Larson retractable door screen. Storm-Door Substitute:

Breeze In, Bugs Out -
Installing A Larson® Retractable
Door Screen

 
In This Article:

The width and height of the door opening is measured. The four major components are cut to length. The retracting mechanism is assembled and the four components are installed against the brick molding.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 3-4 (Intermediate to Advanced) Time Taken: About 4 Hours

By , Editor

Start:

I have some friends who recently asked me to install a Larson® UltraBreeze® Retractable Screen on the entry door between their house and garage. The garage door is the only opening facing north, and to get a good breeze flowing through their house they wanted some sort of screened covering.

Initially they thought of an ordinary storm door, or an old-fashioned screen door. But a storm door is a mixed blessing - it's in your way whether you need it or not.

Then they found the Larson retractable screen at Lowes for about $135. For the summer days when they want more cross-ventilation, they can open the door between the house and garage and close the roll-up screen door. This should be a good way to reduce air conditioning usage by improving ventilation, while still keeping the bugs out.

This was the entry door between the house and garage before the screen was installed.

There are two methods of mounting the Larson UltraBreeze Retractable Screen: Inside or outside the brick molding. This article describes the procedure for mounting the screen on the outside of the molding, which can also be called "face mounting" or "front mounting" because it involves mounting the hardware on the front face of the molding.

 

Before We Start:

Note how the edge of the threshold is just about flush with the "nosing" below it.

Not every door will be built this way.

 

This is the normal method of installing the bottom track... but this also creates a tripping hazard, which I'd like to avoid.

 

I would like to install the screen so the bottom track looks like this: The top of the track being flush with the threshold.

But this will require an extra piece of wood to support the track.

 

The instruction manual describes measuring from the sill (a.k.a. threshold) to the brick molding on top of the door.

But I'm planning a different approach, so I'll need to measure differently.

 

Using 2½" deck screws, I attached an extension to the nosing below the threshold.

This board was about 7/8" thick by 1½" tall. I ripped it from a straight, clear piece of 2x4.

 

Measuring The Height Of The Opening:

I measured from the top edge of the new sill extender that I just installed...

 

... up to the top of the wide flat surface on the brick molding.

I got 82 inches exactly.

From this measurement, the instructions say to subtract 11/16" to arrive at the cassette length. I got 81-5/16".

 

Width Measurement:

For face mounting, the width measurement starts at the outer edge of the flat face on the brick molding...

 

... and ends at the other side.

I got 38-3/16".

From this measurement I subtracted 1-3/4" to get the cut length for the top track and bottom track, which in my case was 36-7/16"

 

Cutting The Parts To Length:

The Larson screen is made with extra-long parts that need to be cut to exact length for the particular door molding dimensions. Once the height and width measurements were made, I proceeded to cut the aluminum pieces to their required lengths.

I laid the screen cassette on a table and marked the cut point.

 

I removed the pull bar from the cassette.

The instructions seem to indicate that the pull bar can be cut at the same time as the cassette, but I know that such a loose piece will flop around like crazy in the miter saw.

 

Before cutting, I pushed the screen roll 1/8" towards the end to be cut.

This will make the screen 1/8" shorter than the cassette housing. This is very important.

 

I cut the cassette on my 10" miter saw. It cut surprisingly well.

I made this cut extremely slowly, to avoid bending the metal extrusion.

Wear eye protection! Getting a chunk of metal in your eye will really hurt!

 

In a separate cut, I cut the pull bar 1/8" shorter than the cassette.

 

I cut the latch bar (also called the side bar).

 

To cut the magnetic strip (which will later be attached to the pull bar) I simply used wire cutters.

This stuff cuts like plastic.

 

I cut the top and bottom tracks, making sure that the weatherstrip was aligned with the other end.

 

I replaced the pull bar back onto the cassette.

 

Assembling The Screen Cassette:

This big piece is the spring-loaded end cap for the screen cassette.

The spring end cap will only fit on one end of the cassette.

 

Below the spring, there is a black plastic end piece with several tabs. These tabs (red arrow) engage the splines on the inside of the screen cassette.

 

I inserted the spring-loaded end cap into the cassette.

 

Important:

This plastic rod on the end cap needs to go inside the "hole" on the extruded aluminum cassette.

BUT NOT YET!

 

Winding Up:

I wound the spring by rotating the end cap clockwise 12 turns.

 

Then I inserted the end cap into the cassette.

 

I gently tapped the end cap with a hammer.

The instructions say to use a rubber mallet, but I forgot to bring one, so I just hammered carefully.

 

I installed a flat head screw to hold the end cap in place.

 

This small plastic plug fits into the end of the end cap.

 

The Other End:

This little plastic bushing almost got forgotten.

I'm pretty sure it goes on this end cap.

 

It fits snugly in the end of the screen tube.

