Heritage: it’s all the detail

The owners of period properties can be the toughest to please. So, offer them the right products from the start, says Mike Derham of traditional hardware supplier Mighton Products.

Ownership of a period property in itself requires a certain mindset. Following their heart’s desire to live in a building that they believe to be more characterful than more modern buildings, often despite inconveniences, buyers of such properties are often obsessively committed to authenticity.

At Mighton Products while we supply hardware for PVCU casement and especially sash windows, our world is still dominated by timber. Which inevitably is what most owners of period or heritage properties will insist upon.

We have been specialising in this sector for some years, so we are reasonably well placed to offer a few words of wisdom.

Knowledge is power. Study the area through the internet, the local library and research the history of properties including the architects and builders if available. Also make a study of the building types, periods and style of construction. Visit areas with a preponderance of period buildings and note the characteristics, learn if buildings and areas are listed and what that actually implies. Also, are buildings and areas subject to conservation restrictions?

Not always but usually, the best material for genuine heritage buildings is timber. Many listed properties, especially in London, are encouraged to refurbish original windows for as long as possible before replacing them altogether, so when they are replaced they have to be superseded by a like for like product. Like for like usually means wood.

It used to be that timber sash windows were not as efficient as their PVCU counterparts when it came to elements such as draft proofing and insulation, but that is no longer the case. Modern versions not only perform better than ever before on a number of levels but have evolved to do so without interfering with the look or the operation of the window.

Zealous owners may feel they have to accept high maintenance with timber frames but these days, with the right finishing treatment, this need not be an issue. Water based alkaloid paints and modern stains are readily available and are highly effective in making timber window maintenance a much easier and far less recurrent task – maybe every 7-10 years only.

Using wood/plastic composite beading is also a great way to guard against the upkeep of wood windows. These are usually one of the first parts of the window to rot or show their age, but using a wood composite version guards against rotting and premature replacement. These can be found with 20-30 year guarantees and are a low cost way of maintaining a quality finish.

A crucial consideration is the hardware, the cost of which should always be relative to the cost and quality of the window. Some installers might be tempted to present inferior or inappropriate hardware but being caught out will be worse than being caught kicking the owner’s puppy. The hardware tends to be the cheaper part of any installation so why do a disservice to an £800 to £2,000 window by installing poor hardware? The savings are usually so minimal but the negative impact it has on the quality of finish required for any heritage project will be profound.  

Although the purist will never countenance the installation of replica heritage frames in PVCU they are becoming increasingly convincing. But when it comes to making them look like wood there are always telltale signs that a canny customer looking for authenticity will be aware of. A real timber frame is actually smooth and those that know what they are looking for will pick up on this. The grain effect foils on the PVC windows can look very good, but if true authenticity is what the customer is aiming for, nothing can beat the real thing.   

In summary, when selling in heritage and conservation areas knowledge is everything. Prepare, and also get the backing of suppliers that know the business and can offer you sound and dependable advice.