Saturday, October 26, 2013

How to Make a Window Screen


Hello! Ever had a window screen in your home get broken or lost and needed a replacement? Ever found yourself wondering just how to go about getting a replacement screen? Ever wondered what it would cost to replace a screen?

Well, as luck would have it we recently found ourselves needing a bunch of replacement screens. After purchasing our "new" 1970's colonial home, we of course had a few "surprises" pop up. (Seems the unexpected is one of the few things you should always expect when buying a home.) Thankfully we haven't had to tackle anything too huge, and the previous owners really did a fantastic job for the most part of maintaining and updating the home.

However, one of the things we underestimated was the impact of screen replacement on the windows. The beautiful front-to-back breeze that blows so freshly through the house when the windows are open is one of the many special features we love so much about our new home. Upon closer inspection, though, we noticed a number of windows that were missing screens. And we had previously noted that the screens that were in place were very odd-looking "half-screens" that covered only the lower half of the windows. For the life of me I can't figure out why anyone would install a "half-screen," which only allows you to open the lower half of the window - something we're not a huge fan of doing on our upper floors with a 4-year-old running around (not to mention the 13-year-old)! And even if we had decided to just suck it up and stay with the half screens, several of them had tears in the mesh so needed to be repaired or replaced anyway...

My first thought was, No big deal! How expensive could it possibly be to replace a bunch of screens? Well, unfortunately I very quickly found out the unfortunate answer to that question. After researching the issue and consulting with a contractor, here's what I discovered: The good news was that our windows were made by Harvey, a good quality window I was told. The bad news was that our windows are not a stocked size, but were instead custom ordered to fit the existing openings. Bottom line is we were looking at cost of $130 each for fiberglass replacement screens or $155 each for aluminum replacement screens.

Right off the bat those prices sounded really, really terrible so I quickly did the math and confirmed the shocking price: To deal with the most pressing priority, replacing the 13 upper-floor window screens, would be 13 x $130 = $1,690!!! Needless to say, even if our new house hadn't already sucked our "move-in & update" budget dry, there was never a 4-digit place in it for screen replacement!

So with Plan "A" down the tubes, I set off to discover Plan "B" for our screen situation. This turned out to be way easier and WAY cheaper than I expected. After a few google searches I landed on a screen kit sold for $13 by Home Depot.

And I already knew about (and had experience installing) the not-included screen mesh, which you can get in various sizes and colors. But to give you an idea, here's a 25' long roll (cost = $20) which is enough for between 6-8 standard windows.

So I ran the numbers: $13 for the screen kit, about $3 for the screen mesh. If this worked, total cost per screen would be just $16! That meant that at $16 per screen it would cost us just $208 to replace all 13 upper-floor screens! If it worked...I was ecstatic at the price difference, but equally skeptical that this would really work. Seemed too good to be true and was doubtful that at $16 per screen we'd end up with solid, functional screens that we could actually use on our house and which would actually look good.

So I set out to do a test. I bought one screen kit and the mesh, and after about 30 minutes we had our first fully functional screen which I could hardly tell apart from the factory screens.

It turns out that if you're careful with the measurements, it's actually quite simple to put these homemade screens together using the screen kits. So easy in fact, that I set up an assembly line utilizing our 13 and 11 year old boys Hunter and Mitch to "mass-produce" the rest!

Here they are in "action" (note that while their enthusiasm for the project was slightly less than mine, they nonetheless got the job done when it counted!)


And after a really late night of screen-making, here are the boys collecting their reward - snacks and drinks at the Shell gas station & convenience store around the corner!

Now, as far as the how-to's of making your own replacement screens, let's start with the tools you need to do this job: tape measure, pencil, hacksaw, mitre box, screen spline roller, flat-head screwdriver, and box cutter or utility knife with razor blade.

You will need to purchase one screen kit for each screen you want to make, and you will need to purchase enough screen mesh to cover the number of screens you want to make.

Note that it's less expensive per screen to buy the longer rolls of screen mesh, so worth the time to calculate the total amount of mesh you need and then buy the largest roll(s) you can to cover that amount (just make sure you include a calculations a few inches of excess as you'll actually cut the mesh longer than needed and then trim off the excess later).

Step 1: Using your tape measure, measure the screen dimensions. This is easiest if you're replacing an existing screen - just measure the height and width of that screen's frame. If you are making a screen for a window that doesn't currently have a screen, you'll need to carefully measure the height and width of the actual opening that the screen will fit into. (Note that on the window frame there will likely be a lip or overhang that two of the edges of the screen will fit under when installed, so make sure to include that in your measurements.)


Step 2: Using your tape measure and pencil, measure and mark the 4 pieces of frame (top, bottom, and sides) to the size needed based on the measurements you took for your screen opening.

Note that you'll need to mark the actual lengths of the 4 frame pieces to be shorter than your actual measurements to account for the length of the corner pieces that connect the 4 frame pieces together. This is covered in the screen kit instructions so read carefully and adjust your measurements accordingly. In the case of our screen kit we subtracted 1.5" from the height measurement and 1.5" from the width measurement, as directed in the screen kit instructions.

Step 3: Using the hacksaw and mitre box, cut the 4 pieces of screen frame to the lengths you measured and marked them to.

Step 4: Connect the 4 pieces of screen frame together using the 4 corner pieces. Make sure to include the 2 metal spring inserts in with the corners on one side of the screen (doesn't matter which side).



Step 5: Lay the assembled screen frame down on a hard surface (floor or table, something you don't mind getting some cut marks on). Make sure the side with the spline groove is facing up. Using your knife (or a pair of scissors) cut a piece of screen mesh a couple inches longer than the screen frame and lay on top of the frame.

Step 6: Starting in one corner, lay the end of the spline on top of the mesh, right on top of the spline groove. Use the spline roller to push the corner of the spline (and the mesh) into the spline groove and then, pushing down firmly, carefully roll the spline into the spline groove all the way to the corner of the frame.

Then, bend the spline 90 degrees and roll the spline and mesh into the groove on the next length of the frame.

Continue this along the last 2 lengths of frame until the spline reaches all the way back to the corner where you began. As you're rolling the spline into the spline groove around the frame, be sure you don't let the mesh get either too tight or too loose. If it gets stretched too tight the mesh will tear and you'll have to start all over with a new piece of mesh. If it's too lose it will buckle and it won't stretch across the screen opening smoothly.

Step 7. Using the knife, cut the spline where it joins back to the corner where you started, then use the flathead screwdriver to carefully push the corners of the spline into the groove.

Then go around the frame one more time with the spline roller rolling along the spline to make sure it's seated firmly all the way into the spline groove.

Step 8. Finally, use your knife to carefully trim off the excess screen mesh around the outer edge of the spline. Make sure you run the knife blade along the metal edge of the screen frame groove and don't cut too close to the spline, or else the mesh could become loose and pop out of the groove.

You now have a functional and professional looking screen than is ready to install!

Thanks for reading!


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