How To Make New Windows Look Good in an Old Mobile Home

It’s not that easy. An old stick-and-tin mobile home getting new windows…how to make new wine work in old bottles might be simpler. Or maybe not; I’m no vintner.

But I am the resident owner of an aging (1972) double wide mobile home so in need of TLC in May of 2017 that the listing Realtor didn’t even want to show it. No kidding; that’s not an exaggeration. When my Realtors (a married couple) and I looked it over, they weren’t impressed, either. On the other hand, I liked it. A lot. It didn’t leak; what else could one ask?

Since purchasing the property last year, I’ve done a few things to make it better. Treated the roof to a coating of white stuff for the first time in years. Ripped out an entire useless wall of glass in the add-on porch, replaced the glass with siding, painted the exterior of the porch and added insulation. Reworked another porch wall, reducing the number of windows and replacing the three remaining windows with nice, new, smaller windows that provide adequate light with more privacy. Ripped out a long row of ugly, stained work benches in the large garage and built a new, fresh, compact set of replacements. Remodeled much of the master bedroom for my wife, having no idea that we’d have to move her back to Arizona for medical reasons eleven months later. Had the ugly, stained carpet in that room replaced. Ripped out the dysfunctional and badly plumbed dishwasher and trash compactor, sending them to the landfill. Had a high traffic section of carpet in the living room replaced with really attractive tile. Redid the plumbing under the kitchen sink–that had been a real disaster, but now drains freely. Built a permanent stand for the window air conditioner and added really nice trim inside, around the AC unit.

Well…maybe I’ve done more than a “few” things for the home. I really hadn’t added them up before today.

Neither had I planned on posting details of the various projects here in Deer Lodge, Montana, the way I did with the Border Fort in Arizona. In fact, I was down to the last room on the window trim project before deciding to reach for the camera.

Last October, we paid to have fourteen new high-end, fiberglass-framed, Pella windows installed, replacing the original single pane, crank-open glass that had been with the double wide from the beginning. This was not cheap but it was necessary. If you’ve ever lived in an old school mobile, you know those crank windows are not a lot of help in any kind of weather. As they age, it becomes impossible to get them to close cleanly, so there are always drafts. Every fall, up go the interior storm windows, and every spring, down come those same sheets of glass. Which means you can’t open a window at all during the colder months, of which there are plenty in Montana. Insulation is “minimal if any.” The plastic cranks become brittle and break or simply become lost.

Major pain.

On the left: An original single pane mobile home window, retained only because it’s already been blocked off from inside. There was too much glass in this room.
On the right: One of the new Pella “house type” windows.

Oh my, that must look weird with one old window backed by reflective foil over foam insulation and another window a brand new Pella, right? Yes, to a point. But this one faces the back yard and the alley. There’s one more arrangement like this, around the corner–facing a neighbor’s garage at a range of ten feet or so. In other words, deciding not to mess with those two old “decommissioned” windows didn’t hurt the home’s curb appeal at all.

Close-up of the old window’s lower left corner. Note the gap between window and frame. The only way to get that gap to close would be to drill a couple of holes (carefully) and cinch it down with sheet metal screws. Which I meant to do last year….

Per agreement, I paid the Pella installation crew to do the outside trim, but not the inside. There were multiple reasons for this decision:

1. The outside trim was both tricky and straightforward at the same time. The contractor’s three man crew accomplished the entire 14-window installation (removal and replacement) and all of the (exterior) trim work in a single seven hour shift.

2. Getting the outside done quickly was critical. We’d already had one winter storm a few weeks prior to the installation.

3. I didn’t own the specialized equipment, let alone have the experience, to handle the exterior trim job efficiently.

4. Inside, the house (at that time) was extremely cluttered; strangers trying to deal with that would not have been a pretty sight.

5. Pam would have been highly stressed, having them move things just to reach the windows.

6. It would have cost another small fortune to have them do that part of the job.

7. I didn’t trust them to make me happy with their interior trim work at all.

Front (street side) of the double wide mobile home, showing the AC unit on its stand and the new Pella window next to it. Yes, I will be painting the home eventually. (The bright board above the AC unit was not my doing; it came that way.)

Living room windows and part of the front door.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH…okay, back inside the mobile home…it’s all about the interior trim for the remainder of this post. Failing to take photos at the project’s inception resulted in an inability to convey the true horror of Zombie Wall Openings. Why? Because last year, fixing up the master bedroom for my mate included a paint of coat–uh, coat of paint being slapped down over the forty-five (now forty-six) year old, darkened, halfway to rotten, funky old wooden inner surfaces of the window framing. Trust me; it was ugly.

Still, a little bit of funk had seeped back out through last year’s fresh paint.

Cheap Walmart mini blind, installed last year but now ready for replacement.

Lower right window corner, showing a portion of new Pella window, overdone insulating foam, and semi-icky old wood framing.

Upper right corner of the same window, showing the raw wood lath I’d installed for mounting cheap plastic Walmart mini blinds last year.

Why such massive foam overkill? Um…pretty much our fault. When the contractor’s man first measured the windows for Pella installation, he had plenty of trouble even getting to the windows. The house was full of clutter, remember? As a result, some of his measurements were more like quick-tape rough estimates. The windows were manufactured a bit smaller than necessary as a result, especially the width. Plus, this old tin can isn’t exactly straight, level, and plumb. Not hardly. The installation crew had enough trouble getting every window to fit as it was. I can deal with a little foam.

All of the other rooms were repainted after the trim work was done–and yes, they needed it something fierce. But this room, having been painted just last year, will require only a wee bit of touch up. Now, the steps:

Step 1: Remove mini blind mounts and mounting lath.

