Updated: June 9, 2023
Published: Dec. 6, 2021
How to replace a window may not be as simple as many homeowners assume. It varies based on the type of wall opening, materials used on the walls, and more. Plus, it’s important to order the right type of window for the type of installation being done; they’re not all the same.
On a new home under construction, the window installation process is different than when replacement windows are installed. The types of windows are often different, too.
When a home is built, the original windows have a nail fin—a mounting flange with nail holes that is set back from the edges of the window frame and nailed to the exposed studs to secure the window to the opening. (Refer to the bottom left quadrant in the below image.)
It’s sealed to the framing of the home and tied into the flashing, then the nail fin is covered with whatever stucco, siding or other material is used on the home’s exterior walls.
In contrast, the most common replacement window installation techniques involve leaving part or all of the original frame in the window opening, then covering it up with the new replacement window.
According to Sal Sucato, owner of DunRite Windows & Doors, there are three main types of replacement window installation techniques used on most Valley homes, which are listed here from most simple to most complex (or labor-intensive):
- Insert window installation: Often called a jump frame installation, this entails covering the original window frame and nail fin with the new window replacement product. It’s a common type of installation for vinyl, aluminum and fiberglass replacement windows, but tends to have the thickest frame appearance. It uses replacement windows with a stucco fin. (Seen in the top left quadrant of the picture above.)
- Tear-out installation: Similar to a jump frame, this type of installation removes the original frame instead of covering it. Also called a full frame removal, the old window frame is separated from the nail fin using a power tool. Then, the frame is removed with minimal damage to the trim, stucco and drywall, leaving the nail fin in place. It’s DunRite’s most common type of installation, and provides more glass and less frame than an insert window. Since newer windows are thicker in depth than older windows to accommodate double panes, this installation method almost always includes cutting back the drywall to ensure the new window remains flush with the exterior wall. (If your wall allows the extra depth of the new window to protrude further out, there’s no need to cut the drywall back.)
- Full tear-out with stucco cutback: When a homeowner wants perfection for their wood-framed, stucco home, and doesn’t mind paying for additional labor, this is the installation method of choice. It removes the nail fin, rather than cutting it from the frame. The stucco is removed 3” around the existing window to expose the original nail fin, so the entire window can be removed. A new moisture barrier is put in place and the new nail fin window installed. The stucco is then repaired for a seamless appearance.
- Block frame installation: The simplest type of window installation, the block opening uses replacement window product without a nail fin – there’s no mounting flange of any kind. The window is a simple rectangle with smooth edges that slides into the window opening, then is secured to the home with screws running through the frame of the new window into the wood, brick or other material of the window opening. In wood-framed homes that have original windows that are flush to the exterior wall, a drywall cut-back of about an inch around the frame will be needed to accommodate the new, deeper window.
The specific type of installation style is determined by the type of product purchased, the type of openings a home has, and the types of building materials (brick, wood framed, concrete block, etc.) used in the openings.
Let’s look at each installation technique in more detail… Click each tab to learn more.
1. Insert Window Installation
An extremely common type of replacement window, insert windows leave the interior and exterior frame of the original window in place, which the new replacement window covers.
Fond of slang? The industry calls these jump frames, since the replacement window jumps right over the original frame.
During installation, the window screen, sashes, glass and dividing bars of the original window are removed, leaving only the existing frame. The new replacement window slides right over the old to hide it from view. Occasionally parts of the original frame that protrude into the opening are removed with a power tool, but most of the frame (including the nail fin) remains.
In this type of installation, the existing moisture barrier is left undisturbed, and the home requires little-to-no painting on the exterior once the job is complete. (Although painting the caulking is recommended.)
In Arizona, insert windows typically have a stucco fin, which is a flange that overhangs the opening and stucco to completely hide the original window frame. (Refer to the stucco fin image in the “Types of Window Frames” graphic above.)
