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Should we bring back window shutters?

Posted by Alex Barrett on 11 July 2016 at 12:05 pm

If you had walked down the street in the middle of the nineteenth century window shutters would have been a common sight. In the days before double glazing they are an important way of cutting heat loss through windows. These days’ shutters are rarely fitted. Windows are much better at keeping heat in so we don’t feel that we need them. But could shutters still help us to save energy in the modern day?

Shutters have existed for as long as windows have. In the days before affordable glass they were the only way to close a window. Even once glass began to be used in the late Middle Ages shutters remained a common way of controlling heat and light within the building.

Shutters fell out of common use in the UK towards the end of the Victorian era, partly as curtains became more fashionable. Closing the curtains is much easier than leaning out of a window to pull the shutters closed, so they became more popular. Improvements to window design meant that shutters were no longer as important for security or for insulation, so they gradually fell out of use [1, 2].

Nowadays, at least in the UK, shutters are generally there for decoration. They are rarely functional, even though advances in technology mean that we could now open and close them with a touch of a button, or program computerised systems to respond to changing weather conditions.

In many parts of the world the shutter hasn’t fallen out of fashion. These tend to be warmer regions where they still play an important role in keeping houses cool by preventing solar heating in the summer.

Despite this move away from shutters they could still have a part to play in making our houses energy efficient [3]. A study by historic Scotland and the Glasgow Caledonian University has demonstrated that the use of shutters can substantially reduce heat loss from windows [4].

The researchers found that when insulated wooden shutters were used in combination with curtains or blinds they could reduce heat loss by as much as 60%. When combined with secondary glazing they resulted in a 77% increase in energy performance.

Shutters can be fixed either inside or outside of the building. Originally they were generally fixed internally as this made it much easier to open and close them, however as windows became more sophisticated, and walls became thinner during the 17th and 18th centuries external shutters became more common.

Today both types are available, but internal shutters are still recommended, since so many modern windows open outwards. Solid insulated panels provide excellent protection against heat loss, but less solid types can be useful if you are interested in keeping your house cool in summer as well. These have a series of slats or louvres which can be opened or closed to control the amount of light that enters the room. They are very popular in warm climates, as they control how much solar heating the room receives, keeping it cooler.

In summary window shutters still have a lot of potential to help us keep our houses warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. We wouldn’t recommend relying on them instead of double glazing, but when they are combined with well glazed windows and insulted blinds they can make a considerable contribution to reducing heat loss from the home.

References

  1. Buildingconservation.com: History of Shutters
  2. Tewksbury Borough Council: Historic Windows guide (Links to pdf)
  3. Retrofitbuildings.com: Advantages of shutters
  4. Historic Scotland Thermal Performance of traditional Windows: Executive Summary , Presentation, Technical Paper

Image Credit: Chris Eason via Flickr

 

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Comments

1 comments - read them below or add one

Linn Rafferty

Linn Rafferty from JTec Energy PerformanceComment left on: 21 July 2016 at 12:10 pm

Great article, Alex.

I remember when we were developing RdSAP we saw a draft copy of the French Energy Performance Certificate, and had a brief chuckle at one of its recommendations. This was the recommendation to close window shutters during the day.

We chuckled, because every french village in the hot parts of France is full of homes with their shutters closed during the day, adding to the general feeling that they are 'closed for business'! We didn't think that the French needed any reminders to close their shutters!

Now that we are seeing hotter summers here in the UK, I feel that adopting window shutters would keep us warmer in winter, and much more comfortable in our homes in summer.
 

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