Proper Fenestration Installation Goes Beyond the Installer

Jim Snyder
December 29, 2013
COLUMN : From the Field

Fenestration performance complaints in new home construction can be frustrating, costly and time-consuming to fix. Should a performance issue arise with the installation, the installers are the ones called in to address the problem. A reliable installer will own up to the issue and resolve it.

That being said, I need to pose this question: Is the fenestration installer solely responsible for the performance of the installation?

Your initial response would likely be, “Yes. He’s the only one who installed it, so he is solely responsible.” But let’s look at the bigger picture.

Installing fenestration is a small piece of the new home construction puzzle. Many other trades move in before and after the fenestration installer is on site. This, and other factors, can affect the quality of an installation, independent of the actual installer’s work.

To ensure a reliable installation, the following factors need to be addressed on behalf of the installer, and perhaps coordinated by the building supervisor throughout the entire construction process.

1. Is the Site Properly Prepped for Installation?

Fenestration installation instructions start before the windows, doors and installer are on site, usually dependent on the framer.

Preliminary fenestration instructions specify a clean and accurate rough opening. Even a reasonably square rough opening can be acceptable, but if the edges of the sheathing are rough or not flush with the stud opening, or do not provide a smooth flat surface for a nailing fin, securing the window properly during installation can be impossible. Clean and true rough openings are critical.

Weather barrier cuts (in a membrane drainage system) need to be done correctly and are usually performed by the framer. If these cuts are not made in the “modified I” or specified pattern, the installer can’t make the proper wall interface. Make sure the framer is clear on how to make the cuts, or perhaps leave the cuts to the fenestration installer.

2. Are Installation Instructions Provided for That Product?

Qualified installers understand and practice good installation procedures, and are probably familiar with the ASTM E2112 Standard Practice for Installation of Exterior Windows, Doors and Skylights, for instance. But not all instructions are the same for every product and application. To clarify expectations, provide installation instructions or specify what procedure to follow so there’s no misunderstanding. It may be that the installer is the best resource for making that determination.

3. Are All Materials Compatible and On Hand?

In new home construction, an installer normally provides labor only. During the installation, the installer is reliant on materials furnished by the builder. These materials include the fenestration, of course, and likely other related materials such as flashing and sealants.

Make sure related materials are on hand. Nothing can kill productivity more than not having proper sealant to back bed the nail flange.

Checking material compatibility is time consuming and requires attention. Make sure this has been addressed before material shows up on the job site. Check with the proper resource.

4. Will the Installation Go Undisturbed During Completion of the Home?

Fenestration installation happens early in the construction process, and many more trades will follow. Keep in mind that anybody or anything that comes in contact with the fenestration or wall system could affect the original installation.

If insulating the rough opening is done separately, for instance, make sure proper insulation is used and installed properly, not bowing in the jambs.

Make sure exterior veneer installers (masonry, siding, etc.) leave a generous caulk void around the fenestration. Too often, I’ve seen brick forced up against window jambs, not allowing a proper exterior caulk joint, and worse yet, forcing the window out of alignment.

Paint only what needs to be painted, not weather stripping and hardware. This carelessness can make windows hard to operate.

5. Will the Installation be Properly Finalized?

Make sure final exterior caulking is done with the proper sealant around the fenestration after the veneer is installed. This may not or may not be the installer’s responsibility.

Some installation factors go beyond the installer. Can we get a little help here?

Jim Snyder has worked in the residential new construction, remodeling and fenestration industries for more than two decades. His website features a regular blog on installation topics, and he welcomes questions and feedback from readers at jim@windowjim.com.