Life Home & Garden

Sunday 22 July 2018

Windows of opportunity

Windows have a huge impact on the look, function and energy performance of a house. Stock picture
Windows have a huge impact on the look, function and energy performance of a house. Stock picture

Paula M Murphy

Query: We want to replace our windows but are confused by the choice of materials and window types available. Could you give us some advice?

Answer: Windows have a huge impact on the look, function and energy performance of a house - I'm not surprised you feel daunted. Not only that but they can also cost up to 10pc of a standard new-build house. Windows are an integral element of the building envelope and you should consider engaging the services of a registered architect when replacing yours. Remember too, if your home is a protected structure, there are limitations to what you can do, and you will require the services of a conservation architect.

Know your finishes

PVC: While I don't favour PVC windows for ecological and aesthetic reasons, they have improved substantially in quality over the years and are very cost effective. A number of suppliers are offering timber-effect windows (grooving on the plastic) with a good choice of colours and finishes. Careful selection of your supplier can enhance the appearance of your relatively inexpensive window and there is little maintenance required with PVC.

Timber: Wood is still hugely popular and comes in lots of different finishes. There are a large number of suppliers and individual joiners. In standard building projects, I favour a factory-manufactured window as it will usually have been tested for performance in laboratory conditions and there is invariably good traceability in relation to wood type and source. However, a very good joiner, skilled in window and door-making, can be a good choice depending on the project.

When selecting a timber window, it is important to check the source and type of wood. Hardwoods generally have better durability, although Scandinavian softwoods also perform very well. In comparison to PVC, timber windows require significant maintenance, in particular on the exterior. If maintenance isn't properly done, you can quickly face having to replace your windows, so follow the manufacturer's recommendations. However, well-maintained timber windows can last the lifetime of a building. Timber also offers great versatility in relation to finishes and, when repainting or staining in accordance with recommendations, you can change their appearance for relatively little cost.

Aluclad: Aluclad windows have an exterior-painted aluminium cladding added to the exterior of a full timber window, while the interior can be stained or painted. The advantage is the exterior is low maintenance and exterior and interior finishes can be in different colours (or stained), which gives you versatility. Further good news is that the recession, together with increased building standards, mean the price of higher-spec windows, such as Aluclad, has fallen.

What is the U-value?

Once you have decided on your finish, it is important to review energy performance, measured as the U-value. The U-value is critical in a window and you should compare the overall window U-value - the lower this is, the better and more energy efficient. Triple-glazing is being used more frequently in refurbishments, but it is of little use if your walls are performing poorly. Look at the size of your window frame and dividers (known as the section) as this will affect the overall look, particularly if your openings (ie, the total area of the hole for your window) are small. Higher-performing windows usually have narrower or more refined-looking profiles.

Revamping your look

Replacing windows is a great opportunity to revisit the look of your house. For example, reducing the number of opening sections allows more light in and can drastically improve the feel of the space when looking out. Be adventurous - if you minimise the number of openings, the price will also come down.

Consider safety

Window openings in bedrooms and upper rooms must conform with building regulations, which define minimum opening sizes for fire escape.

How best to choose?

Visit as many showrooms as possible and pay attention to how they open - are they side-hung, top-hung or sash windows - as well as to details such as hinges and handles, as these can make a big difference. As replacing windows is such a big outlay, it is important to spend time and effort on your research and not to be solely guided by price. Consider having permavents in the windows, which generally have draught-excluding properties. Small details can have a big impact and don't necessarily cost more.

If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. Check on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.

Paula M Murphy, MRIAI, is an architect working in Tipperary and Dublin; paulamurphy.ie

If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. Check on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.

Do you have a design dilemma we can help you with? Email your problem to designclinic@independent.ie.

Advice is for guidance only and readers are advised to seek professional assistance for any proposed project.

Sunday Independent

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