It's coming on summer - time for the mosquitoes and flies to begin their annual invasion. And time to dig out the screen doors to check for holes and tears that would allow those voracious little bugs into the house to feast on your flesh!
If you live in the country, you know that trying to get through summer without a screen door is simply inviting a stress that absolutely no one needs. Honestly, I had no idea how miserable mosquitoes could be until I moved to our little cabin in the woods. So, after that first summer (and a zillion mosquito bites), we installed an inexpensive wooden screen door on each of our entrances. Now, ideally it would be great to just leave the screens on year-round, but our front porch is just too tiny to have room for putting on boots, taking off wet winter coats AND having space for the screen door to open. So we remove it every year. And of course, that means it's in storage, and subject to the abuse that comes with people rooting around the shed all winter. This year, it resulted in a number of holes and a stretched out screen.
So what do you do when you need to fix a screen door? Take it in for repair? Just replace the whole door? Or replace the screen yourself? I chose the latter. Here's the process.
Step 1 - Buy the Materials
I visited our local building supply store one afternoon and picked up a ready-made screen repair kit. It included the screen material (sized for a patio door), the spline (the material that holds the screen to the frame), the installation tool and a tiny razor knife. Total cost? $13 plus tax. You can purchase kits in various sizes for windows and doors. You can also purchase just the screen material, so if you have to do a repair in future, you won't have to purchase another kit because you'll already have the tools.
So came a sunny Saturday afternoon that seemed conducive to a screen door repair. I laid the door out on the picnic table, opened up the kit, and checked the time: 2:23 pm. I thought I'd be at it for 45 minutes or so, but it turned out to be much less time than that.
Most window/door screens are held in place with something called a 'spline'. It's usually round in shape, flexible and compacts in order to create a nice, tight connection with the channel in the door. It also works to pull the screen tight across the frame. In my case, the spline that came with the repair kit was far too wide to fit into the narrow channel in my wooden screen door, but it would have worked great in an aluminum frame. So what did I do? I simply reused the spline from the existing screen install - it was a harder material than the spline in the kit (the black material in the photo above) and entirely reusable.
You simply pull out the spline, starting at one end - the screen is then loose and ready to be removed. Just take it out, then clean out the channel if needed with some sort of brush (a paintbrush would probably work well).
Now you're ready for Step 3!
Open up your door screen material, and lay it over the frame, squared, ensuring you have at least 1" of overhang beyond the channel on all four sides (though more overhang is better if you can get it).
Now, starting in the bottom left corner of the door, insert the spline into the spline channel, using the installation tool from the kit to guide the spline securely across the short bottom of the door. The action is a gentle pressure along with a 'dragging' of the tool along the spline. You want a nice, smooth installation of the spline in to the channel. While you're working, make sure the screen is squared on the frame, or your screen pattern will be crooked and likely to make you dizzy every time you look at it.
Tip: Make sure you use enough pressure on the installation tool - if the spline isn't installed tightly into the channel, the screen could slip out - definitely something you want to avoid, especially once you've trimmed the screen material itself.
Once the bottom of the door is secure, work your way up the right side of the door. When you reach the top, take a moment to gently pull the screen tight - you won't have to pull much, and you don't want to pull it too tight, or the spline won't push into the channel easily.
On the final side of the door, take a moment to again pull the screen tight across the door frame, gently, as you install the spline into the channel. This will ensure you have a tight screen and not a droopy one. When you reach the bottom left corner again, trim the spline using the razor knife and use the installation tool to finish up the install.
At this point, you should have a door that looks something like the photo above-left.
Tip: To ensure the spline is tightly in the channel and holding the screen firmly, go around the door again with the installation tool, pushing down any puckers.
Congratulations - you're almost done!
To finish up, take the razor knife from the kit and trim the excess screen material away from the outside edge of the spline channel. Be very careful here that you don't pull to hard on the screen material - it can pop the spline out of the channel and mess up your entire job - or that you don't slice through spline itself, which could compromise its connection to the channel.
Work your way around the entire door, remove the excess screen, and voila, you're done!
Tip: You can use a fine razor knife of your own to do the trimming - I found the tiny knife included in the kit a bit difficult to put enough even pressure on to make a clean trim without my fingers cramping up. I've got small fingers - I can't imagine someone with big hands using the included razor knife.
Now all you have to do is put the door up and you can enjoy your home this summer without the maddening buzz and bite of flies and mosquitoes. I find it also helps keep stray critters out of the house as well - it's amazing what will wander through a rural front door if it's wide open. We've had hummingbirds, roaming dogs, a squirrel, and I'm sure other creatures I didn't know about, wander into our cabin over the past couple of years. And now that we're getting chickens, I definitely don't want them taking up roost in my living room. Yes, screen doors do more than keep out bugs!
All tolled, this project took me exactly 25 minutes, from the time I opened the screen repair kit package to the moment I turned the last screw into the door frame. And it was enjoyable: it was a lovely, sunny day, and I got the satisfaction of knowing I could do one more little task on my homestead. Complicated? No. But it's a great feeling to be able to do these things yourself.
Do you have a simple repair job you do that you'd like to share? We'd love to hear your stories and tips in the comments below!