Month 6: Polycarbonate secondary glazing

We know the wooden-framed, single-glazed windows in our house need to be replaced when possible. We're currently researching our options for new windows - weighing up traditional vs modern, PVC vs wood, cheaper vs horribly expensive.

Although the current windows were probably installed in the 1980s they are in reasonably good nick, apart from the attic bedroom. The top pane of glass had been broken at some point. The only way to fix it properly is to erect scaffolding to reach the third storey...which is apparently an expensive undertaking. Which is why the previous owner simply nailed some plastic in place instead. Because the window is south-facing, the plastic has warped, leaving the wind whistling through the top of the house. Apart from that window, all the window frames need to be cleaned and repainted or varnished, which is NOT a job for the current weather. Spring may have sprung with the advent of March, but Storm Emma has plunged us into some bitterly cold conditions. And not 1 of our 7 fireplaces actually works...

Right from the start, we knew that we had some temporary fixes we could try to make our windows more draught proof while we figure out our house plans. We had Simon Lewis of Neighbourhood Construction give us a home consultation on draught proofing, bio-aggregate insulation and damp. We learned some pretty good stuff about how various elements impact on a house: external weather, internal weather, occupant behaviour and the construction materials used.

While he was in our house, Simon taught Mehdi how to measure our windows for polycarbonate glazing. He advised us to start with just one or two windows before progressing to the rest of the house. That's because it's easy to get measurements wrong. Which of course we did. Somehow, despite three of us measuring the 8 panes we wanted to test, we got some wrong and they were too big for the frame. That was a right pain that sent me down to Rialto Plant and Tool hire where I rented a jigsaw for a day. After gritting my teeth and holding my breath, I managed to cut the panes so they fitted (though my finish is NOT as smooth and straight as the factory finish..having said that, a blind man on a galloping horse wouldn't notice). The net result was panes that fit, and an empowering experience with a power tool...

So what were the results like? Well, the attic window was an easy win for polycarbonate secondary glazing - it's sort of single glazed now and that room is much warmer what with not being actually open to the elements. The bay window downstairs also resulted in big improvement in comfort levels, especially when combined with our super long and heavy curtains.

Our first experience taught us how to measure properly. Second time around, we measured exactly what we needed, and allowed no 'wriggle room' in our measurements. Another difference in our second order was that we didn't cut multiple sheets for 2 pane windows - we simply cut bigger, single sheets. These are more difficult to manage and store, but much easier to fit, using slightly less magnetic tape and metal strip. When the second delivery, we were so pleased to find that every sheet fit perfectly. We're pretty good at fitting the tape and putting the sheets on the window having learned our trade with the first order, so installation was stress free.

Top tip: though not strictly necessary, a strip of magnet and metal tape along the middle of the polycarbonate sheet as well as along the outside edges, will ensure a snug fit and reduce any chance of a 'rattle' from bigger sheets.

RESULT: Who knows? I'm excited to see how much warmer the house might be. But Mehdi, being Mehdi, has an excel sheet with temperatures and humidity levels so we can actually measure the improvement. Stay posted for that update (what a cliffhanger!...).

BONUS - NOISE REDUCTION: A surprise side effect of secondary glazing is that of noise reduction: it's much, much quieter now. While the traffic to the front of our house, and the Luas to the back have never bothered me (I actually love the sound of the Luas as it reminds me of our old flat in London, where South Eastern trains ran along the bottom of our garden), secondary glazing really dampens the noise levels. That's because it traps a pocket of air between the first pane of glass and the secondary plastic pane. Sound travels through air - so this dampens the noise levels. It's very impressive that something as cost effective and easy to do as secondary glazing can have so much effect. I'd recommend it to anyone who has noise problems even with secondary glazing - the polycarbonate will act as triple glazing.

We are always asked what we've 'done' to the house recently, or what we're going to do. I'm always a bit mortified to explain we've not done much...and aren't sure what we'll do. I'm still cleaning mostly, or stripping all those icky little bits of paper from the walls so we can see what we paint and what needs more work. One evening I painted half a wall so I could get a feeling for what a whole painted house might feel like. But mostly it's cleaning. Or ringing people to come give us advice or services who never get back to us, or if they do, fail to turn up. Or getting people in to give quotes that never materialise. Or assessing quotes for work that appear to have no relationship to the work we asked for a quote on. Occasionnaly we have a snatched discussion on accessible kitchen and bathroom layouts whenever we get 5 minutes without the kids asking for whatever it is they need RIGHT NOW.

I'm proud we now have secondary glazing on all our windows. Except the kitchen, where the gaps between the window frame and walls are so huge that you can see daylight and feel the wind fresh from the Dublin mountains. Flushed with the secondary glazing success, I got my foam gun out this evening (Simon had instructed us to use this for filling all those big gaps connecting us to the great outdoors). I took a look at the application instructions: the filler is to be applied in temperatures no lower than 5 degrees, and ideally, greater than 20 degrees. Well, with March roaring in like a lion, perhaps I'll manage some gap filling towards the end of this month...or the summer...