Repair of counter-window

Casement or sash, with 4, 6 or 12 tiles, the traditional wooden window contributes to the character of an old building. But when it comes time to repair or change wooden windows, can PVC or aluminum windows prove to be happy alternatives? No, and for several reasons! – FRANCOIS VARIN

The wooden window, eco-friendly and durable

Casement or sash, with 4, 6 or 12 tiles, the traditional wooden window contributes to the character of an old building. But when it comes time to repair or change wooden windows, can PVC or aluminum windows prove to be happy alternatives? No, and for several reasons! – FRANCOIS VARIN

More and more people are concerned about making more “green” gestures. In this context, the wooden window should win popular favor, since this material, in addition to being durable, turns out to be environmentally friendly. The same cannot be said for vinyl (or PVC), made of polluting chemical compounds that are difficult to reconcile with the notions of environmental protection and sustainable development.

Obviously, the window must first be well designed, waterproof and functional. As long as they are made by competent carpenters, wooden windows are quality products. And contrary to popular belief, it will be necessary to pay as much for a PVC window as for a wooden window of equivalent quality.

Wood also has an insulating capacity superior to PVC or aluminum – the latter offers no resistance to heat loss.

Traditional windows are composed of an interior window and a counter-window on the outside, which makes them a set with great insulating qualities: two thicknesses of wood (the frames) and an insulating air space between the window and the counter-window. It has been shown that this composition is as effective as a thermos glass window, which has only one wooden frame. The latter is subjected to extreme temperatures on both sides and ages quickly.

The window constitutes the weak link of the envelope of a building. Regardless of the material, the heat passes through the window frame and the glazing. The air space between the panes helps to reduce this loss significantly. A single glass allows almost 45% more heat to pass through than a double thermos glass, where the air gap between the two panes is 1.25 to 1.88 cm (1/2 to 3/4 of an inch). The same applies substantially to the window and counter-window assembly.

In a house, the windows, their number and their dimensions contribute closely to our quality of life. They allow a contribution of natural light essential to our well-being. However, we must accept this observation: first and foremost, we lose heat through the openings, which will never be able to offer a thermal insulation coefficient as high as the walls.

Change or repair?

Considering this state of affairs, we must think seriously before replacing our windows. This option should only be chosen if the windows in place are severely deteriorated and no longer offer good thermal resistance. If the window and counter-window assembly is rather well preserved, the repair would be more advantageous, because new windows will not be able to significantly improve the energy performance.

The original wooden windows can be repaired cheaply. Often, only certain secondary parts need repairs: the bottom cross member, the shelf, the bottom of the frames. The structural frame and the moving parts are rarely affected.

The original wooden window can be restored to its original qualities by replacing some rotten or deteriorated sections, by caulking the points of contact between the frame and the frame of the opening, by repairing the putty of the windows and by installing weatherstripping on the inner side in the appropriate places, according to the movement of the moving parts.

The windows can also be stripped. Once the wood has been exposed, it will be protected with a condom against rot, followed by a coat of primer and two coats of the desired color. It is also in this way that it is necessary to correct the paint that flakes, cracks or begins to look like chalk, to prevent water and moisture from entering the wood, which will cause it to rot.

Why replace windows when simple works can restore them to good condition inexpensively? Repairing and conserving, this is an approach in line with the concept of sustainable development.

If the change of windows turns out to be the only solution, it must be planned well, because it can have major consequences on the appearance of the house. The important thing is to respect the materials, the original dimensions, the mode of operation of the windows and their color.

The wood, beautiful and resistant

The wooden window offers a lot of possibilities for the realization of design and assembly details. A competent carpenter will be able to repair the deteriorated windows or replace them, if necessary, with windows that take up the same design detail, the same dimensions and the same mode of operation.

The standard aluminum window will hardly adjust to the original dimensions of the openings; only a custom-made manufacture will allow to maintain the original dimensions. Some details will be expensive or impossible to reproduce, not to mention that the metal is a conductor of cold and will not offer a sufficient thermal coefficient.

With the vinyl window made of different profiles assembled at the corners, it will be difficult to respect certain characteristic details unless you put the price on it. The dimensions being standardized, the installation of the window will be done inside the existing wooden frame, which will reduce the area of the window, and therefore the contribution of natural light. The space between the uprights and the upper cross member of the new window and the original wooden frame will have to be filled in using PVC panels without molding which will modify the appearance of the window and reduce the brightness.

If the vinyl window offers a lower cold conductivity than the aluminum one, we can wonder about the durability of this product made of plastics that, over the years, deteriorate and cannot be repaired.

Because yes, the performance of a window must be evaluated over the long term. The wooden window offers the best value for money, if we rely on its durability (when it is well maintained) and its thermal qualities. The cellular structure of wood makes it a poor conductor of heat, hence its recognized performance in thermal and acoustic insulation. In addition, under the action of freezing and thawing cycles, wood works much less than aluminum and PVC. Aluminum and PVC windows will therefore require more frequent caulking interventions.

It’s true, the wooden window requires rigorous maintenance if we want to maximize its lifespan. But with the new, more effective dyes and paints, this maintenance is made easier. At the end of the day, the wooden window remains an incomparable aesthetic and ecological solution.

François Varin is an architect. Collaboration of Continuity magazine .

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