Screen door cracked open to balcony

It’s spring — time to open windows and doors to let in some fresh air. While invigorating outside air is welcome inside, open windows and doors are a two-way street. Let in what you want and keep out what you don’t by installing screens on windows and doors, or replace old ones that may have tears or holes.

Window Screen Installation

Step 1: Remove Existing Screen

Open the window and remove the existing screen (if you have one). At this point, there are a few ways you can go about this project. You can repair the existing screen, remove the screening from the frame and re-screen it or build a new screen using a screen frame kit.

Step 2: Repair Screen

To repair the screen, start by first measuring any holes or tears. Holes that are ¼" or less can be patched with a little dab of nail polish, clear glue, or an adhesive such as rubber cement. After the glue is applied and hardens, it forms a seal that keeps out little intruders.

If the hole is bigger, you can make a patch. If you have an old window or door screen sitting around somewhere, you can cut out a patch from it. If not, your local True Value hardware store will have replacement screening and screen patches available for purchase. Cut a square patch that is 1" to 2" larger than the hole, using a utility knife or shears. For aluminum screens, unravel about six strands on all four edges of the patch, leaving single strands sticking out along each edge. Overlay the patch on the damaged area and weave the loose strands through the screen and then bend the strands on the other side to secure the patch to the screen. Use needle-nose pliers to maneuver and bend the wires. For fiberglass screens, you can use a self-adhesive patch. Once the patch is on, you can then add a touch of nail polish or clear adhesive for even more stability.

If the hole is bigger than the bottom of a coffee mug or something equivalent in size, you’re better off replacing the whole screen. See Step 4.

Step 3: Build the Frame

If you’re starting from scratch or replacing the whole screen (screen and frame), get a screen kit. These are available in various sizes and can make your screen installation process much faster. Most screen kits include the four sides of the frame, the spline (rubber cord that holds the screen into the frame) and the corner pieces that connect the sides. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully for assembly, as they may differ.

Helpful Tip

Measure the old screen or the window before buying a screen kit so you get the correct size. Duplicate the dimensions to ensure a good fit.

Step 4: Screen Installation

Use the point of a utility knife, awl or nail to pry out one end of the spline that holds the screen into the channels in the sash. Grasp the end and pull slowly to remove it, and then pull out the old screening (if you are replacing). If the spline is in good condition (soft and flexible, not dry and cracked), you may reuse it. However, it is better to replace the spline since it tends to stretch as it is removed and may not fit as tightly as it should if it is reused.

Helpful Tip

Bring a sample of the old spline (or better, the screen frame itself) with you when you go to True Value to purchase your materials. Spline diameters vary, and sizing is critical for proper installation.

Choose a screen material and frame size that matches the type (aluminum or fiberglass) and color of your existing screen and frame. Although you may be able to buy screening by the foot, you may save money in the long run by buying a roll. It’s also not at all unusual for a beginner to accidentally tear the new screen during installation, so having a roll may save another trip to the store; and you’ll have some on hand for future repairs. Just make sure the roll that you buy is wide enough for all the windows, not just the one you happen to be working on now.

Lay the new screening over the sash so it overlaps all sides at least 1". Cut the screening with shears, or lay it over a piece of scrap lumber and cut through it with a sharp utility knife.

Helpful Tip

If you are repairing more than one screen and one is larger than another, do the large one first. Then if you accidentally cut the screen when rolling it into place, you can roll out some new material for a second try, and save the damaged piece for the smaller screen.

If you are using aluminum screening, roll the screen into the channel on one side of the sash using the convex wheel of your screen roller/installation tool. Place the palm of your hand in the center of the screen to keep it from shifting. Roll lightly at first, and then more firmly to press in the screen in stages; otherwise, you may cut it. Complete one side at a time and then roll in the spline by pressing it over the screen and into the channel beginning about 1" from one corner. Then use the concave side of the roller to press completely into the channel. Roll lightly at first to press the spline into the channel gradually. Rolling too hard tends to stretch the spline and increases the risk of having the roller slip off of the spline and cut the new screening. If you are using fiberglass screening, simultaneously roll the screen and spline into the channel in this step.

Helpful Tip

Make sure the horizontal and vertical pattern of the screening correctly aligns with the frame.

As you near each corner with the spline, use shears or a utility knife to make a diagonal relief cut from the outside corner of the overlapping screening toward the inside corner of the sash. This is one place where “cutting corners” is wise. It prevents the screen (especially aluminum) from bunching up in the corner as you press it in place.

Helpful Tip

The roller can’t quite roll all the way into a corner, so use the tip of a standard screwdriver to press in the spline at the corners.

Repeat the process, working your way around the screen frame. Hold the opposite side of the screen somewhat taut, but not so tight that you cut the screening while rolling it in place or that you distort the frame.

Use a utility knife to cut off the excess screening when the rolling is complete. To avoid accidentally cutting into the new screen, angle the blade outward and move slowly and steadily. Hold the frame securely with your second hand but keep it a safe distance away from the cutting.

Reinstall the screen frame into its channel.

Door Screen Installation

Step 1: Remove Existing Screen

The first step of your door screen installation project requires you to remove the actual door itself. Remove the screen door by unfastening the hardware securing it to the doorframe or by popping it out of the track, if it is a sliding door. To remove a sliding door, hold it firmly at both sides and lift it straight up inside its frame, tilting the bottom section of the door towards you. Push the door down at an angle so the bottom comes toward your feet to free it from the frame. Remove the old screen by lifting out the metal, plastic or rubber spline that keeps it in place. To do this, use a small standard screwdriver or putty knife to lift one end of the spline from its track. Then, gently pull the rest out.

Step 2: Repair the Screen

Follow the same steps in the Window Screen Installation section above to repair the screen, if possible. If it is unsalvageable, or non-existent, move on to the next step.

Step 3: Measure and Cut the New Screen

Measure the screen size before buying a replacement—remember you’ll need extra material along the edges. It’s a good idea to replace the spline if it’s showing any signs of wear and tear.

There are two types of screening material to choose from—aluminum and fiberglass. Aluminum is stronger, but costs more and rusts in humid or salty regions. Fiberglass mesh tends to sag with time, but costs less and blocks sunlight better. After you’ve decided which type you want and have measured the screen area, cut the screen to size with a utility knife. Again, remember to leave an extra inch of screen along all sides.

Step 4: Fasten the Screen

To keep the screen taut, fasten it to one side of the door or window using small clamps. Using the convex wheel of the screen roller and short strokes, roll the screen down into the groove on the same side as the clamps. Next, use the roller’s other edge, to push the spline back into place, securing it. Repeat the process on all four sides. Then, trim off any excess screening material with a utility knife. After the screen has been fastened completely, put the door back into place.

Great job! You’ve successfully completed screen installation on your doors and windows and have fixed your old screens. Now enjoy the fresh air inside your home.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.