The instructions mention this part but don't illustrate it well.

 

Caution:

When I first assembled the spring-loaded end cap, I didn't notice the alignment of this bushing. After the door was installed the screen seemed really difficult to pull out. I took everything apart and discovered that the little tab on this bushing was jammed against one of the ribs on the splined tube. I simply had to re-position the bushing so the tab was between the ribs, and then everything worked fine.

 

I carefully tapped the other end cap into the end of the cassette.

The plastic prong-thing must be properly aligned with the hole, or else the cap won't go together. It's possible to install the end caps with the prong just slightly outside of that hole, and then the end cap will be turned slightly and won't be able to fit inside the metal cassette.

 

I installed the other flat head screw to hold the end cap in place.

 

Handles:

There are two different handles that are mounted on the pull bar.

 

The larger handle goes on the outside of the screen.

It was quite difficult to insert this plastic handle into the groove in the pull bar, so I gently tapped it with a hammer.

 

I slid the magnetic strip into the groove on the outside edge of the pull bar.

 

Using a pair of pliers I crimped the end of the pull bar, to hold the magnetic strip in place.

 

I cut off the extra magnetic strip with a sharp knife.

I crimped both ends, because it seemed to need it.

 

To keep the fuzzy weatherstrips from sliding, I crimped the ends of the top and bottom tracks.

While this leaves a mark, the ends are concealed by the other parts.

 

I slid the mounting brackets into the groove on the side of the cassette. The instructions say to place each clip (there are 2) about 20 inches from each end.

 

For inside mounting, these clips are fastened to the inside surface of the brick molding, then the cassette snaps into the clips.

 

 

I installed these end caps on the pull bar.

 

I set the screen cassette in place on the right-hand side of the door (it can go on either side).

 

But... there was a problem.

The mounting brackets (red arrow) don't take into consideration the shape of the brick molding. These brackets would work just fine on a flat surface, but almost all entry doors come with a brick molding that has a contour.

That straight red line above the arrow represents the proper orientation of the L-shaped bracket. With the contours of the brick molding, the bracket sits on quite an angle, and the screen cassette seems too loose. This is sloppy engineering.

 

I marked the top and bottom edges of each bracket and made two shallow cuts with a hand saw.

 

Then I chiseled out the cuts to create a flat mounting surface.

The instructions won't tell you this.

 

Finally!
Installing The 4 Main Components:

I installed two screws to fasten the cassette to the brick molding.

 

I slid the bottom track (red arrow) over the protruding nose of the screen cassette end caps.

 

And the same at the top.

 

Then I slipped the latch bar (2) over the ends of the bottom track (1)...

 

...and the top track.

 

BUT... the latch bar didn't exactly fit over the top and bottom tracks. There was a gap at each end, and the top track was not level.

It was obvious to me that there was metal interfering with these components. Either the latch bar or the top/bottom tracks needed to be notched at the ends.

My solution: On the latch bar I used end-nipper pliers to clip off the end of the channel that holds the magnetic strip.

 

Then I used a chisel to shear off the aluminum.

(This tends to dull the chisel.)

 

While the metal tracks fit together better, there was still a problem... there was a 1/8" gap between the top track and the brick molding.

The top track is supposed to be fastened to the brick moulding, and it will bow inward, which I think looks cheesy.

 

But the real problem is the latch bar... how is this supposed to be installed?

The latch bar has a tapered shape. It CAN'T sit squarely against the face of the brick molding.

And the instructions say to drill a 3/8" diameter hole through the front surface of the latch bar so it can be fastened to the face of the brick molding.

Please, Larson, tell me how!

 

 

To illustrate this problem, I attempted to drive a screw through a short piece of latch bar according to Larson's instructions.

On the latch bar there is only a narrow flat surface that can sit against the brick moulding.

If a hole is drilled for a mounting screw, the screw will hit the inner flanges that Larson uses to keep the magnetic strip in place. I suppose a person could spend an hour clipping out little sections of that inner flange... but that's just not smart engineering.

But... the screws are so close to the edge of the brick moulding that they split the wood. This won't work!

 

Also...

The top track could be mounted to the face of the brick moulding, as long as the screws are kept high enough to avoid interference with the moving parts.

But if the screws are tightened too much, the U-shaped track will squeeze together, which might cause the moving parts to bind.

 

 

After I realized that face-mounting would be nearly impossible, I decided to quit for the day and return the next day with some wood to build my own mounting surface. 

The Next Day:

I removed the screen cassette so I could work on the brick molding.

I used a power planer to remove the raised contour of the brick molding. This could also be done with a block plane or a belt sander.

I thought about actually removing the top and side brick molding from the door, so I could lay them on a workbench and plane them down. Sometimes the brick molding can be removed without much trouble, but I chose to leave them in place.

