Real Renovations: If eyes are the windows to our soul…

This afternoon Jessica is back with more from her Real Renovation. Having grown up in period houses I think I have somewhat taken for granted the beautiful large windows that come with older properties and so it has been a revelation for me to see the care which Jess has poured into returning the ones in her home to their former glory. Looking at the images here, they’re also such a focal point for a room, so I hope this is both a useful and inspiring post for those renovators amongst you!

Well, I can tell you that the windows at the front of our house were in need of laser correction and serious cosmetic surgery! Part of what attracted us to the house were the original big sash windows. And unusually, many of our neighbours also had their original windows, making what I think is quite uniform and attractive street, (there is an edge of OCD in all of us!) So despite the structural survey recommending a window overhaul, we weren’t put off buying it. We moved house in July, which I think might have affected our judgement somewhat. It was quite warm, no frost, reasonable amounts of sunshine, and we spent quite a lot of time outdoors. But as the days shortened and temperatures dropped, we realised just what a problem the windows were going to be.

The first problem was their lack of insulating properties. The three box sashes in the bays take up most of the wall which is a big surface area from which we were losing a lot of heat (and money). The next problem was the lack of sound insulation, which after moving from a modern flat was particularly noticeable. Anyone walking past the house whilst talking sounded like they were in the living room with us and I can only presume the opposite was also true! Another big problem was the safety and security issue, because glass making over a hundred years ago was not up to modern standards and our paper thin glass would smash with just the slightest of knocks. Add to that the horrible condensation that would build up every day and even drip down the walls causing damp patches, it really was something we needed to fix.

Image Credit:

Our options were ranging from a bit of light titivation, maybe the Botox equivalent for windows, to a simple eye lift, right through to the full facelift option. We had three realistic options. The first was to renovate the existing boxes and sashes, sanding the paint work and repainting, adding some beading strips to help insulate but keeping the original glass. This was an appealing option because it was the cheapest and would give a good cosmetic result. But it wouldn’t address the issue of the thin original glass and lack of sound and heat insulation.

Our second option was to keep and restore the original boxes and replace the sashes with new hardwood double glazed sash panels. This would keep the appearance of the windows and help to insulate the house, but would never be quite as good at insulating as modern uPVC windows. The downside of this option is that it was the most expensive, and wooden windows require more maintenance than uPVC. And so the third option was to completely replace the windows with modern uPVC windows, which can be made to look very similar to original sash windows although many open outwards rather than slide up to open. This would provide the best insulation with some compromise on aesthetics.

So after a lot of number crunching we decided to go with option two, the eye lift! We really wanted to keep the original windows, and we found a really enthusiastic team of carpenters who were as keen as we were to maintain as much original wood as possible. They came and measured our windows and after about 4 weeks they came back for just two days to restore the original boxes and insert the new double glazed sashes… and we were thrilled with the work they did. We are now much warmer, the house looks much smarter from both inside and out, and the condensation is gone. I am now looking forward to some warm summer days when I can happily slide the sashes open and be reminded of the great craftsmanship that went in to making the windows in the first place.

Image Credit and Credit.

With the windows looking good we now need to decide on some suitable window dressings, instead of the flimsy temporary solution we have at the moment, and I hope to bring you our progress on that in a future post. But for now, with new 21st century double glazed sashes sitting happily in 19th century hardwood boxes, we think we have done the right thing by our home, giving it back the good looks of its youth, and allowing it to see clearly again at last!


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10 thoughts on “Real Renovations: If eyes are the windows to our soul…

  1. You’ve definitely gone for the right solution. Windows can make or break a room so I think they are definitely worth spending the extra on. Plus, think of all the savings you’ll make on the gas bills! Looking forward to curtain updates.

    Anna xx

  2. Ooh I have exactly the same problem in my Edwardian flat, you can see the curtains blowing around from the cold air that seeps in! The sash bay window was the reason I wanted the flat in the first place and I would definitely want to keep the originals and do something sympathetic like you have done, especially as we have stained glass panels in the top.

    I don’t know if you’ve said but do you live in London? I would love to find someone who could give us a quote for this kind of work.

    • I was just about to ask the same thing! The before photograph could have been our house, it’s spookily similar, and we really do need to do something about it. Any tips on suppliers/tradespeople would be very much appreciated.

      Love this series Jessica, looking forward to future updates.

  3. I’ve waited until sitting at home to read this post as it’s just what we’re going to have to do. Though we’ve put off thinking about it for the time being and looking at wallpaper samples!

  4. Very very jealous of your gorgeous windows – We have a 30’s semi and they are just not pretty! Definitely think you have done the right thing by restoring them. H2B is currently sanding down the internal paint of our bedroom windows and its taking ages but we are determined to not do a half hearted job! Wish we could get the builders in but with a wedding to pay for its not an option 🙁
    Rachie xo

  5. Thanks everyone, it’s good to hear you are enjoying the posts.

    To Jennycake and Gemma, our house is in Manchester and a company called North West Sash Windows did the fantastic restoration for us. If you aren’t in this part of the country though I would asvise getting a few quotes from different companies or even better get a recommendation from a neighbour perhaps that has already had the work done.

    I wasnt sure where to start looking though and without any personal recommendations I looked on the Internet to find the right people to do ours. I invited three people to quote for the job but in the end it was their enthusiasm for the job and passion for restoration over replacement that made me choose one company over the others, and they didn’t disappoint.

    To Rachie, I admire your courage in taking the project on yourselves, and I am sure it will be even more satisfying when they are restored to their former glory, knowing that you and your H2B have done it yourselves. Good luck!


  6. After 7 years in our home we’ve finally just finished replacing all of the windows we originally inherited. The back of the house has been done in upvc but we waited and saved in order to put timber framed double glazed units at the front.

    As Jessica says, you should most definitely shop around. We found that a local carpenter was almost half the price of the double glazing company for exactly the same timber framed units.

  7. We are just about to move into a house with beautiful sash windows. A ball park cost would be handy to know, as we hadn’t even thought about the need to do anything to them except gaze at their prettiness.

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