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Can you install a transom window in your home?

January 16, 2023

Transom windows are a classic feature of Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian homes – but now it seems they’re increasingly coming back ‘in vogue’ once more.  

Their resurgence can be attributed to homeowners looking to bring more natural light into a space, or add a dash of style and architectural interest to their home.

While they’re more likely to be spotted on a period property, it is possible to have a transom window installed – whatever the age of the house.

It’s generally recommended to assess the structure of the wall, and measure up accurately, before starting work.

Consulting an architect or building specialist is always the best option, but before you make that call, here’s a little bit more on the classical window style, the different options, and how you can go about installing them.

 

What actually is a transom window? 

A transom window typically sits above a door or window in a house – the word comes from the old French for ‘crossbeam’.

Dating back to the 14th Century, they actually became widely popular between the early 1800s and the mid-1900s in Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian-era homes. 

They were originally added to homes for functional reasons – to provide extra natural light and ventilation to a room.

However, Victorian-era homes began combining the windows with decorative glass to add a touch of style and extra architectural interest. 

Despite this, they fell out of favour around the mid-20th Century due to the availability of larger windows, and more modern heating and cooling systems.

However, in recent years, they’ve enjoyed quite a revival in popularity as a design element in new builds and renovations.

In fact, you can now find a whole range of different styles, from semi-circle and fan-shaped to the more traditional rectangular. And it isn’t just on homes where you’ll find transom windows either; commercial buildings use them to provide better light and ventilation to lobbies, offices, and public spaces.

 

How are transom windows installed? 

This will depend heavily on where you’re installing your transom windows. They can be added above doorways, openings, and windows, on either exterior or interior walls.

As a general rule of thumb though, these are the main installation points.

  • Consider structural requirements. First, you need to ensure that a transom window will fit your home structurally. High ceilings may be better suited than standard 8ft ceilings. It’s particularly important to investigate whether the opening you want to add the window to is a load-bearing wall or not before any work is carried out. Load-bearing walls may require opening up the entire wall section in order to change the framing and add additional structural support. If you are unsure about the structural requirements, it is recommended to consult with a builder, inspector, or engineer.
  • Measure up the space. Measure the width and height of the opening with a tape measure. It is important to have an accurate record of the measurements in order to ensure that you purchase the correct size window. If the transom window has any additional features, such as grilles or muntins, you will need to measure for these as well. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for measuring these features. In addition to the size of the opening, it is important to consider the rough-in framing space required for the transom window. This is the space between the window and the framing that will be required to install the window. Make sure to account for this space when measuring for the window. If you are unsure, consult a professional.
  • Remove drywall and/or exterior cladding. The next step in adding a transom window is to remove the drywall and/or exterior cladding above the door. This will allow access to the wall framing. Following this, remove a section of wall studs in order to reframe that section to accommodate the transom window. This may be necessary to ensure that the window fits properly and is structurally sound.
  • Install the window. Once the framing is in place, the transom window can be set in the opening. If it was added to an interior wall, new drywall will need to be installed to cover the opening. If it was added to an exterior wall, the exterior cladding will need to be replaced to cover the opening. The final step in adding a transom window is to install trim and caulk around the edges of the window to give it a finished look and seal it to prevent draughts. Then you can paint and finish it.

What are the most common types of transom windows?

There are many different types of transom windows available, each with their own unique features and characteristics. 

Here is a list of some of the most common ones, along with information about which types of property they may be best suited to:

  • Fixed transom windows. Fixed transom windows are non-operable windows that do not open or close. Suitable for any type of property, they are a good choice for areas where ventilation is not a concern, or for decorative purposes. They are often used in combination with other windows, such as casement or double-hung, to provide additional light and visual interest.
  • Operable transom windows: Operable transom windows are windows that can be opened and closed to allow ventilation. They may be hinged or sliding, depending on the design. Operable transom windows are a good choice for areas where ventilation is desired, such as bathrooms or kitchens. Again, they are suitable for any type of property.
  • Arched transom windows: Arched transom windows have a curved top, which gives them a distinctive, elegant look. Especially well-suited to historical or traditional properties, they are often used to add architectural interest, and can be either fixed or operable.
  • Round transom windows. Circular in shape, round transom windows have a unique, modern look. They can be either fixed or operable, and are often used to add visual interest to a property. These tend to be a good fit for contemporary or modern properties.
  • Fan transom windows. That unmistakable curved, fan-like shape adds real aesthetic appeal to a property. These types of transom windows can either be fixed or operable, and are often used in combination with other windows to provide additional light and ventilation.
  • Transom windows over a door. Transom windows that are installed above a door can provide natural light and ventilation to the entrance of a home or building. Fixed or operable, they can be found in a variety of styles and materials, giving the property owner plenty of choice when it comes to making an external style statement.
  • Overhead transom windows in a wall:  Overhead transom windows can be a good choice for homes or buildings with high ceilings or for areas where more natural light is needed. Fixed or operable, they can be found in a variety of styles and materials to suit all manner of design preferences.
  • Transom windows in a wall between rooms: These tend to be a good choice for homes or buildings with open floor plans where there is little natural light. 

 

Always do your research

Transom windows come in all shapes and sizes.

They can be a fantastic way of bringing traditional appeal to your property, while allowing more natural light into any rooms that need it.

A popular decorative addition to front doors and windows, they can also be used for bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms; basically any interior openings.

However, before you go rushing out to order one, you need to ensure that a transform window will fit in your home structurally in the location you want.

This means checking to see if the desired wall is load-bearing or not, and measuring up the space accurately to ensure you get exactly the right size. 

Consulting an architect or construction professional when adding a transom window to your property can save a lot of time and money in the long run.