Invest in the Details

Jim Snyder
February 7, 2013
COLUMN : From the Field

As an industry, we recognize the value of a proper installation. As manufacturers and dealers, we are reminded of this when we are called to address a field problem–and we’ve all had our share. Callbacks take time and valuable resources. Sometimes, an improper installation can even reflect badly on a brand.

Manufacturers go to great lengths to define and promote proper installation procedures to avoid callbacks. Installation is most certainly a specialty, now more than ever. However, is this recognized throughout the field?

Too often, installing a window or door properly is taken for granted in the hurried new construction process. Even I, years ago as a new homebuilder, didn’t give the installation a second thought, especially on my first homes. This wasn’t due to neglect or not caring, but frankly due to my ignorance.

  Properly tying the flashing system in with the window mounting flange is critical to a good installation.

Lessons Learned
Before long, callbacks from new homeowners with drafty or poorly operating fenestration changed my point of view. I gradually learned that a window “in place” is not necessarily a window installed. Alignment issues plagued me and became a burden for myself and the new homeowner. The problems were costly for my company.

It took the “squeaky wheel”–or in this case the “leaky window”–to learn some valuable quality control lessons as a supervisor. Simply put, fenestration installation demands attention to detail. This was a revelation for me, but it was only the start.

Years later, I phased into fenestration replacement. My revelation broadened as I replaced many failed windows and doors. Numerous times, I witnessed the long-term effects of neglectful installation, beyond just alignment issues. Water intrusion and the damage it caused were very eye opening for me. The results were rotted structures, mold and a haven for termites. These all could have been prevented from the start.

My experiences reinforced the facts: 1) attention to installation details matters, and 2) the details require a lot of attention. Yet, even an experienced contractor can overlook these facts. First, any window or door can be set in a rough opening very quickly and look just fine, so why not carry on? Secondly, millions of traditional fenestration units have been installed over the years with traditional methods. If the system’s not broken, why fix it? Right?

Just like other industries, technology is changing in all things fenestration, and simple traditional techniques no longer suffice. For example, the technique of simply driving (or shooting) nails through the exterior casing to secure a window in place is fading. This is due to:

  • the use of optional installation brackets,
  • frame design changes like exterior cladding on wood frames (making exterior casing optional), and
  • the increased use of non-wood, mounting flange products.

While mounting flange products have been around for decades, what’s changing is how they tie in to the flashing system. So, the fastening process is involved in the flashing process. The proper combination is complex. It involves many steps and materials, and the sequence is critical. For instance: What overlaps what? Where do you caulk? (It’s not always obvious.) What type of caulk is used? Are the sealing materials compatible? Clearly, installation today requires awareness of new technologies.

I learned different lessons from my homebuilding and fenestration replacement experiences. The combination revealed that properly installing a window or door cannot be taken lightly: Fenestration installation demands attention to detail, and the details have changed. The changes require specialized training and materials to ensure proper installation. And we all know, without proper installation, the costly callbacks will keep coming in.

Use my lessons learned. Short of very extensive renovation, there is only one opportunity to properly install the fenestration, and that’s in the beginning. It’s important. It matters to your bottom line. For so many reasons, it’s worth it to you to invest in the details.

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