Windows: 4 Ways to Avoid Common Mistakes

They can be square, rectangular, round, pointed, or any shape you can think of.  They have a primary function of letting light in.  Without a satisfactory volume of light entering our living spaces, our spirits are lowered and our bank balance is too.  It may not be just the evening when the lights have to be switched on.

WindowsA window often provides a view.  If you are fortunate enough to have an impressive vista, its value speaks for itself.  But even in cramped city conditions, it is helpful to have longer distances to focus on and there are many ways to have foliage cover depressingly lifeless and boring surfaces.

Another prime function is ventilation, if so designed.

Further, windows can be thought of as house furniture, a way of decorating or detailing plainer expanses of walls, ceilings and floors.   But we can make mistakes with windows and I’ll list just four:

1        All too often I see old houses with their wood framed windows replaced with aluminium.  It replaces the feeling of comfortable warmth with a cold metal feel and often looks inappropriate for the building style.  Further, aluminium is very efficient at conducting heat, either letting warmth from the inside be lost in the cold outside or letting hot days make inside conditions insufferable.  Once again your bank balance will be lowered.  As older places are usually not well insulated, why compound the problem?  There are frame options, including aluminium, designed with cavities, foam filled sections and rubber seals that improve thermal performance.  This is one area where drawing on the expertise of an architect can save a lot of time and money.   Knowledge of the availability and cost options is time consuming to get. So is acquiring the skill to evaluate the long-term performance.  Knowing the aesthetic implications of frame options could make the difference between an easy property sale and a hard one, and not compromise the price.  These consequences may not be near in the future but are never-the-less real.

2        It is a good thing that windows can provide views and allow light in, but making windows bigger is not always better.  Once again, bad examples are often seen on those older houses that have been ‘improved’ by ‘picture windows’.  Not only is the aesthetic of the building often compromised, but how much light comes into a room needs to fit well with how you use it.  How much wall space do you need for art, books, furniture …?   How much is your budget for curtains?  Too much light destroys the finish on furniture and fades fabrics, carpets, printed images and more.

3        Today, absolutely no one should be building a house without double-glazing.  Triple glazing is the norm in Northern Europe.  This not only insulates thermally but it reduces outside noise.  With double-glazing, the need for thick curtains is reduced.  In my own house, I have no curtains at all but I do have micro Venetian blinds that can be adjusted to modify the light for differing elevations of the sun during the day.  It is worth noting that if Venetian blinds are used, they can be adjusted to reflect the sun while still allowing a view.  To do so successfully, however, requires the angle of the louvres to be angled carefully.  They will also need to be a darker colour so that the eye isn’t distracted.  A light colour causes our eyes to stop at the blind while the darker colour somehow lets our eyes focus past the blinds and through to the view outside.  The photo is taken inside my house with the blinds half closed to illustrate that point.

4        Please, unless there is a compelling architectural need, consider not using tinted glass or a dark adhesive tinted film.  In my judgement, there are very few instances where it enhances a house.  Instead, think of using awnings, or appropriate over-hanging eaves with the proportions designed for the latitude in which you live.  Also, we now have glass types with various protective properties such as reducing the ultra violet spectrum into you house.

I hope that this very short non-technical article will encourage you to seek more details.  A lot is readily found on the Web.  If you are considering building a new house, please research these kinds of issues in depth.  Also, consider finding an architect who suits you or at least, a skilled design professional.  They have extensive knowledge and skills and can save you a lot of time and money.

Anyone who knows my house would observe that I am not practicing what I preach.  I have no double-glazing.  I built the house 25 years ago and I could, so easily, have done the glazing properly then.  This was a foolish attempt to save some money.  The savings were small and the cost of heating over the years has been much higher.  I don’t like feeling so silly so one of my next tasks will be to start replacing the old glazing.

Written by Peter Costello of Costello Design Studio