It is as important to think about the function of a sash window as much as the style. From restoring frames and incorporating modern glazing to replacing in a material faithful to the period, there’s a lot to consider. When material, cost and mechanism are carefully thought out, sash windows can enhance a traditional-style self build or conversion and transform a run-down renovation project.   

They provide an unparalleled glimpse into past traditions but when designs are not matched to the correct period or originals are ripped out when they could be saved, it 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, this item should be high on your shopping list.

period style house with sash windows

This Georgian-style self-build features stunning sash windows which help bring style and character to the new property

What Part of a Window is the ‘Sash’?

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

How Does a Sash Window Work?

In basic terms, the window works 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 in these pockets in older windows. This classic design is most commonly found in Georgian and Victorian properties, but can also been seen with variations in late Victorian and Edwardian houses.

A very popular variation includes the horizontally sliding sash, known as a Yorkshire sash or a ‘slider’ window. 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.

traditional yorkshire sliding sash windows

The sashes in this renovated cottage in Yorkshire are horizontally sliding 

Styles of Sash Window

When replacing windows on an older property, or deciding on a design for a period-style home, you must be careful to get the time period right. There were several developments and style changes in sash windows over the years so don’t get caught out. 

Sashes 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 advancements 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
shash windows in victorian terrace house

As is typical of Victorian buildings, this extended terrace has ‘two-over-two’ sash windows

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

(MORE: Window Styles: How to Make the Right Choice)

What is a Sash Window Replacement?

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. 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 replacement.

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: Ventrolla)

When to Replace a 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 
mock sliding sash window

If the window frames are beyond repair, Green Building Store offer triple-glazed energy-efficient replacements

How Much Does It Cost to Replace or Repair a Sash Window?

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

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

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

Are Sash Windows More Expensive?

Installing new sash windows in an existing house or in a traditional-style self-build are generally more expensive than casements, 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

What Material Should I Choose for a Replacement Sash Window?

Timber Sash Windows

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.

  • 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
sash windows on traditional cottage

The homeowners of this 18th-century farmhouse slowly renovated the property and were sure to ensure the charm of the sash windows was not lost

PVCu Sash Windows

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

Composite Sash 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

(MORE: Window Styles: How to Make the Right Choice)

window seat with sash window

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

Can Sash Windows be Double Glazed? 

Although it is possible to install 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.

Triple Glazed Sash Windows

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.

(MORE: Triple Glazed Windows: Do They Make Sense?)

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Comments
  • Clare Wright

    You mention that old sashes can have insulation fitted. What type of insulation and how please? How do you stop the pulley getting caught?

  • Lindsey Davis

    Hello Clare,

    Secondary glazing is a common way to decrease draughts around sashes and increase insulation. These come as panels fitted to the inside of the sash and therefore don’t affect the look from outside. They are also pretty inconspicuous from inside.

    Most are sliding so you can still open the sash in summer for ventilation, and you can also get ones which are fitted with magnets so you can take the panel out altogether if need be.

    This article may help http://www.homebuilding.co.uk/design/choosing-products/doors-windows/secondary-glazing

    Hope this is helpful.

    Thanks,
    Lindsey

  • Clare Wright

    HI, I was referring to where you say "Insulation can be retrofitted in the pockets of older windows" as I have never heard of this being done. Please can you describe the process and what type of insulation to use that won’t cause condensation within the frame? Thanks a lot

  • Lindsey Davis

    Apologies Clare. I misunderstood.

    A sash window or period window specialist will be able to fit insulation in the weight pockets. They use foil faced strips of rigid foam which seal gaps and help reflect heat.They will also re-putty the windows if need be to help make them more draught proof.

    Lindsey

  • Barnaby Dickens

    Many companies now make fully-finished double-glazed sliding sash windows that combine the performance of a modern wood window with the authentic looks of a true period window. This means you can have slim glazing bars, traditional mouldings and horns etc., combined with A energy ratings, long maintenance intervals (generally a minimum of 10 years before the first redecoration) and an expected service life of 60 years. You can have traditional cords and weights, or, if space is an issue, a modern spiral balance. The only compromise is the glass: unlike period glass, modern glass is much smoother; and you can see some depth in the double-glazing. Many think this is a small price to pay for the added comfort. For more info and manufacturer/installers visit http://www.woodwindowalliance.com. Incidentally, the jury is still very much out on slimline double glazing units. Conservation officers often see them as a way out of the argument between climate change and conservation. But they are an expensive option, less energy-efficient than standard units – and more likely to fail. At all costs, avoid fitting any double glazing unit with putty!

  • Lindsey Davis

    Agreed Barnaby, I think we generally advise against trying to fit double-glazing units into old sash windows as the original frames simply weren’t produced to take that depth of glass. If you want to keep the old windows but increase insulation, you’re best to keep the single glazing and insulate the frame, and use secondary glazing for extra measure.

  • Clare Wright

    Barnaby, I hadn’t thought of insulating sash pockets until I read this article. I have sash windows and I am deciding whether to replace with complete new box sashes, or just new sashes in the existing boxes, which would be preferable as would change the look less. But in a new sash do companies put insulation in the sash pockets? My windows have very large sash pockets in places, as there are 3 narrow sash window beside each other, with stone pillars separating on the outside and on the inside there is one big box with the 3 sashes in (25cm of wood between each window). So I think there is a lot of air in there between the weight mechanisms. What would be done if recreating this to insulate it? And if I don’t rip this out what can I do to insulate the gap in the middle between the windows? Thanks

  • Clare Wright

    Also, Lindsey, wouldn’t using foil faced foam against the wood in the sash pocket increase the risk of condensation there as it isn’t a breathable material?

  • Jonathan Buck

    I just stumbled on this old thread because I saw the link to retrofitting insulation to sliding sash windows but am not convinced. I presume the suggestion is to try and affix insulation to the inner and/or outer linings via the sash pockets. Putting aside the problem that any foam type insulation would be restricting the space that the sash weights need to slide up and down in ( the weight boxes- not sash pockets as on the illustration) is anyone really suggesting that it is practicable to insert a foil-backed foam (for example) through the narrow inner and outer sash pockets in the bottom half of the window and get it up into the top half of the window- and then fix it so it stays put? I guess someone who builds ships in bottles could do it. I suggest that the energy saved on this, even if it could be done effectively, would be minimal. At Bradford Woodworkers, we retro fit new double-glazed timber sashes into existing sash windows- provided that the sash boxes are in good condition- along with draught stripping. Because the new sashes are now heavier than the old ones, then heavier, and hence bigger counterbalance weights are required but may not fit through the sash pockets. This can mean using lead instead of cast iron weights as it is denser. If fitting complete new boxed sash windows with spiral sash balances instead of weights, then no pockets are required as the balances are let into the sashes or the frames. The spaces left in the checks (ie rebates) of the masons openings could then be filled with insulation foam.

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