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Dormer windows: How to pick out the perfect ones for your home

All windows bring a sense of airiness to a space, but dormer windows take it to the next level — roof level that is.
A modern farmhouse features shed dormer windows

Though jokingly referred to as “the eyes of your home,” dormer windows do more than create visual interest. They can bring sunlight into hard-to-reach spaces, increase airflow, and add curb appeal.

What's a dormer window?

A dormer is a roofed structure that extends beyond the roof and includes a window. It’s a typical feature in a variety of home styles, from Cape Cods and craftsman bungalows to Tudors and colonials. A dormer is also a common addition for renovation projects, particularly when the goal is to create more usable space in a half-story or attic. And in a new construction home, a dormer can be a way to acknowledge the home is a contemporary interpretation of a particular architectural style or simply a way of adding character. In short, a dormer is a small design detail that can have a big impact.

Here’s what you need to know to pick the right windows for your dormer.

Roof v. wall dormers

Dormers can either be built into the wall and extend upward into the eaves of a roof, or they can be built into the roof itself. A wall dormer is typically more vertical and smaller in scale than a roof dormer. Roof dormers run the gamut, from featuring a single window to running nearly the length of the roof. The right window will depend on the type of dormer. Here’s your primer on dormer types.

Gabled dormer windows are being built into the upper level of a new construction home
Gabled dormers in this new construction home are built into the wall and extend upward into the eaves of the roof. This design approach allows for extra tall windows, which bring light and fresh air to the home’s upper level.

What's a dormer window?

Dormers are named according to the shape of their roofs, so a gabled dormer has a triangular roof with two sides that meet at a peak. We’ll explain a bit more about the most popular dormer styles in this section, plus give some ideas about selecting the right windows for each style.

Gabled dormers

Gabled dormers include two sloped sides that come to a neat point at the top. This style of dormer is common on Cape Cods and on Georgian/federal-style homes.
A modern farmhouse features a series of three gabled dormers
The set of three gabled dormers on this modern farmhouse add architectural interest and allow space for extra tall windows on the second story.

What type of windows work well in a gabled dormer?

Gabled roof dormers are classic on Cape Cods where double-hung windows are typical. Of course, lots of different home styles include gabled dormers, and lots of different types of windows can work here. So, consider starting with this question: Am I going for a symmetrical or asymmetrical façade?

While symmetry is certainly characteristic of a Cape Cod, asymmetry is characteristic of a Tudor — another home style that typically features gabled dormers. If your home’s exterior style is more symmetrical, consider matching your dormer window to your first-floor windows. If it’s asymmetrical, you could go for a statement window in the dormer and maybe even choose an interesting shape.

Scroll down to “How to pick out dormer windows” for a step-by-step method that’ll help you through the selection process.

Hipped dormers

A hipped dormer has three sloping sides — one slanting down from above the window and two adjacent slopes behind. Hipped dormers are typical on prairie, French eclectic, and shingle-style colonial homes. You might also see a hipped dormer on a midcentury home.
A series of three hipped dormers add character to a shingle-style colonial home
This series of three hipped dormers add lots of character and bring extra light into the upper level of this shingle-style colonial home. Featured here are A-Series casement windows in black with specified equal light grilles in a 2-over-2 pattern.

What type of windows work well in a hipped dormer?

Hipped dormers are a common feature of prairie-style homes where casement windows are typical. But as with gabled dormers, hipped dormers are found on various home styles, which means the best choice of window will vary.

When selecting windows for a hipped dormer, ask yourself: Is my home more traditional or modern in style? Casement windows are a go-to style for creating a modern look, so they work well on prairie or midcentury homes, while double-hung window with grilles fit in well with the more traditional look of French eclectic or shingle-style colonial homes.

Scroll down to “How to pick out dormer windows” for a step-by-step method that’ll help you through the selection process.

Shed dormers

Shed dormers have a single, sloped roof that juts out in one direction from the main roof. You might find a shed dormer on craftsman bungalows or Dutch colonials.
A shed dormer on a lake house features three windows
This band of three 400 Series awning windows makes the most of the available space in this shed dormer.

What types of windows work well in a shed dormer?

Shed dormers can vary in size, so consider the role the dormer is playing in your home. In a craftsman bungalow, a large-scale dormer might be used to improve the functionality of the half-story upstairs by adding space, light, and air. To that end, the classic approach would be to include a horizontal band of three to five windows to make the most of the opportunity offered by the dormer. When selecting windows for a shed dormer, ask yourself: Is my dormer more functional or decorative?

Scroll down to “How to pick out dormer windows” for a step-by-step method that’ll help you through the selection process.
A-frame cabin featuring shed dormers in various sizes and shapes
A-frames are all roof on two sides, which means these shed dormers featuring E-Series windows were the perfect way to bring in light, air and even add another entrance. They also add some interest to the home’s silhouette.

Eyebrow dormers

Eyebrow dormers are usually smaller and feature a curved roof, as the name suggests. They’re typically more decorative than functional in nature, and they’re commonly featured on shingle-style colonials.
The exterior and interior view of a new construction home featuring an eyebrow dormer window
This eyebrow dormer adds some extra light and a ton of character to this new construction home.

How to pick windows for a dormer

As you know by now, in most cases, many different types of windows can work in a dormer. To help you pick the best option for your home — work through the following questions:

  • What role does my dormer play? Is it adding a distinctive architectural feature to your home? This might be the case if the window is very small or if it’s in a room that’s rarely used. If instead, it’s about improving the livability of an attic or half-story, you’ll definitely want the biggest windows that will fit.
  • What size window best fits my dormer? Think about the shape of your dormer and what window will best take full advantage of the space it provides. This will help you maximize light, air flow, and views. Windows that fit a dormer fully will also be more aesthetically pleasing from the outside.
  • What style of window complements my home’s architectural style? For a distinctive look, do a little research into the style, shape and proportion of windows that are typically used in homes like yours. Our Home Style Library will help you get started.
  • Will certain types of windows be easier to maintain? Since dormers are attached to the roof, tilt-wash double-hung windows and casement windows are both good options. They can be cleaned (inside and out) from inside the house — no ladder-climbing required.

There you have it — your primer on dormer windows. Up next: Learn how to bring more light, air, and views into your home.

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