Insert vs. Full Frame Window Replacement: Benefits, Limitations & Costs Comparison

Your guide to understanding the difference between insert and full frame window replacement solutions.

July 14, 2022
When it’s time to replace your windows, you’ll be presented with many choices. In addition to size, shape, aesthetics and how the window functions, you’ll have the option to choose between insert replacement and full frame replacement. When you’re unfamiliar with window and door terminology—or like many, are replacing windows for the first time—these terms can be confusing. We’re here to demystify the process and to explain what you’ll need to know to choose the right window replacement solution for your home.
man installing a replacement double hung window in rough opening.

What is Insert Window Replacement?

The quick explanation: Insert window replacement is when new windows are installed within the existing frame. Only the old sash, hardware and covers are removed and replaced.
  • Benefit: less extensive installation and typically lower cost; preserves existing interior and exterior trim
  • Limitation: only an option if you have structurally sound wood or aluminum frames—and you may see a slight reduction of light opening

Can You Replace Windows Without Replacing the Frame?

 When you choose insert window replacement, new windows are installed within the existing window frame. Also known as “frame-in-frame replacement” or a “pocket window,” it’s an option when your existing wood or aluminum window frames are structurally sound and you want to preserve existing interior and exterior trim. The existing sash, operating hardware and covers are removed and the new window unit is inserted into the old frame where it is anchored, insulated and sealed.

Because existing trim and siding are not disturbed, this is generally a quicker installation and typically a lower cost replacement solution. An insert window is a great option when you’re happy with the size, shape and operating style of your existing window.

Even relatively new vinyl windows—less than ten years old—can suffer from seal failures and degradation from exposure to weather, and may need to be replaced. Note that insert replacement is usually not an option when replacing vinyl windows since the vinyl frames commonly lack the structure to support a quality and long-lasting replacement solution.
man looking at a replacement double hung window to find gaps.

What is Full Frame Window Replacement?

The quick explanation: Full frame window replacement is when existing windows are completely removed down to the studs and the new window is installed in the opening.

  • Benefit: Allows a professional to inspect for and repair water damage; offers flexibility to replace with a new style or size window
  • Limitation: More extensive installation and typically higher cost; requires removal of interior and exterior trim, and occasionally siding

How to Install Full Frame Replacement Windows:

When you choose full frame window replacement, existing windows or doors are completely removed down to the studs, along with interior and exterior trim—and occasionally some siding—and the new window is installed in the opening. By exposing the original opening, full frame replacement allows for inspection and repair of areas with rotting wood and water damage where the existing window’s failure has allowed weather into your home’s structure.

Full frame replacement is a more extensive installation process and typically carries a higher price point, but it also offers the flexibility of replacing with a new style or size window. Consider replacing a hard to reach double hung window with an easy-to-open awning window over the sink. You can add a door where there was a window, or extend your view and let more light into a room by bringing the window sill closer to the floor or your kitchen counter. Changing the size can affect the price, but working within the height and width of the existing opening can help to limit additional expense.

Full frame replacement is usually necessary when you have vinyl frames, your frames have sustained damage over the years, or you are remodeling your home.

Looking for more guidance?

A window and door dealer can help you evaluate the needs of your home and choose the most cost-effective solution for window and door replacement. Find dealers by zip code using our dealer locator.

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