The Sloping Block Professor

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What Windows are Best for Your New Home?

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When raising the topic of windows, the important thing to keep in mind is: it’s a seriously important decision that can either return to bite you or keep you comfy for many a long year to come.  Choice of windows deserves a lot more attention than it usually receives, no matter whether your block is flat or on a slope; however the importance of windows on a sloping block goes up a whole other level. 

Let’s look at materials: What are the choices?  There are several types of windows, and typically they are either timber or aluminium.  There are advantages with each.  There is an aesthetic appeal to timber windows, and they are generally considered the superior product.  They have the option of a clear timber finish, or can be stained or fully painted.  With aluminium, you are limited to one of many powder coating options.

 On the other hand, Aluminium will usually outlast timber windows, particularly if you do not religiously maintain them.   Don’t even consider timber if you are not prepared to maintain the painted or stained finish regularly.  What is “regularly?”  It depends on the finish. If it is a clear finish you are looking at annual maintenance; if it is a good quality modern acrylic paint, look at every 5 to 6 years.  If you think you can install beautiful timber windows and forget about them, they will definitely come back to bite you. 

For most people, powder-coated aluminium is the best choice, because in today’s busy lifestyle, we don’t want to do any more maintenance on our homes than is necessary. 

Next Question: What type of window?  When it comes to what type of window: sliding window, awning window, casement window or double hung windows, this comes down to personal choice and cost.  From the simple perspective of installation, the cheapest option is sliding windows, and the most expensive is double hung windows.  The most practical option without a doubt, is an awning window; these have a top hinge and wind out from the bottom. 

Why the boost for awning windows?  The beauty of awning windows is their seal.  They have positive seals, as in the open-able part of the window has a rubber seal on it, so there is no draught.  Sliding windows are not sealed owing to the nature of the sliding mechanism.  The bottom track has to be open to the atmosphere in order to allow water to drain away.  As a consequence, particularly in windy conditions, you get a fair bit of the outside atmosphere inside your house.  In this day of energy consciousness, whether those atmospheric conditions are hot or cold, this is not a good solution. 

What about casement or double hung windows? This comes down to personal preference, depending on your sense of style and fashion.  They both have excellent sealing qualities but because of their complex mechanical nature, they are more expensive. 

All of these options are available in both aluminium and timber, although the timber will be more expensive.  The best value for money in our book is an aluminium awning window.   

Why do I need to think about windows?  Knowledge, my friend, is power.  It gives you choices, and those choices will impact the ongoing comfort of your home.  When talking to builders in general, standard inclusions only include sliding aluminium windows.  When you want to upgrade, you will be spending more money to put in any other form of window, however, a little money now could mean a great deal of money over the years to come.    

To double-glaze or not to double-glaze, that is the question.   Up until about 5 years ago, double glazing was perceived as a prohibitively expensive luxury in Australia.  Times have changed.  Like anything, as more manufacturers come on board, the price goes down.  Double glazing has reached a point where it’s possible to buy good quality aluminium Australian-made awning windows for a very reasonable price.  Taking the example of a 250 metre square home, it will cost on average only 4000 dollars to upgrade the windows from standard single glazed sliding aluminium, to double glazed awning aluminium.  If you take into consideration that the (highly recommended) upgrade from sliding to awning will already cost 2000 dollars, the true cost of double glazing is only a couple thousand. 

A Couple unreasonable options: For the record, double glazed sliding windows are generally not available because of lack of a positive seal, unless you are looking at a commercial grade which is not justifiable for a residential home.  Some of you may have heard of the advantages of PVC windows, but the costs are extremely high as they are supplied by small import organisations that only supply the private market.  In some parts of the world that 28000 odd dollars may be justified, but considering that even double glazed windows are a recent innovation in Australia, your budget could be put to better use. 

