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Removing a window

MATERIALS: Scrap wood

TOOLS: Utility knife, pry bar, reciprocating saw, claw hammer, ladder

Almost any window can be repaired. Sometimes, however, it’s more work than it’s worth. A window may be so badly deteriorated, or leak so much heat, that the most economical option is to replace it. Before replacing the window, do two things: Of course, remove the old window. But before you do that, make sure you really want to remove the window.

If you live in an old Victorian house, a farmhouse sitting on a few acres, or an original New England saltbox, for example, replacing windows should be a last resort. A new window will call attention to itself and damage the charm, and possibly the resale value, of the house. Better to thoroughly caulk, weather strip, and add storm windows. Sometimes, of course, you simply need a new window. Whether the house is new or old, the new window should match the old as closely as possible. If you can’t find a good match on the shelf, talk to the store about custom-made windows. These often cost only a little more than ready-made.

1 USE A UTILITY KNIFE TO CUT THROUGH THE PAINT WHEREVER TRIM MEETS THE WALL, both inside and outside the house. This will keep paint from chipping or drywall from tearing when you remove the trim. Pry off all the trim with a pry bar. Put a piece of scrap wood under the pry bar to keep from damaging the wall surrounding the window.

2 OLDER DOUBLE-HUNG WINDOWS HAVE SASH WEIGHTS that keep the window from crashing down. Remove the weights by cutting the cord that runs to them. Hang onto the cord, raise the weights, and remove them. Fill the void with fiberglass insulation.

3 PRY OFF THE EXTERIOR MOLDINGS. If you have to pry against the siding, protect it by putting a block of wood between it and the pry bar.

4 CUT THROUGH THE NAILS ATTACHING THE WINDOW TO THE FRAMING. If the window has nailing fins, pry loose any siding covering them. With a claw hammer or pry bar, pull out the nails that run through the fins into the sheathing, Remove any shims, and slide the window out of the opening.

Installing a window

MATERIALS: Window, wood shims, drip edge, casing nails, fiberglass insulation, silicone caulk

TOOLS: Hammer, 4-foot level, circular saw, drill and bit, nail set, utility knife, caulking gun

MEASURE ALL WINDOWS - You might think it’s safe to assume that all your windows are the same size and that if you've measured one you’ve measured them all. However, it’s best to measure each rough opening to be sure that the window will fit properly and that you won’t have a hole in your wall while you wait for the correct replacement. Mark the opening and the window to match correctly.

Replacement windows are available in various shapes, styles, colors, and construction types. They are commonly made of wood, aluminum, or vinyl. Each manufacturer’s product has its own specific installation instructions, but on the whole, window units are installed in the same manner. Prehung windows come complete with finish frames, and you can insert them in one piece into the rough opening left by the old window. Measure the rough opening and be sure to purchase a new window unit to fit.

You’ll need to custom-order most windows, and delivery can take several weeks. It’s risky to remove the existing windows before the replacements are onsite. Between manufacturer’s delays, bad weather, wrong orders, and shipping problems, it’s difficult to guarantee an exact delivery date. If you’re in a hurry, you could wind up with a big hole in the side of your house and no cover for it. The bottom line: Keep the old windows in place until the new ones have arrived and you have inspected them for damage and verified their size.

As important as windows are to the security, appearance, and energy efficiency of your home, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of installing them. You’ll need to rent scaffolding to safely install windows on upper levels of your home. Windows are awkward to handle so it’s generally a good idea to find a helper when you’re working above the first floor. The basics of installing new windows are pretty similar from manufacturer to manufacturer, but there will be differences. Follow instructions carefully.

1 REMOVE THE EXISTING WINDOW OR WALL SURFACE AND THEN TEST-FIT THE WINDOW, centering it in the rough opening. Support the window with wood blocks and shims placed below the horizontal jambs. Make sure the window is plumb and level, and adjust the shims if necessary.

2 CLAMP OR HOLD THE MOLDING IN PUCE, THEN TRACE AROUND IT. If you have vinyl or aluminum siding, you may need to install something called a J-channel to hold the trim. This usually requires trimming away a bit more siding. If a J-channel is required it will be called for and explained in the manufacturer’s instructions.

3 CUT THE SIDING ALONG THE OUTLINE. Use a circular saw adjusted so the blade depth equals the thickness of the siding. Start the cut with the toe of the saw plate on the siding, but with the blade and heel of the plate above the surface. Slide the saw guard back, start the saw, and ease the blade into the wood. To avoid splintering, stop before the corner. Complete the corner cuts with a sharp chisel.

