A Plague of Plastic

The sliding box sash window plays a very big role in England´s architectural heritage, with their timeless looks and elegance they grace many of England´s most iconic buildings. Their existence spans over 300 years but in recent years they have been replaced by poor quality pvc-u/plastic windows. Many conservation groups and organisations have how given this trend its own name “A Plague of Plastic”.

Double glazing companies have tried for years to come up with replicas to match original traditional sash windows and I think they should give up the ghost as it is impossible to replicate the style and profiles of traditional wood sash windows in pvc-u/plastic (un-plasticized polyvinyl chrolide).

Pvc-u/plastic windows are sold as “low maintenance” or even “maintenance free” but that should be translated as “unserviceable” and after a few years most will be obsolete and a complete replacement will be needed.

Common problems with pvc-u/plastic sash windows are:
  1. In the sunshine the colours fade and chalk.

  2. Rubber seals and gaskets around the window perish and degrade.

  3. Members to the window twist and joints open and crack.

  4. Spring balances, friction stays and hinges fail and sometimes can be impossible to replace leaving the window unusable.

  5. If a pvc-u/plastic window gets damaged it is not possible to repair or restore the window.

None of the above problems apply with traditional Box Sash Windows. They can be repaired and restored using traditional carpentry and joinery techniques and using the latest modern materials ensures a permanent solution. On a plastic window you can’t remove a damaged section and replace it with a new section matching the existing profile, you just have to grin and bear it and this is one reason why they are unserviceable.

PVC is cellular in construction, this means it is assembled in parts similar to a jigsaw whilst wood on the other hand is planed and machined and constructed using the methods of master craftsmen. Plastic window designs have improved slightly in recent years but they still cannot replicate a wooden sash window and cannot run on the simple but highly effective pulley, sash cord and counter balance weight system.

What windows stand the test of time?

Traditional sash windows have stood the test of time. Early sash windows from the late 17th century are still in working order today. Examples can be found at Ham House in Richmond, Surrey and in the grounds of Hampton Court in London. They still look as beautiful today as they did when originally fitted.

Could the same be said about pvc-u/plastic windows?

London streets are plagued with ugly unsightly double glazed windows from the 70, 80s and 90s. The shear designs are outdated after only a few years, this alone is good enough reason to stay clear of the temptation of fitting pvc-u/plastic windows. We have seen a growing trend over the last few years with homeowners opting to restore their windows and at the same time update them with the latest draught proofing systems, giving their home the look and feel it once had with added energy performance.

Repair and restoration should always be the first option. Keeping these treasures of the past is a must as windows are one of the greatest features of any home. The timber used in older wooden windows is of the highest quality as it is a seasoned timber and the joinery methods in the construction are still used today. Another main reason to keep your original window is the glass. The imperfections in original glass are what gives a window its character and adds to its overall beauty.

Common misconceptions about sash windows:

1. Traditional sash windows are always draughty and likely to rattle!

Draught proofing for sash windows has improved over the last 10 years with the development of discrete hidden systems that can be fitted to a sash window. If fitted correctly they will eliminate draughts and rattles and give the top and bottom sash a smooth opening and closing movement.

2. I can´t open the top sash to my window without a ladder!

By fitting a simple pulley system (Meakins system) to the top sash it can then be opened and closed from floor level by pulling wooden handles attached to the cords of the pulley system.

3. Upvc has better installation properties than wood!

This is actually incorrect as wood has far better installation properties than upvc.

Save your traditional box sash windows and preserve the integrity and charm of your property as well as a piece of England´s architectural heritage.