How to replace the screen on a sliding screen door
Summer entertaining outdoors is great because the spills don’t have to be cleaned up. But there are risks. For example, having people over for drinks is a leading cause of extroversion. And feeling jovial makes you a target for summer perils, like forgetting that the screen door is closed when you’re carrying a tray full of refreshments.
Charging into a closed screen door is perfectly normal. If you don’t believe me, then next time you’re at a friend’s place, notice all the little rips and dents in THEIR screen door and say “How did this happen?” They'll either avert their eyes (if they're the culprit who ran into the screen) or do a snot laugh (if it was a relative).
No matter how your screen got holey, replacing it is easy. But there is towering potential for irritation. For one thing, screen doors are flimsy once you’ve taken them off their rigid tracks, so they twist, rack and skitter around. If you’re feeling short-tempered or hormonal, it’s probably less stressful to just sell your house and start over in a home with intact screens. OR, you can try my screen defeating tactics.
First, you have to remove the screen door from the doorframe. Put on your lucky shorts and call for beer. The repair has begun.
Lift the bottom corner of the door a little so you can see a spring-mounted plastic wheel sitting astride a narrow aluminium track. Wedge the blade of a screwdriver underneath the wheel. Goose it up a little so the wheel retracts, and then pull the bottom edge of the screen door toward you a bit, so the wheel is no longer on its rail.
If the wheel won’t easily pop over the rail, loosen it by backing off its adjustment screw. The screw, usually a Phillips head, is located on the frame of the door near the wheel. Turn the screw counter-clockwise a few turns and try again to pop the wheel over the rail.
Free the other bottom wheel the same way, then swing the lower edge of the screen door out. With the timely help of gravity, the door will now drop out of the top groove, and you can carry it away to begin the meaty part of the procedure.
The Meaty Part
Lay the screen door down on a horizontal work surface. Pause. This is the moment when you must choose one of two forks in the river of life. The first leads to annoyance, the other to cataclysmic aggravation. TIP: You need to prevent your door from skating around as you work or you will shorten your lifespan.
The lifespan-lengthening secret is to fasten the door in place with scraps of wood screwed to the work surface. (The bonus here is that you can screw right through the old screen into the inside blocks, because the old screening is toast anyway, so why not add another hole.) The blocks keep all four sides of the door in position, and also hold it square so you don’t end up with a freshly screened parallelogram, which won’t fit back into any doorframe, ever. Don’t ask how I know this.
If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the old screening is held in place on the frame by a length of “spline”, a flexible cord which runs along a channel on the perimeter of the door. To remove the old spline, find a loose end and yank the whole length out with pliers. You’ll probably have to remove some of the latch hardware at this point. I usually lose the screws, so I’ve found that taping them together somewhere safe (I use my forehead) saves search time later.
Pull off the old holey screen. The spline channel is probably full of crud, so tidy it up. Nobody likes a dirty channel. If you don’t have a vacuum handy, a stiff-bristled brush will do.
Lay your fresh screening over the door. Make sure you’ve bought screening that is at least 2 inches wider than the door you’re repairing. I bought stuff that was too narrow and the ensuing anguish was worse than having pantyhose on backwards.
Screening is available by the yard, or in rolls, and comes in nylon, aluminium, fibreglass and various other materials. Nylon is the easiest to work with. You’ll also need a new length of spline long enough to fill the channel, and a spline roller, which looks like a pizza-cutter. Spline rollers are cheap and shoddily manufactured but they do the job. Alternatively, you can push the spline into place with the tip of a screwdriver, but it won’t provide half the romance of using a spline roller.
When you’ve installed the fresh spline, trim off excess screening with a utility knife. Re-install the door by inserting the top wheels first, then swinging the bottom into place and lifting the wheels up and over the rail. Adjust the screws so the door is sitting square and riding saucily once again.
The beauty of this repair is that from now on, you don’t need to remember that the screen door is there when you’re rushing outside with a tray of beverages. Because YOU know how to fix a busted screen. There can be no greater confidence in this life.