MDF Window Returns
This stronger, bench-built alternative to drywall returns gives windows a modern look with more rigidity and water resistance than gypsum wall board.
Synopsis: For windows without trim, drywall returns offer a modern look—but they can take a lot of time and fuss to assemble. MDF returns are easier to install and finish, and are more durable than drywall. Carpenter Josh Edmonds details the process of creating MDF returns, from establishing the reveal to building the box, installing the assembly, and taping and painting. The article includes a drawing of the corner transition and step-by-step photos of building, installing, and finishing the returns.
I may risk alienating some people by saying this, but not every window needs trim. That’s kind of a weird thing for a carpenter to say, I know, but there are certain styles and types of houses where window trim can detract from, rather than enhance, the overall look of a home.
Hence the drywall return. A lot of people think of drywall returns as a cheap and quick way to finish off a window opening, but the reality is that finishing a window this way can take a lot of time and fuss, even if the materials are less expensive than wood. And I hate to break it to those who work in parts of the country where windows are always trimmed: There are regions where drywall returns are common, if not the norm. That said, I’m not a huge fan of using drywall to achieve the trimless look.
We build a fair number of houses with extra-thick walls, including Passive Houses, which often lend themselves to the stripped-down, Northern European aesthetic where they originated. Because drywall returns can be fussy—and because drywall tends not to hold up well to the occasional water that either drips from or blows through a window—we wanted a better solution.
What we came up with are MDF window returns. Preassembled from moisture- resistant 3/4-in. Medex MDF, these returns are easy to install and finish, and they are more durable than drywall while still maintaining gypsum’s dimensional stability.
Unlike drywall returns, which are built in place in pieces, we production-build these returns on the bench and install them as units. The lengthiest part of the process is finishing the four sides of the opening to the drywall. Because MDF cuts cleanly, the seam between the return and the window is usually tight enough that it doesn’t need caulk. And because we prefinish the returns with primer and a finish coat, we generally don’t have to cut in against the window frame. We’ve used this method on a number of projects now, and everyone’s pleased with the crisp, crack-free results.
More about interior window trim:
Installing Reglet Trim – This unique way to finish window and door openings without wood trim is a modern upgrade to a basic flush drywall return.
Precision Window Trim – This systematic approach to cutting and assembling window casing ensures better joints and a faster installation.
How to Upgrade Interior Window Trim – In these videos, learn how to replace worn or dated window trim to give a room a cleaner, richer look.
From FineHomebuilding #289
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