Replacement windows
Saturday, December 19, 2009 at 8:49AM
Ron Hoehn

    Replacement windows are those windows manufactured to fit inside the existing window frames already in place on your house. They were designed to be custom manufactured so as to facilitate not removing the sturdy affixed part of the window on your house but to replace the movable sashes in all homes without excessive dismantling of what in most cases is a good window frame.

To determine what type of window is right for your application is a matter of style and energy concerns and what is the best value for your house. Available to you will be Vinyl, wood, fiberglass, aluminum and a combination of materials. An example being in the case of wood clad windows, where the exterior is clad with aluminum, urethane or fiberglass, so the sturdy beauty of wood can still be on the interior, while the exterior gets the highest degree of weather protection possible.

All manufactures include Glass properties that can be from simple thermal pane to the highest level of coated glass and thermally efficient gasses that can be locked in-between each pane for superior insulation values. Look for energy star rating, low E and argon filled thermal pane when upgrading your windows. The added levels of insulation to sash members and the new Government mandates for energy efficiency are a good investment considering energy cost are always a major concern.

The energy rating a window earns is a combination of the glass, sash and frame members and how well they prevent air infiltration and resist outside temperature changes. All manufactures can be compared by observing and noting their energy ratings. In general a lower number will mean a higher value to you. Quality of parts and serviceability along with a reputable manufacture that is local to your needs should be considered also.

It is important to note that all manufactures do not use the same components and that the working mechanisms such as locks, balances and gaskets can be of different quality substantially causing differences into the future efficiency of those windows. For instance, block and tackle style balances are superior in durability and function then wound spring or what was called spiral balances which are prone to dysfunction before the life expectancy of the window is achieved. The clock spring like balances that some companies use are also a good alternative and are quite simple to replace if necessary. Double locks and aluminum reinforcement on wide vinyl windows is preferred and double gasketting along all joints and moving parts is also a plus.

The style of windows you choose is nearly as unlimited as what has been on the market for decades with the exception that now windows can be made to withstand far worse weather with far less care. The choice should be in keeping with your homes existing architectural character.

Installation of replacement windows is a simple procedure with some attention to problem spots and details. In older homes the need to remove the storm windows will be necessary, and that is as simple as removing the screws around its perimeter or when they are painted on with many coats of paint, you will need to gently pry them off with a flat bar being careful not to damage the stop or the trim that they are fastened to.

In the interior removal of the old sashes will be methodical. First you should score along any paint edges with a utility knife to avoid breaking off paint chunks un necessarily and remove the side stops that hold in the sashes. In some cases the side stops are part of the window frame as in some modern manufacturers. These can be scored multiple times to be split off with care if needed.

Once the window sash is exposed the method of removal of the spring balances, ropes, weights or friction liners can be determined. In the case of ropes and weights, there will be a little door access 1/3 the way up on either side with a nail or screw keeping it secure. It can be removed and the weights can be removed along with the ropes and pullies. Most other sash springs and liners can be removed with a flat bar and some careful leverage and the removal of screws and nails that hold them in place.

At this point, when the sash is completely removed and all the dividers, parting beads and loose nails have been attended to, you should clean the opening of dirt and loose paint. If the sill needs repairing this is a good time to either replace it or make minor repairs and wrap it with aluminum coil stock. If you are unfamiliar with coil stock and the methods to bend it into place it is perhaps best to leave this to a profession contractor with the proper tools for bending sheet aluminum or vinyl.

Once every thing is determined to be satisfactorily cleaned and corrected it time to install your new replacement windows. On windows that had weights and pullies, there is an extra step where you must fill the cavity where the weights used to hang with insulation. You can stuff fiberglass insulation up from the bottom and struggle to get it tight and complete but I would rather use a small blower and inject blown insulation completely into every void correctly than to struggle attempting a blind stuffing of fiberglass with limited success. If you can't acquire or build a blower to suit your need, then removal of the interior trim will gain you complete access to the weight pockets and they can be filled correctly with attention to details and needs with the assurance that it is done right. 

After this step is complete you can prepare your opening like any other window. Place a bead of calking around the entire interior of the exterior trim where the window will contact. Be neat and steady so clean up will be minimized after installation. Along the bottom place a strip of pipe insulation which is exactly the right width for window installation and will be used at a bout one small rol per window. Determine where the base expander of the new window will rest and add a small bead of calking along the sill at that point also making sure the insulation isn't going to interfere with it.

If the manufactured new replacement window has been measured correctly and the company uses a top expander, make sure you full that expander with a few strips of pipe insulation to keep the wind out. Place the window into the sill first and then as you compress the top expander you will be able to hinge the window into place using the bottom of the exterior trim and the interior sill as your guide.

Once you have forced the window into the calking that surrounds the edges on the outside that you placed there earlier, you can align the window to straightness, within the confines of that frame. When you measure for your new windows you should have allowed 1/4 of an inch clearance on the sides and 1/2 on the overall height to insure an easy fit. Too much clearance and the window will fall through the opening. Too little clearance and you will be struggling and swearing to force the fit and probably damage the windows ease of operation later.

Once the window is placed firmly in the opening, aligned to square and looks good it is time to lock it in place with the screws provided in their correct locations. Next adjust the mid point adjusting shims to keep the window frame from bowing after installation. Shim if necessary. Take pipe insulation and stuff it around the seam between the new window and the old frame and calk that also before closing it in with the side stops. All joints should be calked on the outside (as you did before installation) and all interior seams (as you do after installation).

Once the side stops are returned to their former locations and the calking is all cleaned and neat, the little bit of interior painting can be done around the window edges and side stops. If a careful neat application has been done then clean up should be a breeze.

Tools needed; Drop cloth, flat bars, one small one regular size, a flat screw driver and a Philips head, calking gun, nail puller or plyers for pulling small nails, hammer and utility knife and a trash bag.

A screw gun is handy as is a rag for clean up. A power blower if you need to blow in insulation and a Metal break for bending sheet aluminum if you have that situation where the sill needs to be covered. A ladder for outside reaching per job requirements.

The most important part of this job and in fact most jobs is accurate measuring! Always measure your window opening absolutely accurately being aware of circumstances such as out of square openings. Manufactures take two methods of sizing that are explained as "Tip to Tip " or "Rough opening".

I like to do tip to tip so I get the most accurate measurement for my concerns which means I must subtract the clearances needed to fit the window in. A rough opening measurement is when you give the manufacturer the actual window sash opening and they deduct the needed clearances. Either way it is up to you to insure that the windows fit snug and squarely at the sight, so your efforts must be sure and your solutions and applications enduring as the window life is expected to be 20 years at  least.

May your house be warmed by your expertise and satisfaction be from your skill.

Good luck.





Article originally appeared on Ron Hoehn carpentry and remodeling service (
See website for complete article licensing information.