Pocket vs. Full-Frame Installations: Evaluating Your Options for Window Replacement

window replacement options kansas city

Doing plenty of research before embarking on a home improvement project is an important step to take—whether you’re planning a big project like a new roof or a smaller one such as options for window replacement. At Smart Exteriors, our contractors are used to answering all kinds of questions from homeowners interested in remodeling their Kansas City area homes—and are always glad to share all of the information we have about the work we do on home exteriors. Some of the most common questions most homeowners ask have to do with the cost, installation times, or the characteristics and benefits of the materials they’re using for the project.

Interestingly, we’ve realized that one of the least-asked questions we get has to do with installation techniques and the options that exist for the services we provide. Almost all home improvement projects can be completed using one of a variety of methods—and the technique you choose can affect the cost, outcome, and overall quality of the result. In other words, it should be one of the most important considerations that you make in regards to the project.

One of our greatest missions as a leading Kansas City remodeling company is to help homeowners take advantage of smarter solutions in home improvement. In this article, we’re going over one of the most common choices homeowners can make when replacing a window—which is deciding on a pocket replacement vs. a full-frame replacement window. If you’re planning a window replacement project and are unaware of which technique is best for your needs, this article will reveal everything you need to know about the two different window replacement options.

Differences in Technique

Ultimately, both approaches are meant to update the existing windows in the home. However, the methodology is vastly different between the two. The breakdown of these differences is as follows:

Pocket Replacement Windows

This is a potentially beneficial installation approach for people who own newer homes, or for those that own older homes in excellent condition—or for historical homes that are being restored. It is also necessary that pre-existing rot or water damage is nonexistent, which is necessary for this type of installation.

To explain, a pocket install is when a new window is inserted into an existing frame. Not all windows can be replaced using this technique, however. Aside from a lack of water damage to the window, there are two other conditions that must be met for a pocket replacement installation to be considered. First, the existing window frame must be level and in good condition, and second, the homeowner must be in agreement with keeping the window’s existing casing and trim in place.

Full-Frame Replacement Windows

This is when the entire window is removed. This includes the glass, sash, frame, casing, trim, and any other existing parts.. This is a great option for those looking to have a custom window product installed, or to modify the current layout of their windows. The most likely conditions for this installation are:

  • The window has shortcomings to address.
  • Fire codes require a larger opening.
  • Energy-efficiency is sought.
  • Desire to reduce air leakage.
  • Rotted or damaged existing frames.
  • Pocket installation isn’t an option.

The Pros and Cons of Pocket vs. Full-Frame Replacements

A replacement window is an excellent way to add value to the home and improve upon its performance. Both methods discuss have their pros and cons, which is why we’re providing a breakdown of the most common examples below:

Pocket Replacement


Lower Cost: A pocket install is always going to be cheaper than a full-frame install due to lower installation times. Plus, the pocket replacement is a simpler process, which contributes further to a lower cost.

Easier Installation: With a pocket replacement, the new glass already has a frame to go into. This results in a process that is largely just popping things into a place, which is much simpler.


Smaller View: Most homeowners prefer to look out the window and feel like their view of the outdoors is not obstructed. This is harder to accomplish with a pocket replacement, which can leave more visible trim and less glass area when compared to a full-frame install. If you want a picturesque view with no distractions, then consider a full-frame install.

Lack of Options: This is not the option for homeowners who want to shake things up either aesthetically or performance-wise. This install requires exacting conditions and conformity to what’s already in place. If you desire more freedom in form and function, then this isn’t your best approach.

Insulation Performance: Insulation is dependent on what’s already in place. If you already have a high-performance, energy-efficient frame that provides solid insulation quality for your home, then you benefit from a reduced need for upgrading with better insulating window glass. However, if your home is poorly insulated already, then you’ll experience compromised insulation. Keep this in mind when making a decision.

Full-Frame Window Replacement


Viewing Pleasure and Natural Light: There’s more visible glass with this option, which translates to greater natural light and better views of the outdoors.

Opportunities to Upgrade: Because you’re replacing the entire window, including the sash, frames, and panes—you’ll be able to upgrade your window’s characteristics for better energy-efficiency and performance if you need to.

Water-Protection: Full-frame installs allow for additions such as sill tape to further protect against water and other similar concerns.

Customization: This option allows you to have the exact windows you want within the parameters dictated by the structure of your home. Quite possibly, this is the single best pro for homeowners.


More Expensive: On average, the cost of a full-frame replacement is 20%-25% higher than a pocket replacement. If budget is an extreme concern and your window meets the requirements, then consider a pocket installation instead.

Longer Installation Time: Since everything from the frame to the glass is getting replaced, you’ll have to deal with a much longer install period. Make sure you have the time set aside so the project isn’t rushed when choosing this option.

How Much Glass Area Will I Lose?

We previously mentioned visibility concerns with a pocket replacement. This is commonly referred to as a loss of glass area. For many homeowners this is a legitimate concern. When it comes to a pocket install, the glass area lost is at least an inch around the glass. In some cases, this can be as much as 2-3 inches.

With a full-frame install, there is absolutely no glass area lost with this option. This is one category where a full-frame install wins hands-down over pocket window replacement.

Making a Decision

At this point, you know all you need to know about the window replacement options to start formulating a decision. That being said, there are a couple of extra points to consider before you sign the paperwork for your new windows.

Frame: A pocket install won’t work if the existing frame is compromised in any way. Windows need to be installed perfectly square and level to function properly. This includes basic opening and shutting. If the frame is compromised, then the decision is already made for you most likely.

Size: If the existing size of the windows isn’t a problem whether for you or for existing fire code, then you’re all set for a pocket install. However, if you want or need to change the window size, then a full-frame installation is necessary.

No matter what option you choose, be sure to work with a qualified window contractor that is experienced and trained for the installation method chosen. If you’re ready to begin a window replacement project and would like to discuss your options with our friendly team of contractors at Smart Exteriors, we’d love to speak with you.

For more information on window replacement options and installation services, contact Smart Exteriors to speak with one of our agents or fill out our online form to schedule your free, in-home pricing estimate and consultation.