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Homeowners have two options when they need to upgrade their old windows: full-frame and insert window replacement. Full-frame replacement is a more labor-intensive project, while insert window replacement is a simpler and more cost-effective approach. However, the best window replacement method for your home depends on the condition of the existing frames and whether you want to make significant changes to your windows’ style, size, or shape.
In this article, we’ll discuss full-frame versus insert window replacement to give you an idea of which type will better suit your remodeling project and help boost your home’s curb appeal. Regardless of the method you choose, reach out to a professional window installation specialist to ensure proper installation and address energy efficiency.
What Are Full-Frame and Insert Window Replacements?
Full-frame window replacement involves removing everything down to the studs and installing a new window and frame, whereas insert window replacement consists of installing a new window within the existing frame. Below, you’ll find a detailed look at full-frame versus insert window replacement.
Full-Frame Window Replacement
A full-frame window replacement entails replacing the existing window and trimming it down to the framing boards. The window installer must use nailing fins or mounting flanges—thin strips installed on the exterior sides of the window—to attach the replacement window to the home’s exterior.
A full-frame replacement is the best option if there’s damage to the frame, casing, or trim, or if you notice a lack of soundproofing and rising energy bills. It’s also recommended if you add an addition to your home or want to change your window style.
Changing the entire window and frame may also improve the window’s insulation and durability. However, the biggest drawbacks are the cost and installation time. The price for materials and labor ranges from $225 to $2,300* for a single window, and the replacement process can take several hours.
*Unless otherwise noted, cost data in this article was sourced from HomeAdvisor.
Insert Window Replacement
Insert window replacement, also known as pocket window replacement, is the installation of a new window within the existing frame. The only parts installers replace are the window sashes and hardware. This is a good option if the existing frame is in good condition, and you want to replace the old window with a new one of the same size. This also involves the least disruption to the exterior and interior trim.
The simplicity of this home improvement project as well as the lower cost of installation are the biggest benefits of insert window replacement. It also allows you to update your windows while keeping the original look of your old ones. Insert window replacement costs between $175 and $1,800 for materials and labor and takes as little as 30 to 60 minutes for basic installation.
Improving Energy Efficiency with Window Replacement
Both full-frame and insert replacement window methods can improve energy efficiency. ENERGY STAR-rated products save homeowners an average of 12% on energy bills. This accounts for up to $101 to $583 per year when replacing single-pane windows, or $27 to $197 per year when replacing double-pane windows.
When looking for the best energy-efficient materials, vinyl, wood, and fiberglass typically fare better than aluminum, but each material comes with high-efficiency glass and low-emissivity (low-E) coatings.
Both installation methods allow you to improve your home’s energy efficiency, but you should consider full-frame replacement windows if you notice drafts in your home, damaged frames, and rising energy bills. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, improving the thermal resistance of the window frame can contribute to your window’s overall energy efficiency, particularly its heat-loss rate.
Full-Frame vs. Insert Window Installation Processes
Here’s the installation process for full-frame window replacement.
- Remove the old frame and window: Clear the area around the window. Score paint or varnish between the interior trim and wall with a utility knife, then use a pry bar to remove the interior frame. Remove the vent sash, screen, sash, and division bar from the old window. Removal can vary depending on whether you have single-hung or double-hung windows. On the exterior, cut the sealant between the brick mold or trim and the siding. Remove the exterior frame trim, and take the window out of the opening.
- Inspect the rough opening: Look for rot or other signs of damage in the opening. Repair or replace damaged areas before installing the new window. Remove any dirt and debris, then take measurements to confirm the window will fit into the opening.
- Install the new window: Apply flashing tape in the opening. Position the window into the rough opening and make sure it’s level. Use shims to adjust the window and prevent movement after it is level. Secure the window using nails or screws through the frame and into the rough opening.
- Insulate and weatherproof: Apply insulation to fill gaps between the frame and the opening. Apply caulk around the perimeter of the window for a weatherproof seal.
