Have you ever wondered what makes one type of timber more expensive than the other? Or more specifically why oak has consistently been one of the more expensive hardwoods for generations? Well it comes down to a few fairly simple factors beginning from the seed. Hardwoods grow a lot slower than their softwood counterparts, which means that they require more production time, man hours, etc.. Now, of course this isn’t the sole reason that hardwoods like oak tend to be more expensive.
Because oak is a slow growing deciduous tree it utilises a system of vessels which transport water around the tree, this is opposed to softwoods which contain elongated cells called ‘tracheids’. It is the structure of these vessels which makes oak such a dense and strong wood, and also the structure of these vessels which gives oak its unique ringed look.
So Oak Is Denser And Slower But I Don’t Know Why It’s More Expensive
Well, aside from the time the tree has to occupy the lot (think car park fares), the fact that oak is a denser wood than most means that working with it is a lot harder. You have to have better, sharper tools and use them more diligently, as it is far easier to irreparably damage the wood when working with it. It being more difficult to work with means you need better craftsmen spending more time on it too, in order to make the best products on the market.
What Else About Oak Makes It So Expensive?
Its strength and durability are really up there with the best. For wood that is easily grown in many climates it has an incredible lifespan when finished properly. It’s also extremely high in tannin which makes it very resistant to pest and fungal infections.
When buying oak, ensuring you treat the finished product properly, you are guaranteed for that the products will last you a lifetime. The same goes for products which are kept outdoors or face outside like oak window frames. Ensuring that the craftsmanship was top notch, you will have no problems with the material.
Over the generations it’s also become a symbol of luxury and quality. Notoriously durable and expensive, the distinctive markings of oak wood are a fundamental part of why it retains such value. When quartersawn, you can see the veins running through the timber, unique to each and every piece of wood, meaning that every single product made from oak comes with its own natural, individual design.
Image by Graham
We often get inquiries from prospective clients who are looking to upgrade their windows, but which live in conservation areas. Whilst this doesn’t mean that we can’t take on the project, it does mean that the task of installing new windows is made a little complicated due to the fact that they are protected by local authorities, and is one of the first questions we will ask of any new inquiry.
The History Of Conservation Areas
Introduced in 1967, conservation areas are designated for their special architectural, historical or social interest, and as such are deemed worthy of preservation. Since their inception, there are now over eight thousand conservation areas in England alone.
How Are Conservation Areas Created?
In general this is down to the local council, which will classify a certain area to be subject of conservation through the local planning authority (LPA). Under certain circumstances the English Heritage can designate areas of London to be placed under conservation but only after consulting the individual Borough Council and with the consent of the Secretary of State for National Heritage. They can also be designated by the Secretary of State if the site is of importance other than simple local interest.
What Can Be Considered For Conservation?
The list of conservation areas in England is long and dynamic. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and areas are conserved for a multitude of reasons and in a variety of ways. For instance, historical transport links and their local environments (canalsides, etc.) have been protected, as well as historical town centres, ancient villages and 18th & 19th century suburbs.
What Does Living In A Conservation Area Mean For You?
Simply put, living in an LPA designated conservation area means that you have to run any property alterations, removal of trees and demolition through the Local Council before any work can even begin to take place. This includes installing any new windows or doors as they may alter the aesthetic of the building, which itself needs to be protected. Any additions to the building must be kept in strict accordance to their original property, and in most cases like-for-like bespoke windows will need to be created in order to achieve this.
So if you’re thinking of upgrading, or even simply repairing your windows with us, make sure that you speak to your LPA beforehand!
Image by Tim Dutton
Pollution. That invisible enemy that permeates the city sky line, its only marker; the faint haze it lays across the horizon as the sun sets. It’s easy to pretend that it isn’t an issue when we can’t see it. Even easier when all we hear is that the effects of our pollution are making the ice on the poles slowly melt, or wild conspiracies about green house gases that are supposedly peddaled by the oil companies to keep us consuming.
