An image of an apartment building with single hung and double hung windows outfitted with ASI Climate Seal Thermal Series window series.

We all love our windows. They let the sunshine in on beautiful days, and they let the breeze blow in to keep us cool in the heat of summer. If you don’t love your windows, they may be old and inefficient, or they simply may not be the right type to maximize airflow. If you’re thinking about making a change, the first thing you’ve got to do is determine what types of windows you have and what types of windows you want.

In many cases, you’re deciding between two very popular styles: single hung vs. double hung windows. While they are very similar to each other, there are distinct differences when it comes to functionality. Understanding how each type operates and how and where you will be using them will give you the information you need to make an informed decision. So, what is a single hung window, and what is a double hung window?

Single hung vs. double hung windows: what’s the difference?

There’s a good chance you’ve heard the terms “single hung” and “double hung” before, but you may not know what the difference is. Also known as single sash and double sash, they are slightly different variations on the same concept. They also look very similar to the untrained eye, adding to the confusion. Both have two sashes. One at the top, and another at the bottom. The way they operate is what differentiates the two window types. 

The difference between double hung vs single hung windows is that in a single hung window, the lower sash is the only one that moves. The top sash is fixed in place. If you want to open the window, you slide the lower sash up, and if you want to close the window, you slide the lower sash back down. This type of window is excellent at allowing cool air to flow in.

In a double hung window, both sashes are movable, meaning you can open the top half or the bottom half, or both, depending on whether you are trying to circulate air into or out of the house. When you open the top sash, the warm air in the room flows to the outside. When you open the bottom sash, cool air flows into the room from the outside. When you partially open both the top and bottom, you achieve the best ventilation because you achieve airflow in both directions.

So, put very simply, a single hung window has a single operable sash, and a double hung window has two operable sashes. 

Beyond their physical and operational differences, practical differences make us choose one type over the other, such as the location where they will be installed, how they will be used, and how much they cost. Let’s look at some variables that will help you with your decision.

The location factor

First and foremost, the location of the window plays a big part in the decision to go with single hung vs double hung windows

Double hung windows work great in places like kitchens and bathrooms because you can open the top portion to let the heat and steam out. You may have extractor fans in these rooms to help pump the steam out already, but it can be incredibly helpful to open your top sash so excess steam doesn’t build up in the room. Extractor fans can only work so fast, so reducing the amount of steam they are pumping out means you’ll deal with less moisture on your walls and belongings in the meantime.

Double hung windows are also great for second and third-story rooms because they allow the heat that builds in the top of your home to escape, making the whole house easier to keep cool. Another benefit of using double hung windows on the upper floors is that they generally come equipped with tilt sashes, so you can open them into the room, meaning you don’t have to climb any dangerous ladders to perform your spring window cleaning. Just push each sash open and tilt them in, and you can wipe down both sides easily.

On the other hand, if you’ve got tall windows in ground floor living rooms and bedrooms, you may have trouble reaching the top sash to open it up. In this case, you may opt for single hung windows. The bottom portion is well within reach, and on this floor, you usually want cool air flowing in. If you have windows on adjacent walls, the cross breeze should be enough to make single hung windows very capable of keeping these rooms cool.

What size windows are you working with?

Whether the windows you are replacing are tall or short, wide or narrow, there are standard window sizes that fit most bills. If you have unusual windows sizes, you can typically have both single hung and double hung windows made to fit.

Even if you’re working on replacing multiple different types of casement windows, you should have no problem finding single or double hung windows that fit the existing openings. Custom sizes do cost a bit more, but we usually aren’t dealing with a lot of them in most homes.

If cost is a consideration

If you’re looking for new windows without breaking the bank, you could go with single hung windows in some locations and double hung windows in others. Since single hung windows are generally cheaper than their double hung counterparts, you can utilize them throughout most of the home and use double hung windows only in the areas where they will be of great value.

If you’re going to mix it up, the best locations for double hung windows are in kitchens, bathrooms, and on the upper floors. Having the ability to open the top sash in each of these locations will allow you to let warm air flow out the top and cool air to flow in through the bottom. Since your upper floors usually house most of your bedrooms, keeping them comfortable can mean the difference between restless and restful sleep.

Another factor that affects the price is the materials you choose. Most single hung and double hung replacement windows are available in the same materials, so whichever material you go with, you can match your single hung windows and your double hung windows. Each different material type offers various advantages and disadvantages, and each comes with a different price tag. You can find both types in these standard materials:

  • Wood – Wood is a classic window material. You can repair it, you can paint or stain it, and it looks great. However, wood requires occasional maintenance, and it isn’t the cheapest material option out there.
  • Vinyl – Vinyl is a popular window material due to its low price point and the fact that it’s low maintenance. They don’t last quite as long as other materials, though, so you may find yourself replacing your windows one more time before it’s time to leave the house.
  • Composite – Composite windows give you the best of both the wood and vinyl worlds. They are very durable and energy efficient and can deliver the look of wood at a lower price point.
  • Fiberglass – If you’re looking for a good insulator that doesn’t expand or contract much due to changes in temperature and humidity, fiberglass is a good option. They are one of the more expensive options out there, so keep that in mind.
  • Aluminum – A very strong and light material, aluminum is an excellent material for crafting windows. These properties allow them to be effective in a narrower frame, meaning your window panes can be larger, letting more light in. They aren’t, however, the best energy efficient windows. They can also be quite expensive.

If you’ve got historic wood windows, you may want to repair them to keep the vintage feel. You can utilize window inserts to make them more efficient while keeping the look you love. Window inserts simply fit into the frames of your existing windows, creating a sealed second pane and an air gap that will make your old windows seal out the element like a brand new set.

If they’re made of vinyl, it’s much easier to replace them since vinyl isn’t really meant to be refurbished. They are also a cheap enough option that you wouldn’t save a whole lot of money by fixing your aging windows.

Which type is right for you?

At the end of the day, you’ll learn the most in your quest to find a winner in the battle of single hung vs double hung windows by seeing them for yourself. A reputable dealer can show you all the pluses and minuses that come with each style, and they can show you everything from how to measure for replacement windows to how to remove top sash of single hung window and everything in between. They can even show you how to protect windows from intruders if that’s a concern. No matter what you need to know, just reach out and ask.

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