What is a Sash Window? - Definition & Types

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

There are many kinds of windows you can use in a home. In this lesson, we are going to check out sash windows and see what defines this distinct architectural feature.

Sash Windows

Beauty pageant contestants only get sashes after they've won. Luckily for homeowners and architects, you don't have to wait until the awards ceremony to get sashes for your homes and buildings. You just have to install some windows.

A sash window is one with two frames that can both slide vertically, thus allowing for greater airflow. This design was developed in England way back in the mid-late 17th century and has been an important part of Western architecture ever since. Sash windows are a great way to improve airflow, add some aesthetic character, and overall make your building look like a real winner.

A sash window with a traditional design

The Sash

So, what exactly defines a sash window? That would be the sash. A sash is technically the frame that holds the pieces of the window together as a single component. As opposed to a window in which the frame is built into the wall, the sash makes the glass independent of the wall and lets it move.

The sash itself is composed of panels of glass, individually called lights. The traditional sash window is made of multiple square lights held together by a grid of bars. With modern technologies, however, it has become more common to see sash windows with only one pane of glass rather than smaller panels.

Open and closed sash windows (left)

Types of Sash Windows

The sash window has been incorporated in nearly every style of English-based domestic architecture since the late 17th century. There are countless variations of this window type. Architects modify the style primarily by adjusting the number and size of lights in each sash, as well as by adding complementary features around the window.

The traditional sash window is still what nearly every style is based on. This window is composed of two sashes set on a vertical track, with one in front of the other, counterbalanced by lead weights or (in modern homes) springs. They are generally double-hung, meaning that both sashes are capable of moving up and down this track, so that airflow can be permitted in multiple ways. You can have the top open, or the bottom, or a little bit of both. They are, however, generally fixed within the track, which means they won't open or swing outwards.

Nearly all sash windows are variations on this basic structure. Here are a few ways that architects have played with this style over time:

Neoclassical styles may often place a fixed arch window over the sash windows in order to give them a little more character.

  • Georgian style windows nearly always follow a pattern of ''six over six,'' which means that each sash has six lights with two rows of three panels each. While this is not a rule, it is very common. Georgian windows also tend to be single-hung, in which only one sash is able to move up and down while the other is fixed.
  • Victorian windows began to play with the size of lights thanks to new industrial technologies that allowed for larger panes of glass. In the Victorian-era Queen Anne Revival, for example, sash windows generally had several lights in the upper sash but only one or two large panes in the lower sash.
  • Venetian sash windows are an example of how architects can add features to the window to refine its style. In this iteration, the vertically sliding sash window has fixed panels on either side, creating a larger total window with geometric divisions.

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