Removing the lath.

The finishing nails mostly pulled right through the lath and were then simply hammered flat into the wall.

Step 2: Cut away excess insulating foam. I use a thin bladed kitchen knife for this.

When insulating foam is cut away, it leaves a rough, open cell structure behind. Fortunately, this won’t have to be painted as “inset lumber” (following steps) will cover it nicely.

Step 3: “Inset frame” the window with new 1″ lumber. This is tricky because every placement measures a bit differently from its mates. All but two boards of fifty-six (four boards per window, fourteen windows) had to be cut on an angle, differing from one end to the other by as much as one quarter inch. In rough carpentry work, such as stud wall framing, missing by a quarter of an inch might be no big deal. Being off by that much with an ever-visible window board would be a disaster. Each board is cut to run flush with the interior wall paneling.

The angle rips were done freehand on a table saw. That is, the rip fence couldn’t be used. Every lengthwise cut had to done by following the ink-drawn cut line “artistically.” Caution: If you find yourself doing a similar project, watch your fingers. Freehand ripping on a table saw requires absolute focus.

“Inset-framing” the window with new 1″ lumber. This (a) covers the old, ugly, half-rotten wood (b) also covers the equally ugly insulation foam, and (c) provides both a physical and a visual “resting point” for the window.

To make the inset framing as sturdy as possible, top and bottom boards are installed first, then the side boards are fitted in between top and bottom. This way, gravity cannot “drop” the top board over time.

Step 4: Nail miter-cut molding to the inset framing. Older mobile homes don’t usually have enough room to allow the use of wider molding, so narrow is the name of the game. In this room, simple 1 1/8″ strips are used, though I would have preferred 1 1/4″ molding. Our local building supply store was out of those, though, and it wasn’t a big enough issue to justify waiting for the next order to come in.

A miter-cut molding stick.

This vertical piece of molding is almost too pretty to paint.

Window trim carpentry complete.

Step 5: Spackle where needed. I didn’t bother to spackle all of the countersunk, finish nail heads, though that could certainly be done. Paint alone makes them invisible unless you’re really close and looking hard. If you’re a true perfectionist, however, feel free to spackle to your heart’s content.

There were, however, multiple large screw holes in the wall from previous curtain mounts, as well as a few crack-gaps that needed a little help. Those did get spackled.

Spackle applied. The “ear” at top left is necessary to anchor the blinds that will be mounted later. I ordered them a touch wider than the windows.

Step 6: Paint. First, a bit of matching wall paint (a really pale, pastel yellow called Evening Candlelight) to fix up the ugly that has surfaced right around the window trim. That done, a couple of coats of Honey Butter paint are applied to the trim. There’s not a lot of contrast between trim and wall in this room, primarily because I chose to use Honey Butter throughout the home. It was a lot cheaper than buying a different trim color for each room and also provided (IMO) a sort of unifying theme.

Window trim painted. I forgot to install the trim “ears” on this one and had to add them after taking this photo.

Step 7: Add window covering of choice. Blinds are easier for me than curtains, mostly because colors and fabric aren’t so confusing, and I can order them cut to size online. Besides, blinds are less vulnerable to cat claws.

And…done.

In closing, here’s a look at two other renovated rooms.

Kitchen. This room had a checkerboard of black and white floor tiles above the entire counter area. I just painted right over those.

Living room. When morning sunlight first hits this room, the walls transform to pure gold.

That’s all for now. When I first bought this aging double wide mobile home, I told our Realtors, “Give me a year and you won’t recognize the place.” The year has passed, plus a couple of months. I’m not satisfied yet. But it’s getting there.

4 thoughts on “How To Make New Windows Look Good in an Old Mobile Home

  1. That looks really good Fred. I am slowly working on various projects. I would love to replace these windows, mostly because too many of the interior storm windows have broken frames and it is too hard to wash between them. You would need to unmount the frames for them from the walls to get to the windows properly. I have a really thin window cleaning thing, designed for car windows. It is the only thing I have found that will fit up between them, and it does a so-so job of cleaning them. Still difficult to use. At least they were designed so I can still open the bottom half of the storm window, and the outer window.

  2. Thanks, Becky. I’m not exactly working at light speed, either. That is, nothing like putting in eight hour shifts. I do try to work on something for at least a couple of hours on most days (when other obligations don’t interfere). The frames for this home’s original windows were so trashy I have trouble even remembering–suspect I blocked them from memory for the most part. But there was no opening of halves, like with yours, thanks to this mobile being quite a bit older. Each storm window was a single large pane with no divisions or openings whatsoever.

  3. You’re doing a great job of making the double wide look like home, Ghost. The Pella windows are beautiful. The new windows should save on your energy bill as well.

    Several years ago I had all the windows on my house replaced with double-hung, double-tempered, vinyl framed windows. What was on the house previously were single pane windows that cracked if you looked at them cross-eyed. Not good when living in hurricane country. Now I feel safe and my electric bill is very manageable month to month.

  4. Thanks, Sha.

    You also went with double-hung windows? I did that here for two reasons, namely (a) when I was growing up, our ranch house windows were double hung, and (b) the idea of being able to open either the top or the bottom appealed to me.

    But next time, I’ll stick to single-hung because (a) I never thought about not being able to take wildlife pictures through clear glass, due to the full height bug screen, and (b) the Pellas are so snug fitting that closing the bottom half sometimes pops the top half down a bit, resulting in a minor bit of hassle before being able to latch them.

    No complaints, though. After the told crank style single pane windows, they’re priceless.

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