4 CUT A LENGTH OF DRIP EDGE TO FIT OVER THE TOP OF THE WINDOW, and then slide it between the siding and the building paper. Wear ear and eye protection when working with power tools.

5 YOUR WINDOW WILL EITHER HAVE A PIECE OF MOLDING, CALLED BRICK MOLD, AROUND THE OUTSIDE, OR A NAILING FIN. If it has brick mold, apply a continuous bead of caulk around the opening. If it has a nailing fin, apply the caulk to the back of the fin.

6 INSERT THE WINDOW INTO THE OPENING and push the brick mold or nailing fin tight against the sheathing.

7 CHECK TO SEE HOW MUCH ADJUSTMENT WILL BE NECESSARY to level and plumb the window unit.

8 IF THE WINDOW IS PERFECTLY LEVEL, TACK IT IN PLACE. On a window with brick mold, do this by predrilling and then driving 16d casing nails partway into the top corners of the molding. If the window is uneven, correct it by shimming below the side jambs and then tacking in place.

Nailing fins - On windows with nailing fins, drive 2-inch roofing nails into the holes at the upper corners and partway into the framing. Leave enough of the nail exposed so that you can remove it if you have problems later in the installation.

9 PLACE SHIMS TOGETHER SO THAT THEIR COMBINED THICKNESS WILL FILL THE OPENING BETWEEN THE JAMBS AND FRAMING. Despite the nails you just put in, the window will still move somewhat. Use the shims to center the window in the opening.

10 MEASURE THE DIAGONALS OF THE WINDOW FOR SQUARE. If they are equal, the window is square. If not, adjust the shims until the window is square. Always recheck for level and square after you adjust the shims.

11 IF THE WINDOW HAS A BRICK MOLD, PREDRILL HOLES IN IT AND DRIVE 16d NAILS THROUGH IT AND INTO THE FRAMING. If the window has a nailing fin, nail through it into the framing. In either case, start at the corners and space the remaining nails as recommended by the manufacturer. Drive all nail heads below the wood surface with a nail set.

Vinyl replacement windows - Removing and replacing a window is a big carpentry job, even if it’s not difficult. If you're unsure of your skills or you simply don't have time for the job, consider a vinyl replacement window. A replacement window fits in the jamb that holds your existing window. To install one, you'll pull out the old window, plus moldings, stops, etc., until you're left with just the sill and jambs. Some replacement windows sit in a frame that you simply slide between the jambs—window and all—and then screw in place. Others are designed so that you’ll attach tracks to the jambs and then slip windows into the jambs. The first option is easier but reduces your view by the thickness of the frame holding the window. The second option involves a few more pieces, but they're thinner, improving your view. Replacement windows are custom-built to your specifications. Building them can take a few weeks, so keep any old windows in place until the new ones arrive. Stop by the millwork department of your home center and ask what measurements they’ll need to place the order. (They should have a form with clear directions.) Because the window frames are vinyl, they're energy-efficient. Some windows are better insulated than others, however, and some have better glass than others. Read the brochures and make sure you get what you want.

12 A WINDOW WITH A NAILING FIN OFTEN HAS A SPECIAL-ORDER MOLDING that you apply over it. Install as directed by the manufacturer.

13 FILL THE GAPS BETWEEN THE WINDOW JAMBS and the framing members with loosely packed fiberglass insulation. Wear work gloves, safety glasses, and a dust mask when handling insulation.

14 TRIM THE SHIMS FLUSH WITH W THE FRAMING by scoring them with a utility knife and then snapping off the excess.

15 APPLY PAINTABLE SILICONE CAULK AROUND THE ENTIRE WINDOW UNIT and fill the nail holes with caulk. When the caulk dries, paint to match the trim on the rest of your house.

Installation variation: Masonry clips - Use metal masonry clips when a masonry or brick surface prevents you from nailing brick molding in place. The masonry clips hook into precut grooves in the window jambs and attach to the jambs with utility screws. After positioning the window unit in the rough opening, bend the masonry clips around the framing members. Anchor the masonry clips with utility screws. You can also use masonry clips in ordinary lap siding installations to avoid making nail holes in the smooth surface of the brick moldings. For example, windows pre-coated with polymer-based paint can be installed with masonry clips so that the brick moldings are not punctured by nails.

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