The Great Screen Door Redesign 2

Latticed concrete, not suitable for screen doors

Latticed Concrete

Screens are an essential here. However, not everyone seems to think so, judging from the lack of them. Many Panamanian homes have latticed concrete blocks instead of windows. The lattice admits light and air and keeps out the larger beasties. But these will often not have screens. I have lived several places where I simply bought screening and installed it myself, a simple enough proposition when the window frame is wood. If the frame is concrete, screening is a bit more complicated, but it can even be installed over the latticed concrete.

Window Screens

My current home has two kinds of windows, the horizontal slat type and sliding windows. The sliding windows initially came with sliding screens – after all, you would only have one side open at a time, so you would only need to screen half the window, right? Well, wrong, but that’s an engineering rant. You see, if security bars are part of the deal, there might be no way to install the sliding screen. That’s the situation at my house. Not to mention there is an open edge on a sliding screen if the window is not open all the way. Please come in, Ms. Mosquito.

Meanwhile, both types of windows in my home are set into the concrete walls using aluminum frames. And the horizontal slat windows have bars on the outside, while the sliding windows have bars on the inside. This makes them nice and secure, relatively speaking, but what about the screens?

This situation is easily remedied by ignoring the limitations of custom. The windows with the bars inside have the screens outside. The windows with the bars outside have the screens inside.

That reminds me of a nonsense poem I memorized as a small child:

He killed the noble Mudjokivis.
Of the skin, he made him mittens.
He, to keep the warm side inside,
Made them with the skin side outside.
He, to keep the cold side outside,
Made them with the fur side inside.
He made them inside-outside.

Yes. Well, I have always been easily amused. What is not amusing is how difficult all this screening and barring makes it to clean the window glass. Oh, well.

Door Screens

Anyway, what about the doors? You can screen all the windows you want, but if the doors have no screens, that will still leave you with a lot of bugs unless you keep said doors closed. Who wants to do that? I want every breath of air I can get. (Have I mentioned how hot it is here?)

I have had sufficient dealings with buildings over the years to know there is no such thing as a square corner, in any country. So the idea of buying a pre-made screen door seemed fairly laughable. Even more laughable is the idea of actually finding one here to buy. The idea of paying for a custom screen door sent me into sheer hysterics. After all, this is a rental.

The First Door Screen Design – Fail

So what to do? Inspired by a friend who lives at the beach and had made what seemed an effective hanging screen, as I mentioned in a previous post, JK Builds a Screen Door,  I decided to try my hand at it.

To recap, fortunately, both my doors have wood frames, so I measured and sketched and considered and came up with the following plan: I would make a half-frame for each door, wind the screening around that side and the top and let the other side and the bottom hang freely. To ensure the screen would close, I would weight the bottom edge. And to provide a bit of charm and help me keep track of comings and goings I would put bells on the free edge.

I found jingle bells at a local craft supply store, and plenty of black gravel in the street that I could gather and wash to weight the bottom.

The jingle bells were a big hit with the dogs as well as all my visitors. Everyone admired how the weighted hem just swung back into place. I could see out, the breeze (what breeze there is) could get in, and the bugs could not. The screens were cute. I was a happy renter.

screen door with fishing weightsAlas. The plastic screen was vulnerable to anything sharp. Gravel began to work its way out of the hem. Within a few months I had to replace it with fishing weights.

rotted screen doorFurther alas. The door screens had not been in place a full year, yet they already needed replacement. Plastic screen is also vulnerable to handling, and had rotted at the points where hands grabbed to move it. It had literally shredded. See photo.

So a new design was needed.

The Second Door Screen Design – Pass?

I considered where the wear was showing on the screen – on the hem where the sharp gravel worked itself through the screen, and on the side where the screen was lifted to provide entry. I also noticed that down at the bottom of the loose side, where the dogs pushed in and out, there was no appreciable damage. I therefore decided to move the entry point from the side to the middle of the door, so people could just push through the way the dogs did and avoid handling the screen as much.

I first sliced off the rotten side while the screen was still hanging, making sure to leave enough for a nice hem. Then I took down the frame with remaining screen attached. The frame has only two boards – one for the side near the door hinge and one across the top. I pulled out the staples across half of the top and trimmed the screen before folding it for the vertical hem. I hand stitched the vertical hem, as I feared a machine needle might cut through the plastic screen.

With the unit laid out on the floor, I cut a second piece of screen to fill the formerly loose side, hemmed the central slit and the bottom, then attached it to the frame at the top.  Once the frame with the redesigned screen was screwed back in place, I put plomos ( fishing weights) on the bottom and invited the dogs to try it out.

Want a (slightly) related laugh? Check out On Being Incoherent in Public where I describe the process of buying those plomos.

The dogs like the new screen.  I like it. Now we just have to use it for a few months and see how the bugs feel about it. We’ll see if it, too, rots in six months, or if this design is a good one.

2 thoughts on “The Great Screen Door Redesign

  • 4sarge

    Congrats on the new design and hopefully the rot will subside. I’d think that ‘screens’ would be a BIG business in the tropics.

    • JK Mikals Post author

      Thanks! You’re right – there could be quite a demand for inexpensive screen “doors.” I would think such a business might flourish all through Central America.

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