There’s a whole load of disinformation on the subject and very little concrete scientific study that can genuinely demonstrate how creating an alarming amount of carbon emissions, for well over a century, can affect the planet. That’s not to say that it isn’t an issue, but rather to say that the issue is so new and so vast that it’s incredibly difficult for those studying the effects to come to exacting, concrete conclusions.
Rather than plead ignorance and imagine that it’s not a problem that we, and our future generations, are facing, I believe it’s the responsibility of the individual to accept that pouring excess mega-tonnes of gas into the atmosphere is definitely dangerous and ought to be adressed on a personal level.
I like to compare the problems with pollution to salting food. There are naturally occuring salts in our foods that satisfy our daily requirements, yet we still place a little in for flavour. Just a little is fine, of course, but excess salt quickly turns your meal unpalatable and unhealthy, with too much salt guaranteed to make you sick. The same goes for CO2 emissions, except it’s not us getting sick, but rather the planet – and our perspective is too small to really see these effects.
So what can we do? Well, there are plenty of things from recycling to purchasing an electric car, or even simple steps such as walking places instead of driving. One thing that we at Oak Windows can help with, and which we are really trying to integrate into all of our timber designs, is to install energy efficient windows.
We’ve been developing a system that incorporates Grade A energy efficient glass within an oak window frame that provides a considerable drop in the amount of heat loss through your windows. This not only means that we’re preventing excess heat to escape into our atmosphere, but that we needn’t heat our properties quite so much – further reducing the amount of carbon emissions we create by burning less gas.
Pollution is something that we all need to take very seriously, and, at Oak Windows, we pride ourselves on taking every step we can to reduce our carbon footprint. We just ask that you do too!
Five Reasons Heritage Is Important
With many home-owners facing the arduous task of trying to update their heritage property's structure or even make necessary repairs, we often find that our clients rue the fact that their property has been placed under such strict protection.
And whilst we understand that it can be a real chore, heritage is a very important facet of our culture. Here are our top 5 reasons why!
1. Heritage properties are tangible links to our history
With each layer of paint, mark on the floor, jaunty fixing, we have fragments of our history that we can touch and feel!
2. They add character to neighbourhoods
If you've been lucky enough to avoid the tyranny of red brick new builds, then count your blessings. Heritage properties offer something unique and distinctive in comparison to many of the average properties constructed nowadays.
3. Heritage is environmentally friendly
It's common sense. If we're not using energy to tear up properties, then using energy and resources to rebuild them, then we're preserving energy and limiting our carbon footprint! Sure, there's the fact that many heritage properties suffer may not be energy efficient per se, but with the installation of energy efficient windows and doors, this needn't be a concern!
4. Heritage preservation of properties is a big industry!
The heritage movement employs a lot of people to not only run their public body, but also across the board as property guardians, ground staff and so much more. Many heritage sites act as tourist destinations too, bringing money into the economy.
5. It's good for your emotional well-being
Ok, bear with us. But studies show that architectural beauty actually causes the release of endorphins, which make us feel happy and content. So heritage buildings are making the country a happier place!
Have we managed to convince you that heritage is a good thing yet? We hope so!
So What Can You Do To Help British Heritage?
There are many ways that you can get involved with the heritage movement, helping to continue the preservation of history, art and culture.
Memberships to the English Heritage foundation begin at £39 a year which gives you free access to over 400 historical sites, and tickets to events. This money is funnelled back into the foundation, helping protect properties and areas of cultural imporance.
You can also work for the organisation! Get yourself a position as a member of the English heritage work force and help preserve this country's heritage with your own hands! If this isn't possible, there are a wealth of volunteer positions so you can still get involved and help out.
More Info at: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/
Image by Elliott Brown
Quite simply a casement window is an window where the opening part is hinged, most commonly along the internal vertical frame. However, there are so many different kinds that we can find dotted throughout British properties, varied because of the heritage status of a building; the time the windows were installed and where they are located!
It all started back in the latter half of the 18th century, when the stone mullioned window fell out of fashion. Though seen nowadays as a touch of class, stone mullioned windows weren't very adaptable, and in many cases, couldn't open to let in much air. Their stone struts further prevented a great deal of light getting in, and with the housing industry growing, people started wanting something a little more refined.
