Big Windows in High Places

Jim Snyder
September 21, 2015
COLUMN : From the Field | Methods & Techniques

In each of our regions, we become accustomed to “typical characteristics” of existing housing that affect our fenestration replacements. These include certain wall construction, exterior cladding materials, recurring window frame material, and physical sizes of the homes.

This deceptively large triple located just below a 20-foot ceiling required an interior scaffold. (Images courtesy of the author.)

During my fenestration replacement years in the surrounding area of Memphis, Tennessee, I tended to get most jobs in three primary townships of the area, each with their own types of homes. Described very simply, one area was filled with one-story homes built in the 1960s and 70s, each with about a dozen openings. Another community had primarily two-story homes built in the 80s and 90s, each with two-dozen or so openings. The third was somewhat of a mix, but nothing too unordinary. With very few exceptions, the windows of these “standard” homes were sizes that were manageable by one or, at most, two workers, and reasonably accessible from the interior and exterior. Knowing this, the labor could be priced consistently and profitably.

Once in a while, however, I would encounter a much larger home with many more windows—as in 50 or more. These installations are in a league of their own, and justify entirely different labor pricing consideration. This isn’t due to the quantity of windows, but that the windows are proportionally larger due to larger rooms and taller ceilings, and are much higher off the ground. The extra effort required for replacement is not so obvious.

In my first experience with one of these “elite homes,” I learned a hard lesson: charge more—much more. You’re going to earn it.

In this first instance, replacing about six windows, I increased my standard labor some to adjust for the “bigger means heavier” syndrome. Ultimately, I learned that I didn’t increase my labor nearly enough to earn a fair profit because the job took much longer than expected and was very demanding physically.

Why didn’t I see this up front? What did I learn? I’ll sum it up in three points.

Window Size Threshold

Most standard homes have at least one, very large window that will obviously require more manpower and time. That’s a given. The remaining singles are usually a reasonable size and manageable by one person. (Note: Most manufacturer instructions caution installers to use enough people to handle windows in a safe manner.)

Windows can surpass a threshold of weight and/or size, even single units, which cannot be handled by one person. This is common for all the windows in these elite homes. That means that possibly every unit can require double the manpower to maneuver. It is also very disruptive to workflow and is physically draining.

What is the threshold? It’s hard to nail down when bidding a job because so much factors into the weight—size, of course, frame material, double-glazing or triple-glazing, laminated glass, glass thickness (which increases when a size limit is reached), and so on. The threshold will likely be different for each individual, but eventually I was able to identify the reasonable and safe limits for my team during the bidding process.

The author admires this enormous double-hung at The Old State House Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, knowing he doesn’t have to replace it.

A Lot of Climbing

As a kid I loved to climb. That love has passed.

Elite home first floors are frequently several feet above grade for an elevated approach to the front entrance. All relative, this means that ladders now are required for replacement of even the first floor windows. Add to that, 10- or 12-foot first floor walls, and second floor windows are extremely high off the ground.

More ladder rungs to climb, and taller staircases to ascend take more time and energy for every trip. Eight-hour days on jobs like this are extremely exhausting. Scaffold and/or a man lift may be required to handle these heavy windows high up, adding more setup time and expense.

Some Disassembly May Be Required

In some cases, stripping down the unit to sash and frame may be necessary to manage the weight. Even then, sash and frame alone can be very heavy and will, of course, require more trips to the opening. They may still be heavy enough that two people are required.

One caveat: avoid separating factory mulls because this is an area prone to leakage.

When looking up at an elite home, it can be difficult to fully recognize the extra effort required to replace this league of fenestration. Installation time can easily double. Extra manpower and equipment will likely be required. Consider all steps carefully and discuss it with your installer. He will probably have some valuable input.

Jim Snyder is an AAMA-certified FenestrationMaster and InstallationMaster who shares his years of installation field experience as an industry writer, speaker, trainer and project/product consultant for dealers and manufacturers. A member of various industry organizations, Snyder also is involved in instructional document creation and revision. Contact him at