Drywall Window Returns
Appearance and cost savings move the needle toward drywall returns rather than casing and wood extension jambs
When traveling around the United States, I stop in to see how new homes are constructed, and by far I see more drywall returns on windows than wood extension jambs and casing. But in the Northeast, you don’t often see drywall returns except on commercial and multifamily housing and apartments. Twenty years ago, I used drywall returns on the windows and doors in my own house as an experiment. I ended up applying casing around the opening, but beneath is still the drywall on the wall and the drywall extension jambs. On seven patio doors and 24 windows there is only one small crack in a drywall return. And despite concerns by other contractors that the corners of the drywall door extensions and window extensions wouldn’t be durable enough to handle use, the results have shown their concerns were unfounded.
When planning the FHB House interior finishes I wanted to use drywall returns for the clean look of the design and the cost savings. Assuming that future owners will end up installing drapes anyway, I figured, why bury perfectly good trim work behind cloth?
So, after the windows were installed and air-Sealed, Bruce took scrap rips of 1/2-in. and 5/8-in. sheathing and a few shims and padded the perimeter of each opening so that 1/2-in. drywall strips would slip precisely behind the window jamb with a minimal gap (<1/8 in.). It took him about five hours to pad out all the windows.
After the walls were drywalled, WACTC student Derek ripped 5-in.-wide strips of drywall from cutouts and other scrap pieces that would have ended up in the landfill and screwed them around the window openings. It took him about three hours to do most of the windows.
I cut and bedded No-Coat drywall bead at the head and sides of the openings, then finished the compounding with a second coat.
We didn’t apply drywall to the bottom—instead, Bruce cut and installed MDF sill pieces with a 1/2-in. projection.
I figure we saved about $20 per window in materials and about an hour labor between the work to rip and fit extension jambs and then miter and install casing, sill, and apron pieces—plus the trim painting. All totaled, for the 24 windows in the FHB House we saved about $1,750. For people who like cased windows, that would be a small price to pay. For me, that savings can be used for decking or the bluestone entry, or as extra money for landscaping.