It's sometimes hard to admit, but no matter how handy we are, most of us can't do everything--nor should we. Some chores are simply too time-consuming, others take too much special knowledge and some are just not cost-efficient to do yourself.
Unless you have or want to make a set of wood-frame screens to complement an older home with wooden sash windows, screens will fall into that last category--and they might fit into the first two as well.
We don't think about window screens very much--that is, not until the house fills with flies, mosquitoes or whatever other pesky flying insect is in season.
When that happens, most people who decide to replace their screens go down to the local hardware store and have a set with shiny aluminum frames made. These may not do much for the look of the home, but they will keep the bugs out for a while and they don't cost very much.
Screens, like a lot of other seemingly simple things, however, have become complex over the years. Even if repairing old ones or building new ones is a task we would rather leave to a professional, there are more than a few things to consider before placing that order.
Just ask Betty and Carl Ziegler, proprietors of Sav-On Glass and Screen in Westminster, who are 20-year veterans of the business. Carl is a bit more taciturn, but at the drop of a question, Betty can easily do an hour on the subject without repeating herself.
And what she has to say is worth listening to.
First, those ubiquitous shiny aluminum frames that fade to a dull silver in a single season are far from being the only way to go--although those are usually all you can find at hardware stores and home-improvement centers.
They are by far the cheapest way to go, yes, but before you commit yourself to a house that will look as if it is undergoing orthodontia, stop and think: Do you have wooden windows? If so, what color are they painted? Aluminum screen frames come in several colors now: the standard shiny silver or mill finish; an anodized silver that helps resist corrosion in salty coastal air; an anodized gold; and painted finishes in gold, gray, white and bronze (actually closer to a dull black).
Frame widths also come in different sizes--the standard 3/4-inch and a beefier 1-inch that is visible enough to make an architectural statement if, say, you use a color that contrasts with the main trimming color on your house.
Then there are the screen materials themselves.
Screens in older homes were made of aluminum mesh, and hardware stores still do a decent business selling a harsh acidic cleanser to those trying to eliminate the grungy, streaked look of older aluminum screens. That screen material, however, was actually covered with a thin coat of aluminum paint when it was made, Betty Ziegler says, so that the streaking you see isn't dirt but rather bare mesh showing where the paint has worn away. That's something you can't really fix; you would be better off getting new screens made.
Screen material nowadays is generally made of Fiberglas mesh, which won't discolor and can be washed with a mild soap solution. Just be sure to rinse the heck out of the ones you wash, because the soap can rot the screen fabric.
The new screen fabrics come in gray, black or green, but the Zieglers recommend black because it doesn't reflect light and thus becomes almost invisible.
If you have a window where the sun really blasts through and you don't want to tint the window itself, you could try sun screening. This is woven with a heavier material that will block as much as 75% of the light and heat from the sun. A sun screen will cost more, and it's a lot more visible than a regular screen, but having it can help cut air conditioning bills. Sun screening comes in gray, charcoal, bronze and gold.
Some purists insist on real bronze--made from fine bronze wire--for their screens, but the Zieglers say that its only real advantage is that it has a decorative gold color.
In Orange County, they say, the average exterior window screen will last five or six years in an inland area and two to three years within three miles of the coast. Interior screens generally will last 10 years. The Zieglers point out, though, that those life-expectancy figures don't take into account dogs, cats, kids, baseballs and other flying objects.
If you want to have screens remade, the Zieglers strongly recommend that you bring in each of the old ones to be individually measured. This is especially important in a house that has had an addition whose windows are of a different manufacture from the original.
Window makers have not yet imposed standard sizing, and a number of widths and thicknesses are used in wood or metal sliding or casement windows with interior screens that fit into special slots or pockets in the window frame. Further, the channels into which the screen mesh is pressed can vary in depth and width from one frame maker to another.