Planning what windows to buy

Hi Kieran We are considering a home extension and have done a lot of research and have a good idea about what we want but would like some advice on windows. There seems to be such a variety and a lot of dos and don’ts. We are considering a lot of glass on the ground floor and would like to get more light into the upstairs. What do you think works best?
— Joanne and Piotyr, Castletroy, Limerick

Hello Joanne & Piotyr. Thank you for your question. When it comes to windows there is certainly a wide bandwidth of choice available both in terms of window type and, indeed, design. Like most other aspects of construction much of this consideration comes down to what budget you have at the end of the day and, indeed, your taste.

Kieran McCarthy: ‘A feature I find particularly nice if a tranquil view is available, is a tall picture window in the stairwell.’

When looking at windows, they fall into a variety of categories and it should be remembered that they will all comply with the same performance regulations as a rule so let’s consider them one by one.

PVC windows are broadly the most cost-effective window solution for your home. They have principally replaced the timber windows we would have grown up with (I remember painting my grandparents’ windows during my summer holidays as a child) and they are very popular as they offer both a low maintenance and a good value solution. 

There are the typical PVC windows you find in many new homes in housing estates (what I call ‘Irish PVC’) and then there are the European PVC windows which are imported. The European variety tends to be triple glazed by default and in general, a higher quality but there are some European design nuances that you should watch out for.

Timber windows can either be built in a local joinery shop (if you are looking for a certain bespoke aesthetic, eg a heritage sliding sash design) or factory built and finished. Whereas you have more control over the local joinery windows, there are more moving parts here.

PVC windows have principally replaced the timber windows we would have grown up with.

From a warranty and maintenance standpoint the factory-built windows with proven systems and mechanisms may very well be a safer bet but you will likely be a little more limited in what they can achieve in terms of bespoke design. In both cases the factory paint finished option is best in terms of reducing the eventual painting maintenance regime.

Today’s aluminium windows, which are thermally broken, should not be confused with the aluminium windows of old (remember the condensation?) They are generally the most dynamic in terms of engineering in that if you are considering a large glazed expanse or complex double or triple opening section they will likely offer the most choice.

Aluclad windows then offer the internal warm aesthetic of timber windows with the durability of the hard-wearing aluminium powder coated finish on the exposed outer face. These can either be an aluminium window with a timber inner lining or a timber window with an aluminium external face (now more popular). Due to the more complex frame make-up these windows are often the most expensive on the market.

Your next consideration is, of course, the glass. You can opt for either an A-Rated double glaze or a triple glaze. The benefits of the triple glaze is that there is less heat loss in winter (but, of course, less solar gain in summer) so a balance is needed here. 

To gain more light in your living space you will need to consider your orientation (sun rises in the East and sets in the West). If you are considering a large expanse of glass facing south it may be that you need a canopy above to protect against excess midday summer sun. An anti glare film may also be available from your window company to help in this regard, 

Upstairs, I love to see windows with lowered window sills (but ensure you comply with building regulations in terms of child safety and escape). These provide more light and a break from the standard window design routine. Another feature I find particularly nice if a tranquil view is available, is a tall picture window in the stairwell. There is something uplifting about enjoying how this view changes from season to season as you head downstairs.

  • Civil engineer Kieran McCarthy is founder and Design & Build Director with KMC Homes. He is a co-presenter of the RTÉ show Cheap Irish Houses.

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