Q: I have a problem with an old Pella retractable screen that I need to replace because it's torn and bent. It is for one of four windows in a bay window. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Ironically, given the frustrating information you’ll see below, Pella started in 1925 in Pella, Iowa, as the Rolscreen Co. Its sole product then: a window screen that rolled up and down like a shade. Pella windows made their debut in 1937, but the company name did not change to Pella Corp. until 1992. For all those years, continuing into the present, the company has offered Rolscreens.
A call to Pella ’s customer support line (877-473-5527; pella.com) brought an assurance that your screen could be fixed by calling KC Pella (855-209-9747; pellaofbeltsville.com ), which services Pella windows in the Washington area.
However, when the parts department looked at the pictures you sent, the emailed response was different: “Unfortunately this is not a service we provide and I am not aware of anyone who does repairs on this type of screen. Pella discontinued this model about 20 years ago so they are no longer available for replacement.”
KC Pella can, however, replace the roller screen with a standard flat screen for $150 to $200 a window, or possibly more, depending on size. Multiply that by four if you want a uniform look for your bay window.
Or, if you want to stick to screens that can tuck out of sight, you could switch to a different brand of roll-ups, such as those made by Phantom Screens (phantomscreens.com). Phantom requires ordering through a certified dealer, which you can find through the website’s “Find a store” feature. One in your area is Tri-State Retractable Screens (540-751-1269; tristatescreens.com ), which charges about $300 to $350 to outfit a small window (about 2 feet by 4 feet). This includes labor to remove the old screens, measure for new ones and install them. Phantom shades generally fit all windows, except for a few casement window types, a Tri-State representative said.
A third option consists of a variety of do-it-yourself approaches.
If you can disassemble the bottom bar and free up the lower edge of the screen fabric, you might be able to stitch on a replacement strip, using thin wire sold for making jewelry. Overlap the sections and stitch at least two parallel rows to get a smooth transition. The look wouldn’t be perfect, but the cost would be minimal.
Or, to switch to new flat screens without paying $150 to $200 a window, make new screens yourself. Home Depot sells kits with white aluminum frame sections, plastic snap-in corners and flexible cord, which is called spline, starting at $9.98 for a 36-inch square window. You can combine kits to get appropriate widths and heights. Cut pieces to size with a hacksaw fitted with a new fine-tooth blade for cutting metal.
Home center kits typically only come in a single thickness: five-sixteenths of an inch. If you need a different thickness to fit your window frames, turn to a company such as Prime-Line (primeline.net), which sells frames in five thicknesses, corner pieces in metal (more durable) and plastic, and different colors.
Buy the screening material separately. Many Ace Hardware stores offer screen-repair services and may sell screening by the foot, not just in rolls. Fiberglass screening is easier to work with than aluminum, although aluminum isn’t so easily damaged by cat claws.
Building the screen frames is easy if you get corner pieces that eliminate the need for precise miter cuts. Installing the screen, however, is somewhat tricky.
Kerry Wolk, a product specialist at Prime-Line, suggests getting a spine-insertion roller with nylon wheels, which are less likely than metal ones to slice through fiberglass screening if you veer off track. (Metal screening gets bent and ruined regardless of wheel material.) Plastic-handled basic tools are cheap ($4.99 at Ace Hardware), but pro models offer sturdier handles and larger wheels, which require less pressure and are therefore easier to steer. (A pro tool with 2½-inch nylon wheels costs $38.99 at Ace.) Wolk’s favorite is Prime-Line’s Model P-8435 ($57.16 on Amazon). It has a flat roller at one end, which helps with his process for avoiding the most common pitfall when installing screen: pulling the frame into an hourglass shape because of the tension caused by inserting the spline.
Wolk begins by cutting the screen about one inch oversize on all edges and the spline into four pieces in the exact lengths. After aligning the screen over the frame with the groove edge facing up, he starts at one corner on the bottom edge. Using the flat roller, he presses the spline against the screen over the groove, seating them both. But he presses them in only partway, just enough to hold the screen. The flat roller helps get the depth right, but it’s also possible to use the convex (rounded) roller on a standard spline tool.
Next, Wolk attaches the top edge, but this time he seats the spline fully, using the concave roller. Then he finishes pressing in the bottom spline with the concave roller. He repeats this back-and-forth process on the right and left sides. Almost like magic, he has a rectangular frame that perfectly fits the opening.