It used to be that choosing the right windows for your home involved nothing more than simply selecting a frame you liked and letting the contractors take care of the work. But nowadays, choosing windows means giving a lot of thought not only to aesthetics, but to energy efficiency and the heating and cooling credentials of a particular type of window. Windows have the power to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of your entire home, lowering your electricity bills, offering superb insulation – and overhauling your décor in the process.
But how do you go about selecting the right windows for your home? Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all guide – you’ll need to take many individual factors into account. However, there is a list of steps you can take to make sure you’ve chosen the best windows for yourself and your home. Read on…
Why should I change my windows?
There are many reasons why you might want to overhaul your windows. Perhaps you’re concerned about energy savings, or maybe you’re looking to spruce up your interiors with some new frames. Some older, wood-framed windows can experience issues with damp and mould if they’ve not been maintained properly, and windows that haven’t been used for a while can be troublesome to open and close.
Brand new windows, or replacement windows?
First off, you’ll need to make an important decision: are you going to invest in totally new windows, or simply replace the ones that you already have? Here are the pros and cons of both:
- Pros of new windows: you’ll have total control over your windows – not only when it comes to dictating frames and materials, but also when it comes to deciding the shapes and sizes of your windows.
- Cons of new windows: if you’re planning to change the shape of your windows, as well as installing new frames, it’s likely that the window price will be higher, purely because of the additional labour involved. It may also take longer, so if you’re looking for a quick fix, you might consider the alternative.
- Pros of replacement windows: if you like the size and shape of your existing windows, you’ll be able to use your existing measurements to simply change the frame material or the type of window.
- Cons of replacement windows: it can feel like not much has changed! If aesthetics are partly the reason for your new window installation, you might be seeking more of a dramatic change than simply a slightly different frame material.
Different window styles
Once you’ve decided whether you’re going to opt for new or replacement windows, you’ll need to settle on a style. Here are the most common window styles you can choose from:
Single hung windows
Single hung windows. These are found in most homes – they consist of two sections (known as sashes) which slide up from the bottom to open and down again to close.
Double hung windows
Double hung windows. There are also very common – but unlike single hung windows, which only open from the bottom, double hung windows open from the top too, giving you flexibility when opening your windows.
Rather than sliding upwards or downwards, casement windows have a hinge and open outwards. These are also known as side-hinged windows.
As the name might suggest, an awning window tilts outwards from the bottom to create the appearance of an awning when it’s open. These windows let in lots of air, and are often used in bathrooms.
These windows are usually just for decoration. They often don’t open, and are used purely to increase natural light and add a decorative feature in a space.
The right window frame material
To some extent, your window style will dictate the frame material that you’ll need to use – but there is some leeway if you’re hoping to have flexibility in this area. Here’s all you need to know about choosing your frame material.
First off, there are three main options you can choose: wood, PVC-U and metal. Each one has its own list of benefits and disadvantages – and each one is compatible with one or two window styles.
Wood is obviously the material of choice for architectural purists. It looks great, and it offers good insulation, which makes it a strong all-round choice. They’re often used for sash windows, but they do need some maintenance to ensure they don’t rot or become damp. There are some conservation areas around the country where you must use wood frames for your windows to ensure your home conforms to a local aesthetic.
PVC-U is a very low-maintenance option which is incredibly long-lasting. These frames are available in realistic-looking wood grain and colour finishes, but they can’t be used in listed buildings or in certain conservation areas where a certain aesthetic must be adhered to.
Then there’s the metal option, with the most popular metal frames made from steel or aluminium. Other (more expensive) choices include cast iron and architectural bronze. These frames are an ideal choice when replacing very old windows in period-style homes, although they can look equally stylish in more contemporary settings.
Next up: choosing your glass
After you’ve settled on your window style and frame, you need to choose the kind of glass that’s going to fill said frame. There are a multitude of glass choices on the market today, and you can choose double, triple or even quadruple-pane glass. It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not actually the number of panes you have which dictates your window’s insulation – it’s the air between the different panes. Inert gases like argon are usually used between the panes to ensure maximum insulation for those buying new windows.
The various types of glass you can choose are as follows:
- Low-E (or low-emissivity) glass economises heating energy with a dual-action coating, which reflects heat back into the room while still allowing heat and light from the outside to pass through.
- Acoustic glass also works to reduce any noise coming from outside – ideal if you live near a motorway, airport or construction area.
- Self-cleaning glass might sound too good to be true, but it’s ideal for windows in locations that are tricky to reach. Skylights, conservatories and hard-to-reach windows can be dangerous to clean, but self-cleaning windows can keep themselves sparklingly transparent all-year-round.
Before choosing your glass, you’ll also need to bear in mind the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) – a metric which measures glass’ ability to transmit solar energy into a room. The higher the value (on a scale of 0-1), the better a window is at transmitting solar heat and increasing your energy-efficiency at home.
Another process called ‘sputtering’ helps to build thin but highly insulated coatings around windows to ensure they’re efficient. These products have been demonstrated to reduce heat loss around the edges of the windows, the notorious spot where heat most often escapes back outdoors.
So there you have it – the comprehensive guide to choosing the right window frames for yourself and your home.