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Window replacement basics: Pros and cons of two approaches

By Lou Manfredini June 6, 2011

You have lots of choices when it comes to replacing your windows, and as many of you regular readers know, I work with Marvin Windows and Doors promoting their fine products. But for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on the “how” of window replacement, not the “what.”

Replacing your windows can be categorized into two buckets: inserts and full-frame.

Inserts are when the new windows go into the actual frame of your old windows. The installer will remove the sashes and trim that holds it all in place. Now the key here is that the frames need to be sound and in good shape. The new window will have its own frame that will be custom sized and made to fit that exact opening. The new window may be slightly smaller than what you currently have, but this type of installing goes much quicker and can be less messy.

The new units are screwed to the existing frames, insulated, caulked and trimmed. Typically the exterior will be wrapped in aluminum if you have installed some type of low-maintenance exterior on your new insert windows. The interior trim will be the same that was there before; only a small stop or additional strip of wood will be added to finish off the interior.

Full-frame is the method that removes the entire window frame and all to expose the rough opening of the window as it was when the home was first built. This method is especially beneficial if there was substantial wood rot around the windows. This also allows you to get the maximum glass space available, perhaps even more than you had before because modern window frames and sashes have thinner rails (though very strong) to bring in more light into your home.

Full frame installation also offers a better opportunity to insulate around the opening and gives you more options as to the overall size of the window you install. Sometimes an opening can be enlarged depending on how it was originally framed.

As far as pricing, the general rule is that insert products are less costly than full-frame because labor time required for inserts is much less. Either way your new windows will help make you more comfortable, save you some money on your energy bills and add real lasting value to your home.