Torn insect screens on a window or door can be taken to a hardware store for repair, but it's surprisingly easy to replace the screen fabric yourself and save quite a bit of money. A roll of screen fabric and some vinyl spline should be standard supplies in every DIYers home workshop.
The process for replacing window screen fabric in a metal frame (described here) is slightly different than for a wood-framed screen, but both are easy projects.
Before You Begin
At one time, screens for windows or storm doors were usually made of steel or aluminum mesh, but nearly all screening today is made of tough fiberglass fabric. Several colors are available, including black, charcoal gray, and light gray. Screening fabric is sold in rolls of various lengths and common widths of 36-, 48-, and 60-inches. Choose a color and width appropriate for your application.
The vinyl spline cord that is used to hold the screen fabric in the frame is available in various thicknesses to match different metal frames, identified by metric inch fractions: .125 inch, .140 inch, .175 inch, .185 inch, etc. Choose spline cord that matches the grooves on your screen frame. The spline should fit tightly enough to secure the screen fabric, but spline that is too thick will be hard to install.
Equipment / Tools
- Small flat-head screwriver
- Framing square
- 4 C-clamps or spring clamps
- Spline tool
- Scissors or utility knife
- Replacement screen fabric
- Vinyl spline cord
Remove the Old Screening
Remove the screen frame from the window or door and lay it on a flat working surface. Use a small screwdriver (or a nail) to pry up and remove the old spline from the grooves around the frame. If it is in good shape (not brittle, dried out, or broken), the spline may be carefully reused to install the new screen fabric.
Pull the damaged screen fabric out of the frame's grooves, then scrape the grooves with the tip of a screwdriver or utility knife to remove any debris.
Prepare the Frame
Use a framing square to make sure the screen frame is square (corners at perfect 90-degree angles) and straight. Bent or twisted frames can sometimes be bent back straight, but badly damaged frames may need to be replaced entirely. (A full-service hardware store can build new screens to your exact needs.)
Clamp the frame to a solid flat work surface, such as a workbench or a piece of plywood set on sawhorses.
Position the New Screen Fabric
Cut a piece of screening fabric so it is about 2 inches shorter and narrower than the frame opening. Position the screen fabric over the frame so it overlaps the opening by about 1 inch on each side, making sure the fabric's mesh pattern is square and aligned with the frame. (If the screen fabric grid isn't square to the frame, it will be glaringly obvious when the frame is reinstalled.)
Install the Spline
Starting at a top corner, press the vinyl spline cord deep into the groove over the screen fabric, using the convex wheel on the spine tool to pinch the fabric in place. Working slowly from one side to the other, attach the fabric all across the top of the frame. Gently stretch the screen fabric taut as you move across the frame. Use short strokes of the spline tool, making sure the spline cord is fully bedded in the grooves.
At the corners, you can either bend and crease the spline cord; or, you can cut separate pieces for each straight length of the frame. If you bend and crease the cord, use the tip of a screwdriver to force the cord fully into the grooves.
Slowly work your way around the entire frame, taking care to stretch the fabric taut before pressing the spline cord into the grooves. The best results will be achieved if the screen fabric is pulled tight enough so the screen is smooth, but not so tight that it bends the frame or causes the fabric to tear against the sharp edges of the grooves.
Trim the Screen
When the screen fabric is fully installed, use a utility knife to trim away the excess fabric around the edge of the frame. The screen fabric can slightly overhang the spline cord on the outside edge of the grooves, but this overhang should not be visible at a distance.
Reinstall the Frame
Place the framed screen back in the window or door. Visually check the screen from various angles to make sure the fabric is smooth and taut, with no ripples or billowing.