How to choose the perfect windows for your home 

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Buying or replacing your windows is a job you’ll only want to do once, so it’s important to get it right. 

When I bought my house, I inherited single-glazed windows with a deteriorating wooden frame, and so replacement was unavoidable. 

Sliding windows save space. 

I didn’t think it would be such a complicated task, but I found the amount of information and terminology overwhelming — so let me try to simplify it for you. This article will cover the basics of window materials and types — there is a whole other article involved in detailing the style and placement of windows, which I will go into next week.

Opening type 

I’m here to argue for choosing your window type first, because that may dictate what materials you can choose based on your desired use and aesthetics. 

It is important to first consider how you want to use your windows — do you want them to swing wide open, or do they just need to provide ventilation? 

Is space or security a consideration? Do they even need to open at all?! In the interest of (over) simplicity, I’m going to break it down into four main types.

Fixed windows

These do not open. This could be an unusually shaped window, for example a porthole, a high window that serves the sole purpose of letting light in, or a skylight that doesn’t require opening. These are the cheapest window types.

Casement windows 

These are the most common type. This is where the window is attached to the frame by a hinge on one side and the window usually opens outwards. 

The hinge could also be along the top, so that the window can be opened without letting rain in, or along the bottom, for example in a basement window. 

Casement windows are cheap; however, consider how much room you have available to allow the window (or patio door) to swing open.

Tilt-and-turn windows 

They can either be swung open like casement windows (although they usually open inwards instead of outwards), or they can be tilted to open slightly. 

This allows for ventilation without having to open the window fully, providing extra security and saving space. These are more expensive than casement windows.

Sliding windows 

Sliding windows do exactly what they say on the tin — they slide along tracks in the frame instead of swinging open on a hinge. The highly desirable sash windows fall under this category, as do sliding patio doors. 

Sliding windows are typically the most expensive, but are super for small spaces. Bi-folding windows and doors fall somewhat under this category, although they only require one track making them slightly cheaper but meaning they require more space.

Denise O’Connor of Optimise Design gives my favourite piece of window advice here, which is to look at your neighbours’ homes and if possible talk to them about whether they’d do anything differently if given the chance — installing bi-folding doors in a light-filled living room, or triple glazing in a cold north-facing room.

Jennifer chose different window frame colours for inside and out.

Frame material

This is the part that confused me most when shopping around — there seemed to be a never-ending list of terms being thrown around and I didn’t understand what differentiated any of them from the others. 

Essentially there are 5 main materials currently available, all with different features and price points.

PVC or uPVC, also known as vinyl, is one of the most common types of frame material. PVC requires essentially zero maintenance, is the most cost-effective, and is a great insulator. It’s versatile and works in all climates. The downside is aesthetics — this is subjective but many prefer the look of aluminium or timber frames. uPVC is slightly harder than PVC.

Aluminium is a lightweight but strong material, also requiring very low maintenance, and looks sleek and modern. The downside to aluminium is insulation — it is highly conductive and so not the best choice for keeping your house warm in the winter months. Aluminium is more expensive than PVC.

Wooden frames are durable, strong, offer excellent insulation, and are arguably the most aesthetically pleasing of all. Wood is very versatile and can be adapted to any style and colour you choose. The main drawback is that wood requires some maintenance in the form of treating and painting, to prevent rot and mould. Wood frames are generally more expensive than PVC or aluminium.

Composite windows, also known as Aluclad windows, combine the best of aluminium and wood. The timber interior provides excellent insulation, and the aluminium exterior means there is practically no maintenance required. Aluclad is generally the most expensive material, but the low maintenance may be worth the extra upfront cost for you.

Fibreglass windows don’t really warrant a mention in my opinion, but I’ll include them for thoroughness. They are probably the most durable and long-lasting, and they do provide excellent insulation, but they require repainting and they look quite bulky. 

For a comparable price, I think wood or Aluclad is a better option.

Jennifer Sheahan and Perry outside the wood-frame casement windows in a one-over-two style.Jennifer Sheahan and Perry outside the wood-frame casement windows in a one-over-two style.

Glazing

Glazing is more straightforward — you can choose between double or triple, double being cheaper and triple offering greater insulation. 

Double-glazed windows have a layer of insulating gas between two panes of glass, and reduce heat loss by up to 80% over single-glazed windows. 

Triple-glazed windows have an extra layer of glass and gas, and will reduce up to an additional 30% over their double-glazed counterparts. 

Budget roughly 30% extra for triple glazing and consider whether all of your windows need to be triple glazed — perhaps your south-facing rooms get plenty of light and heat, and will do perfectly fine with double glazing.

Single glazing in Ireland is not a viable option for our climate — the upfront cost of double or triple glazing will be easily offset in your heating bills. 

However, single glazing can of course still be used (or repurposed) in places such as greenhouses or garages, or as internal windows and doors. 

If you have single-glazed windows, you may be able to replace the glass with double or triple glazing while retaining the frame. 

If you are planning to replace single glazing later, but need to get through at least one winter first, look into window film as a very low-cost temporary DIY solution to increase insulation.

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