Volume 37, Issue 11, November 2002


Window Installation Primer
The Case for Brick-to-Brick versus Within Frame
by Ken Kraus

Your client, with your guidance, has selected a replacement window for his home or office. Even if you have come to an agreement on the precise model number and features of the product proposed, your job still isn’t done.

At left shows a jamb of brick-to-brick installation, while the drawing at right is a jamb of within-frame installation.

In a replacement scenario, in which an existing window is to be removed and a new one installed in its place, there is still the decision about the type of installation: over the old perimeter window frame (“within frame”) or back to the outside rough opening (“brick-to-brick”). 

To the uninitiated, it might seem obvious that the best choice is always to remove the existing window frame entirely and do away with anything old, giving the cleanest window installation as though this were new construction. But within an existing living or commercial space, such as the highly finished co-op apartments of our New York City clientele, there may be factors that make “within frame” worth considering.

The Case for Brick
BRICKTOBRICK First, let’s cover brick-to-brick, or the complete removal of the old window frame and installation within the rough opening when masonry isn’t present.

Yes, this is window replacement in its purest form. But this also involves considerable damage to the interior reveals upon removal of the old window frame, much like the dentist having to dig into the gums to remove the root of a tooth. Yes, it can be that traumatic and that messy because much of the frame is often deeply recessed into the wall cavity. If the space is under a complete renovation, and interior walls are being re-rocked or plastered anyway, then by all means use this form. But do keep in mind that all this demolition and follow-up rebuilding of interior reveals is going to make this the most costly method in the end.

Another argument for brick-to-brick is that by going back to the original opening you get the largest window, therefore the largest glass area. And, no matter what the space conditions, if the old frame is that deteriorated, it has to go regardless.

The Case for “Within Frame” 
Conversely, the pros and cons of going within frame now follow logically.

WITHIN FRAME Let’s do the pros first, assuming we want window replacement because the existing sash is inefficient, but the perimeter framework is still sound and the reveals surrounding the window are in a finished state. The client’s apartment is complete. They have highly finished interior wood casings, such as in a New York City upper east side townhouse or expensive faux-painted reveals as in a Lake Shore Drive co-op. In these cases, the customer will want a new window with the least disruption.

Now, installing over the interior frame (using some kind of exterior panning to seal your new window to the masonry) requires less demolition than brick-to-brick. This reduces the labor cost and also preserves the client’s precious interior reveals. True, there is less of a sightline by going new frame over old frame, but this trade-off may be well worth it to the client.

It is vital that you let the client in on the thought process, so he is aware of the reasons for choosing either method. You may assume that the last thing a multi-million dollar co-op owner wants is to destroy his co-op’s interior custom reveal shutters. However, when he learns that going within frame also costs 2 to 3 inches of precious Central Park view, he may gladly choose brick-to-brick with all its demolition and expense. 

Letting the client be a part of the decision prevents sudden remorse when he later hears about a friend’s window replacement and wonders why he couldn’t get some of the same benefits. In the end, clients will be glad they were consulted and have peace of mind about the trade-offs they 

Comparing the Two Methods -- You Decide

Within Frame Brick-to-Brick
Less expensive More expensive
Less sightline More sightline
Keeps old frame Removes old frame
Preserves reveal Destroys reveal
Cleaner installation More demolition and dust



Ken Kraus is vice president of Skyline Windows in New York.


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