Do you remember the story of Rip Van Winkle? When Old Rip woke up years after taking a nap, he had a long beard, his nagging wife was dead, the Revolutionary War was over and he had to change his allegiance from King George of England to George Washington. What if a man who specialized in replacing windows fell asleep 40 years ago and woke up today? Rip Van Window would find big changes.

Of course, he would find the vinyl double-hung tilt-in replacement window with insulated glass had won the war against aluminum and wood windows. But he might be even more surprised to find the average age of a window being replaced had gone from 50 years old to 15 years old. The biggest shock might just be that he would have to change his allegiance from the replacement window to the new construction window!

After all, Rip Van Window had introduced replacement-style windows to make homes built before World War II more energy efficient and easier to maintain. The installation was simple then.
In the beginning, Rip Van Window would replace windows from inside the home.

To replace the wooden window sashes on older homes with a new replacement window, the interior molding that held the bottom sash in place was removed, the ropes were cut away from the weights, and  the parting bead, top sash, weights and pulleys were removed. The pocket where the old wooden sash had been was filled with the new aluminum or vinyl replacement-style window. Pink fiberglass insulation was stuffed around the replacement window frame and the old wood molding was reinstalled to the inside of the replacement window. Outside, the old storm windows were removed and the wood was capped with custom-bent aluminum, and additional caulking kept water and air out.

Compare that process to today.

Now, Rip Van Window will often find a “builder grade” new-construction window made of vinyl. The window will have a new-construction window flange covered with vinyl siding or stucco. To properly replace the window, the existing new-construction window – including the flange – must be removed. The exterior wall covering will need to be removed to get to the flange.

This presents a huge dilemma for today’s Rip Van Window. First, the correct window to use to replace this builder-grade new-construction window will be a high-performance new-construction Window, NOT a replacement-style window.

Both the exterior and exterior will be finished differently:

• New methods must be used to make the new window resistant to water penetration and air infiltration on the exterior.

• New methods must be used to allow the new window to fit and finish to the drywall or wood trim, since the new high-performance window will often be thicker than the existing builder-grade window.

Today’s Vinyl Siding Institute of America (VSIA) standards and American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) InstallationMaster guidelines are clear as to how the perimeter of fenestration must be finished in order to resist air infiltration and water penetration. The new-construction window should have a membrane panning system and be taped at the remaining perimeter to a housewrap – such as Dupont Tyvek – to provide a window perimeter that will resist air infiltration and water penetration. If no housewrap is found at the house wall, the proper installation will include the installation of housewrap. That means the replacement of windows may REQUIRE the removal of existing siding in order to comply with the standards of the industry.

Rip Van Window will have even more issues when he is confronted with a window in a stucco wall or where cultured stone was installed around a builder-grade new-construction window. The stucco or stone will want to be cut to expose the new-construction window flange for removal. The new window will need to be sealed in a similar manner; however, there is no regulatory agency for stucco, such as the VSIA for vinyl siding. There is no clear-cut recommended wall covering that is best to separate a masonry stucco wall from the wood sheathing over the framing in a way that will avoid water penetration that can lead to wood rot, mold and mildew.

Certainly, the minimum standards of AAMA where there is stucco or cultured stone wall coverings will be to maintain or install new flashing above the new window, behind the stucco and over the new window molding. Often, for replacing windows where stucco is the exterior wall covering, it is worth exploring the idea of replacing stucco with siding as the best solution to avoid expensive mold and mildew remediation due to water penetration. The replacement window contractor should at least make the homeowner aware of the potential for mold and mildew at their window opening, offer the homeowner methods to avoid that risk and specify in writing the different choices and the risks involved.

When Rip Van Window replaces a window today with a quality new-construction window, he must be aware of how he will finish the interior. When drywall is the finish to the existing window, then drywall must be cut away to allow for a thicker high-performance window. The homeowner can continue to have a drywall return to the new window or at that point the offer can be made to install wood moldings for a more traditional interior fit and finish. When wood molding is already the interior finish, then the wood jamb must be cut down – or replaced.

In conclusion, the Rip Van Window who woke up now needs to have a lot more skill than he did when he went to sleep 40 years ago. The new Rip Van Window should also have the ability to replace siding, stucco, stone, drywall and finish carpentry.

The window installation company who is NOT able to also properly install new siding, homewrap, panning systems and interior drywall and moldings may as well not wake up in the morning and go to work. Their old methods of replacing windows do not meet today’s construction standards. They may not adequately resist water penetration and could cause mold and mildew to occur in client’s homes. If that is the case, their new window installation could harm the health of the client and damage to their property.

That liability could be reason for Rip Van Window to go back to sleep for another 40 years.

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