Design & DIY

Why you need to upgrade to modern windows

Why we love modern windows
Maximizes all cottage views (not just the lake); more energy efficient; long-term cost savings; little to no maintenance; noise reduction; better, natural ventilation

For a lot of us, a cottage’s roof and walls exist to protect us from the elements. The windows, however, are the whole point—why spend time at the lake if you can’t spend your days staring at it? 

But if it’s been a while, say 30 years or so, since you last looked at your windows rather than through them, it’s likely time to make a change. “Everything is improving,” says Alain Bourget, a cottager and the senior advisor of communications and marketing with Lepage Millwork in Rivière-du-Loup, Que. And though a lot of variables come into play when you’re considering replacing windows—including the amount of light you want, the humidity of your water body, the direction your windows face, and the condition of the windows that you’re replacing—today’s offerings can save you up to 30 per cent each year in energy costs.

With so many design options available, Scott Robinson, a principal and the director of design with Tillmann Ruth Robinson Architects in Toronto and a cottager on Lake Eugenia, Ont., urges us to look at windows a bit differently: “Think of them as an opportunity to create views and an interior environment,” he says.

Throw some shade
“I look at light as another building material,” says Robinson. “You can use light and shadow to give form to interior space. If you have one expansive glass window, the light just comes in.” More isn’t always better. How we invite light into our cottages, and therefore, where we place windows can help blur the line between interior and exterior. “It’s not just about the quantity of light,” says Robinson, “but the quality.” He suggests that we create a “rhythm,” with our windows. Instead of a large expanse of glass, add in a row of windows with columns separating them. “All of a sudden, you introduce shadows,” he says. “As the day progresses, the shadows expand or shrink and that animates the space a bit.” 

Clerestory windows, those that run above eye level, offer a way to let in ambient light. It creates an intimacy, Robinson says, noting that he added clerestory windows for a cottager’s reading nook to let in light while maintaining a private space. “It also created really nice shadows on the floor at certain times of the day.”

Air apparent
While air conditioning has become a staple in some cottages, Robinson encourages his clients to forgo AC and use windows to maximize lake breezes. Consider how the cottage is oriented on its lot and which direction prevailing winds typically blow. One option is large sliding doors with screens and hinged “awning” windows over top. Install an operable window across the cottage, Robinson says, and you create a nice—and effective—cross breeze. Alain Bourget also says that even when cottagers add a large, non-opening “direct-set” window, they often want operable windows on one or both sides to allow for fresh air. 

Sliding into home
Even though sliding glass doors have always been a popular choice, Bourget says “lift and slide” doors are a newer innovation, which he describes as “a sliding door on a buggy with very small wheels.” This “buggy” allows you to slide aside a larger-than-average glass door quite effortlessly. Keep in mind, says Robinson, “the larger the opening, the greater the support required.” Though he notes that you’d need extra structure for any size of sliders, there are design strategies that can reduce the cost.

A naturally nicer look
While vinyl windows dominated a decade or so ago, more recently, people are seeking out wood aluminum-clad windows. These more modern interior windows are virtually maintenance-free for 50 years or more, and the wood can be stained to suit. “You rarely have to paint them, and they’re very sturdy,” says Bourget. Plus, “They look fantastic,” says Robinson. “They have a warmth and reinforce that natural atmosphere that cottagers are looking for.”

As for the price? Bourget notes that wood aluminum-clad windows are roughly double the cost of vinyl-clad windows of the same size, though both Bourget and Robinson insist the aesthetics are worth it and, says Bourget, they add appeal if you sell your cottage.

A clear win
People are concerned with energy efficiency, says Bourget, making triple-glazed windows increasingly popular and 25–30 per cent more energy efficient than double-glazed. Triple-glazed are also a good option in places with temperature extremes—a.k.a. if you visit your cottage in the winter—to keep your internal temperatures more consistent. What’s more, says Bourget, triple-glazed also have the benefit of shutting out noise, which might mean a good night’s sleep even when the cottagers up the lake are whooping it up. 

Canadian point of view
Alain Bourget has noticed a distinct desire for Canadian-made windows. “There is a pride in Canadian-made,” agrees Robinson, noting that an increased focus on sustainability—on the part of both designers and cottagers—leads many to seek out more local manufacturers. They’re a practical choice too: Canadian-made can be a bit more attractive in price.

Get framed
In keeping with his “big isn’t always better” mentality, Robinson also looks for places where smaller windows can frame the landscape. In one case, he used a smaller window at the end of a hall to showcase a beautiful tree outside. In another, he added narrow windows at the top of a set of stairs, which framed the forest behind the home. Walk through your space and consider where small windows might work or where the light hits. “It isn’t all about the money shot of the lake. If you can use windows this way, you’re constantly getting glimpses of the outdoors that will change with the time of day and also with the seasons. I think framing these smaller views makes the effect even more powerful,” he says. “You don’t need a glass house to get that.”

Leslie Garrett is building a cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where she edits Bluedot Living, a sustainable living magazine.

Permit us to explain

If you’re adding a window where one didn’t previously exist, you will require a building permit, says Stephen Watson, the director of building and by-law services for the Township of Lake of Bays. Generally speaking, however, you do not require a building permit if you’re replacing a window or a door that’s the same size or smaller. Even if you’re expanding a window vertically, or turning a window into a door, but not increasing the width, you likely still don’t need a permit (unless stairs are involved). “It’s just width-wise that’s our main concern,” says Watson. The best thing to do is call your local building department and describe your project. 

He did note that Ontario amended the building code about a decade ago to tighten the requirements for energy efficiency, which means if it’s been at least that long since you’ve replaced your windows, you’ll want to ensure that any new choices meet the new standards. Energy efficiency requirements vary depending on your location. While he’s confident that there aren’t too many people selling single-pane windows anymore, Watson nonetheless cautions, “Buy windows from a reputable company.”

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