Maintaining Screening

Even rustproof screening materials require occasional attention. Check the caulking around the frames of combination units, and replace any worn-out gaskets. Vacuum dirt that collects on the screening. Clean oxidized aluminum with car polish. Older wood-framed screens require careful monitoring and diligent maintenance. Repaint the frames as soon as the old paint starts to fail. Check each unit when you take it down and set aside those that need repair. Consider how many windows you actually open up during the summer months. Leaving a storm window in place not only saves you some work, it also helps keep an air-conditioned room cool—as long as the window does not receive direct sunlight.

Clean screens. Remove dust and debris by spraying a screen with a blast from a hose. Scrub metal screens with a stiff brush. Clean the frames as well as the screening.

Paint steel screens. If older steel screening is heavily rusted, replace it. If the rust is only modest, apply paint that is made to go over rusty metal. A paint pad is the easiest method. Paint one side, let it dry, then paint the other side. To unclog holes, gently rub the back side with a dry pad.

Repairing Screens and Storms

The little parts on an aluminum storm/screen—the splining, gaskets, plastic pins, and sliding clips that hook to the storm’s frame—are notoriously fragile. To find replacements, look for the manufacturers name on the frame, or bring broken parts to a hardware store. Wood storm or screen frames that have been painted too many times may need to be sanded or planed, then repainted. Installing weather stripping can make wood storms more energy-efficient. Position felt or rubber weather stripping on the window’s frame or the frame of the storm to create a tight seal when the storm is attached. You may need to move the closing hardware in order to accommodate the thickness of the weather stripping. Adjust or replace screen/storm door closers as soon as they begin to malfunction; doors that slam or flap in the breeze wear out quickly. A closer should shut the door slowly but completely. Replacement closers are inexpensive and easy to install.

Tools: Needle-nose pliers, hammer, drill, shears, and screwdriver.

Repair a wooden frame. Reinforce corner joints in a wooden frame using mending plates. Position a plate, drill pilot holes, and drive screws to fasten the plate. When possible install a plate on both sides; offset the plates so the screws don’t run into each other.

Seal air leaks. Air leaks around interior sashes or storms cause condensation to form on the sash that’s not leaking. The solution is to caulk the air leak.

Maintain a closer. Every autumn, lubricate door closers by wiping the shaft with oil. Check the adjustment for proper operation. Once a closer starts to fail, replace it.

Patch a screen. Mend a small puncture with a dab of superglue. To patch a hole in a metal screen, cut a patch, unravel a few strands, fit the patch over the hole, and bend the strands toward the hole. Repairing fiberglass screening is difficult; you’re better off replacing the entire screen.

Replacing Screening

Install screening much as an artist I stretches a canvas—fasten it at one end of the frame, pull the material taut, then secure it at the sides and the other end. With wood frames, pry screen moldings loose with a putty knife. Work from the center to the ends, applying leverage near the nails. If molding breaks, replace it. Standard aluminum screening is subject to staining; “charcoal” or “silver-gray” aluminum is easier to maintain. Fiberglass won’t stain, but its filaments are thicker, which affects visibility.

Tools: Putty knife, shears or scissors, utility knife, staple gun, saw, and spline roller.

1. Attach the screen at the top. With shears, cut the screening slightly wider and at least 1 foot longer than the frame, then staple the top edge. Nail a strip of wood to the bench or floor, roll the screen over it, and nail another strip on top of the first.

2. Insert wedges and fasten screening. Rip-cut two wedges and insert them between the cleats and frame on each side. Tap the wedges until the screening is tight. Staple the screening to the bottom edge, then the sides. Trim the excess and refit the screen moldings.

1. To replace screening in an aluminum frame, pry out the spline. For aluminum frames, remove the old mesh by prying out the spline. You may need to buy new splining.

2. Cut new screening. Square up the frame, lay new screening over it, and cut it the same size as the outside of the frame.

3. Push the screening into place and install the spline. Bend the screening edges and force them into the channel with the convex wheel of the spline roller. Force the tubular spline into the channel with the concave wheel of the spline roller, tightening the screening.

Installing New Storm/Screen Windows

Door and window units for new construction arrive with doors or sashes already hung in their frames. Carpenters build “rough” openings, tip the units in place, and add trim. Combination screen/storm doors and windows also arrive assembled. Because openings for these units are already finished, combinations usually are made-to-order. Installation may be included in the purchase price, but you can save 10 to 15 percent by installing units yourself. Professional installers are usually paid by the piece, rather than by the hour. This can lead to shoddy installation. If you hire pros, make it clear that you will not write the check unless the windows are installed correctly.

Tools: Hammer, drill, screwdriver, and caulking gun.

Buying Storm/Screen Windows - Combination windows and doors pay for themselves with energy savings, but beware of shoddy products. Poorly made or poorly fitted units can leak air, are difficult to operate, and eventually turn into eyesores.

■ It’s worth the extra expense to buy units that are made of thicker-gauge aluminum with an anodized or powdered coating.

■ See that the pins and sliding clips are strong and that replacement parts are available. Consider buying some replacement parts up front; they may be difficult to find later.

■ Better units have warrantees against defects. Choose a company that has been around for a while; a fly-by-night outfit may not be there when you need a part or service.

■ Check the corners of the frames. Lapped joints are stronger and tighter than mitered joints. If you can see light through the joints, you can be sure that they’ll admit air.

■ Combinations come in double- or triple-track designs. With double-track units, you must seasonally remove and replace the bottom sash (either storm or screen). Triple-track units have tracks for the top and bottom storm sashes and the screen sash, and are self-storing—you don’t have to remove the storm or screen sash you are not using. The deeper the tracks are, the higher a unit’s insulation value will be.

1. Measure window. A storm/screeen unit has a flange that fits over the window casing. This allows some leeway, so the unit does not have to fit precisely. Check the casing for square, and take into account any out-of-squareness. Measure the width between the inside edges of the side casings, and measure the height between the top casing and the sill.

2. Trace the outline. Place the combination unit on the sill; center it between the side casings. The units should be installed square, even if the opening is not square. To check for square, slide a sash nearly all the way up, and see that it aligns with the frame. Sashes should glide smoothly; any binding means the frame is not straight. Trace the outline of the unit with a pencil.

3. Caulk the casing. Scrape and clean away any debris that could inhibit a tight seal between the combination and the casing. Using a caulking gun, run a bead of latex/silicone caulk around the casings about 1 inch inside the pencil lines. Also run a bead along the sill.

4. Drive screws. Align the frame with the pencil line, press the frame into the caulk, and drive several screws. Test that the sashes operate smoothly and make adjustments if needed. Drive a screw into every available hole. If screws are difficult to drive, or if you are within 2 inches of the end of a piece of casing, drill a pilot hole before driving the screw.

5. Caulk the outside. Caulk around the outside of the frame where it meets the top and side casings. Also caulk the bottom where it meets the sill.

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