But those Double Glazed Windows cost as much as… as… my Caesar-stone bench tops!  With 90% of my customers, the first words on the tip of their tongue are Caesar-stone Bench tops. (Caesar-stone has become synonymous with any synthetic stone option).  They are currently fashionable, and considered de rigueur for any classy kitchen.  However, remember that the cost of these bench tops is typically between 3.5 to 5000 dollars depending on the kitchen.  And what does a stone bench top give you, other than an absolute guarantee that if you drop a glass or plate, it will break?  I have heard many justifications of Caesar-stone: better for rolling out pastry… easier to clean… longer lasting.  The fact is it’s fashionable.  Modern laminates, included in the builder’s standard price, are durable, easy to clean, almost impossible to damage… and anecdotal research reveals they hold their own on the pastry front too. 

Despite these facts, Caesar-stone bench tops remain a non-negotiable item for most.  Yet, when I ask “have you considered double glazed windows?” it goes over like a lead balloon. 

Double glazed windows will pay for themselves.  In just three to five years, the reductions in heating and cooling costs will mean the windows have paid their own way.  They reduce heating costs enormously.  Everyone needs to put in blinds or curtains to cover windows, to keep out light and heat.  If you have double glazed windows, you only need to control light, rather than heat loss or heat gain.  This means a much lighter grade of window furnishings, to the point that these savings alone could balance out the total cost of your windows. 

Double glazed windows allow you to better utilise your house, where you place furniture or where you sit.  You can merrily sit by the window whether the day be cold or hot.  In reality, most standard Australian homes wind up with places that are no-go zones, purely because of the heat gain/loss associated with single glazed windows. 

So if your budget is such that you think you can’t afford double glazing, at least put them into the living areas.  Bedrooms are a night-time experience, and you can insulate yourself with a doona.  The exception to this is the master bedroom, because they often at the front of the house, nearer to street noise.   

The acoustic performance of double glazed windows is wildly superior.  If you live in a situation where you have traffic, if you’re close to a school or sports area, or car or crowd noise of any kind, (or even just noisy neighbours) then the benefits of double glazed windows are immeasurable.  We’re talking sanity.  On that basis alone, double glazed windows are something you should absolutely consider. 

You may not be able to change your orientation to face North but anyone can put in double glaze windows. It isn’t rare on a sloping block, that there are sensational views to the South or West.  Orientation for your home becomes a problem.   A lot of South facing windows would mean a very cold home in winter, and in the case of West facing, it would be hot in summer UNLESS you incorporate double glazing and insulate yourself from that problem.  If you have South-facing windows in common living areas, you shouldn’t consider any other window option.  And of course, even if you have a perfectly oriented house with all the windows facing North in sitting areas, the benefits of double glazed windows remain. 

Double glaze windows are a massive selling point.   One of the reasons I hear for Caesar-stone benches, is the resale value.  Believe me, double glazed windows are a far better selling point.  This is because most people will happily call a stone mason and change the bench-tops.  But they don’t tend to see changing windows as a practical solution.  So while in our opinion you should be building a house for your own requirements rather than resale, double glazed windows will have far more impact than fashion driven items such as bench tops and glass splash-backs. 

Still can’t afford double glazing?  Oh, come on!  You could literally change the windows of an existing home from single glazed to double glazed for less than the cost of what you would pay an agent to sell it.  Fashion is only today.  You may find yourself putting tiles over glass, or replacing stone with stainless steel, but your choice of windows is essential to what makes your house feel safe, comfortable, home.   

Do you value integrity, communication and superb quality throughout the building process? Do you have a question about your block or dream home?  John Kearney is a Melbourne Building Design and Construction Consultant who has been in the building industry for over 20 years.  He is passionate about giving people a cost effective alternative to building in the areas they love, and specialises in solutions for difficult and sloping blocks. Find out more at http://slopingblocksolutions.com.au/  Tweet with John at SBSBuilder and Like his Facebook page to get tips, updates and a bit of humour!

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