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Insert Window Replacement or Full Frame Replacement? The Case For Each

January 30th, 2020, 5:21 PM

Replacement windows can significantly reduce energy costs and boost the value of your home — but to realize those benefits in the long-term, homeowners must make significant financial decisions in the short-term. This not only includes how the window will look and what the window will be made of, but also how it will be installed.

There are two major paths you can take with replacement window installation:

  • Insert window replacement: Otherwise known as a frame-in-frame or pocket window replacement, this type of installation can only be performed on wood windows. The installation technician removes only the old sashes, covers, and hardware while leaving the framing and trim intact. The replacement window is inserted and sealed into the existing frame.
  • Full frame window replacement: Also known as "total tear-out" — everything (including the framing) is replaced, leaving behind the rough opening. Exterior and interior trim must be reapplied after this more extensive (and expensive) process, the equivalent of major surgery in the window universe.

Do I actually need a full-frame window replacement?

That depends on the degree of wear on your existing frames. If there is pervasive rot or softness around the frame, especially looseness around the side jambs or sill, then you should probably proceed with a full frame replacement. The installation tech will completely extricate all the "guts" within that rough opening and start over, custom-fitting the replacement window to the space so that it is square and plumb. Since both exterior trim (plus potentially siding) and interior trim (plus paint) are affected, maintaining consistency with the overall aesthetic of your home is a concern — especially if it is an older or historic home.  

However, full-frame replacement does present an exciting opportunity to update or reinvigorate a look that may have grown tired, with the additional peace of mind that comes with a fresh start. Furthermore, your options for window materials will be wide open. Granted the installation was performed correctly, your windows should be set for decades to come. 

Could insert window replacements be enough?

In many cases, yes. If the existing wood frame is in good shape with minimal rot, then an insert or pocket replacement window could make a lot of sense. Although you might lose a little bit in the window's total viewing area (since this insert frame is nesting within the original frame), exterior and interior trim will remain undisturbed, greatly reducing both the expense and degree of disruption within your home. Less involvement means the job gets done quicker, which cuts down on man-hours and labor costs.

In the event that only one or two windows are in need of replacement or you're considering putting your house up for sale in the near future, inserts are also a logical choice. Just bear in mind that wholesale changes are not possible with this method, and any lingering structural issues will continue to fester if not addressed. Additionally, it is only executable on double-hung, casement, picture, and awning windows

casement windows

What are replacement windows made out of?

Vinyl — aka PVC (polyvinyl chloride) —has long been a go-to for replacement window manufacturers, particularly those of insert windows. Although it has historically had its shortcomings, such as vulnerability to ultraviolet rays, manufacturing processes have improved to enhance PVC and render it more resilient. An evolved form called cellular PVC better resists thermal expansion and contraction and effectively mimics wood in both its appearance and density. 

If going with a full-frame replacement, the multitude of framing materials may seem overwhelming. You could opt for a traditional and timeless look with wood windows, which among the best in energy efficiency but come with the ongoing responsibility of regularly maintaining and weatherproofing them. If that sounds like too much, perhaps wood clad windows may be ideal. These windows are shielded on the outside with a protective aluminum or vinyl cladding, while leaving natural wood exposed from the inside. Fiberglass and composite windows offer top-of-the-line performance and attractive looks and fall between vinyl and wood windows in price.

Don't forget about glass either — look for double-paned windows with a low-emissivity (low-e) coating to best regulate heat transfer. Although Northern Virginia and D.C. sit within a temperate climate, given the sultriness of D.C. area summers, you may want to shop for windows rated for lower solar gain, indicated by its SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient). Depending on where the window is situated in the home and how much sun it gets, you'll want to pay attention to the window's visible transmittance (VT) rating — a number closer to 0 will occlude more visible light, while a number closer to 1 will permit more visible light. For overall energy efficiency, take note of the U-factor (heat), air leakage, and condensation resistance ratings. 

Which replacement window installation is best for me?

Whether you opt for an insert window replacement or full-frame window replacement ultimately comes down to your needs and your situation. No matter which option you choose, proper installation is of paramount importance. Hodges Windows and Doors boasts over 100 years of replacement window installation experience and is one of the most trusted window contractors in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. 


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Chevy Chase, MD
Windows and Door Installation

I want you to know that your two colleagues who installed the windows did an outstanding job...Jean and I could not be more pleased.

