If you’re not relishing the thought of shivering through another winter with your chilly old aluminum windows, installing some new vinyl or upgraded aluminum windows is probably not as difficult as you might imagine, and in many cases is well within the abilities of the do-it-yourselfer. You can even tackle the project in stages, replacing one or two windows at a time as your budget and time allows. (One note about replacing your windows in stages: some window models will occasionally be discontinued and replaced with different ones, so talk with your dealer about your time frame and the availability of the windows you want before you get started).


The overwhelming choice for today’s homes is vinyl. Vinyl windows are attractive, affordable and very energy efficient. The vinyl frames do not conduct the cold like metal does, and the wide air spaces between the panes of glass offer very good insulating qualities. Vinyl windows are available in a number of different configurations, and when combined with options such as different grid patterns and a couple of different color choices, there’s sure to be something available to compliment any architectural style.

If you prefer to stay with aluminum, look for windows with thermally broken frames. These energy efficient designs utilize a small strip of rubber, vinyl or other non-conductive material to separate the inside and outside of the frames, which greatly reducing the transference of cold through the metal frame.


Vinyl and aluminum windows are sold in a variety of standard sizes, in 6-inch increments. They are specified by the width and then the height, so a 5-0 3-6 window would be 5-feet wide and 3-feet 6-inches high. These sizes have been standardized for many years, so chances are that a new 5-0 3-6-vinyl window will slip perfectly into the rough opening of your old 5-0 3-6-aluminum window.

To remove the old window, first remove the exterior trim around the existing window to expose the nailing flange – the metal strip around the window that is used to fasten the window to the wall framing. Carefully remove the nails that were driven through the flange to hold the window in place, and with the help of another person lift the window out of the opening.

If your existing windows do not have trim around them, you will need to cut through the siding around the window to expose the flange. Measure out approximately 2 inches all around the existing window, then use a circular saw to cut through the siding. Remove the flanges nails and the window as described above.


Chances are that your old window frame was thinner than the new one, so you will probably need to adjust the inner window surround to match the new window. First, measure from the face of the nailing flange on the new window to the inside face of the window itself. Next, mark this same measurement on the interior window surround, measuring from the exterior face of the wall. Allow an additional ¼ inch, then cut the wood or drywall of the interior window surround. Done correctly, when you slip the new window into the opening, the interior face of the window will butt up to the existing window surround with about ¼-inch gap. 

Apply a bead of caulking to the inside face of the flange, and with the help of another person, lift the new window into the opening. Make sure the window is level and centered in the opening, then secure it in place by nailing through the flange into the wall framing. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for nail size and spacing, and nail into the bottom and side flanges only – do not nail the top flange.

If the old window had trim pieces around it, you can reinstall the old trim (or cut new trim to fit) to cover the nailing flange and finish off the installation. If the old window did not have trim, you’ll need to install some now. Select a trim board that fits the architectural style of the house, such as a 1×3 or 1×4. Place a scrap piece of trim against each side of the new window, and use it as a guide to mark the siding. Cut the siding along the marked lines, then cut and install the new trim in the space between the edge of the window and the cut edge of the siding. Caulk the new trim in place.

Finally, complete the interior installation. If the existing window surrounds are drywall, you can caulk or tape the gap between the window and the edge of the surround. For wood surrounds, install a complimentary piece of trim to cover the gap.

Vinyl and thermally broken aluminum windows are available through home centers, hardware stores, and window retailers. Ask to see actual samples before placing your order.

Remodeling and repair questions?  E-mail Paul at paul2887@direcway.com.


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