Insert windows with a stucco fin can end up having a rather thick frame around the glass, sacrificing glass and adding as much as three inches to the total width of the frame—a substantial look some homeowners prefer. (Some circumstances allow any excess stucco fin to be trimmed off, leaving only what is needed to cover the existing frame.)
It’s a common type of installation for vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, wood and aluminum-clad wood replacement windows, although stucco fins are not available on the Andersen 100 Series of window, a deliberate move by the company so that the product doesn’t compete with Renewal by Andersen product, which all have stucco fins.
Insert windows may not be appealing in small window openings, due to the loss of visible glass, or if a homeowner wants to change the size of the window. These require a full tear-out.
2. Tear-Out Installation
When homeowners don’t want a thick window frame and prefer more glass, a jump frame isn’t the best option. Instead, we turn to a full tear-out window, also called a full-frame removal. In this type of installation, components and the frame of the original window are removed, and the frame separated from the nail fin using a power tool. Then, the window frame is removed from the opening, leaving the stucco, drywall and trim intact. The replacement window slips right into the opening, with the stucco fin covering the existing frame left in the wall. It’s a narrower frame than what you’d see on a jump frame, since it doesn’t have to slip over the entire existing window frame.
Unless the home is a relatively new build, constructed in the last decade or so, most homes were built to accommodate single-pane windows, which are much thinner in depth than today’s double- or triple-pane windows. To accommodate the difference in thickness, most homes will lose an inch or so of interior window sill to make room for the new window.
By removing approximately one inch of drywall touching the existing window frame, the new replacement window can be pushed into that space until it’s flush with the exterior wall and butted up against the newly cut edge of drywall. The window sill on the inside of the home has a bit less depth, but the windows fit appropriately. Once painted, you’d never know the windows were replaced.
In some cases, we’ll do this for a window product without stucco fins, called a full frame removal with a drywall cutback using a block frame window product. (More on block frames in a moment!)
3. Full Tear-Out with Stucco Cutback
Occasionally, homeowners want the entire original window removed and replaced with the same thing.
They want the same installation style used when the house was built, or they’re intent on perfection by replacing the old with the same type of product with no retrofitting.
Instead of cutting the original frame from the nail fin, we remove three inches of stucco around the exterior frame until the entire window and nail fin is exposed, then remove it. The new window is installed using screws through the nail fin, the moisture barrier re-installed, and the stucco repaired. Then, after painting, the window installation seamlessly looks original to the home.
(If you have smooth stucco, this style of installation is problematic. It’s very challenging to create a smooth transition from the old stucco to the new. Plus, you’ll need to add the same amount of paint to the new stucco to match the texture.)
This type of installation is less common for replacement windows because the pricing includes a significant amount of labor and it typically requires re-painting the home’s exterior.
4. Block Frame Installation
The simplest type of window installation, the block frame installation uses a replacement window product that doesn’t have nail fins or any kind of mounting flanges. It slides right into the opening, and is secured by running screws through the frame of the new window into the wood, brick or other material used for the window opening.
(Did you know DunRite custom color matches the color of the screw heads to the frame? It helps them be less noticeable.)
This type of installation gives you the most visible glass, and the least amount of frame with any brand of window product.
A block frame window requires the installer to remove all of the existing parts of the window that are visible by removing the screens, sashes and center bar of the original window, then removing its frame by either collapsing it or cutting it out with a power tool. Both methods create little disturbance to the existing interior drywall or exterior stucco
Then, a replacement window slides into the opening and is secured using color-matched screws. A low expanding foam is used to fill any voids from the new window frame to the existing home structure, and depending on finishes required, a paintable sealant or synthetic caulking used to complete the installation.
If you have questions about how DunRite would replace windows in your Arizona home, please schedule an in-home consultation. It allows us to look at your existing windows, the condition of your stucco or exterior walls and window openings, then discuss the types of products and installation style that best suits your home and budget.
DunRite does not install previously purchased product, or do window repair.