how hard is it to install replacement windows?
June 10, 2008 1:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm moderately handy. Is installing a replacement window something I can do? Or should I leave it to the pros?

Stuff I've built includes built-in bookcases and lots of outdoor furniture. I've also hung drywall. Would I run into major problems installing replacement windows in a 100yo home, or should I leave this to the pros? These would be casement and doublehung windows of various sizes.

If you've done it, got any tips and tricks to make the job easier for a window novice? How much time will it take per window?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of those jobs that can be really simple, but in a 100 year old home it’s very likely you’ll remove the original window only to find rotted wood underneath, or something will be drastically not square (unsquare?), or there will be a colony of carpenter ants, and before you know it you’re replacing a lot more than just the window.

You might want to attempt to replace a single window, perhaps in a spare room where you could live with a hole for a few days, before planning to do several windows. Keep a friend/handyman on stand-by if you run into trouble.

It’s really impossible to say if you could do it. If all goes well, my mom could do it. If not, it could be a big job.
posted by bondcliff at 1:49 PM on June 10, 2008

I've got a similar amount of experience (built-in bookcases, drywall, tiling, etc.), and I've done this in a 50-year-old home, including replacing the rotted wood underneath and changing the size of the opening, which involved cutting through the siding, etc. It was a job, but nothing you can't handle with the help of a good book (sorry I can't remember which one I used, but there are plenty of good ones). I needed my husband's help with some of the heavy lifting, but I'm a very tiny woman with a bad back. As I recall it took about half a day. Seven years later it's still fine, and it's even in a shower stall, so I guess I didn't muck it up too badly.
posted by HotToddy at 2:14 PM on June 10, 2008

Since you've other projects behind you, I'd guess you know about patience. That's all that's required here -- be patient with yourself, and with the time on this project. Move slowly. HotToddys suggestion of a book or two to familiarize yourself with the basics is great. Then just move slowly through it, one step at a time, and anything that looks difficult or ridiculous or impossible will, one step at a time, unfold itself to you.

I say go for it.

Have fun!
posted by dancestoblue at 2:49 PM on June 10, 2008

I've done this, and I pretty much echo the above. If you've watched pretty much any home improvement show in the last year, and have a decent "handyman IQ" this will be easy for you.

What will be hard is running into all the old things you have to replace. In a 100 year old home, I'd bank on that. I'd bank a lot on that, hundreds of dollars of wood, sheetrock and paint on that in my experience. If that happens you'll find rotted out wood to fix and for God's sake put in decent flashing.

Best case scenario it's an hour a window, a few beers, and you're done. Worst case you knock out the first window and realize what you're into and try to put it back before you spend hours and hours and hours fixing it up.

Good luck either way.
posted by sanka at 2:56 PM on June 10, 2008

If you want to cheat, get one window installed and what what they do. Then do the rest of the windows yourself.

With an old house my only question would be figuring out how much of the existing window frame to remove. Some people leave a lot of the existing casement in and insert a smaller new window into the old space without removing any trim, etc. Some people take all the rim off and essentially start from scratch. it depends on how you want to approach the problem
posted by GuyZero at 3:47 PM on June 10, 2008

My stepfather is an experienced finish and framing carpenter, and he recently installed windows in our ~200 year old house. It became quite a chore and really challenged him in some ways. The biggest problem was that many of the windows were not built in a way that facilitated just dropping in the replacement window and slapping on a little trim. Parts had to be removed, pieces had to be added, sills had to be cut away, etc. Even a reasonably good handyman would have had a disaster. One thing you should do is get someone who installs the same kind of windows in houses all the time to come over for an hour or so, get the measurements for you, and give you some advice as to how easy or difficult a job he or she considers it. Offer to pay them for their trouble so you know you are getting an honest, considered opinion.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:01 PM on June 10, 2008

It should be an easy task, but almost always turns into a chore because something is wrong. If you have a pal who has done it before to help with the first one or two I would say go for it. Otherwise, at least contemplate how much of a chore you want to take on, especially when you consider how little the pros charge for installation. One advantage of doing it yourself is that you can make sure everything is just right, and since this is a commodity job in the trade that is not always so with contractors.
posted by caddis at 5:54 PM on June 10, 2008

I don't know, but in our 100+ year home, no standard window fit in the living room and so we chose to have those custom-made. The other option was building a box (? something like that) to shrink the window openings so that standard windows would fit. The huge windows in the front room were part of the reason we bought the place, so shrinking them wasn't an option we found acceptable. For the casements in the sunroom--where we ran into a similar problem of old-sized windows being wrong for modern standard-sized windows--we went with the resizing thing.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:05 PM on June 10, 2008

A window is really just a hole that you fill in and then cover the cracks. Getting the hole square and the supporting wood clean and solid is actually the hardest part of the job, as with most things cleaning up someone elses mess takes up most of your time. You have the skills to take on this job, books and friends will make it go easier. Enjoy the outcome, it will be all yours.
posted by ptm at 1:11 AM on June 11, 2008

Is it possible to salvage the existing windows? There are a number of reasons to rehabilitate windows on an older home rather than replace them, including cost savings, appearance and near parity insulating value in comparison to replacement windows when done correctly.
posted by lyam at 9:08 AM on June 11, 2008

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