Old Sliding Sash Windows – Upgrade or Replace?
March 17, 2019
You have a period home with tatty timber sliding sash windows…
They rattle and hum. They let in the rain, wind and flying creatures. They’re difficult to open, or jammed shut by layers of paint. The sash cords have frayed or snapped. Condensation dribbles endlessly onto your window boards in cold weather and your heating bills bring a tear to your eye. But you love them anyway.
You have a period home and you don’t want to wreck the look with cheap uPVC shiny white ‘mock sash’ casements.
We all love timber. Old traditional sliding sash windows are made of it. Why would we want to replace them with anything else?
The main reason of course is cost. Good quality high performing, durable, well-engineered timber windows are not cheap. Unfortunately it’s quite difficult to find them, and even though there are a lot of companies who make timber windows, there aren’t many who do it well.
But if you can’t afford to replace the whole window, there are companies who will renovate them and replace the single glazed sashes with new double glazed sashes.
But is it a good idea? Is it money well-spent? In our opinion it depends on who does it, because there are few who do it well. There are a multitude of advertisers who say they will renovate sliding sash windows, but like specialist fenestration manufacturers, there are very few specialist renovation companies who know how to ensure your investment will pay off in the long term.
These are the reasons why:
- The original units were designed to house single glazed sashes – considerably lighter than new double glazed units.
- The new sashes will be the same thickness as the old ones, so they can fit into the old frames. But the double glazing units will be thicker, leading to less stability in the new sash frames.
- New, larger weights may be required. Most companies use stainless steel, lighter than the original lead. Steel weights have to be longer and can cause ‘clonking’ as they drop to the bottom of the weight box.
- If new lead weights are used, they will be more costly, will still need to be longer, and could cause the same problem.
- The old timber boxes and frames will look fine for a while when renovated and repainted, but they will likely still require decorating and repairing again in a few years if not properly prepared and redecorated.
- The old boxes and frames are likely to be worn and warped. This can’t be rectified in situ, so the benefits of installing a new sash and new draught-proofing can be limited in comparison to a new unit if not done properly.
- Even using a high performing slim-line Krypton-filled glazing unit could reduce the integrity of the frames and new seals, thus negating the benefits.
- For those on a limited budget, experience tells us that seriously considering replacing the whole unit, with a really good quality non-timber product, would be better than just replacing the sashes (i.e. the moving frames), or carrying out major refurbishment.
- If replacement is not an option for you – and let’s face it, it’s sometimes a shame to replace beautiful original windows – then ensure you choose the right renovation specialist.
Of course if you get in touch with a company that says they renovate old windows, they’ll tell you the risks are minimal and they are skilled at ensuring your renovated windows will be almost as good as new. They certainly may look it, for a while. They may even have some excellent reviews. The problem with this is that reviews are posted just after the job has been completed.
Thankfully, this one about a one company is a fairly damning testimonial about a job that had immediate problems:
“We originally picked ********* on the strength and conviction of their salesman who seemed dedicated to restoration and appeared knowledgeable. The cost was expensive …… and [we] assumed the prices would reflect the finished product. The work done was beyond disappointing ….. the job and outcome appeared rushed …… Some windows won’t open …. some ‘fall’ and won’t stay open. Catches wouldn’t close as they were put in the wrong place …. the glazer had to replace every pane of glass as the painter sanded down the windows and scratched every single one! Save your money.”
This one, on the other hand, was posted years after completion of installations carried out by our preferred timber manufacturer/installer:
“We have been blown away ……. The oldest ones have been in over 7 years in full South facing sun with sandblasting from windblown dust from a dirt track in front of house and have needed zero maintenance. The paint is a bit duller but still doesn’t need any attention. Great product.”
Also, look at the guarantees you are offered. Glazing units in part-replacement windows often have limited guarantees – as little as 5 years or less is common. They will not guarantee the old sections of windows, and the scope of the guarantees will have caveats to cover the issues above. So before you part with your money, READ THE SMALL PRINT.
Non-partisan information, such as that on the link below, will show that what they do not say is revealing: lists of things you can do to improve old sash windows does not include replacing the sashes with double glazed units. We think this can be done well, but again, only by a real specialist.
Non-Timber, i.e. uPVC or ‘Composite’
These days, a good non-timber unit can look remarkably authentic. There are very few that look truly traditional, but they do exist.
The units we would recommend will last at least 25 years and require little maintenance, whereas many of the cheaper hardwood products we see these days start to require maintenance and even repair in less than 5 years!
Repair & Stick with Single Glazed
There will be fewer issues if you just repair the existing windows and single glazed windows, although it will not reduce your maintenance costs over the years. If done badly though as below – which is common – it will prove costly over time.
If you take the repair route, good quality secondary glazing will upgrade the thermal performance of your windows to almost the level of a new window. This can be far better, and cheaper, in the long run – in our view – than replacing the sashes. They are not the best option aesthetically, although there are good products that are slim and relatively unobtrusive.
Robert has been developing and building period & contemporary homes since 1995, and has installed all types of external home improvement products.