Windows are great for bringing the outdoors in. Closed, they provide views, loads of natural light, and sometimes even a warming glow. When opened, they yield a cooling breeze and allow us to enjoy the sounds and the smells of the outdoors.
With all there is to love about the great outdoors, there are some downsides. Unfortunately, the outdoors can also mean dirt, debris, and critters. Thankfully, this seemingly simple invention greatly improved our safe enjoyment of the outdoors--the window screen. Window screens are great for bringing the outdoors in, but leaving debris, dirt, and, most importantly, insects, out.
Window screens do their job well, but only if they are in place and intact. Made of lightweight materials, window screens are sometimes damaged in heavy storms or can otherwise fall victim to other natural forces, like children or pets.
Without fail, manufacturers of modern windows ship their new products with pre-built screens. Screen design and dimensions can vary not only based on window type, but also by window manufacturer.
This article focuses on performing the most common screen repairs on a double-hung fiberglass window screen, but most techniques apply to screens of all types.
|Tools||Materials||Skill Level||Estimated Time|
|• Tape measure||• Screen||Beginner||30 minutes|
|• Utility knife||• Spline|
|• Scissors||• Masking tape|
|• Rubber mallet|
|• Phillips head screwdriver|
|• Needle nose pliers|
|• Splining tool|
Considering Your Options
Screen repair is usually necessary when there is a small hole or tear in the screen itself.
Screen Patch Repair Kits
Patching kits, available at hardware stores and home centers alike, are a quick and convenient option. Typically square, though sometimes circular, these repairs require zero tools.
While quick and convenient, these patch kits do come with significant downsides. Typically, the patches can only accommodate repairs up to two inches. Because they are also only a patch, these repairs are often very noticeable.
Modern screening (i.e. the interwoven mesh that makes up the screen) is commonly made in one of two materials: aluminum or fiberglass. Patch kits can often only be found in aluminum. Fiberglass instead is by far the more common screening material.
Aluminum is simply heavier and more malleable than fiberglass. The unfinished edges of aluminum patches bend over and lock tightly into the existing screen whether fiberglass or aluminum. Always follow manufacturer instructions when completing your repair.
In general, there are subtle differences in the color of screening, with black, gray, and charcoal being the most common. You should be able to find a decent color match with patch kits, but variations in the dimension and pattern found in screens’ mesh make the proposition of a totally seamless repair even more of a long shot.
You may be able to locate and utilize stick-on fiberglass patches, themselves designed for other purposes. Alternatively, you could make your own from scrap screen. Utilizing a specialty (invisible) contact adhesive may free you from the two-inch max patch-size.
Tip: To assist with these types of repair, apply a repair patch on each side of the screen.
Considering the limitations of patching, you may choose instead to replace the screen’s screening altogether. Accomplished with no more than one specialty tool, this approach is a far better option for even the smallest repair.
The Other Anatomy of a Screen
Almost without fail, window screen frames are made of aluminum, are ¾” wide, and have a prefabricated spline channel measuring from 1/8” to 9/64”. The depth (or the thickness) of these frames may vary, but 5/16” is by far the most common measurement.
Spline, the rubbery material that locks screening into the frame, appears in either rectangular or tubular form. Measured by its diameter, spline can range in size from .125 to .250. Today’s frames will typically call for spline in the range of .125 to .175.
Standard fiberglass will call for a .140- to .150-diameter spline, while heavier sun- or pet-resistant screens will demand the smaller .125 to .130 option. Most screen makers will provide a recommendation on spline diameter.
Spline, like screening, is available in various colors, including black, gray, and charcoal, as well as a sand color.
Gather Components and Prepare to Repair
Always purchase screen at a size no less than two inches longer and two inches wider than the window’s screen frame. Screen is often available in both 36- and 48-inch widths and in rolls designed for single use (seven-foot). In the context of a repair, you should strive to match the color of your damaged screen.
Remove your existing screen from the window. Most window screens are designed such that they are fitted with tension springs. The force of these springs hold the screen inside a channel (or bead) built into modern windows. You should be able to remove your damaged screen from inside the home.
Test each side of the screen, applying light pressure back into the window’s screen channel. Once tension springs are compressed, the screen can be persuaded from the window. Make a note of how the screen was removed so that you can easily reinstall it later. Note: With some window screens, the springs are installed at either the top or bottom, requiring you to push down or up before removing the screen.
Remove The Existing Screen from the Screen Frame
Work with your screen on a flat surface. Your work surface should be large enough to handle the entire size of the frame and sturdy enough to accept moderate pressure. Tip: Use either masking tape or ratcheting bar clamps (if your work surface is small enough) to attach your screen to the work surface and to hold it stationary as you work.