So along came the hinged window. Small panes of glass separated by thinner glazing bars, the casement style window allowed for a lot more light to enter the property, was less heavy and easier to construct.
As time went on Crown Glass and cylinder sheet became more widely available, replacing the smaller panes of broad sheet. These larger sheets of glass often came with imperfections from the manufacturing process, which at the time were a bit of a blight on the consumer, but nowadays are seen to be a touch of timeless history that new, imperfect glasses can't offer.
Very early casement windows were mostly constructed using iron, with lead used as lattice work across the glass. Over time, this fashion died out and manufacturers started transitioning to timber construction. It was during the Victorian period that we eventually saw a full conversion to using timber, with oak becoming the highly preferred wood type.
For well over a century the casement window remained in its original form, with a structure of six rectangular panes. However as architecture changed, so too did the casement. With the dawning of the Gothic age in the nineteenth century, we saw a shift towards incorporating the instantly recognisable Gothic arch in the uppermost panes, for example.
As the quality of glass available became a lot better, the need for so many sheets and glazing bars became redundant. In the later half of 19th century, we see a lot of casement windows that feature only two panes in each half, with one bar strapped along the middle.
Then, as space in the big cities became more of concern, and we started seeing the town houses that still line our streets today, being erected, the sash window started taking over. Rather than caring about the character, dynamism and beauty of casement windows, with their intricate and varied designs, people wanted a window that was more efficient and ergonomic.
Though we do see properties being installed with casement windows nowadays, a lot of our work is down to replacing or repairing casements in listed properties, where the architectural style of the original needs to be exactly matched. A truly wonderful style of window, that can offer the designer a great deal in the way of inspiration, we hope to see a revival of the casement window in the near future!
Image by Roland Tanglao
Conservation areas and listed buildings are places that are protected by local planning authorities, supported by heritage trusts, which demonstrate a special architectural of historical interest. In many cases these sites are protected by planning permissions which prevent any additional building work to be undertaken on the property or piece of land.
This isn't true all the time, however, and in cases where it can be proven that improvements to the building (like installing oak windows!), can actually enhance the property and improve its longevity, permission is often granted.
This can be a real pain for a lot of people, and we have a great deal of our clients annoyed by the process they have to go through just to install new windows. We hear you! But there's an often overlooked facet to this story that I think many people ignore as it causes them an inconvenience.
Conservation areas and listed buildings are extremely important pieces of our shared cultural heritage. They are as important as the pieces of art that hang in the national galleries; they are snapshots of our past, of artistic expression, technology and innovation.
Conservation areas themselves vary greatly in their nature, ranging from centuries old market towns to remote fishing villages and even a whole city centre. However, it's not just the architecture and the visage of the buildings that makes these areas so important, it's their legacy laid out in the way the roads meander – the cobblestones underfoot, which all contribute to the place's organic character. It is the cherished local 'feeling' that is preserved for generations to enjoy.
Listed building, as you might imagine, are solely the building which have been protected. These can often fall within conservation areas, or can be stand alone properties with their own distinct and important heritage. In the UK around 2.5% of these are of international importance, bringing in a great deal of tourist trade. These places are simply drenched in history and include the phenomenal architecture of Queens' College Cambridge and Buckingham Palace.
Not all of the country’s listed buildings are these grand world renowned structures, however, with over 94% given the classification of Grade II. These places demonstrate special architectural significance, such as the stone cottages you find dotted throughout the countryside, or some of the grand Victorian town houses sat astride wide London streets.
Without an organisation put in place to protect these places, we would lose so much of what makes England and the UK beautiful and unique. These places are part of the rich tapestry that has been woven by this country's wild and varied history! A world without these stunning structures lacks character and colour, and we would hate to see it changed.
Image by Salford City Council
You might not think it, but the sash window has taken a long and winding road to become one of the most common window frame fixings that we have. Even its origins are littered with contentious points with many people disagreeing on where they even came from.
