Windows: The Differences Between Pocket Installation and Total Replacement

There are two major options for replacing these old windows. If you’re doing a remodel that involves work on the walls, then a full window replacement may be the best approach.

Double-hung windows are a classic look with a long track record of performance—so long, in fact, that many homes still have their original, decades-old double-hungs. The frames and sashes on those old wooden windows were not sealed and finished with the advanced materials we have now, so as they age they leak air and water and become difficult to operate. Many actually deteriorate, making an attractive appearance harder and harder to maintain. Eventually, the old windows must give way to replacement.

There are two major options for replacing these old windows. If you’re doing a remodel that involves work on the walls, then a full window replacement may be the best approach. When the old frames are removed, there will inevitably be some disturbance of the surrounding interior and exterior walls, but if wall finishes are being replaced or repaired anyway, it adds little time and cost to the project. By selecting the style and finish of window that best suits the design, remodelers can enhance the building with an attractive, durable window that achieves excellent energy performance for decades to come. Reasons to choose full window replacement include:

  • It can offer better product performance. A new window with flashing, caulk, and insulation is the best option for significantly compromised or damaged windows. It may be the most invasive method, but with the correct installation, everyone can reap the benefits.
  • It’s a smart investment. Full window installments can pay for themselves over time and add value and curb appeal to the home. Energy-efficient windows can lower heating and cooling costs.
  • It makes for easy maintenance. Newer windows can allow users to clean exterior portions of the glass from inside. Nowadays, most windows contain exterior trims that never need to be painted.

If, however, the goal is to replace the window with minimal disturbance to the surrounding walls, pocket installation may be a good option. Properly done, this option also delivers an attractive, durable window that improves energy performance. The advantages of pocket installation are multiple:

  • It is fast. The old sash is removed, and the new frame is installed, leveled, and sealed into place. The interface between the old frame and surrounding walls is never touched, so there usually is no wall refinishing needed other than small touchups. The new window can also be ordered prefinished, so there is no masking, painting, or varnishing to perform.
  • It is relatively simple. Pocket installation doesn’t require advanced carpentry skills, and most remodelers already own the required tools. Window manufacturers also offer detailed yet easy-to-follow instructions for contractors to use when installing.
  • It is affordable. The installation itself is easier and faster than full replacement at less cost to the homeowner.

Remodelers can assure the homeowner that this is a fast and simple solution that involves minimal dismantling of the existing installation. Briefly, the sash stop and parting stop that hold the sash in place will be removed, the sash weights will be cut off, and the top and bottom sashes removed. The old window frame will be prepped and sealed to form a clean, simple frame ready to receive a new window. Once in place, the new window will be properly sealed inside and out.

There are a few variables in the installation process to be aware of. You may be able to simply cut to the cord holding the balance weight and allow it to fall into the bottom of the weight pocket, without having to open the pocket and remove it. In some cases, the pulleys can be easily removed, but if not they can usually be driven flush into the frame with a hammer. Spray foam insulation is a good way to fill the weight pocket, if desired. It is a good idea to inspect the window frame carefully for rot or infestations, and replace any compromised wood. Also check the dimensions and make sure the frame is square.

Double-hung, single-hung, casement, and fixed windows are available, with grill styles to suit a wide range of architectural motifs. Windows can be ordered pre-finished in a wide variety of natural wood and paint choices, or unfinished for a customized look. Several different types of high-performance glass are available to meet the specifics needs of the location and climate.

By choosing the right window replacement method for the project, remodelers can improve window appearance, performance, and overall quality. The wide range of style and finish options means that a great window is available to suit almost any design.

This article originally appeared at