Important: Try to orient the frame such that you are standing at the screen’s bottom edge. Use masking tape to tape the frame down to the work surface. Doing so will help keep the frame from racking as you work to install your screening. DO NOT cover the frame’s spline groove with tape.
- Move around the perimeter of the screen, eyeballing the spline channel.
- Locate the point at which the spline ends.
- Using a pair of needle-nose pliers, work surgically to pull the spline from the spline channel.
- Continue around the perimeter of the frame until the spline and damaged screening can be removed.
- Set the spline aside for later use.
Many screens are fitted with pull tabs. If your screen has additional hardware (such as pull tabs), take appropriate measures to remove them. Set them aside for reassembly.
Note: The rubbery material (EPDM or polyfoam) used as spline can break down and become brittle over time. That said, if your screen is over 15 years old consider purchasing new spline. Spline is available in 25-foot lengths for single-screen projects.
Check the Screen’s Frame and Hardware
Modern screen frames are hollow. This keeps the screen both lightweight and easy-to-assemble. Inspect your frames corners to ensure that they are intact. Purchase any necessary replacements and follow manufacturer recommendations when installing them. If your frame is solid, ensure that the corners are fully inserted into the frame before you begin replacing the screening.
Install the Screening
To help with installing the screening perfectly straight, square the frame up with an edge of your work surface. It is often preferable to employ a work surface that offers a “lighter” backdrop than your (darker) screen material. This aids with eyeballing during the installation of screening.
Important! Do not to stretch or otherwise deform the screen’s frame as you work. A framing square set beneath and moved around the inside corners can be of some use for ensuring that your frame stays true.
Unroll your single-use screen. With two inches overlay minimum at the sides of the screen and at the top, work carefully to find a long vertical column in the screen. Align it with the frame. Similarly, find a horizontal row in the screening and align it with the top of frame.
With spline in hand, insert it firmly at the upper corner sitting at the inside of the work surface. Work back towards you, rolling out the spline. Move slowly across the top of the frame, inserting a few inches of spline at a time and checking that the screen is not bundling, twisting, or otherwise stretching.
Using light pressure, run the grooved side of your spline roller back toward you first and then away from you. By applying an equal and opposite motion to the spline, we ensure that it does not stretch as it is rolled out and bedded. This is of critical importance.
Once you have made your way across the top of the frame, check your work. If you get this first run on the screen and splining perfect, it will significantly ease the rest of the installation.
Your goal now is to work around the perimeter of the screen, inserting the spline in a single piece and pass. Patience and precision is required, but note that with fiberglass screening, spline is removable and can be reinserted with minimal impact. As you navigate corners, use a Phillips head screwdriver to bed the spline into the spline groove. Proceed down your first long leg of the screen frame.
You may need to reinstall pull tabs. With some screen and window pairings, this little accessory is vital for installation and can help later with easy removal for repair or cleaning.
When we reach the last “short” corner, the bottom in this project, we will make another turn up and into our final long leg. This is a good point to double check the screen to ensure it is showing no signs of bunching or waviness. Install the spline up that last vertical. When you again reach that first corner, use a utility knife to carefully cut the spline. Cut splining about 1/4” long and bed it again with your screwdriver.
Using your roller tool, go around the entire perimeter. This time, firmly nest the spline into the groove.
Working carefully with your utility knife, trim all excess screening. Place your knife on a steep(ish) angle, and run it above the spline just at the point where it meets the outside face of the spline groove.
Tip: It is better here to trim the screen a little long than it is to cut it just a little too short.
Remove your tape from the work surface and reinstall your screen.
Reinstalling the Screen
Remembering how you uninstalled the screen, and working from inside the home, locate the screen channel that appears as part of the window unit. With one sash of your double-hung window open, turn your newly completed screen on its side, being conscious that the splined-side (the side on which optional pull-tabs should appear) faces in. Angle it corner to corner on at forty-five degrees and pass it through the window opening. Once it is clear of the window sash(s), twist it back into its proper orientation.
Grasping the screen firmly with one hand at its midpoint, guide the side of the screen containing springs into the screen channel. With your free hand relocated to your screen’s pull-tab(s), apply light pressure to the tension springs such that the springs compress, allowing you to swing the opposite side of the screen in line with the opposite side of the screen channel. You will now need to relocate your second hand to the pull-tab. Pull inward on the pull-tab so that it is completely in the screen channel and fully installed.
This article covers the basics of installing new screening and replacing screening in an existing screen frame. Prior to replacing screening, as discussed in this tutorial, thoroughly inspect and replace any and all screen parts. If your frame is damaged, please see our article on building window screens for guidance during repair.
While offered as a service by many local hardware stores, repairing screening in a window screen is relatively easy. With a minimal outlay in terms of supplies and project-specific tools, screening is a skill well worth learning.