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Installing Windows with Replaceability in Mind

construction_curious's picture

I recently moved into a 13 year old house with Pella windows that are wood on the inside and clad with aluminum on the outside.  My inspector missed a couple of windows that had rotten sashes under the aluminum.  Thus, I began my search for repair or replacement.  I was astonished by the lack of service from both local and corporate Pella representatives.  The local office wanted to charge me to come out for measurements and when they agreed to give me a rough quote based on my photos and measurements, I never heard back from them after repeated attempts.  The corporate office admitted that the local office is more interested in selling you an entire house full of new windows, then servicing existing clients.  Corporate was not helpful.  Eight months later, I still have no quote from Pella, so I'm giving up on them.

I started researching alternative window companies, materials, and window profiles.  This is where I really began to get discouraged.  Windows are one of the most expensive elements of your home's envelope, yet warranties from most mainstream manufactures average just 20 years.  Even more challenging, expensive wood windows often have shorter warranty periods than cheaper vinyl windows.  Many roofing products carry warranties longer than 20 years and while roofing systems are designed for replacement, windows (flashing, trim, and air/water sealing) are NOT designed or installed with replacement in mind.  Why?  While windows can be installed in existing frames with the nailing fins removed, many contractors advise against the practice since it relies heavily on your sealant to prevent the intrusion of moisture into the wall assembly.  For my specific situation I have aluminum siding with no brick mold around the windows.  Thus, peeling back the siding (as with vinyl siding) to install a new construction window is not feasible.  I'm considering cutting back the siding a bit and installing brick molding after the new window goes in, but I need to think through that before I attempt it.

It seems ludicrous that homeowners need to consider re-siding their home every 20 years when their windows need replacement.  Isn't there a better way?  Why don't we have window trim systems and techniques that can accommodate a less intrusive replacement and meet the aesthetic and energy requirements that we’re looking for?

yeah... (post #215668, reply #1 of 12)

That's a great post, opens up a broad field for consideration . 

One reason window warranties are so short is the manufacturer has to make a generic design that will be used in any house design. With a good install in a well designed house windows will last a long time. Reverse that and you can have short lived windows.

 

I started buillding and living in my current crib in 1978. All the original windows were made of good used wood sash with frames I made. As time and crib have progressed more space and windows were added that I shop built from scratch [ok quibblers I bought the insulating glass custom made to fit]. 

I don't pretend to be a guru of any sort but all of the windows, even the 39 year old ones are still fine. It's about designng an envelope first for function. Overhangs, flashing, pay attention to maintenance, that sort of thing. It's easy to make a design that will cause frame or sash rot in a few years, most homes give no design consideration for longevity of doors and windows. The manufacturers and installers can be behind the 8 ball right off the break.

I keep making plans to build storm sashes for some of the windows that have less than stellar infiltration resistance, especially the 4x8' side slider. I suspect that would put their lives forward a few more decades past what it may be now. But I'm pretty lazy in my old age....

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This house still has the wood (post #215668, reply #4 of 12)

This house still has the wood Andersen units that were originally installed in 1976, when the house was built.  In Minnesota.  Two sashes have been replaced due to mechanical damage, and a 3rd I'll likely replace next summer because the insulated glass is going bad.  But the frames and mechanisms are still good.

They do require scraping & painting occasionally, of course.


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Good report (post #215668, reply #6 of 12)

That's how it oughta work.

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There are replacement windows. (post #215668, reply #2 of 12)

Have you looked at replacement windows designed to fit into an existing frame?

 

Good luck. 

reusing the existing frame (post #215668, reply #5 of 12)

If you reuse the existing frame, are you able to get a water and air tight seal between the new window and the old frame?  Doesn't that rely on the performance of your sealant?  Maybe it's not a big deal, since the old frame will still try to move water towards the outside.

I'm guessing some glass area is lost too, but for ease of installation, it might be worth the trade-off.

If you ever have occasion to (post #215668, reply #3 of 12)

If you ever have occasion to use it you will find that the warranty for shingles isn't worth the tarpaper it's written on.


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Warranties. (post #215668, reply #7 of 12)

I had some caulk one time with a lifetime warranty. All you had to do was return the original package.

am a long-time Pella window installer. (post #215668, reply #8 of 12)

Let me see if I can help you. I've done Pella windows for 39 glorious years! I speak from experience. I do not seek to defend Pella. OK?

Warranty: The glass is warranted 20 yrs. This is the industry norm. The frame and sashes are a different matter. I notice that most of my clients don't maintain their windows. They prefer to live in the dot.com age...sigh. There is no such thing as a maintenance-free wood-clad window! Hence you will understand Pella's reluxtance to guarantee a product that can be damaged by neglect. Ugly (pardon me) vinyl is an entirely different matter. There is no sense trying to compare oranges and apples. The beauty of wood comes at a price...and is more easily damaged. You would not argue with that, would you? :)

Many roofing products carry warranties longer than 20 years and while roofing systems are designed for replacement, windows (flashing, trim, and air/water sealing) are NOT designed or installed with replacement in mind.  Why?

That is incorrect. A window, especially a Pella window, can be removed with ease IF YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TOOLS and know what you are doing. Pella windows (other manufacturers as well) come with nailing fins. You can easily cut through this material from the outside, using a special vibratory cutter (I love my DeWalt oscillating tool for that reason!). I have never not been able to removed a window cleanly. Knowledge, patience, spit and tools are needed.

While windows can be installed in existing frames with the nailing fins removed, many contractors advise against the practice since it relies heavily on your sealant to prevent the intrusion of moisture into the wall assembly. 

