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Tips for repairing window screens

Published On: Jul 01 2013 02:26:34 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 16 2013 11:13:29 AM CDT
House, windows

iStock image

By s.e. smith, Networx

Kittens look cute hanging from screen doors, until you look closer and realize they’ve torn a set of holes with their infamously sharp claws. There are a couple of different options available for repairing window screens, depending on the level of damage involved, and all of them can be done quickly with some basic tools. That’s good news of us for those of us who aren’t contractors, but sure would like to fix our window screens!

Before you get started, take note of the material used. Some screens are made of nylon, while others are made from metal. Sun-shading material is also used in some cases. You can often tell what a screen is made from by running a fingernail over it or testing it for flexibility in the frame.

If you just have a tiny hole, your best bet is adhesive, just like you’d use to stop a run in a pair of stockings. If you have a metal screen, dab a tiny bit of epoxy on the hole to stop it from spreading and seal it, keeping bugs out. Instant adhesive should be used on nylon screens. Make sure to clean the screen first so you don’t inadvertently trap dirt in with your adhesive material.

Ok, so your kitten got a little more rambunctious than that. You have an actual tear; not a big one, but one large enough that adhesive isn’t going to cut it. For small tears of about one square inch, you’ll need to use snips to even up the edges to create a square hole with clean edges. Then, use the snips to cut out a slightly larger piece of screening material to use as a patch. If it’s made from metal, bend the teeth of the material down so they’ll interlock with the window or door screen when you put it in place. You can apply pressure once it’s positioned to make them buckle back on themselves, essentially acting like staples.

Run an appropriate adhesive along the edges of your patch and carefully lower it over the edges of the hole, allowing it to overlap. Use low-tack painter’s paint to make the patch stay in place while the adhesive dries, ensuring that it won’t peel or buckle. Please note that the patch will be visible when you’re done; if you want a seamless repair, you will need to replace the whole screen.

For especially large holes and damaged screens, you don’t want to mess around with trying to put patches on. Just replace the whole screen, assuming the frame is in good shape. Start by measuring the frame carefully so you know which width of screen material you should buy, and take note of the material used to make the frame. If it’s metal, you’ll need to buy a screen in a matching metal to prevent reactions, or consider using nylon. Wooden frames will take any kind of screen, but metal screens can stain.

Also take a look at the construction. Some screens are made by stapling mesh in place and then nailing molding in over it. In that case, you might need to get some new molding, because it can be hard to remove the mold material without damaging it, and you’ll need to do that to replace the screen. Measure your window to determine how much molding you need and decide if you want wood, vinyl, or another material.

Other screens use a technique called a channel-frame. In this case, the edges of the screen are pushed into a narrow channel along the edge of the frame, and held in place with thick cord called spline. You will need to pull out and discard the old spline because it’s probably brittle and can’t be used again, but save a piece to take to the hardware store when you buy supplies, because you’ll need it to determine which replacement width to buy.

At the hardware store, pick up your screen and molding or spline, along with any other supplies you might need like staples for your staple gun, a spline-pushing tool, and snips for cutting the screen. When you get home remove the old molding or spline if you haven’t done so already, and carefully remove the damaged screen -- you want to preserve the integrity of the frame. Inspect the frame for signs of rotting, molding, warping, or other problems; if it’s badly damaged, it might be a good idea to discard it and simply buy or build a new frame. For a pictorial tutorial of this process, check out Pam's post on Hometalk. Pam is a blogger and DIY remodeler near Detroit.

You might want to consider using stop blocks for repairing a window screen. If you have a workbench that will allow you to do this, screw several pieces of wood into place along the inside of the frame to keep it from wiggling or bowing while you work. This reduces the risk of problems caused by loss of tension and holds the frame in place so you can focus on repairs.

For a screen made with molding, cut a length of screen to fit the frame, with a small amount of overlap to give you room to staple it in place. Start on the long side, and then do a short side. Before you move on to the next side, put a brick or other weight in the middle of the screen to help it maintain the right level of tension. Too slack and the screen will wrinkle, too tight and the frame could be damaged. Nail the molding in place after the screen material has been installed.

If you’re working with a channel-frame screen, cut the new screen to fit and then push it into the channel, along with the spline. You may find this easier to do if you take it in two steps: first use the spline-pushing tool to press the screen into the channel, and then follow with the spline.

Once you’re finished, use a sharp utility knife to trim extra screen material away, and the job is done!




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