be more difficult to install. These windows are created without a nail fin and are designed to fit inside existing window flashing (the area of the window that holds material to prevent water from entering into the walls) with minimal new construction work. This makes block frame windows a standard replacement for most older homes that presently have a window structure constructed or houses with siding or brick exteriors that would otherwise have to be impacted or removed to add a nail fin window.

Using Your Existing Frame

Replacement pocket windows are slightly different than full frame replacement windows and are created to be placed inside an existing window frame. While the existing window sashes and exterior stops of the window should be taken out for the new window to be added, pocket replacements allow homeowners to maintain the original frame, trim, siding and casing.

Just as with full frame window replacement, the house exterior around the window opening will impact how the pocket replacement process works, but with less steps. Different from full frame replacement window removal, much of the existing sash, hinges and operating hardware will be attached with screws that must be uninstalled before removing the head, jamb and sill stops with a pry-bar. As with the full frame replacement window, using a piece of wood to safeguard your wall exterior when uninstalling the old window is a good way to help prevent any accidental damage.

After removing the existing sashes and inspecting and readying the opening, the replacement window can be placed into the opening and existing frame. Remember to plumb, level and square the window at each step of the installation to ensure a proper, balanced fit.

Consult with a Professional Installer

The steps necessary to replace a window in an existing wall need a clear knowledge of your design plans and a exact installation of your window. You can find detailed step-by-step installation plans based on both the type of window, as well as the type of window opening, at install.pella.com.

Even with these detailed instructions, many homeowners discover that the idea of incidental damage to their home (as well as the time, price and labor demanded) make window installation a project they’d rather not take on. Working with a professional home window installation expert, like those at Pella of Northern Virginia, brings the technical knowledge and know-how to do the job correctly.

No matter where you are in your home window replacement plans, call a Pella professional today. Even if you are planning on replacing a home window on your own, a professional can help you choose what installation method is best for your home and discuss installation approaches.

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