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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 choices can create a more dramatic change than replacing your home windows. But while many other projects can be handled with a little effort and a good blueprint, replacing a home window demands serious work and a good deal of technical smarts.

So, replacing your windows is no easy job. You’ll want to understand what type of window is necessary, the specific plans required for replacing the window based on the size of the opening, and what tools it will take to make the right fit for your new window. Here are a few thoughts you may wish to consider:

What is Your Frame’s Condition?

The condition, or even presence, of the window frame is the first major factor in matching the correct type of window to your replacement job. If you are constructing a new window frame, removing a damaged frame, or otherwise exposing the wall down to the studs, consider 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 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 install. Replacing a window with a choice that is an equal size will make a pocket replacement window more likely. Still, upgrading your window to a larger size will mean removing the previous frame and creating a new frame to fit your larger window as part of a full frame installation. That means a full frame replacement window will be needed for the job.

Removing the Old Frame

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

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

Full Frame Window Options

Two window styles can meet your needs when doing a full frame window installation: Nail fin windows and block frame windows.

Nail fin windows are frequently seen in new construction projects, or any job where the walls will be taken down to the frame (studs). These windows have a thin piece of metal extending from the window itself that goes around the edges of the window frame. When adding the window to a new frame, this nail fin connects the window directly to the house’s studs and is unseen between the interior and exterior of your home.

Applying a nail fin window can be both hard work and may need the addition of a new window frame or removal of siding so the builder can apply the nail fin to the studs. Nail fin windows are easier to install in new construction (for example, when adding a room to your house), as the window is installed before the rest of the wall is built around it. Also, if you are looking to add a nail fin window to a present wall in a section of the house where a stone or brick exterior would also have to be damaged, the job might not be worth the effort demanded.

Block frame windows present an alternative for situations where nail fin windows would be more difficult to add. These windows come without a nail fin and are designed to fit inside existing window flashing (the section of the window that includes material to prevent water from entering into a house’s walls) with minimal new construction work. This makes block frame windows a standard replacement for a number of older homes that currently have a window structure constructed or walls with siding or brick exteriors that would otherwise have to be damaged or removed to add a nail fin window.

Using Your Existing Frame

Replacement pocket windows are a little 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 uninstalled for the new window to be added, pocket replacements allow homeowners to retain the original frame, trim, siding and casing.

Just as with full frame window replacement, the wall exterior around the window opening will impact how the pocket replacement process works, however 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 taken out before pulling out the head, jamb and sill stops with a pry-bar. As with the full frame replacement window, using a piece of wood to protect your wall exterior when uninstalling the old window is a smart way to help avoid any unintended damage.

After removing the existing sashes and inspecting and readying 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 ensure a proper, balanced fit.

Consult with a Professional Installer

The steps needed to replace a window in an existing wall require a clear understanding of your design ideas and a specific installation of your window. You can see detailed step-by-step installation instructions based on both the kind of window, as well as the type of window opening, at install.pella.com.

Even with these detailed instructions, most homeowners realize that the possibility of accidental 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 those at Pella of San Antonio, provides the technical knowledge and know-how to do the job correctly.

Wherever you are in your home window replacement job, contact a Pella professional today. Even if you are planning on replacing a home window on your own, a window installation pro can help you decide what installation method is right for your home and discuss installation plans.

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