Q: What are the disadvantages to retrofit windows as opposed to the advantages of new-construction windows?

I’ve been shopping for new windows for my home and have found that labor and materials for retrofit windows is about one-half the cost of new-construction windows.

I understand that with retrofit windows the old window is removed and the new window is installed into the old window frame, which certainly cuts down on labor.

However, is there a quality issue? Can there be more of a chance of leakage around the window with retrofitted windows? Retrofit installers swear by their product. My contractor said he won’t install retrofit windows. What’s a homeowner to do?

A: Retrofit windows are installed into existing window frames. New-construction windows are secured to the frame of the house by nailing flanges. The cost difference is related to removal and repair of existing window trim and siding.

The major advantage of flanged windows is that they are one integral unit that is easy for the contractor or homeowner to install plumb and square within a framed opening. Retrofit windows are installed into existing frames, and if those frames are not plumb or square, there may be problems.

To install flanged windows the old windows must be completely removed. Exterior trim (and often interior trim) will have to be removed, exposing the framing so the new windows can be nailed or screwed to it.

Siding will also need to be cut back so that the edge of the framing is exposed. If you have a stucco exterior, installation will require some stucco to be chipped or cut away, then patched after the new windows are installed. Trim must be reinstalled. Finally everything must be repainted. Sounds like a pretty big job, doesn’t it? It is.

Retrofit windows, on the other hand, use the existing frame as the opening in which to install the new windows. No trim removal, no stucco or siding to repair. A seemingly much simpler and cleaner job. It can be.

So what to do? From our perspective it depends on the type of existing windows you have and the exterior trim and siding involved.

Most of our experience has been with the double-hung wooden windows that are common in old homes.

To install retrofits in this type of frame, the old sash is removed, stops are installed if necessary and the new unit is attached to the old wood frames with shims and screws. A little caulking around the joints and you’re done. This type of installation, if done properly, will provide an airtight seal.

If your existing windows are the steel casement windows used in the 1950s or the aluminum windows commonly used in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, we’d suggest you do some serious digging into the possibility of using retrofits.

If we were in the market to retrofit these windows, we’d undertake major research, look at some existing installations and satisfy ourselves with the looks, method of installation and quality of these products.

All this being said, we don’t think we’d be happy with existing steel or aluminum frames with new window inserts unless we were convinced that the frames were covered and the installation was airtight.

Tip of the Week: We’ve always found it better to install flanged windows with screws rather than nails. If minor adjustments have to be made to properly fit the window into the opening, it’s much easier to remove a screw or two rather than pull a nail with a cat’s paw. Use stainless steel or zinc-coated screws.

Bill and Kevin Burnett will attempt to answer your questions, although the volume of e-mail sometimes makes this impossible. Contact them at sweat-equity@comcast.net.

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