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Is Improper Installation Shortening the Lifespan of Your Windows? Here Are The Warning Signs.

While it’s true that quality and brand will heavily impact how many years you’ll get out of new replacement windows or a new exterior door, it’s not the only factor to consider. Installation makes a difference, too. If done improperly, it can dramatically shorten your new windows’ lifespan.

Installed correctly, a window (or door) is supported on all sides by the opening that surrounds it. This gives it structural integrity, according to DunRite Windows & Doors Owner Sal Sucato. It needs relatively equal pressure on all sides from an opening), and a strong foundation underneath that can bear its weight.

This creates a window or door that is structurally supported and strengthened by its surroundings, for the longest possible lifespan and ease of operation.

It’s kind of like a car. Everyone knows a car sits on four wheels of equal size and height, which must have equal air pressure from side to side. It sits on the road with weight evenly distributed across all four tires. If you were to replace one tire with something two or three inches larger, leaving the other three tires the same size, can you imagine what would happen to the car? The chassis would be pulled up higher on one corner, changing how weight is distributed. The entire car would be pulled out of alignment. From a crooked axel to every nut, bolt and mechanisms attached to that chassis, everything would become unequally stressed in a way that the car wasn’t built to accommodate. Unbalanced weight, stress and tension would be added where it doesn’t belong. We won’t even get started on how it would look…

An unbalanced window causes a similar situation.

It’s only so strong, and certainly not stronger than the force a house can place on it.

If a rectangular window is placed in an opening that is not a perfect rectangle, but instead leans left—and that opening isn’t correctly adjusted through shims and other adaptations—the installed window has unequal pressure forcing it into the shape of that imperfect opening. It might start out a perfect rectangle, but it’s forced to slant like the opening. Then, when weather naturally causes the window (or door) to expand or contract, the uneven pressure becomes even more of an issue.

What happens? Seals can pop open, gas insulation is lost, the window leaks, condensation appears between the panes of glass, and the window becomes extremely hard to open and close.

The window may have to be replaced.

It’s not a product failure covered by warranty; it’s failure due to improper installation. The window was pulled out of alignment because it didn’t have the structural integrity that it needs. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be the stucco, block or wood framing versus a window.

Over time, gravity and the strongest material always wins.

“If you see bowing of the window frame, it’s not straight. Most of the time, that bowing is caused by pressure on the window frame and it’s fairly visible. Either improper installation or a lack of enough anchoring points attaching the window to the structure are typically what allows it to bow,” says Sucato.

“The window may become more difficult to lock, crank or slide. It won’t fall out of the opening, but you’ll see operational issues and you might see water damage from leaks affect the drywall, paint, carpet or wood flooring.”

Impact of the improper installation typically depends on just how poorly it was done, and on the window itself. Fiberglass, aluminum-clad wood and vinyl all withstand issues slightly differently, and the quality, style and manufacturer of the window all play a part in longevity, too.

Is it a softer vinyl window with a dark exterior color? That and the amount of direct sun exposure increases the amount of expansion and shrinkage beyond what is normal, so it may show issues much sooner than a fiberglass or aluminum window.

Sucato adds, “Vinyl windows will always shrink, which we can’t control, and it often leads to minor cracks in the caulking of window corners. This is normal, and easily corrected, but if installation is off and there isn’t balanced pressure on all sides of the window, it leads to something more significant.”

Is it a rigid fiberglass window? Or Andersen® Fibrex®? Those materials are more forgiving than vinyl, especially if the problem is too few anchoring points.

When is the fit of a replacement window less of an issue? If the window is too small for the opening, gaps less than an inch won’t impact lifespan if it’s installed correctly, says Sucato. As long as the physical exterior looks good, shims and foam are used to fill the gaps, and there are ample anchoring points through a stable area, the window has a solid base on all four sides and should be fine. And even if gaps are more than an inch, requiring too much filling to fill the gaps, it creates an energy efficiency problem and may not look very nice, but these issues won’t impact longevity if the window is correctly supported on all 4 sides.

When it comes to aluminum clad wood windows, improper installation becomes much more of an issue, and it can severely shorten lifespan of the product. Since the windows are mostly wood, with a thin sheet of aluminum on the exterior to protect it from the elements, exposure to water is a major issue for the wood. It absolutely cannot get water on the inside of that window. It ruins the wood. Lack of anchor points (screws) isn’t much an issue, as long as they go through the finished wood on the inside of the frame, but water destroys the window very, very quickly.

On an aluminum-clad window, it’s better to do a full stucco cut back on this material so there are no visible anchoring points on the finished product.

Every manufacturer has a specific style of installation procedures for their product, and it must be followed for a warranty to be valid. It’s important for the installer to be trained and certified by FGIA or the manufacturer.

Are operational issues always due to improper installation? Not necessarily. There are fine adjustments points within some windows. It’s also common for debris inside the track or mohair weather stripping to cause issues. And windows that haven’t been opened in quite some time can also become difficult to operate. It’s important to open them regularly, vacuum away the dust, debris and pet hair, and use a damp paper towel to pick up anything the vacuum missed. If it has issues, reach out to the installer for service. Don’t wait.

“Also, it’s important for homeowners to understand most windows have a weep system for drainage,” he adds. It’s normal for water to accumulate inside the track, which you can see from inside the home. “This is how a window is supposed to operate.”

Water hits exterior pane of glass, then sheets down into the track of the operating pane, so the homeowner can see and touch water on the track from inside the home. They should never place a towel in the track or soak it up, since this can wick moisture into the drywall; they can simply let it drain, and regularly ensure the weep holes aren’t closed or obstructed. “You can test drainage by slowly pouring water into the track. You should see it coming out the weep holes on the exterior window frame.”

If you have questions about our installation methods, brands we carry or the pros and cons of various window brands, we’re here for you! Call us at 602-456-2227 or reach out via email at info@azwindowreplacement.com or on Facebook. If you’d like an estimate, please call or use the form on our website.   

Published Feb. 6, 2023

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