'I’ve been opening my windows wrong all this time!' This 'Victorian air conditioning' trick is a savior in hot weather

There's a certain way to open this type of window that will improve your home's airflow and help cool your rooms down faster

A living room with high ceilings and two large sash windows
(Image credit: Future)

Finding cheap, eco-friendly ways to cool your home in this summer heat isn't easy. While many of us are fortunate enough to have air conditioning, others are forced to sleep in stiflingly warm rooms where cracking a window just doesn't cut it. That is, unless you have sash windows and know about this clever little trick.

There's a lot to love about sash windows. Besides their typically large size and symmetrical frames that allow plenty of light in and make an elegant feature of period properties, they're super secure and give you almost full control over how much you open them. It's really not surprising that they're gaining popularity again as a modern window treatment. What you might not know, however, is that they're also a really great way to ventilate your home. 

Having lived in a home with sash windows for more than 20 years, I was mind-blown when I find out I'd been opening my own windows wrong all these years. This 'Victorian air-conditioning' method is what many people swear by to beat the summer heat, and operating it is - quite literally - a breeze. Here's how it works.  

What are sash windows?

A neutral dining room with a large sash window

(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

To reap these benefits, you'll first need to identify whether or not your home has this distinctive type of window. Sash windows are typically found in period homes, particularly Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian properties, so if you have an older home from this period, there's a high chance they're sashes. You're also more likely to find them in larger rooms, like the front room or primary bedroom window

Unlike modern windows, sashes consist of two sliding frames that open upwards or downward, rather than out. As Kyle Leman, home builder and owner of Crossroads Foundation Repair, explains: 'Sash windows are a type of window design consisting of one or more movable panels, known as sashes, that slide vertically or horizontally within the window frame.' The classic arrangement has three or more panes across two vertical rows on each sash for a symmetrical panel window, but variations can differ.

Is there a 'correct' way to open sash windows? 

A large bathroom with a sash window

(Image credit: Future)

The thing is, if you have sash windows, chances are you've probably been opening them wrong all this time. The most intuitive way to open them is up or down by either pushing the bottom panel up or the top panel down. This allows a decent-sized gap for airflow, but there's a good reason why sash windows open in both directions.

'To reap maximum benefits in terms of airflow and ventilation, you want to give equal preference to both the top and bottom sashes,' explains Ryan Fitzgerald, experienced realtor and owner of Raleigh Realty Homes. 'It's all about creating a convection current - warm air moving up and out, and cool air getting drawn in. This simple adjustment can bring about an exchange of fresh air that keeps your space comfy while waving goodbye to the need for mechanical ventilation.'

According to Kyle, this clever way to cool down a room is all about creating a 'chimney effect' - otherwise called natural convection - one of the wonders of 18th-century architecture. 'This is where warm air escapes through the top opening while cool air is drawn in through the lower opening,' he explains. 'This balanced airflow helps improve ventilation within the room and prevents the possibility of creating strong drafts or uneven ventilation, which can occur when only one sash is opened. ' 

What are the other benefits of sash windows?

A living room painted blue with a large sash window

(Image credit: Future)

While they don't come cheap to install, many other benefits also come with sash windows that make them a worthy investment. Besides being one of the best ways to brighten a dark room, they're also one of the most aesthetically beautiful choices for your windows, especially if you have tall ceilings.  

'These windows don a classic design that spruces up any property with a dash of elegance and a sprinkle of character,' says Ryan. 'They're the chameleons of the window world, seamlessly blending with a variety of architectural styles, be it period homes or modern abodes.'

There's also the benefit of robust security features. Each panel is locked together with a switch mechanism which makes them nearly impossible to pry open. 'If you opt for the modern heritage sash windows made from uPVC with a woodgrain finish, you're also signing up for durability, low maintenance, and superb thermal insulation, helping to lower energy consumption,' adds Ryan.

When it comes to cleaning and maintaining your windows, you'll be pleased to hear sashes are also one of the easiest options. 'Their design allows for easy cleaning, as the sashes can be tiled or removed for access to both sides of the glass,' Kyle notes. 

There's clearly a lot to love about these traditional windows beyond simply helping to keep your home cool. Now you know how to maximize the benefits of your sash windows to their full potential - and sleep better in this heat as a result.

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Lilith Hudson
News Editor

Lilith Hudson is the News Editor at Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.