Some products are just difficult to improve. For instance, take the common wood pencil. No matter how much you spend on mechanics, fancy graphite or plastic casings, there are times when nothing performs quite like a good, solid wood pencil. And guys, how about a quality shave with a straight razor? One can purchase the latest six-bladed, gel-infused cartridge, but nothing can compete with a professional close shave with a straight razor sitting in a barber’s chair – as long as you really trust the barber. Until a few months ago, I was fairly convinced that there was another product that could be added to this list of basic, proven and dependable items that innovation should avoid –the classic design of the double-hung sash window.
The initial development of the double-hung sash window was, and still remains, brilliant. Developed in Great Britain during the 17thCentury, the window’s early design actually counters gravity, allows two adjustable areas of air flow from the top and bottom of the window, can be built to fit almost any sized opening, allows for ease of screen installation and does not project from the building’s wall. The historic double-hung window can generally be repaired over and over again for generations, perhaps making it the most economical window in human history. To this day, they are still the most common type of window used in both new construction and in renovations. Historic double-hung windows that are maintained, will literally last hundreds of years.
While still an amazing architectural component, the double-hung is not perfect. No architectural element can claim perfection. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright even referred to them as “guillotine windows,” during his unapologetic promotion of casement windows. And, while double-hung windows are dependable and have a classic appeal, they do not fit every building type and obviously do not serve every need to fill an opening in a wall. The view out the window tends to get blocked by muntins that separate individual panes of window glass. The bottom and top rails of each sash do have a way of also obstructing the view through the window. While having ventilation at the top and bottom of the window opening is quite nice, there are times when a builder, architect or homeowner needs to have the entire space free of any obstruction at all for a variety of reasons; in other words, there are times when the entire window opening needs to be . . . well . . . open. But, how could one achieve a classic look of a double-hung sash window, while at the same time offering a full opening?
Heartwood Windows recently released a product that does just that. The FoldUp Window was invented, designed and manufactured right here in western New York at Heartwood, a division of Rochester Colonial Manufacturing. The look is incredibly traditional, built of traditional material, but this window folds up “from the middle,” doubling the opened space and not diminishing the area of usable living space in a given room. On numerous occasions I’ve seen hinges on top of a single-sash window that was built to resemble a double-hung. Those windows were generally large, bulky and cumbersome to operate. They usually were unlocked at the bottom, rotated on top-mounted hinges and were somehow hooked into place on the room’s ceiling. These FoldUp windows, however, are different. There still exists, technically, two sashes that operate, but they operate by rotating where the sashes are joined together on the rails, instead of sliding. There are no hooks on ceilings and no hinges on the top of the window. I should also mention that these windows could have the potential to also solve building code egress issues that can be common hindrances in traditional design (the need to have a large enough opening to quickly vacate a space). The window is a double-hung with a twist.
I am a preservationist. I will always be in love with the traditional, historic double-hung window – its look and its operation. I do not support replacing the quality historic window. I will never waiver from my staunch defense of preserving the historic wood window on the grounds of not only aesthetics, but also economics. However, I do see some possible benefits with the new FoldUp window in certain circumstances; perhaps most notably in new construction that seeks compatibility with the old. I can also envision well-designed additions to historic buildings possibly taking a look at these windows . . . sunrooms, porches, etc. Restaurants, wanting that classic look and feel, but also desiring to bring in the outdoors to their customers might find these windows to be a viable option.
For the right purpose, these windows could be the right answer. It is refreshing to see innovation that has a real purpose behind it, as opposed to innovation as a marketing tool. Does Heartwood’s FoldUp window replace the traditional and historic double-hung? Not at all. But, does it make creative modifications that might have merit? Absolutely. As with any new product, time will be of the essence in determining how the product performs over the course of its lifespan. And, as is customary, our organization does not endorse any product. So, we do not make any statements endorsing any product’s quality or price. We always encourage the community to do their homework before any purchase or construction project. While time and the longevity of use will be the judge on the overall product’s performance, I do applaud the creativity and ingenuity in its development.
You can check out Heartwood’s new FoldUp Window at their website, by using the following link. Click on “video clip” to see the windows in operation: http://www.heartwoodwindowsanddoors.com/FoldUp.aspx
Written by The Landmark Society of Western New York Executive Director, Wayne Goodman. All photos courtesy of Heartwood Windows.