There are compelling reasons to install a new Pella window in an existing frame. Preserving the historic look is but one reason. Another is to not disturb existing trim both inside and out. A third is the relative cleanness of the installation. Pella designs a window specifically made (sans nailing fins) for this purpose, though most of their other products can be adapted to a particular situation. The installer needs to think things through...and that, my friend, may well be the source of your problem....sigh.

For my specific situation I have aluminum siding with no brick mold around the windows.  Thus, peeling back the siding (as with vinyl siding) to install a new construction window is not feasible.  I'm considering cutting back the siding a bit and installing brick molding after the new window goes in, but I need to think through that before I attempt it.

Let's assume you are replacing windows (not adding new ones). Your al. siding will have J-channels around the existing window. Feed your oscillating cutter blade twixt the J-channel and the existing window and cut the nailing fins all around. Remove the sashes and push out the old frame. In this particular example you will be using new Pella windows. You will have ordered them custom-sized to fit exactly into the opening with, perhaps, a tad of space to spare. Remove the nailing fins. Remove the sashes. Attach metal nailing plates (see Pella) to the side of the frame. Place the frame in the existing opening. Check diagonals, plumb and level. Shim. Now screw the metal plates to the studds on the inside. Check everything. Install the sashes. Check for proper latching. Check again. Then do more shimming and insulate. Finally, go back outside and apply a bead of silicone caulk where window frame and J-channel interface. Be caureful. Check.

Admittedly, it would be better if the alum. siding is cut back, so that you can fasten the nailing fins to the sheathing and top them with Pella tape. Once the window is in, you scribe for trim (numerous choices) and cut back the siding some more. You do this with a grinder and a metal cutting blade. Next you insert new J-channels, a drip cap at the top of the window. the exterior trim...and you caulk. Got it? This work requires skill.

If you are additing a window, a similar process applies, though now you must take other factors (stud location) into consideration.You need to watch for electric wires. You will need to consider how to install a header above the window.  You may have to open up a small section of drywall above the new window location....just saying.

It seems ludicrous that homeowners need to consider re-siding their home every 20 years when their windows need replacement.  Isn't there a better way?  Why don't we have window trim systems and techniques that can accommodate a less intrusive replacement and meet the aesthetic and energy requirements that we’re looking for?

Various trim systems and techniques are there for the person who "knows"! Are you willing to pay the price? I wish you well. If you lived near me, I'd give you a primer...for a fee...a beer, let's say! :)


 

Mel Fros froscarpentry.com

Thank you for the (post #215668, reply #9 of 12)

Thank you for the comprehensive response.

I completely agree with your assertion that the typical homeowner is looking for products that are maintenance free.  It seems that we are willing to compromise and accept a product that may only last 20-30 years without any maintenance as opposed to accepting a product  that could last 50 years plus, but require maintenance every 5 years.  This is probably where I depart from the rest of my mid-thirties demographic.  I don't mind putting in the maintenance work to extend the lifespan of a product. 

Case in point, my last home had all wood JELD-WEN windows made of southern pine with little or no rot treatment at the time of manufacturing.  So, even with regular painting, after 15 years water was finding its way into the wood (many times between the glass and sash).  Apparently, some people make sure to extend the paint 1/8" onto the glass to help seal out water.  Anyway, I replaced the worst with new sashes from the JELD-WEN and spent a significant amount of time researching wood rot repair on old boats and historic homes.  I found a good set of products from the "Rot Doctor" and have been happy with the results that have been rock solid for 8 years.

If maintenance of wood-clad windows is expected, why can't the manufacturer be more helpful to the homeowner in providing maintenance recommendations and repair products?   For example, the "online parts" section of Pella's website only contains lifts, cranks, and locks, most of which look to be for products that are currently in production.  The site refers you to a customer service number for more items, but as my first post described, the service has been less than stellar.  Additionally, if they were trying to make it easier for maintenance and repair, they could provide a drawing archive of their previously manufactured products as well as maintenance recommendations for these products.

Also on the maintenance front, maybe you know what Pella would recommend for an interior wood trim finish.  In our cold weather climate, we get condensation on the inside or our double hung wood Pella windows (especially when the wind is howling).  Even with window shades left open and constantly mopping up puddles, this inevitably results in water damage to the sills.  I'm not sure black water-stained wood looks better than "cheap" vinyl at this point.  We just moved into this house a year ago, so I need to resolve this issue and would like to know if there is a specific finish that would be recommended (perhaps an exterior water based poly?).

Thanks for all the tips on window replacement.  I'm glad your descriptions are roughly the options I have been considering.  I'm on the fence on hiring a pro for this one and your narrative will help me ask smarter questions if I go that route.  Whether it's a pro or myself doing the work, I want to have a high degree of confidence that the resulting installation will NOT result in future hidden water damage to the wall assembly.

And thanks for the offer to consult.  We're about 4.5 hours away, so a little far for a house call. ;-)

As of 2 years ago you could (post #215668, reply #10 of 12)

As of 2 years ago you could still order replacement sashes for my 1976 Andersen units.


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

I forgot to ask.  What (post #215668, reply #11 of 12)

I forgot to ask.  What maintenance can I do on these wood windows with aluminum cladding, that would prevent the deterioration of the bottom sash underneath the cladding?  I'm suspecting that water entered between the glass and the aluminum when the sealant failed.  Thoughts?

There should be drain holes (post #215668, reply #12 of 12)

There should be drain holes in the aluminum to let water out.  Keep those clear.


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville