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Sash Windows: The Ultimate Guide

sash windows
(Image credit: Cornish Gems)

Windows can make or break a house and sash windows are no different. Sash windows need to work well from both a functional point of view as well as an aesthetic one. 

There are lots of factors to consider when it comes to installing and caring for sash windows, from restoring frames and how to incorporate modern glazing, to replacing frames in a material that is faithful to the period. 

However, when all these factors come together, sash windows can really enhance a traditional-style self build or conversion and completely transform a run-down renovation project.   

(MORE: Window Styles)

Sash windows provide an unparalleled glimpse into past traditions. Sadly, however,  it is all too common to see designs that have not been matched to the correct period or originals that have been ripped out when they could be saved — and this can affect character and charm of the house as a whole.

An inherent part of British architectural history, any styled property from the 17th to 19th centuries would be lacking without sash windows; if you’re renovating a Georgian, Regency or Victorian property, or building a new home inspired by these periods, sash windows should be top of your shopping list.

(MORE: Get a tailored quote for your sash windows)

What is a Sash Window?

The word ‘sash’ refers to a single frame for glazing. The sash sits inside the frame, which is fixed to the house. In a casement window the sash opens via a crank handle, while a traditional double-hung sash window features two sashes that slide up and down.

sash windows

Reinstating or repairing original sash windows is the best way to ensure character in a period property. Westbury Joinery(Image credit: Westbury Joinery)

How Do Sash Windows Work?

Sash windows work by balancing the sash with a counter-weight of steel, cast-iron or leaden weight hung on a cord which is concealed within a hollow box frame. 

Insulation can be retrofitted into these pockets in older windows. This classic design is most commonly found in Georgian and Victorian properties, but can also been seen (with some variations) in late Victorian and Edwardian houses.

A very popular variation includes horizontally sliding sash windows, also known as Yorkshire sash windows or ‘slider’ windows. This design actually pre-dates the vertical sash and although they use the same sliding mechanism, one of the sashes is usually fixed in place.

renovated cottage with sash windows

The sashes in this renovated cottage in Yorkshire are horizontally sliding  (Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

Different Styles of Sash Window

sash windows

Different eras brought different configurations of sash window — the number of panes in each sash changed according to the period of the house. The are Edwardian style sash windows from Lomax + Wood(Image credit: Lomax + Wood)

When fitting replacement sash windows in an older property, or choosing new sash windows for a period-style self-build, it is crucial to get the time period right. There were several developments and style changes over the years. 

Sash windows traditionally consist of a number of small panes, or ‘lights’. These are held together by glazing bars – astragal bars – to create a larger glazed area. This is because glass technology at the time didn’t allow for very large expanses of clear glazing. 

The period of the house will dictate the number of panes in each sash separated by astragal bars:

  • Georgian: The ‘six over six’ style is quintessentially Georgian, although larger ‘eight over eight’ windows were also common
  • Victorian: ‘Two over two’ reigned supreme in Victorian times, but many other configurations can be also found through the whole period. This included sash windows with just a single light, as well as the inclusion of sidelights 
  • Edwardian: Typically ‘six over two’ panes was most common, but, as with the Victorian era, the Edwardians saw variations in style

two-over-two sash windows

As is typical of Victorian buildings, this extended terrace has ‘two-over-two’ sash windows (Image credit: Jody Stewart)

Other variations in sash style include: 

  • Venetian windows which consist of a central sliding sash between two fixed panes either side
  • The Queen Anne Revival styles incorporates several panes in the upper sash but just one or two in the lower
  • Sashes were often arched instead of rectangular in Regency or Gothic revival periods, and it some regions it is popular to have horizontally-sliding sashes

Can a Sash Window be Replaced?

triple glazed sash windows

If the window frames are beyond repair, Green Building Store offer triple-glazed energy-efficient replacements (Image credit: Green Building Store)

Whilst sash windows can be replaced, whether you’re updating your existing home or taking on a period renovation project, be careful not to make the mistake of removing period timber sashes that could be saved. 

Where they can be restored and waterproofed, it is always worth holding onto the original windows.

However, if the windows are beyond repair or if there aren’t any left in place, many companies manufacture authentic replacements.

Should I Repair or Replace my Sash Window?

Most issues with timber windows can be fixed, including foggy windows, rotten frames and sticking sashes and a professional will be able to assist in making the decision in whether to salvage or replace but ultimately, the decision to keep original sash windows is down to customer preference and budget.

Benefits of repairing where possible: 

  • House retains original charm and character
  • Homeowners benefit from improved thermal performance with double glazing and draught proofing if the box frame is retained and glazing is replaced
  • Original timber is generally of better quality than the products we can purchase today
  • Properly repaired timber windows can last another 100 years with a bit of care and attention

Case Study: Replacing PVC Windows with Sash Windows

This cottage in Powys had ill-fitting PVCu windows which detracted from its original character so the owners chose to fit replacement sash windows.

old plastic casement windows

Before: These plastic casement windows didn’t suit the style or age of the property  (Image credit: Simon Maxwell)

newly installed windows

After: The newly installed sash windows have been colour matched to tie both the roof to the old cottage and the new glass link extension (Image credit: Simon Maxwell)

How Much Does it Cost to Repair a Sash Window?

Glazing can be replaced in sash windows and if the original frames are in good condition, single-glazed panels can be upgraded to slim double-glazed units. Also new sashes can be fitted into existing frames for which sash window repair specialists Ventrolla estimate around from £1,000 per window. 

For the complete replacement of sash window, cost will depend on specification (glazing types, choice of timber and any special feature of detailing required). You can expect to pay approx. from £1,750 per window.

(MOREWindow Repair: What’s Involved and How Much Does it Cost?)

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Installing new sash windows into an existing house or in a traditional-style self-build will generally be a more expensive job that than having casements fitted, but the extra cost for added character or a realistic recreation is usually worth it. 

As with most windows, uPVC sash windows are cheapest, but lack the finish of traditional timber.

Arts and Crafts house with sash windows

The low cills and large frames of this self-build help to create the illusion of the house being older than it actually is, something that wouldn’t have been achieved quite so well without sash windows (Image credit: Simon Maxwell)

Do Sash Windows Need a Lot of Maintenance?

Any style of timber window needs regular maintenance to hold on to their good looks and to work well over the years. That said, modern stains and other products can help reduce the frequency of this. 

More complex jobs will benefit from the services of a professional, but there are some jobs that can be done on a DIY basis.

(MOREWindow Repair Guide)

Minor cracking or flaking in paintwork is a common issue which should be looked at every five or so years for external paintwork. As the paint protects the timber beneath, keeping a firm eye on any deterioration will ensure the frames won’t rot or swell.

How to Repaint Sash Windows

  1. Sand the frames to remove the loose pain, taking care to clean and remove dust
  2. Apply a primer and undercoat
  3. Start by painting the mullions, working from the top down, and then move to the frame (again from top to bottom).
  4. Ensure two coats of pain are applied

contemporary sash windows

By repairing their sash windows and refurbishing them to suit a contemporary style, the homeowners of this period home have retained it’s character and charm (Image credit: Ventrolla)

Glazing putty works as a sealant to secure panes into a frame or sash. Unfortunately, putty can be damaged by sunlight and if the affected area is so severe just filling in the gaps won’t fix the issues, replacing the putty may be the only option.

  1. Remove cracked or affected putty and allow wood to dry out
  2. Paint with a little linseed oil and allow to dry
  3. Apply new putty, following the existing lines and taking care not to go over as this can be unsightly from inside the house.

To prevent sticking or jamming, frequently check hinges, locks and catches. Using beeswax or tallow to the edges of the frames will assist a smooth run.

Using draught strips or brush seals can fix any minor pesky draughts, but haps between frames and surrounding masonry might need to be sealed with silicone or pointed with weak mortar.

contemporary furnishings with sash windows

Sash windows work well with both contemporary and traditional styles, so where restoring and maintaining is an option, it is worth the added effort (Image credit: DelightFULL)

What Material is Best for a Replacement Sash Window?

For traditionalists or for those living in a Conservation Area or listed building, genuine timber sash windows are likely to be the first (and only) choice. Sadly, plastic cannot achieve the same tactile effect and it can be hard to achieve the finer, more delicate details.

  • Durable
  • An excellent insulator
  • Long lasting (if properly maintained)
  • Modern finishes are available in most paint colours and stains. Modern developments also mean that timber windows are no longer high maintenance

PVCu (sometimes seen as uPVC) is often used as a substitute for painted wood. Though most commonly seen in white, it comes in a wide range of colours and finishes, including a photo-effect wood finish. However, if you live in a conservation area or in a listed building, changing to plastic sash windows will most likely be frowned upon. 

  • Low maintenance
  • Energy efficient (but not sustainable as they cannot be recycled)
  • Cheaper than timber (PVCu can cost around 40% less)
  • Better quality models are more attractive and hard-wearing but difficult to repair
  • Conservationists are, in the majority, opposed to plastic windows

It is becoming popular for sash windows to be composite in their construction. Newer products offer timber on the interior with aluminium cladding on the exterior.

  • They retain the classic look of wood on the inside
  • Outside are extremely low-maintenance
  • Able to withstand all weathers

timber sash windows

Timber windows are second to none and can last decades if properly maintained (Image credit: Ventrolla)

Can Sash Windows be Double Glazed? 

Whilst it is possible to fit single glazed units on many sympathetic restorations, modern building regulations make it near impossible to have single glazed windows on a new house and there are many new timber products with double glazed sash designs.

Growing concerns about the energy efficiency of period properties might also steer you in the direction of replacing single panes with double when renovating. While it is possible, it needs close attention to be sure the delicate look of a sash window is not lost in modernisation. 

Dividing up small units of double glazing with thick bars tends to look clumsy, but there are ways to effectively recreate fine glazing bars. The best way is to bond mock bars onto either side of a single double glazed unit. You could also incorporate spacer bars between the glass sheets, at a higher cost, to add to the effect.

sash windows

While working on an older renovation project, it is usually worthwhile taking a look into improving energy-efficiency where possible, including investigating replacing single panes with double glazing (Image credit: Loaf)

Triple glazed options are available in these traditional styles, but as with all triple glazed windows, it might come at a premium. However, modern triple glazing could be seen as no longer carrying the cost stigma that was attached for the last couple of decades. This is in the majority due to triple glazed windows being manufactured in mainland Europe where it is much more mainstream.

(MORETriple Glazed Windows)