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Washington, D.C.
Window Installation

I couldn't be more pleased with both my windows and the installation and now "on a clear day I can see forever". If you would like to use me as a reference I would be more than happy to cooperate.

Elizabeth H.
Arlington, Virginia
Window Installation

I wouldn't deal with anyone else. Working with Hodges, I know I can get anything I want, and my imagination can run wild.

Arlington, Virginia
Window and Door Installation

Hodges had very knowledge salespeople, highly skilled installation crews, and the product lives up to expectations. You can't ask for better than that.

Richard N.
Ashburn Village, Virginia
Door Installation

I just wanted to express my appreciation to the team your company sent to install a few doors and repair windows in our house. They were professional, caring, cooperative and extremely courteous. They are a major asset to your company. On the whole, our experience with the Hodges Company has been very positive and we happily recommend your services to others.

Mary V.
Bethesda, Maryland
Door Installation and Window Repair

Throughout the entire process - from our first meeting to the on-going daily supervision - by you of the job, the professionalism, the quality of the products, and the workmanship was outstanding.

David & Rosemary P
Vienna, Virginia
Window and Door Installation

The deck door is fabulous and the installation is super!!! I love how wide it is, and how easily it opens and it actually locks! thank you for the expert product and installation.

Kevin J.
Springfield, Virginia
Door Installation

I am so pleased with my windows, your installers and staff. I would indeed recommend your company to anyone and everyone. They were quick, efficient and very polite.

Betty L.
Fairfax, VA
Window Installation

The installer, who I think was Tom Langworthy, did excellent work. He was respectful of our space and cleaned up after himself. He always conducted himself in a professional manner. He seems highly competent and he engenders confidence in his workmanship.

James B.
Washington, DC
Window Installation

I must tell you that Mark Russow and everyone at The Hodges Window Company are nothing less than a great representative/distributor for your company and we will not hesitate to recommend both companies to our friends and family.

Debbie P.
Manassas, VA
Window and Door Installation

We are so very, very happy (once again!) with the Hodges Company....this is the third time we have had a project completed, and each time we've been so pleased.

Valerie Soroka
Arlington, VA
Door Installation

Everything was excellent. The salesman offered good advice and provided examples of how the end result would look. Hodges' workers arrived on time and worked quickly. The lead installer was quite knowledgeable as well, so the job was done neatly and without incident.

James G.
Vienna, Virginia
Window and Door Installation

Thank you so much for fixing my window today! Thank you for coming even though these windows aren't yours......No wonder the management office here thinks you guys can do anything and are the most helpful window company around.

Kim T.
McLean, Virginia
Window Repair

We love our new door. The installation work was timely, quick and well-done.

Mary Ann M.
Arlington, VA
Door Installation

All in all a really fantastic company - they've been in business a long time and it shows based on how they treat the costumer. Am planning to do windows next year, and they will be my first phone call.

Ian W.
North Potomac, MD
Door Installation

I think they did a very good job. I will go back to them in a heartbeat.

Karen L.
Arlington, VA
Window and Door Replacement

Before, we could never keep up with the cold. Now we just turn the heat on, and it stays in the building. Complaints are way down, and we're very happy.

Rev. Davies K.
Falls Church, Virginia
Window Installation

Your guys did a great job. The temperature in the house is up by 3 degrees and the heat pump is running half as much.

Larry C.
Gainesville, Virginia
Window Installation

We enjoyed meeting with Brian Whitehouse and were impressed with his ability to explain our options, always respecting our wishes and never annoying us with hard-sell tactics...It was such a pleasure to deal with people who know their job and do it well.

Sara R.
Falls Church, Virginia
Window and Door Installation

We will definitely be using Hodges again when we look to replace some windows in our house

Daniel Q.
Woodbridge, VA
Door Installation

The whole process from initial meeting to installation was painless and quite surprisingly, a lot less expensive than we thought it would be... Thanks again for taking such good care of us. If anyone I know is looking for new windows, I will certainly recommend your company.

Carol B.
McLean, Virginia
New Window Installation

Tom is definitely a master craftsman and did an excellent job. Just want you and the company to know that both Tom and Larry did an outstanding job and we are very pleased with the results.

Dave H.
Arlington, VA
Window Installation