Do-It-Yourself Window Screen Replacement

If you pay someone to fix your damaged aluminum window screens, you’ll generally pay $10 to 20 per window. Someone like me, with a large house that has a lot of old windows, could end up paying a small fortune. Since you can purchase the tools and materials for many windows for less than $40, clearly you’ll save a lot of money by learning to do it yourself. Fortunately, this is an easy home repair project that anyone can learn and master quickly.

To start with you will need a roll of screening material. You have a choice of fiberglass or aluminum screening. While fiberglass screening costs about 25% less initially, I have found it to be much less durable than the aluminum screening. Not only do you have to repair it more often, the fiberglass material is more difficult to obtain a clean professional look to your finished project. Since I prefer the aluminum screening, the directions I am going to give you are based on using the metal screening. A large roll ( 36″ x 25′ ) will only run you about $25 at the home supply store and will do many average sized screens.

You may need to buy new spline for your screen windows, also. Spline is the rubber piece that holds the screen in place. Before buying supplies, check the existing spline on your windows. If it’s not very dry and brittle, you will be able to re-use it for your repair job. The screens I just replaced are at least 20 years old and the spline was fine. If you do have to replace it, take a piece with you to the store to ensure that you get the right size. You are concerned with the width of the spline as windows can be different. Using the wrong size spline will be difficult or impossible to work with.

The only tools you will need are a small paintbrush, a common household butter knife, scissors, a utility knife and a spline roller. A spline roller is a hand tool specially designed for replacing screens. It is about 6″ long with a roller wheel at each end. If you look closely, you will see a difference between the two wheels. One roller wheel has a concave edge, which means it curves in. The other wheel has a convex edge, meaning it curves out. (To clarify this point, the first part of my parentheses is concave, while the closing end of my parentheses is convex.)

Now that you’ve assembled your materials and tools, let’s start repairing your first window screen. Use the butter knife to gently pry the spline out of the groove, beginning at the starting corner. Slowly pull the old spline from the groove all the way around the frame. If it is still usable, set it aside for now. Remove and discard the damaged screen. Clean any dirt from the groove using the small paintbrush. This will help you get a good fit for the new screen.

Lay the empty frame down on a large, flat surface. I do mine on my back deck where I have plenty of room. Unroll enough screening to cover your frame with an overlap of an inch all the way around. Use your scissors to cut the piece from the roll. As a fringe benefit, cutting the metal sharpens the scissor blades quite nicely. I kept a shoe box full of the scraps just to sharpen my scissors on later.

Starting at one corner of your frame, use the convex end of the spline roller and with long strokes, form the screen into the groove line along the first edge. Lay the spline into this groove with the beginning flush with the first corner. Press the spline into the groove using the concave end of the spline roller. This is easier if you hold the tool at a 45 degree angle to the frame and work only a couple inches at a time. The spline needs to be completely down into the groove in order to hold so press firmly and go over it as necessary.

When you get to the first corner, stop and make your groove in the screen along the next side (again using the convex end of the spline roller). Now you’ll need to work the spline into and around the corner. Continue working as above until you have completed three sides. Before you make the final groove, check to make sure the screen is taut. Usually metal screening will remain tight but if it’s not, gently pull flat before making your last groove.

There are two ways to finish off with your spline in the final corner. For an exact finish, you will cut the spline at a 45 degree angle flush with the corner and press into place with your roller. An overlapped finish will have you leave the spline overlapping by about an eighth of an inch. When you press that corner in, there will be a little tail that will stick out a tiny bit. This isn’t visible from outside the window and makes it much easier to remove the spline in case of future repairs.

Once your screen is securely in place, you will need to cut off your excess screen. Make sure you have a sharp blade in your utility knife so this step will be easier. Run your blade firmly down the frame with the blade at a 45 degree angle between the spline and the frame. That angle puts the blade against your frame so it doesn’t damage your spline plus it gives a neat, professional finish to your project.

Once you’ve replaced your first couple of screens, you will find it gets easier. I replaced five screens this past Sunday afternoon and it was my first time doing so. One word of warning when working with aluminum screening – you may want to use gloves as the edges do like to poke you. I have very small hands so it is impossible to find work gloves that fit properly. Despite the scratches on my hands, I was proud of my completed work. I also found great satisfaction in saving the money that I would have had to pay someone else to do the job.

I have repaired fiberglass screens before but had not used the aluminum screening before. The ones I just replaced with aluminum look much more professional than the fiberglass ones and I found it easier to work with. The last screen I replaced only took me ten minutes to complete from start to finish. This really is an easy home repair that you can readily do yourself by following these directions. Believe me, if I can do it so can you!

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