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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 projects, few choices can make a more dramatic change than replacing your home windows. But while many other jobs can be completed with a little work and a good plan, replacing a home window demands serious work and a bit of technical knowledge.

Because of that, replacing your windows is no easy job. You’ll want to understand what type of window you’ll need, the specific steps required for replacing the window based on the size of the opening, and what items it will take to make the proper fit for your new window. Here are a few things you may need 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 project. If you are constructing a new window frame, taking out a damaged frame, or otherwise tearing the wall down to the studs, choose new construction windows, also referred to as full frame replacement windows. Pocket replacement windows can be installed in projects where the window frame is not being taken out, is in good condition and properly leveled.

The size of your window will also play a factor in which style of window you should use. Replacing a window with a window that is a similar size will make a pocket replacement window a better choice. However, upgrading your window to a larger size will require taking out the previous frame and creating a new frame to fit your larger window as part of a full frame installation. Because of that, a full frame replacement window will be demanded for the job.

Removing the Old Frame

Choosing a full frame replacement window, as the name implies, typically calls for replacing the existing window frame, sashes and screen. This can normally be taken care of with a utility knife, screwdrivers, pry bar, hammer, putty knife and circular saw, depending on your installed window.

To safeguard your home exterior trim when uninstalling the frame, lay a block of wood between the wall material and window, and then use a pry bar to remove the previous window trim.

Full Frame Window Options

Two window choices can satisfy your needs when doing 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 taken down to the frame (studs). These windows feature a thin piece of metal connected to the window itself that goes around the edges of the window frame. When affixing the window to a new frame, this nail fin joins the window directly to the house’s studs and is hidden between the interior and exterior of your home.

Applying a nail fin window can be both labor-intensive and may demand the addition of a new window frame or removal of siding so the builder can add the nail fin to the studs. Nail fin windows are better 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 an existing wall in a section of the house where a stone or brick exterior would also have to be replaced, the process might not be worth the time demanded.

Block frame windows present an alternative for projects where nail fin windows would be more damaging to place. These windows are built without a nail fin and are designed to fit inside existing window flashing (the area of the window that includes material to prevent water from entering into a house’s walls) with little new construction work. This makes block frame windows a standard replacement for most older homes that already have a window structure in place or homes with siding or brick exteriors that would otherwise have to be damaged or removed to place a nail fin window.

Using Your Existing Frame

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

Just as with full frame window replacement, the wall exterior surrounding the window opening will determine how the pocket replacement process works, this time with not as many steps. Unlike full frame replacement window removal, much of the existing sash, hinges and operating hardware will be connected with screws that must be uninstalled before removing the head, jamb and sill stops with a pry-bar. Like the full frame replacement window, using a piece of wood to safeguard your wall exterior when removing the old window is a good way to help defend against any accidental damage.

After pulling out the existing sashes and inspecting and prepping the opening, the replacement window can be installed into the opening and existing frame. Make sure to plumb, level and square the window at each step of the installation to have the best chance for a proper, balanced fit.

Consult with a Professional Installer

The tasks required to replace a window in an existing wall demand a clear understanding of your design plans and a specific installation of your window. You can see 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 realize that the idea of unintended damage to their home (as well as the time, price and labor required) make window installation a project they’d rather not handle. Planning with a professional home window installation expert, like the staff at Pella of Traverse City, brings the technical knowledge and know-how to do the job safely.

No matter where you are in your home window replacement plans, contact a Pella professional today. Even if you are thinking about replacing a home window on your own, a technician can help determine what installation method is correct for your home and discuss installation options.

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