Window dressing: Forget energy savings, how should your windows look?

The interplay of windows and lights in an Ivy renovation of Bushman Dreyfus gives this home and airy feel. Photo: Virginia Hamrick The interplay of windows and lights in an Ivy renovation of Bushman Dreyfus gives this home and airy feel. Photo: Virginia Hamrick

Windows were once the middle child of home construction. You had to take care of them at some point, but you didn’t really pay them any attention until you had to. It was almost like you could see right through them.

Then came the environmental revolution, and people went nuts for energy efficient windows. But what about all the other choices you’ve got to make when it comes to windows?

“Windows are a very important part of exterior design in terms of the feel of a house,” said Joey Conover, who owns home design and build firm Latitude 38 with her husband, Jeff Erkelens.

Style

“The style of the window should match the style of the house,” said Candace Smith, owner and operator of Candace M.P. Smith Architect. This can refer to the way the window is set into the facade—modern windows tend to be closer to the front of the frame, where older windows are sunken back—or it can refer to the type of window used. Double hung windows feature two movable panes of glass, where single hung windows have one moving and one fixed pane. Double hung windows are more expensive than single hung, Smith said, and while they are useful in homes where ventilation is key, they can be less resistant to high winds.

Casement windows that crank out from a single hinge are increasingly popular in modern homes, Conover said, as they are convenient to open and provide a better seal against the elements. The screens for the windows are placed on the inside, which can give the exterior more polish. Fixed windows, with no moving panes, provide another environmentally friendly option and are well-suited to high applications where they wouldn’t ever be opened or where there’s enough cross-ventilation from other windows.

Trim

Smith said residential home designers typically look for windows with significant exterior trim to give them the appearance of depth and width. Modern sills can extend outward as little as a half inch, where old world sills might run to three inches.

Window trim also refers to muntin bars, slats used to give the appearance of having multiple panes. While Smith said modern windows are rarely if ever made with individual panes, high quality muntin bars attached to both sides of the window can lend an authentic appearance. Inexpensive solutions known as “air grills” are composed of thin strips of metal attached to only one side of the window.

“Muntin bars—that is where you talk about cost differences,” Conover said.

Size and shape

“One of the most important things is the proportion of the window” to the house, Smith said. The façade should have a good balance of solid walls and voids to make it appear well proportioned. Smith suggested unique shapes, such as circles or even trapezoids, can add an accent.

Conover said that while each manufacturer works from a standard window size, be it for traditional rectangles or unique shapes, custom shapes and sizes are also available. But if you’ve been paying attention, you know by now that will increase your costs.

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