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New Construction Replacement Windows vs. Retrofit Windows Print Bookmark and Share

When it comes time to consider replacing the windows of your home, you have two choices: new construction windows or replacement windows, which are also known as retrofit windows. Because of their lower cost and ease of installation, retrofit windows have become increasingly popular, but you should still compare the advantages and disadvantages of each type before making a final decision.

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New Construction Replacement Windows Explained

If you choose to go with a new construction window, you must completely remove the window frame. In the process, it's almost impossible not to damage some part of the exterior. Usually the trim or siding will need some repair. In stucco homes, for example, the stucco surrounding the window must be removed and replaced after installation.

New construction windows usually have nail fins that are initially flat against the frame. Once the window is in place, the fins are manually pivoted outward perpendicular to the frame. Nails or screws are installed through the fins to attach the door or window assembly in place. When homes are built, the framing studs are exposed, providing ready access to the fins. Once the window is securely in place, all other exterior materials are then applied and butted up to the frame of the window or trim.

New construction windows also can be used in a replacement project. First the wood studs are exposed by removing the exterior materials: trim, siding, stucco or flashings. The new window is then installed as it would have been when the home was originally built. The disadvantage of this method is that it increases the amount of time required and the cost of labor and materials. However, exposing the original studs also allows your contractor to see potential damage, which can be repaired before the new windows are installed. In addition, the new windows are secured behind the weather barrier that provides secure protection against water and the home exterior looks as though the new windows were the originals.

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Replacement (Retrofit) Window

Home replacement windows have been developed as a labor and cost-cutting alternative. Retrofit windows are installed on top of the original window frame. Since the old frame is left in place, installation is quicker, easier, and less expensive.

There are two main types of replacement windows: Flush fin (also called Z-bar, flange, stucco flange, or Florida flange) replacement windows are typically used in California and other markets with aluminum windows in stucco home exteriors. The window comes with an exterior trim, the flush fin that goes against the outside surface, already attached. This method leaves the original aluminum window frame intact and poses little danger of damage to the siding.

Block frame or insert replacement windows are typically used in wood windows with a siding or brick exterior. The block frame window is simply a new construction window frame with the nail fin removed.

Advantages and Disadvantages

New construction window or full frame window replacement provides a more customized look and is less vulnerable to leaks. However, because it usually requires damage to trim or siding, it is more expensive and takes longer to install and the wider frames may result in reduced glass area. Retrofit window or window only replacement is less expensive and can be completed quickly because there is no damage to the exterior. On the down side, wider frames mean some glass area will be lost, some window styles look cheap, unprofessional, and tacked on, and they are more prone to leakage.

Common Mistakes With New Construction Replacement Windows

While retrofit windows are less labor intensive than new construction, to work properly, they must be installed correctly. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when installing replacement windows:

Window Too Large for the Rough Opening: Seasonal expansion and contraction can cause distortion of the window frame and failure of the weather seal.

Window Not Level, Square, and Plumb: If the window is not squared or level, the sash will not close properly, and the weather stripping may not be able to provide an adequate weather seal.

Improper Frame Support: Failing to support the retrofit frame properly can cause the frame to contort and the sill to sag.

Inadequate or Improper Attachment: Common errors include using anchors that are too small or too short and either not installing them deeply enough or driving them into the wrong substrate.

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Over packed Insulation: Expanded foam or over packed fiber can distort the frame and interfere with the smooth operation of the sash.

Improper Flashing: Improper or nonexistent flashing can cause leaks.

Wrong Caulk: Using the wrong caulk can result in moisture penetration and water damage, or corrosive damage from a chemical reaction. Caulk creates the exterior seal, the primary defense against wind and water.

Dissimilar Materials Touching: Placing dissimilar metals in direct contact with each other can accelerate corrosion and destroy the weather seal.

Unfinished or Improper Casing: Most bare wood left untreated and exposed to the elements will warp and deteriorate.

When it comes time to replace your windows, you have two choices. Carefully compare the pros and cons of retrofit and new construction windows before you make your decision.

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