How House Windows Have Changed Since The First World War

The early twentieth century was a disruptive time for people living in the UK. Not only did the war lead to the wiping out of millions of young men, but new technology was also coming through thick and fast, changing the way that people lived.

One of the most significant changes was in that of window technology. In the Victorian era, industrial glass plate making had made it possible for a single pane of glass to span a large distance, leading to the development of dramatically different styles of window. It was only after the First World War, in the roaring twenties, however, that the average person had access to different styles of windows to suit their home.

The Casement Windows Of The Early Twentieth Century

The popularity of casement windows grew dramatically in the early decades of the twentieth century. Homeowners liked the fact that they opened on a swing mechanism and provided excellent ventilation compared to some of the double-hung windows that preceded them.

Casement windows were also seen as less formal, meaning that there wasn’t a need to decorate them in the traditional styles. For many, they were a blank canvas, allowing them to experiment with their own decorative options and display muntin patterns.

Muntins themselves changed considerably during the early years of the twentieth century and were used extensively to develop the character and charm of a building. The impact was so high that Irene Sargent, a writer in The Craftsman magazine, said that the characteristic feature of the English home was the “muntined window” with quaint shutters.

Updated Ahistorical Sash Windows Of The 1920s and 1930s

Although the sash window was a feature of stately Georgian homes and Victorian tenements, it was evident by the 1890s that it was falling out of fashion. People wanted window styles that provided them with more options are were easier to manage. Cleaning and maintaining sash windows was a hassle.

In the era immediately after the war, manufacturers realized that they could improve the quality of sash windows with new techniques that made single pane windows possible. Not only did this make sash windows cheaper to manufacture, but it also made them distinctly ahistorical, giving homeowners more room to manoeuvre when it came to style.

Homeowners, for instance, became increasingly interested in adding decorative patterns of their own to the top of their sash windows and experimented with small lights above a single large light below. It was a kind of compromise between the ornate designs of the post-Enlightenment world and the simplicity that current economic conditions demanded.

The Windows Of The 1950s

The windows of the early twentieth century provided homeowners with a higher number of more affordable options to glaze their houses. But as the UK approached the middle of the century, the events of the Second World War changed everything. After the war, there was a need to rebuild, and many planners saw this as an opportunity to build modernistic buildings with daring new layouts. The idea was to create fully functional communities from scratch, totally overhauling the urban landscape.

Windows changed considerably. As the hold housing stock was swept away, designers began incorporating larger, single-pane casement windows, both in terraced estates and tower blocks. The lack of labour following the war meant that most of the windows made in the country came from the same small set of factories, and were often wood or metal-framed.

During this period, windows became increasingly reliant on sealant, rather than design features, to keep moisture out. Sealant was a quick fix, allowing builders to put up new homes quickly, without having to go through the usual time-consuming window installation process.

The Double Glazing Revolution Of The 1980s

Double glazing technology first became available in the 1970s. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that it took off with a vengeance.

Early double glazing was, surprisingly, made of aluminium, not the UPVC plastic of today. Homeowners used aluminium glazing to make their sliding doors more economical and to keep heat in their homes.

During the 1980s, manufacturers in Germany and the UK began churning out plastic double-glazed varieties of windows to improve on the poor performance of aluminium as a thermal break. Plastic was able to keep the heat in much better. Aluminium-framed windows also had an annoying tendency of accumulating condensation during the winter months. Cold temperatures outdoors would cool aluminium frames, making them a magnet for condensation when cooking. More condensation meant a higher risk of mould growth. Plastic frames, on the other hand, were better natural insulators, staying relatively warm compared to their metal counterparts in winter months.

It wasn’t all good news, though, for early UPVC windows. One of the main issues was the poor security offered by cockspur handles. Early handles were not lockable and only bolted the window shut at a single point. Lockspur handles were much less secure than door locks of the time despite providing a similar function.

As the 1980s wore on, manufacturers began to emulate window styles of the past in plastic. It was now possible to recreate Georgian style windows with UPVC, which was, at first sight, a shock for many. Moulded UPVC could also replicate the grain of wood, replacing not only windows but doors too.

Internally-Glazed Windows And Better Security After 1990

The 1990s was undoubtedly the era which brought window-making technology into the modern era. Before the 1990s, most window manufacturers offered externally glazed windows where the glazing beads were on the outside of the frame. Not only did this not look particularly good, but external beads were also highly prone to damage from the weather. It was not an ideal solution. During the 1990s, however, new manufacturing techniques brought the bead inside the frame, giving birth to the so-called internally glazed window. It was a significant improvement over the previous design, but windows were by no means perfected by this point.

One of the main issues throughout the 1990s and 2000s were the black gaskets to keep water out of the window’s interior. Black gaskets contrasted with the white panels of the windows which some people found undesirable from a style perspective. Manufacturers, therefore, began experimenting with white gaskets but ran into trouble. White gaskets had an annoying habit of attracting black mould, making them unsightly. People, therefore, switched back to black, believing that it would hide the problem better.

The 2000s also saw improvements in Georgian bars. People wanted a more realistic Georgian appearance for their windows, and the 2000s began to make that seem like a real possibility.

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Disguising UPVC From 2010 Onwards

It was evident by the end of the noughties that people wanted the benefits of UPVC, but not the look. They’d put up with the ugliness in favour of lower heating bills and better insulation for a long time, but by 2010, they’d had enough. Surely companies could do better?

Manufacturers of UPVC windows began experimenting in the same way as some vinyl flooring companies had been doing. The goal was to make their products look as similar to historical materials as possible. Before long, manufacturers were creating UPVC windows that looked just like their wood-framed predecessors with detailed graining and convincing knots in the “timber” with double or triple glazing.

UPVC windows also began arriving in a variety of colours, not just the quintessential white that people had become used to expecting. The result of this evolution was something quite different from what many imagined. UPVC hasn’t created a new style in its own right. Instead, it’s allowed homeowners to get the benefits of plastic windows while at the same time, harking back to older designs.

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