Friday, 18 September 2015

Drippy Windows

There’s something very drippy about windows, says Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
According to scientists (and my builder), glass is always moving. In a window pane it ‘drips’, slowly downwards, over time, leaving it thinner at the top than the bottom. Old houses, if they have retained any of their glass, have windows that can look wobbly. This can be a good and a bad thing. The good thing is, if you do have any old glass it’s rather wonderful to look at, if a bit distorting when looked through. Visitors can be impressed by it. ‘Please do look at my old glass,’ I have found myself saying.

The bad thing, of course, are the areas that have thinned. Not that the glass itself becomes porous – even fully submerged in seawater it remains inert – but the weight loss from the contents leaves the frame with a larger gap than originally designed. Ergo: the window frame gets leaky.

At the risk of causing rising panic and a dash for replacements, this takes tens, perhaps hundreds, of years. Rock House was built in 1834, so deserves to have some drippy parts. If you haven’t got much to do this weekend and would like to give yourself a little project, you could buy a micrometer and measure the movement of your window glass. If you have any old mirrors, you could also test them – although old mirror tends to be the most forgiving, so I wouldn’t look too closely.


Living by the seaside adds an extra dimension to the look of the glass as the wind-driven salt water can have a dermabrasion effect on the surface, scratching the glass and giving it an opaque look, which is fine if you want to save on curtains but not ideal if you want to see the view you’ve paid for.

The effect on the external walls is similar, although the composite rendering used to cover the brick and save it from the weather is nowhere near as strong as glass and tends to blister after one winter season. If there is a storm, the seawater can hit the side of the house very hard; it is more dense than tap water, apparently, and can do more damage. In extreme cases, it will strip the paint and render off the side of the house.

Normal masonry paint lasts several years but the paint on the side of house that faces the sea lasts less than a year. It’s a sobering thought, but thankfully my windows are so skew-whiff that I can’t see what’s happening.

Next week: Vintage shops

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