Renovation & Design

Minding the lintel details pays off big time

Filling void a satisfying and attractive upgrade

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

Once new patio sliding door and window were fully installed, the drywall was sanded for new interior paint.

Once the old French doors were removed, the existing rough opening was reconfigured to accommodate a slightly smaller sliding patio door unit.

With the new slider and window unit in place, the exposed exterior wrap and Tuck tape reveal the slight size difference from the old French doors units.

When planning to upgrade a doorway or window, size truly does matter. If the intention is fill the void with a replacement that is the exact size, the process can be fairly straightforward, provided the proper dimensions of the existing rough framing are known. If the new window or door are slightly smaller, then part of the void must be adjusted to accommodate. If the desired door or window is bigger than what is being replaced, the tasks become much more difficult — it’s all about the lintel.

No, a lintel isn’t a vegetable used in soup — that’s a lentil. The lintel is a term used to describe the horizontal support beam above the window or door frame that bears the weight above it, and disperses the load equally along the vertical supports set below each end of the lintel, on either sides of the door or window. As such, when replacing doors and windows of equal sizes, none of the existing framing (including the lintel) need be manipulated. Furthermore, no modifications to a lintel are required when filling the void with a smaller door or window, as the existing lintel will continue to bear the weight successfully. All that is required is the appropriate framing to fill any gaps within the existing opening to create the proper-sized rough frame to accommodate the intended smaller door or window replacement.

The project becomes inherently more complicated when the desired door or window is bigger (wider) than the existing.

When it comes to windows of same width, the window can be longer as long as the upper-most edge remains below the elevation of the existing lintel. If the window or door is even slightly wider than what the rough opening allows, a great deal of modifications will be required. Once the old door or window is removed, the adjacent vertical framing must be cut away to perform the necessary steps to allow the introduction of a longer lintel. This often requires a temporary support wall to ensure the area remains integral while the opening is being modified for a wider opening. A huge area of drywall must be removed along the interior to bare the entire existing lintel and vertical supports. The existing framing is cut out according to the required dimensions. Once the new lintel has been set above the opening and the vertical supports positioned below each end, drywall is then replaced wherever required. Of course, there are many other factors to consider: existing electrical wiring, insulation and vapour barrier, etc. It can be a big job with a slew of unexpected hurdles, that often become extremely expensive overall.

After having had this discussion with the homeowner at a jobsite this summer, it was decided that the two existing French doors along the back exterior wall to the deck would be replaced; the outer-most door unit would become a sliding patio door unit while the other (which was never used as a doorway), a window unit. In that the widths of each of these new items would be slightly less wide that the existing French doors, the existing lintels would suffice. As such, the process was very straight-forward.

Starting with the outer double door, the doors themselves were removed from the jamb. The jamb was then cut into a series of sections which made it easy to remove, a bit at a time. Once the old rough framing was exposed, new framing was added to create the required rough opening for the sliding patio door unit. Once the jamb was sealed with vapour barrier and Tuck tape, the unit was set into position and affixed to the exterior sheathing (behind the stucco) along the nailing strip of the patio door unit. In much the same process, the window was installed. With the window however, a small bottom support was introduced to fill the gap between the lower edge of the window and the floor – the window height was chosen to match other windows throughout the house.

With both new units in place, the areas lacking drywall along the interior wall received the appropriate drywall and several coats of mud before all fresh surfaces were sanded and prepped for paint (which would occur at a later date, along with the entire interior of the house). The door and window casings were also installed, as well as an oak threshold that closely matches the existing flooring along the base of the slider. And although there is a minimal amount of “bare” surface along the perimeters of the sliding door and window on the exterior wall, it is always difficult to match existing stucco in colour, and application style. As such, the homeowner had decided to likely have the entire back wall stucco redone to avoid the potential of visible seams at the fill areas. Regardless, whether outside or in, the back wall to the deck is now fully functional, and well on its way to being aesthetic.

Had the homeowner chosen to shift the openings or install a sliding door and/or window much wider than the existing openings, the multiple lintel challenges would have easily doubled or even tripled the total costs of this back wall upgrade. Replacing a lintel is tantamount to introducing a brand-new beam along a supporting wall — often, lintel implications go largely unappreciated until it’s too late. When such a project is being contemplated, a structural engineer should be contacted to determine the precise course of action. That is why it is easier to go “the same or smaller” — after all, it’s the lintel things that matter most.


Browse Homes

Browse by Building Type