Window Screen Installation

DEAR MIKE: The screens on my windows are tattered and look terrible.

I would like to change them, but I've never done it before. Please give me the basics so that I don't pull my hair out.

-- Michelle P.

DEAR MICHELLE: I have visions of your house looking like a haunted mansion. The screens are shredded and blowing in the wind, and the frames are twisted and bent. Add lightning, thunder and ghostly laughter, and I won't go near it.

It just doesn't get much easier than this. It will only take you about 30 minutes per window, and will make your house look a whole lot less scary.

Before you buy the materials, though, check out the frames of the window screens. If they are bent or twisted, you should replace them. Would Michelangelo paint on a ripped canvas? No way.

A kit for a 4X4 window, which will allow you to replace the screen's frame and re-screen the window, will cost about $15. The kits come in different colors and finishes, but they are all easy to assemble. The kit will include four pieces of frame, four corner pieces to hold the frame together, two pull-tabs, two tension springs, screening material and a rubbery cord.

Let's assume you need to replace the frame in addition to re-screening the window.

The easiest way to get the dimension of the frame is to remove the old screen and measure the frame. You will simply use the old frame's dimensions to build the new frame. Be careful though, not to take exact measurements from a damaged frame. If the frame is damaged, measure the height and width of the window. Take note to the depth of the grooves in the window where the new frame will sit. I usually add an extra 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch to the dimensions of the frame if the grooves in the window will allow for it. This way the screen won't rattle when the wind blows.

Once you have these dimensions, you will need to consider the size of each corner piece. The corner pieces are typically 3/4-inch square, and since you will use two of them, you would have an extra 1 1/2 inches in length added to your measurements. You will then need to subtract this length from your measurements.

Cut the frame with a hacksaw, and make sure the cut is square or the corner pieces won't fit securely. As you put the frame together, insert the tension springs into the bottom piece of the frame, then insert the corner pieces to hold the springs in place. Take the completed frame to the window and make sure it fits. If it doesn't fit well, trim it with the hacksaw until it does. When you are satisfied with the fit, it's time to add the screening.

Place the frame on a flat surface with the grooved side facing up. (If you are re-using the old frame, use a small standard screwdriver to pry out the rubbery cord from the groove and remove the old screen). Cut a piece of screen so that it extends over the frame by a few inches on each side. I suggest you buy a screening tool (about $4). This tool is nothing more than a handle with a small wheel on either side. It works like a pizza cutter except that it pushes the cord into the frame's groove to hold the screen material in place. You can try using a standard screwdriver, but be careful not to rip the screen with the sharp edge of the screwdriver.

Cut the corners diagonally so that the screen doesn't wrinkle, and starting at a corner, push the cord (with the screen) into the groove. As you roll the cord into the groove, gently pull the screen over the frame to keep it taut (if you choose to use the pull-tabs, place them under the cord before rolling). Remember though, that the frames are flimsy metal, and that if you pull the screening material too tightly, the frame will twist.

Once the cord has been inserted all around the frame, use a utility knife and trim the excess screen by running it along the perimeter of the frame.

I'll bet that once this project is done, the ghouls will leave, the clouds will part, and the sun will beam down on your house to show off your handiwork.

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