Then I re-installed the screen cassette and placed the top, bottom and side tracks in position once again, without fastening them.

Next I fastened a 1" x 1" piece of wood to the planed-down brick molding, on the top and latch side.

I used 2½" deck screws (in case I needed to remove these pieces), and I pre-drilled each hole. The holes are kinda ugly... it would look nicer if these boards were simply nailed in place with long finish nails or ring-shank siding nails.

Note that these boards are 1 inch by 1 inch actual dimensions, which meant that I had to rip them from a 2x4.

 

Using a 5/32" bit, I pre-drilled 4 holes in the top and bottom tracks.

 

I used a smaller 9/64" bit for the latch bar, because I decided to use some #6 sheet metal screws instead of the #8's provided.

Frankly, they didn't provide enough screws. There were 8 screws for the top, bottom and latch tracks. I used up all their screws on the top and bottom, and used my own screws for the latch bar.

Then I set the three track sections in place.

I screwed the bottom track in place.

 

I screwed the top track to the new extension board (which I had just painted with primer).

These screws were tricky to drive because the heads could stop at the inner flanges if the holes were drilled off-center.

 

A Note Of Caution:

Note how the screw head can hit the inner flanges. It's important that the holes be drilled close to the centerline of the track.

This is a sample of bottom track, but the top track has the exact same inner flanges.

 

I fastened the latch bar with #6 stainless steel sheet-metal screws, in about 7 places.

 

The completed retractable screen.

While this was a real chore to figure out the instructions, once it was finished it was definitely worth it.

Larson roll-up screen door.

 

Note how the ends of the pull bar are concealed within the top and bottom tracks.

I could see a problem developing if a lot of dirt gets in the bottom track. It may need to be vacuumed out occasionally to keep the pull bar from dragging in dirt.

 

When the screen is retracted, it stays out of the way.

You can hardly see the thing when the screen is opened.

 

When rolled up, the pull bar occupies a couple inches of the door opening.

If this was installed over a 32 inch entry door, the opening might be too narrow, especially when moving large things (like appliances) into the house. However, the entire roll-up screen can be removed in a couple of minutes, and re-installing the parts is simple.

 

We found this minor problem: The inside handle almost hits the inside surface of the brick molding (red arrow).

It was kinda tricky to grab this handle to open the door from the inside. After a couple of days we turned this handle around, which made the door easier to open.

However... to close the door it was necessary to reach around and grab the outside handle, unroll the screen a ways, then use the inner handle.

 

How About Swinging Out?

This project involved an ordinary in-swinging door, which is by far the most common type of door. Turn the knob and push the door in. Simple.

But some entry doors are out-swinging. None of my local home centers and lumberyards stock out-swinging doors... I've always had to special-order them. Out-swinging doors have the hinges on the outside. This screen could be installed on an out-swinging door, BUT:

  • The screen would need to be installed on the inside of the building.
  • It might be necessary to use the "inside" mounting method, where the four components are attached to the inner surfaces of the door jambs. However, the bottom track will pose a tripping hazard.
  • Outside or "face" mounting could be employed to attach the components to the door casing, if the casing was flat and straight. Any curved profile casing would need to be replaced with a casing made of simple flat material, such as 1x4 or 1x3.

 

 

Some Cautions:

Light-Duty: The employee at Lowe's warned me that the pull bar on the Larson UltraBreeze screen is rather flexible when moved front-to-back. The pull bar could easily be bent by rough handling by children. He also showed me a brand of retractable screen called Phantom, which Lowe's sells for $350 installed. The Phantom has a much sturdier pull bar.

Walk-Through: We found that the screen was almost invisible from inside the house. When you walk towards an open door your eyes are naturally drawn to the bright light outside. I found myself looking beyond the screen, and my eyes didn't focus on the screen. It would be really easy to walk right into the screen.

If you think about it, when you look out a window, do you notice the screen? Screen material is made to be almost invisible. Maybe a different type of screen material needs to be developed for retractable door screens and slider door screens.

The homeowners decided to put some pieces of blue masking tape on the screen at eyeball height.

Also, some dogs might just run right into (and through) the screen. Maybe some masking tape would be needed at dog-eye height too.

 

*Note: "Larson" and "UltraBreeze" are registered trademarks of their owners.

Tools Used:

  • Basic Carpentry Tools
  • End-Nipper Pliers
  • Cordless Drill
  • Cordless Impact Driver
  • Miter Saw
  • Table Saw
  • Power Planer
  • Block Plane
  • Belt Sander

Materials Used:

  • Larson UltraBreeze Retractable Screen
  • Stainless Steel Sheet Metal Screws, #6 x 1"
  • 1"x1" wood strips (ripped from 2x4's)

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Copyright © 2006 HammerZone.com

Written July 13, 2006