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Remodeler's Diary

Retro-Fit Windows Offer Replacement Options

October 02, 1994|EILEEN F. GIESER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Gieser lives in Orange County. and

Walk through any middle-class neighborhood and you'll find many homes that could use improvement in their windows. Sometimes it's a double-hung window that's obviously hard to open with its crooked frame and rotted wood. Maybe there's several windows that just don't match each other. Perhaps the windows are the wrong style for the home.

Years ago, a homeowner's only choice was to tear out the old windows, install new windows and repair the stucco and drywall, hoping to match the old paint and stucco colors.

Then along came "retro-fit windows," designed to use the existing opening without removing the old window frame. Now we can have the windows we need in a few days with no stucco damage and only the trim to paint afterward.

I first considered replacement windows when the street noise began to interfere with my sleep. My windows were single-glazed metal-sashed sliders and measured 6-by-3 feet, except for a small bathroom window. They operated well enough but were ineffectual as a sound barrier. I felt like I was sleeping on the front lawn. By replacing them with double-glazed windows, I could decrease noise by more than 40% because the double panes of glass trap "dead air" between them, creating insulation.

As I began attending home shows, I realized the choices in materials and optional features could accomplish more than just noise-reduction. Optional tinting would protect upholstery, drapes and carpet. For the beautiful look of French windows without the headache of cleaning multiple panes, you could have the grids installed inside the dual-glazing. Likewise for mini-blinds. Improved lock design allows you to leave the window partially open for ventilation while still providing security. There is a choice of basic colors.

After interviews with five salespeople, I was ready to make the choice between wood, metal or vinyl sashes. Wood had the appeal of being a "natural" material, but one of the salesmen had cautioned me that "termites are an ongoing problem in California." Don't I know it. They've been munching on my house for years. So, I decided "we're not making a salad here, let's pick the best material for the job."

Metal seemed a durable choice, but another salesman reminded me that "metal and glass are conductors of sound, not inhibitors."

That left vinyl. Vinyl doesn't come to mind when I first think of windows. I pictured it warping and cracking in the extreme heat of our California sun. However, there was convincing documentation showing the success and durability of vinyl in the Midwest as well as in Europe. One salesman even showed me a real estate appraisal that had vinyl windows increasing the value of the home.

I was mulling over my choices when I got a call from my good friend Lani. A friend of hers was ecstatic over the peace and quiet his family has enjoyed since installing vinyl windows throughout their house. I spoke with him and then called the contractor he had used. Of all the salesmen, he was the worst. Not only was he a half hour late, he didn't even apologize for it. If these customers hadn't been so satisfied, he would have "unsold" the product.

After measuring my existing windows, he wrote a contract that contained so many misspelled words it was impossible to tell what work the carpenters were to perform. Since the windows were to be shipped directly to my house, I asked him to drop by after delivery to check the accuracy of his measurements. He didn't. I understand that he no longer works there.

The salesman may have been a disappointment, but the carpenters more than made up for him in efficiency and courtesy.

Jeff and Brian swiftly set to work Monday morning. First they removed the slider and the fixed panes of glass. Then they cut off the vertical center support. This left the original metal frame and track.

Since the salesman's measurements were not accurate, (are we surprised?), the carpenters shaved off some of the lower metal frame. While Brian held the window in place from the inside, Jeff leveled and secured the window from outside, drilling in the screws on the left and right sash. Next, they laid out the wood trim they had purchased that morning.

Metal trim is now available to cover the small gap between the old and new frame of the interior. At the time of my installation this was not an option, so the carpenters mitered the corners of 1-by-2-inch trim and fastened it to the old frame with counter-sunk finishing nails.

Jeff reminded me to caulk all around the window between the trim and the sash. The exterior of the new window has a flange to cover the old sash. If there is a small gap, it will be necessary to apply trim on the outside as well. A large gap can be filled with foam insulation that comes in a spray can. My job was to caulk the nail holes and primer and paint the trim. The vinyl sash would never, (never, never, never) need painting. If you've ever scraped paint off glass you can relate to my feeling of relief.

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