If eyes are the windows to the soul, what are windows to a home? The short answer: very important! Your choice of windows, whether it’s for a new build or remodel, will impact many aspects of your living experience, from beauty and functionality to comfort and energy efficiency. Your architect and builder are your most important resources — they will make recommendations that best suit your home’s style, preferences, and budget.
Windows are a home feature to get right. Understanding window types and common terminology can help you as you review design plans and ask questions, which is why we’re here to explain, from an architect’s perspective, how to go about selecting the right types for your home.
A Quick Guide to Popular Window Types
Before jumping into all the details and matching window types to home styles, let’s cover some window terminology you should know. There are lots of different window types, but most residential windows fall into the following categories:
Single hung window: A window that’s made up of a moveable glass panel and sash on the bottom and a fixed glass panel on the top.
Double hung window: Both top and bottom glass panels are operable in a double hung window and can open and close.
Casement window: A casement window attaches to its frame by hinges and swings outward to open.
Bow and bay window: A bay window is made up of three window sections that project outward from a home’s exterior. Each window section can be operable or inoperable. In contrast, a bow window projects outward from the exterior wall, but in an arc-shaped frame comprising at least four casement windows of the same size.
Arched window: With a square or rectangular bottom and arched top, this type of window lends a dramatic architectural detail to a home’s exterior.
Picture window: Ideal for framing a yard or outdoor space, a picture window brings in natural light and offers unobstructed views.
Transom window: A transom window is a type of decorative window above a home’s exterior or interior door. While most of today’s transom windows do not open, some offer that capability to improve a home’s airflow.
Clerestory window: A clerestory window is located above eye level and serves to bring in natural light. Unlike a transom window that is specifically placed over a door, a clerestory window may be installed where appropriate on any exterior wall.
Horizontal sliding window: One of the most common types of residential windows, a sliding window or slider moves horizontally along tracks located on the top and bottom.
Awning window: An awning window is hinged at the top and opens out from the bottom.
Garden window: A garden window is a type of bay window with a boxy profile that is commonly installed in a kitchen.
Top Considerations in Window Selection for Homes
There are a few different factors that impact what type of windows will work best for your home. Here are the most important things to address in your research and decision-making:
Most importantly, the windows you choose should complement the home’s architecture. Certain window types work better for some architectural styles than others (more on this below). Your architect and builder can steer you in the right direction if you’re unsure of your options.
Windows are also an integral part of a home’s four-sided architecture, which is the practice of integrating design elements into each of a home’s exterior sides. Your home should look pleasing from all angles and perspectives, and windows can help you achieve this.
Other aspects of complementing the architecture are window size and shape. Undoubtedly your home’s windows will be of varying sizes, and it’s important that they are of a similar proportion and scale to the structure.
Windows are a wonderful opportunity to highlight and accentuate a home’s architectural features and interior design. For example, a large bay window can act as a focal point from the exterior, creating wonderful curb appeal. It can also act similarly from inside the home – add built-in bench seating to create an inviting reading nook that also frames outdoor views.
Some window styles are better suited to specific rooms that serve different interests and activities. A large picture window is a natural fit for a living room or great room that can frame views. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a garden window anywhere else besides a kitchen.
With the recent interest in homes that promote wellness and healthier living, windows are increasing in number and size to improve ventilation and harness as much natural light as possible. The need for privacy can also influence window choice. Clerestory windows, transom windows and skylights are a few examples of how you can enjoy the natural light windows provide while maintaining privacy.
Windows can improve your comfort in your home throughout the seasons, keeping you warm in the winter and cooler in the summer. Energy-efficient windows in particular are integral to passive solar design and offer higher performance, reducing how much energy your home requires and lowering your monthly utility bills.
Last but not least, pricing may also be a deciding factor in your choice of windows. Paying more for a high-quality and durable window that will last far outweighs any upfront cost savings you may be tempted with on a lesser product. The total lifetime window cost should be considered, and that includes repairs and the possibility of a full replacement for defects in material and construction. If you’re building or remodeling your forever home, you want these windows to last, so purchase the best quality your budget allows.
Windows for Popular Architectural Styles
We like a cheat sheet as much as anyone. Here’s a reference guide to what window types complement certain home styles. Note that these are guidelines, not design rules, so they make a good starting point in your decision-making process:
Window Construction and Materials
Once you’ve selected the types of windows for your home, surprise! You get to make more decisions about their construction. While it may seem overwhelming at first, your architect and builder will provide guidance and recommendations to match your windows to your priorities, whether it’s durability, aesthetics, budget, or a combination of the three.
Frame material impacts how your windows look as well as how well they perform. Steel windows represent the higher end of the market, while wood, aluminum, vinyl, and composite are the most common framing materials.
Each has its own set of characteristics, pros, and cons. For example, wood is more energy efficient than aluminum yet usually costs more and requires more maintenance. Consider aesthetics, durability, maintenance, cost, and energy efficiency in your decision.
White, brown, bronze, beige. Black is having a design moment, and works well for a variety of home styles, including modern traditional, transitional, and modern farmhouse. Let your exterior architecture be your guide, followed by color palette and frame material choice.
The glazing or glass panes impact your windows’ energy efficiency. Choose from single, double, or triple glazing. For double or triple paned windows, the space between the glass panels is filled with argon or krypton gas to minimize heat transfers, increasing their energy efficiency.
Exterior trim is the molding that covers the seam between your window frame and siding. It offers a finished look that can extend around all or a section of a window. Your home’s architecture and siding material will often determine the type, style, and placement of window trim.
A divided lite is a grid pattern created by adding muntins (narrow strips of wood, vinyl, or other material) between the panes of glass. It’s an architectural detail that adds character to a home and can work with a variety of window types.
Making Windows Memorable
Selecting your windows should be a fun part of your custom build or remodeling project. While your home’s architecture will largely influence your choice, you still have the opportunity to personalize windows to create distinction, add curb appeal, and enhance the interior.
Your architect and builder are great resources and can help you make the right choice for your home and priorities. Windows are a feature that isn’t often replaced, so get familiar with your options and enjoy the process!
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