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When is a “Rip Out” a “Rip Off”?

Do I need new windows

What is a “rip out”?

Your home is ready for new window. It could be anything from a century home to a relatively recent tract house, but in either case, the windows fail to perform to your expectations and you’re ready to make the investment to do something about it.

The window specialists you bring in to see your home don’t agree on the best installation procedure for your needs. Some recommend an “insert window” (also called a retrofit installation) and others recommend a “full rip out”. The question is, what do these mean to you and which is right for best meeting your needs?

An insert window is the most common method used to upgrade residential windows. It involves removing the inside of your existing window but leaving the frame of the old window in place. As a result, the new window is slightly smaller as it is sealed to your existing window framing. In a rip out, the frame of the original window is also removed and a window is inserted into the same opening used for the window during the homes construction.

Why do a “rip out”?

Many homes have had their windows installed to a much lower standard than is desirable. This is due to a combination of reasons. Our understanding of building envelope technology has improved, resulting in better techniques. The labourers who install windows in new construction are not specialists and their procedures can be lax. In many cases it has been shown that older homes lack the insulation, vapour and air barriers that our requirements for our high energy cost environment. If there is a problem with the original window’s installation because it lacks one or more of these energy saving essentials, inserting a new window will not solve this problem.

Rip outs also give you the opportunity to upgrade the quality or design characteristics of the interior and exterior components of your window with new brickmoulds on the outside and new jambs and casings on the interior. You can replace that cheap pine casing with stainable oak or maintenance free vinyl materials. Your new window can be built as a single structural unit to properly interface with your exterior brick or siding and as well as your interior wall. (Note that I say, “…can be built as a single structural unit”! This is where the “rip out” can become a “rip off”, but we’ll get to that later in this article!) Because your new window is built to fit in the original opening, it is generally larger than an insert, so there is little or no loss of light.

Why not do a “rip out”?

If a rip out is so good, you’re probably asking why any window specialist installs any other way than a rip out? There are some legitimate reasons. First, you may not have a problem with the way the original window was installed, so the rip out is not crucial from a building envelope point of view. The larger window, complete with all the required interior and exterior trims will cost more and this may be a limiting factor in how many windows you can replace. You may be very happy with your existing interior and exterior trims and the idea of ripping them out makes little sense to you. The rip out installation itself is a larger project requiring a higher level of skill from your tradesmen. The truth is that there are many window installers who don’t have the skills or experience to properly measure and install windows using a rip out method and these companies will never suggest a rip out, even if it is in the homeowner’s best interests.

When does a “rip out” become a “rip off”?

So you have reviewed the positives and negative of a “rip out” vs an “insert” and have decided that in your case a rip out makes more sense.

“Good news!” says the sales person from one of the companies you are considering. “We can do a rip out for about the same price as your insert quotes.”

I’ve seen some of these good deals so let me give you an example of the techniques involved. The company does order a slightly larger window (usually, but not always) but it does not contain any of the critical integrated components required for a proper rip out installation. The window, configured exactly as it would be for an insert installation, is installed directly into the original opening, however it is situation flush with you drywall. The only interior piece they require is casing around the window. Good luck putting a plant or decoration on the windowsill of this window because you no longer have a windowsill to put it on! The outside of a rip out should have a proper exterior component such as a brick mould to bridge the gap between the window and the side of your home. Your job may have the same sheet metal capping used in an insert installation. If you believed you were purchasing a traditional “rip out”, you were “ripped off” instead!

What to look for in a quality “rip out”

  1. The first sign is proper measuring techniques prior to ordering your windows from the factory. The installer must be absolutely certain what size window will fit into the original rough opening. Since the window hides the rough opening, to accomplish this he will more than likely have to remove either some brick mould or possibly some interior casing to see the actual outside dimensions of the original window. (In neighbourhoods that were tract built, an installer who is familiar with the area may recognize a window he has previously measured and, as a result, may be able to avoid this based on his previous experience.)
    With the proper window size, the installer will develop complete measurements for the window including the size of the window, the choice of exterior components such as brick mould and the interior jamb depth.
  2. Your contract should specify the components of your window in detail. It should specifically describe the exterior components being chosen for your home as well as any interior components that will be part of the window. It should not say simply, “jamb”, but should say (for example), “vinyl wrapped 4 1/2″ interior wood jamb and welded 2″ exterior brick mould”. If you are going to reuse existing casing or get all new material, the contract should specify what it is. For example, a contract may say, “Includes new primed 2 7/8″ colonial style wood casing.” In this case, you would be expected to take care of painting the casing yourself because final painting is not in the contract, however if the installer started to put back old, chipped casing, you would be right to insist on new material instead.
  3. During the installation, your old window will be completely remove. This will give the installer the opportunity to join the window to your home’s existing air and vapour barrier paths. When completed, the window should integrate properly with the opening. This means that the use of additional joining materials such as exterior aluminum capping is limited to drip caps and very minor cosmetics (perhaps 1″ to fill a gap from a brick mould to other exterior materials where stock brick mould sizes were not exactly available for the original openings proportions.). The use of significant amounts of capping material is a sure sign that you are not getting a proper rip out!


Your newly installed “rip out” window gives your entire opening a new look with better overall integration and more glass area than an insert. If this is right for you and your home, the right installer will spend more time measuring and removing the old window that will his retrofit counterpart, but the well measured window will go in quickly and smoothly! Enjoy!