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Windows & Doors

Windows & Doors
Steve Fox, Managing Director OBMI

Windows and doors. Not the sexiest subject for an article—you might think. But wait! Before you turn the page, consider that the cost of these elements in a beautiful new home in the Virgin Islands can amount to between 15 to 25 percent of the overall building construction cost. Given that even the most modest three-bedroom home is likely to cost upwards of $500,000 to construct, the cost of the windows and doors is likely to be very significant. Added to this is the fact that doors and windows are abundantly important for the successful atmosphere and function of the building.

Windows and doors perform a wide range of functions, and it’s the careful consideration of these functions that makes up a large part of the art of designing a home. When sketching out ideas, it’s not just the sizes and relationships of the rooms that need to be considered. The designer needs to keep in mind a multitude of factors, and an obvious primary factor is the placement of the openings in the building envelope. I always try to imagine the feel of the spaces—the sense of openness and flow of air and light—when developing ideas for a new client.


The size, quantity and orientation of the openings are obviously particularly crucial for homes in the BVI, where we have the most spectacular views. We design most homes around the views, and most clients naturally want to maximise the openings to take full advantage of the potential of their site. So most major spaces in the house—living areas and bedrooms—typically want to feature a large, glazed opening, wide and full height, usually stepping out to a deck or terrace. But these large openings are not cheap, and they’re not simple. There are a multitude of possible types and configurations: sliding, hinged, folding, French, etc. Possibilities need to be considered carefully, to determine the most suitable approach. The selection of the framing material combines with these decisions. Wood, aluminium and vinyl are the usual choices with their differing properties, maintenance needs and costs.

As well as letting in light and opening up the house to the views, windows and doors provide natural ventilation. If the house is well designed and the prevailing weather conditions are taken into consideration, the openings can be arranged to catch the breeze and keep all the rooms comfortable, without the need for expensive, unnatural and energy-hungry air conditioning. We always aim to incorporate openings on at least two sides of a space to ensure the possibility of a controllable flow of air.

But there’s a complication. If you want to keep the windows open to catch the breeze, you also need to be mindful of the Caribbean climate’s tendency to suddenly—without warning—dump a load of rain in frequent, two-minute bursts. In the house I live in (not designed by OBMI), whenever one of these showers passes, we have to run around frantically closing windows. It’s not unusual to be woken in the middle of the night, totally drenched from the rain driving in horizontally through the bedroom window, to leap out of bed to shut down the windows—and thereby cutting off all that wonderful cooling ventilation.

So, the house should ideally be designed so that doors and windows can be left open when it’s raining. The two best ways of achieving this are the use of louvres, and large overhangs. Louvres are great for the non-view side of the house, where they can be left open to allow airflow but also keep out most of the rain and maintain privacy and security. Large overhangs are great on the view side of the house, where as well as providing shelter from the rain, they can keep the direct sun out of those big openings for most of the day.



Of course, the envelope of the building has to resist more than just wind, sun and rain showers. We also have major storms and hurricanes to contend with, which adds another layer of complexity and expense to the design and specification of the windows and doors. Impact resistance has become the expectation, with beefed-up frames and fixings, and thickly laminated glass that won’t break under even the most severe attack by flying debris. The other attacker that needs to be kept out is the dreaded mosquito, and the decision on whether or not to incorporate insect screens is often a difficult one, coupled with the question of whether or not the spaces will want air conditioning.

All of these questions need to be assessed simultaneously. Views, light, space, ventilation, rain, sun, storms, insects, maintenance, costs, external and internal aesthetics—all design issues which are complicated and challenging, and very satisfying when they all work together to help create a beautiful living environment.

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