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Full-Frame vs. Insert Window Replacement (2024 Guide)

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Author Icon By Jessica Wimmer Updated 12/18/2023

When replacing your home’s old, outdated, or leaky windows, you typically have two options: a full-frame or insert replacement. If you’re budgeting for window replacement, you’ll want to know what these two types of windows cost and how they compare on factors such as durability, energy efficiency, and ease of installation. In this article, we’ll walk you through full-frame versus insert window replacements to help you determine the right option for your needs.


What Is Full-Frame Window Replacement?

As the name implies, a full-frame replacement window contains a frame that replaces your existing window frame. The frame is made up of a head across the top, a jamb across the bottom, and two sills on either side.

Sometimes called block-frame window replacements, these units allow you to change out the window frames without disturbing your home’s exterior siding. This is especially useful for homes with stucco or brick exteriors that are not easily removed and replaced. Full-frame replacement is a longer and more expensive installation process than insert replacement, but the results are more durable.

Note that a full-frame window replacement is not the same thing as a new construction window, but sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. A new construction window is similar to a full-frame replacement, but it has additional nail fin flanges around the window’s perimeter that must be nailed directly to a home’s wooden frame. This kind of replacement requires stripping the window opening of all drywall and siding down to the studs. These are usually considered the best replacement windows for large remodeling projects, such as home additions.

What Is Insert Window Replacement?

Unlike full-frame window replacements, insert or pocket window replacements don’t have their own frames. During insert window installation, the old frames are left intact and new sashes and hardware are put into place. This installation method is the quicker and more affordable window replacement option since only the interior trim needs to be removed. However, it results in a slightly less-insulated window.

Additionally, if there is any damage to the original frame, insert replacement windows won’t fix the problem. For example, old vinyl windows may not be good candidates for pocket replacements since the frames tend to warp over time. Wood windows, on the other hand, are often suited to pocket replacements as long as the frames are in good shape and haven’t sustained water damage.


Full-Frame vs. Insert: Energy Efficiency

The most energy-efficient window replacement option is a full replacement with a new construction window since it attaches directly to the studs, and the siding is sealed on top of it. However, a full-frame window replacement offers a good balance of price and efficiency. Since the entire frame is replaced, you’re guaranteed a perfect fit and a stronger seal between the frame and window. You can also change window styles as long as the size and shape are the same. For example, you could swap a double-hung window for a more energy-efficient casement window.

With an insert window replacement, you’re at the mercy of the current window frame’s size and shape. If it has warped or shifted, fitting the replacement will be more difficult, and the end result may have gaps or cracks. These will need to be filled with sealant, and the likelihood they will eventually leak or transfer heat is much higher than it is with full-frame replacements. Since 25% to 30% of home heat loss occurs through windows, these leaks can cause your HVAC system to work much harder, costing you more on energy bills in the long run.

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Full-Frame vs. Insert: Installation Process

To install your window replacements, follow our tips for measuring windows to ensure you know the exact size of replacement you need. Although full-frame window installation doesn’t require you to strip the window down to the rough opening, you will need to remove the interior and exterior trim, though you can leave the siding in place. Then, you must pry or cut out the windowsill and jambs, install new flashing, and add new insulation before installing the new window unit. This process requires hand tools, including a screwdriver, hammer, utility knife, and pry bar, as well as a reciprocating saw, sealant gun, and power drill.

Retrofitting windows with insert replacements is a bit simpler as long as the existing frame is in good condition. Once the upper and lower sashes are removed, you can pry out the parting and interior stops along the frame’s sides. Then, you can insert the new pocket window and caulk it in place. Because the frame and flashing stay intact, this process is quicker. It usually requires a power drill as well as a hammer, pry bar, utility knife, and caulk gun.

DIY vs. Professional Installation

Both full-frame and insert window replacements can be DIY jobs, but full-frame replacement usually requires more time, tools, and materials. Insert replacements can sometimes be more difficult if the existing window frame has shifted or warped, as fitting and sealing the replacement will be difficult. Either way, we only recommend DIY window installation if you need to replace one or two easily accessible windows on the ground floor of a home.

For larger or more difficult projects, we recommend hiring a professional window contractor. Window replacement experts can get the job done more quickly and safely than homeowners, particularly if the windows are located on the second floor or above. You’ll have to pay labor costs, which are usually between $30 and $50 per hour, but your home won’t be open to the elements as long.* Additionally, the warranties on many replacement windows only apply if an expert installs them. Many window installers will also offer glass door replacement.

*Cost data sourced from HomeAdvisor.


Impact on Existing Window Frame and Exterior Trim

Of the two processes, insert window replacement is less disruptive since the old window‘s frame is left intact and only the interior trim needs to be removed. This can be especially important for older or historic homes whose exteriors must remain undisturbed.

Full-frame replacement may or may not require removing the exterior trim, but the siding will remain in place, and you may improve the wall’s structural integrity by inserting a brand-new frame. Full-frame replacement windows may also offer more curb appeal since they have a slightly larger glass space than similarly sized insert replacements and thus let in more light.

Our Conclusion

Whether you need to replace your entire window or only require a pocket insert, the best window companies, including Andersen and Marvin, offer a variety of block-frame and insert replacement windows. Insert window replacements are quicker and less expensive to install, while full-frame replacements are slightly more durable and energy-efficient. The decision often comes down to budget and the condition of your existing window frames. Replacing a window or two may be a manageable home improvement project for experienced DIYers with the appropriate tools, but if you’re replacing every window in your home, we recommend opting for professional installation.

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FAQ About Full-Frame vs. Insert Window Replacement

What is the difference between full-frame and insert windows?

Insert or pocket replacement windows are installed within your existing window frames. Full-frame replacements require removing the current frame. Insert replacements are less expensive but also less energy-efficient.

How much does full-frame window replacement cost?

Full-frame window replacement can cost anywhere from $180 to $1,500 depending on the window’s size, type, and frame material.

What are the benefits of a replacement insert window?

Insert replacement windows are less expensive to purchase and install, and the installation process is also less disruptive since you only need to remove the interior trim.

How much does a replacement insert window cost?

Insert or pocket replacement windows tend to cost between $100 and $400.

What is the best time of year to replace windows?

Windows are best replaced when the weather is dry and slightly warm. Usually, this means the late spring or early summer, but be aware that this is when window contractors are at their busiest.


Our Rating Methodology

The This Old House Reviews Team backs up our window ratings and recommendations with a detailed rating methodology to objectively score each provider. We conduct research by speaking with company representatives, browsing product selections, analyzing window line specifications, and conducting focus groups and consumer surveys. We then score each provider against our review standards for window variety, value, trustworthiness and transparency, window features, and customer service to arrive at a final score on a 5-point rating scale.

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