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Out with the old

Window replacement is one of the biggest-grossing exterior remodeling jobs performed, according to Qualified Remodeler’s 2013 Exterior 200 list, in which 90 percent of remodelers participated in some sort of window-related remodel. 

Although techniques for replacing windows vary based on the material and condition of the structure, window replacement will always elevate a home’s curb appeal and create a tighter assembly when properly installed.

Roone Unger, president of home exterior remodeler Exovations in Atlanta, notes three types of window replacement his company specializes in: a sash replacement kit for wood double-hung and stationary windows; a standard vinyl replacement window; and a PVC window unit, which includes a full-frame replacement. 

Unger prefers to replace his clients’ windows from the inside, though he notes some contractors prefer doing it from the outside. When utilizing the sash replacement kit, Unger removes the window stop and pulls out the sash and balances, which are the tracks in which the sashes move up and down. He then installs a new balance system and sashes. “You’re replacing a single-pane window with an insulated window that ties in the existing frame and looks just like what you took out.” To use this method, however, the existing frame must be square and in good shape to ensure air and water tightness.

A vinyl replacement window is installed in a similar fashion. The entire enclosed vinyl replacement window is inserted into the hole left behind when the old unit is removed. “The existing wood frame stays in place so you still have the wood brick mold, wood sill and sill nosing on the exterior,” Unger explains. “You just take the vinyl-coated aluminum trim coil and mold and cap that. The whole exterior then becomes a maintenance-free area.”

Despite offering notable energy savings, the installation of vinyl replacement windows results in the loss of glass space, which some people don’t like, according to Unger. The self-enclosed units fit into the existing frame, which means the unit is adding frame to the window opening where glass had been prior to the replacement, he notes, estimating that clients  usually will have only about 90 percent of the glass surface area they did before.

Full unit replacement is the most work intensive of the procedures. “We would take out the entire frame as well as the sashes and balances,” Unger says. To do so, the window replacement team removes the interior casing around the window, including the stool, then cuts the nails to pull out the entire jamb, frame, sashes and exterior casing. Extra fiberglass insulation is placed between the studs and window frame and the new low-E PVC window unit placed in that hole and the interior re-trimmed. 

Each of these types of window replacements takes between 30 and 45 minutes to complete, making most whole-house window replacement jobs executable in one day. Unger notes many communities in the Atlanta area have aluminum windows, which he often replaces with these PVC windows.

A miter box is the only  specialty tool that might be needed to perform these replacements, Unger says. “You’re cutting interior trim and sill so you have to be a fairly good trim carpenter, which I think most guys installing windows are,” he continues. 

One of Unger’s primary tasks is to educate customers about what their choices are and offer guidance for determining the best fit. If someone has wood windows, for example, that have not been maintained and are suffering from rot, a full unit replacement is an appropriate application. For a well-maintained unit, however, where the customer is simply looking to increase energy efficiency, a sash replacement kit is a suitable fit.

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