- Install interior and exterior trim: Install interior trim or casing and fill any holes or gaps with putty or caulk. Install trim or molding on the exterior to cover gaps between the frame and siding.
Below is the basic process for insert window installation.
- Remove the old window: Clear the area around the window, and take measurements to ensure the new window will fit. Use a pry bar to pry off the stop molding from the sides of the window frame. Pry the parting bead, which is the top strip separating the window sashes. Remove the window sashes and any weight cords from the holes in the side of the sash frame.
- Add insulation: Fill any empty spaces around the window frame with fiberglass insulation or spray foam.
- Add shims: Insert the replacement window into the opening, and place the shims at the bottom. Adjust until the window is plumb and level. Remove the window.
- Apply caulk: Apply caulk to the window frame, and reinsert the window. Adjust until the window is plumb and level. Fasten the window by driving screws through the holes in the window into the jamb. Test sashes for smoothness, then tighten the screws.
- Caulk the joints: Install the header piece at the top of the window, and apply caulk to the joints on the window’s interior and exterior.
- Attach window stops: Attach window stops, and caulk the joints around the stop moldings.
Structural Impacts of Full-Frame vs. Insert Window Replacement
Full-frame replacement can affect the existing window frame and trim. If the new window is different from the old one, the contractor may have to cut studs or the existing trim and siding. This is also the best time to address structural issues. The contractor may have to build extra support and add new trim.
There are special considerations for historic buildings or older homes, which can double or triple the price of the project. Older homes may not use standard sizes, so a contractor must cut and measure to fit the opening. The most common challenges are matching the historical architecture, removing counterweights, and updating to meet current building codes.
Professional vs. DIY Window Replacement
Full-frame and insert window replacement can be complicated. We recommend hiring a pro to replace windows.
Professional Window Replacement
Hiring a professional costs money, but the benefits outweigh the potential savings. Other possible benefits include the following:
- Contractors have the necessary tools and can purchase materials wholesale, which typically provides discount window options.
- Many window warranties require professional installation to be valid.
- Older homes require more expertise when installing windows that aren’t standard sizes.
- Professionals know about the required local building codes for window replacement.
- Professionals know how to handle any mold or rot on the window frames safely.
- Pros know how to properly seal and weatherproof your window to prevent air leaks.
DIY Window Replacement
Experienced DIYers may be able to handle insert window replacement, but projects don’t always go as planned. Once you pop out the old window, you could find that there’s damage to the frame and window area and that you’ll need a full-frame replacement instead. If you have an older home, you may need custom work to fit the window into the opening, which requires the expertise of a professional. Custom windows cost much more than standard ones, starting at $1,000 for one window.
Going DIY can save on window installation expenses, but it’s usually not worth the headache and extra time and effort that goes into this type of project. If something goes wrong, the window repair cost or the costs for glass replacement could exceed the original cost of professional window replacement.
Homeowners can choose between full-frame and insert window replacement, but your options may be limited depending on the condition of your home and the existing windows. Full-frame window replacements are best for new constructions and additions or if there’s rot in the window frame. Insert windows can work if the existing frame is in good condition and you want minimal interior and exterior trim disruption.
You can find the best replacement windows for your home from many top-rated window brands. Explore your options and contact a local professional for installation.
Full-Frame vs. Insert Window Replacement FAQ
What is the difference between full-frame and insert windows?
Full-frame window replacements involve removing everything down to the studs. Installation is similar to new construction window installation. An insert only replaces the sash and hardware.
How effective are window inserts?
Window inserts are a simple, cost-effective option if there’s no damage or rot around the window. One downside is that this could result in less visible glass because your windows are installed within the existing frame.
How much does full-frame window replacement cost?
Full-frame window replacement costs from $225 to $2,300. This breaks down to $75 to $1,500 for the window and $150 to $800 for labor. If you have an older home and require custom work, this can double or triple the price of the project.