Old windows need not be cold

“I need to replace my old windows because they’re draughty and cold, what should I do?” I get asked this question time and again and the first point I make is that you don’t need to replace old windows to make them more thermally efficient.

Old windows give a building character and are part of its history. Windows should be thought of as valuable antiques – you wouldn’t throw a 200 year old table or chair on the skip so why do it with a window? It’s worth remembering that one of the reasons that so many old windows have survived is that the original timber is much more durable than new wood because it was slow grown. What’s more, ripping windows out and replacing them means losing all the embodied energy within them and using valuable resources to make the replacements.

Consider the glass too. Unlike its flat and lifeless modern counterpart, Georgian and Victorian glass contains bubbles of air and ripples resulting from the manufacturing process. These ‘imperfections’ give it beauty, distorting reflections and making it flash and sparkle in the light.

As an alternative to replacing windows there are a variety of low impact and cost effective alternatives:

  • Rattling windows may be wedged or, with sash windows, a fastener with a cam action which draws the two sashes together can be fitted.
  • Shutters and heavy curtains reduce draughts and keep heat in, especially if they’re closed before it gets dark so the warmth of the day is retained. One further step is to install thermal blinds which incorporate a variety of insulating and reflective layers designed to minimise conduction through the fabric.
  • Heat escapes and draughts enter through cracks around the frame. Many companies now specialise in draught proofing windows and, at the same time, install inconspicuous ‘brush’ strips to the top edge, meeting rails and parting beads. These strips also help reduce noise and dirt from outside. If you’re good at DIY you may even want to do the job yourself. More information about re-cording sash windows can be found here.
  • Many of the newer secondary glazing systems are unobtrusive and can be coated to match your colour scheme. Lift out magnetic glazing panels are ideal for reducing heat loss during the winter months and can be stored under a bed in summer. Sliding secondary glazing allows windows to be opened but is more visible. The beauty of secondary glazing is that little damage is done and it’s easily reversible in the future so, if it’s no longer required, it can be removed and the window easily returned to its original state.