It was originally believed that they were invented in Holland in the later half of the 1600's, however research from a certain Dr. Hinte Louw has suggested that they may even have originated in England much earlier in the same century. With the name a derivative of the French word for frame (chassis), there are also suggestions that they originated in France, though it seems as if we'll never be quite sure.
Whatever the case, they came to be associated with royalty and high design when they were installed in Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace amongst others, and as such became symbols of wealth and prosperity.
Sash windows became the go-to for architects who had bored with the older casement windows and even meant that crown glass manufacturers started going to painstaking lengths to blow far longer sheets, which would give the building a stunning reflection when the light struck the pane.
Even at this point the frames to these sash windows were made of oak, as the abundance of great British wood meant that manufacturers could afford to use the best materials.
It was not long after the introduction of these frames that the window tax was introduced in 1696 under King William III. A system which levied higher taxation on wealthier citizens (deeming those who were rich to have larger houses and therefore more windows), further catapulted the sash window design into stardom.
Then came the Building Act of the 1700's which required sash windows to be recessed behind the brickwork in order to avoid becoming a fire hazard. However, most people ignored this legislation, and you can still see a great deal of properties between the 18th and 19th century who still contain traditional frames.
As the centuries progressed, the designs became more intricate, with slimmer and more delicate fretwork and mullions employed, demonstrating the superb quality of the oak used in their construction.
Then as we came into the late 19th century we saw a deluge of patents issued for elaborate redesigns which sought to improve upon the classic weight and pulley system, though really none of them took off as the traditional design's simplicity and efficacy rang true.
It was in the early twentieth century that we saw the sash window in decline as cheap and mass produced steel casement frames became the norm.
Thankfully this is a downswing we are finally starting to see turn around as the conservation movement gains momentum and we find people looking to re-utilise the traditional aesthetic of the sash design.
A large part of our company's ethos is to use materials sourced only from the best and most trustworthy suppliers. We're keen to make sure that we are sourcing wood which has come from sustainable industry, and endeavour to support groups that work towards preserving our woodlands. One of our favourite organisations that works towards this aim is The Woodland Trust.
A non-profit company set up in Devon in 1972, it was originally masterminded by the retired farmer Kenneth Watkins, though it's grown far more than he could ever have imagined. By 1977 The Woodland Trust owned twenty two woods in six counties and has grown exponentially since then.
Today the charity owns over 80 woods in Scotland alone, with a mind blowing 850 in England which covers a total of 25,000 acres. This includes a total of around 350 ancient woodlands, which are areas that have been 'under tree cover' since before 1600.
In fact, they don't just preserve already established sites, but have also taken a major step towards creating areas, having established over 32 square kilometres of new woodland across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Even more impressively, they are also looking to restore ancient woodlands, by carefully and gradually reintroducing plantations to strengthen flagging forests.
The Woodland Trust runs on donations from its many members as well as various corporate sponsorships. They also draw funding from a variety of charitable trusts like National Lottery Funding, as well as seeing a return from the Landfill Tax, which is a a tax applied to companies with a great deal of waste disposal. Looking to encourage organisations to reduce the amount of waste they produce it's fantastic to see the money going into preservation.
Whilst The Trust may be overlooked as a charity on the whole, we feel that their cause needs to be championed, not only because of the fact that they are conserving beautiful recreational areas, but also because the benefits of the country's thriving forestry is manifold and affects everyone.
Large wooded areas greatly enhance air quality, absorbing a lot of pollution and giving back much needed oxygen to the local environment. They also go a long way to reducing the threat of flooding by absorbing excess water and lowering the water table. Of course that's to overlook the fact that they are part of our cultural heritage and, as the centuries have passed, these woods have blossomed and bloomed, setting the stage for the many intricate pieces of our collective history.
A very worthwhile cause, we urge all who are interested to make a donation to The Woodland Trust as a little thank you for all the work they put into keeping our countryside so unique.
We support the Woodland Trust and the work they do to protect the woodlands, as part of our support we plant a tree for every order we receive in order to do our part to help woodlands from being destroyed.
photo by Dan Scape