The Basics of Window Rough Openings

Approach your next window installation like a pro with window rough opening basics. 

When you’re looking at installing or replacing a window, you put a lot of thought into the window itself—its style, design, glass type, and cost all become high-priority concerns. 

What most homeowners overlook is the space you’re installing your window into. After all, what’s the big deal? It’s just a hole in the wall. 

Or is it? 

Understanding the basics of rough openings can be the key to a successful installation. Let’s dive in.  

What is a window rough opening? 

A rough window opening refers to the opening in your wall where your window and window frame will sit. Window rough openings need to be measured with precision. They must be larger than the window frame, but not so large that the frame can’t be installed securely. 

One of the biggest mistakes homeowners tend to make with rough openings is assuming the window frame will fix any slanted cuts or uneven measurements. A good window frame might be sturdy, but it’s not magic. If you want a quality window installation, you need to start with a quality rough opening—and that frequently means going to the experts. 

That said, you can still protect your windows by understanding how rough opening measurements work. 

Rough Opening vs. Window Size 

The first step to creating the perfect rough opening is understanding the ratio between the rough opening and the ideal window size.  

How to Measure a Rough Opening for a Window

Luckily, measuring a rough opening for a window is relatively straightforward. Much like measuring windows for replacement, you’ll start by measuring the height and width of the wall opening at three points vertically and horizontally before using the shortest one. However, there’s one key measuring difference between a rough opening and the window that goes into it:  

Rough opening measurement example:

Let’s say you have an opening in your wall that measures exactly 24” x 36”. If that’s the case, then you’re done. That’s your rough opening measurement and you don’t need to adjust your numbers.  

But what if you’ve purchased a window and you need to know how big to make your rough opening? If you have a window that’s 23-½” x 35-½” and you want the measurement of the opening, you’ll simply add about half an inch to the measurements to get 24” x 36”. Remember, your window measurement should always be smaller than your rough opening measurement to ensure it fits!

PRO TIP: Keep in mind that different window manufacturers have different recommendations for rough opening sizes depending on the make of their windows. When in doubt, you’ll want to work with an expert to confirm your brand and measurements before ever picking up a power tool. 

Some manufacturers might also give their rough opening suggestions in terms of jamb distance. If you’re not sure what they’re referring to, there’s also no harm in getting caught up on window vocabulary

Rough Openings in New Construction vs. Replacements

Rough openings function the same way in both new construction and replacement windows. However, replacement windows can offer additional complications. Because different window manufacturers design windows for different rough openings, switching brands during replacements isn’t always an easy process. 

If you want to switch window brands but keep your window size, you’ll need to thoroughly measure both the rough opening and the replacement window. In this case, you’ll want to ignore the measurements of your old window to avoid confusion. Luckily, you probably won’t have to handle this problem multiple times as a solid installation should last decades.  

How to Check a Rough Opening Before Window Installation

Measuring a rough opening isn’t the only step you need to take before window installation. For a reliable, secure installation, here are three other crucial parts of rough opening preparation: 

1. Check to See if the Wall is Plumb

If your wall is plumb, that means it is completely vertical (straight up and down). When we check to see if a wall is plumb, we’re essentially making sure it’s not slanted. 

This step is essential to a successful installation. If the wall you’re installing into is crooked, it changes the way you might approach a rough opening and the angle at which you might install the window itself. For instance, if the wall angles slightly outward, you’re going to want to counter that angle when you install the window to avoid water collection or twisting. 

Notice that this step isn’t called “Make the wall plumb.” That’s because you can’t fix a crooked wall. However, you need to know it’s crooked in order to install your window properly.

2. Make Sure the Rough Opening is Plumb and Level

Following your plumb wall check, you’ll want to make sure your rough opening follows the same suit. If your rough opening isn’t plumb (straight up and down vertically) and level (straight across horizontally), then your measurements risk being off and there’s a possibility your window won’t fit.

3. Angle the Window Sill

Your window sill needs to be slightly angled down to prevent water collection and damage during rainfall. But not everyone understands that the angle starts with the rough opening. If you don’t have a slight angle on the bottom of your rough opening, it’s much harder to angle the sill of your window frame.

How to Adjust a Rough Opening

Everyone makes mistakes. Luckily, adjusting a rough opening isn’t always easy, but it can be done. Let’s take a look at the two most common scenarios that require rough opening adjustments.  

Window Rough Opening Too Small

If you accidentally make your rough opening too small for your window, you’re going to need to give it a shave. Using a circular saw, slowly cut off slivers from the bottom (or sill) until the opening fits the window. You’ll want to avoid shaving from the top or sides if possible as this can weaken the frame. 

PRO TIP: While you’re working on the sill, be sure to check if it’s slanted. All window sills should be slightly slanted to allow for drainage and avoid water damage.  

Window Rough Opening Too Big 

If you accidentally make your rough opening too big for your window, you have a little more work to do. The best way to fill in a rough opening is with small boards measured to fill the gap. For instance, if you need to bring the sides in by half an inch, you’d attach a ½-inch-wide piece of plywood to the insides of the rough opening with small drops of construction-grade adhesive or sealant. 

The most important thing to remember when working on shrinking a rough opening is prioritizing stability. Half an inch of plywood won’t hurt the overall stability of your window, but if your rough opening is 3-4 inches wider than your window, it’s best to call in an expert to fix it. If you add on 3-4 inches of additional lumber, you risk severely compromising your window’s functionality. 

Call the Experts to Ensure a Perfect Window Rough Opening

Let’s face it: there are so many ways a rough opening for your window can go wrong. Between sizing, angles, brands, and stability, you want to rest assured your window installation is in good hands. 

At Window Nation, we pride ourselves on affordable, exemplary window installations and replacements. Our experts are ready to answer your call 24/7 and help you achieve your ideal window vision. 

Reach out to Window Nation for a quote today and get your installation right the first time around.

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