New Window in a Brick House
Redundant flashings and attention to detail keep out air and water.
Synopsis: While window replacement has become a fairly standard remodeling job, it can still present challenges, especially when the window being replaced is in a brick wall. In this article, veteran remodeling contractor Mike Sloggatt describes his process for this tricky project. To start, Sloggatt preps the opening, taking care with the removal of the old window. Next, he flashes the rough opening and makes sure to integrate the new wall sheathing with the existing building paper. Sloggatt’s next step is to integrate the new window with the wall. First, he installs the window, using caulk and foam to air-seal and weatherize; then, he adds an extra layer of sealing for more protection. Finally, Sloggatt installs a site-built sill pan.
In the 30-plus years that I’ve been a remodeling contractor, I’ve replaced hundreds of windows. The difficulties in window replacement vary by project, but one thing is certain: Replacements in brick veneered homes are among the most challenging. Why? Masonry openings are difficult and expensive to change, and integrating a new window into a home’s existing weather barrier is vastly more difficult when a layer of brick is in the way.
Further complicating matters, there are two ways to get a new window in an existing brick opening. The easier, less expensive option is a replacement window where only the sash and balance system are replaced. With a full-frame replacement, the entire window, including the frame, is replaced.
Given that a replacement window is cheaper and easier to install, why choose a full-frame replacement? If the frame is rotted or insect-damaged, a full frame is generally the better approach. Also, if there’s evidence of water intrusion around the window opening, a full-frame replacement lets you find out what’s going on and gives you access to fix it. The window in this house, which likely dates from the 1950s, was rotted badly enough that a full-frame replacement was the only sensible way to go.
Fortunately, most window manufacturers now make windows in custom sizes, and prices are affordable. You no longer have to alter masonry openings or pad the hole with trim to make a stock window fit. The only caveat is that you’ll want to double- and triple-check all relevant measurements before ordering the unit, because getting the wrong size is an expensive mistake. Your window dealer or the manufacturer’s website is a good place to look for guidance on proper measuring. In addition, custom window sizes may have longer lead times than stock sizes, so ask about delivery times when placing an order.
Here, I purposely shrunk the window so that it would fit within the existing opening with the nail fin intact. The nail fin was covered with flat stock that matched the house’s other existing windows. The result was a new energy-efficient window that matched the older units in the house well.
The first step in any window-replacement project is removing the old window. It’s tempting to remove the old window as quickly as possible, but a go-slow approach means that you’re less likely to damage plaster and finishes surrounding the window. On this house, the interior plaster was installed after the window and was keyed into the window frame. I couldn’t have known this before I started removing the old window frame, and tearing the window apart would likely have resulted in significant plaster damage and a much bigger project, higher costs for the homeowner, and a headache for me.
For more photos and details on window replacements in brick veneered homes, click the View PDF button below.