Single-Hung vs. Double-Hung Windows: Which One to Buy?

Double Hung Sash Window

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Single-hung and double-hung windows are two of the most basic, classic, and timeless styles of windows you can install in your house. If you ask a child to draw a house, he or she likely will not draw a modern slider window, a casement window, or a picture window. Almost certainly, they will draw a box with a gable roof and a single-hung or double-hung window.

If these are indeed the most iconic type of window you can buy, why is this so? Does your house need either type of window? And what is the difference between these two windows that sound much alike?

What Are Single-Hung and Double-Hung Windows?

Single-hung windows and double-hung windows are two different types of windows. Though different, they will look identical from a distance. Both single-hung windows and double-hung windows are vertical-sliding windows with an upper and a lower sash. A sash is the square or rectangular frame containing the window glass and may include smaller pieces called muntins that divide the glass.

The difference is that with single-hung windows, only the bottom sash moves and the top half is permanently fixed. With double-hung windows, both sashes slide up and down. With fewer moving parts, single-hung windows conceivably are more weather resistant. Yet double-hung windows can be safer for children and pets since the top sash

Single-Hung Windows: Pros and Cons

Single-hung windows predate double-hung windows and may be preferred for an authentic look on historic homes. In modern homes, single-hung windows additionally may be preferred because they cost a bit less than double-hung windows.

Also, it is often argued that single-hung windows are less susceptible to air infiltration, or leakage, simply because the upper sash is fixed and cannot develop looseness the same way a moving sash can. This won't be reflected in performance ratings, as both types of windows must meet the same standards. But in use, window seals tend to degrade over time, and a moving sash cannot be sealed with caulk like a fixed sash can.

If the upper sash of a single-hung window breaks, a glazier must come in and repair the window. With a double-hung window, though, the homeowner could replace the upper sash.

What Is a Glazier?

A glazier is a window expert with a very specific skill: Glaziers lessen the need for artificial lights in the home by installing glass in windows and displays.

What We Like
  • Weathertight

  • Fewer moving parts

What We Don't Like
  • Not safe for children or pets when lower sash is open

Double-Hung Windows: Pros and Cons

The double-hung window is the most common style of window available today. And the reason is simple: double-hung windows are easier to clean.

Double-hung windows with tilt-in (also called tilt-out) design can be cleaned from inside the house. With single hung windows (and older double-hung windows without tilt-out function), it's difficult or impossible to clean the outside of the lower sash from indoors. You have to reach it from the outside--easy if the window is ground-level, difficult if the window is upper-level. 

Single-hung windows can also have a tilt-in or removable lower sash, but you still have to reach outside the window to clean the upper sash, a perilous task.

The ability to open the upper sash on a double-hung window is another advantage in terms of airflow. Sometimes it's nice to open the upper sash and not have air blowing in from below. You can also create a minor recirculating effect by opening both sashes about halfway or less. In theory, this allows warmer air to escape through the upper sash and cooler air to enter through the lower sash. But in reality, this natural convection has little cooling effect on a room.

Finally, for homes with small children, double-hung windows' top opening sash allows you to keep the lower sash closed, yet still have airflow coming through the open top. 

What We Like
  • Easier to clean

  • Can be opened on top

What We Don't Like
  • More mechanical parts to break

  • More expensive

Which Type of Window to Buy?

When you're shopping at window showrooms, compare single-hung and double-hung models for looks and cost as well as ease-of-cleaning and other convenience factors.

If you'd like to be able to open both sashes, choose double-hung windows. If you'd like to be able to remove both sashes, again choose double-hung windows. Otherwise, you might be perfectly happy with single-hung windows and can save money, too.

Generally, double-hung windows are now so common that it is often easier to buy them than to buy single-hung windows, with more choices and better prices.