Do Full-Height Windows Make Sense for Your New Home?
How many times have you strolled through neighborhoods and historic places and observed – with interest and curiosity – the windows on homes and buildings?
While not as talked about as porches, kitchens, bathrooms, and mudrooms, windows are an integral part of the total look and architectural character of a home or a building. There are various window ideas that match the home’s design and style. From the classic sash window to awnings, hoppers, jalousies, and the very popular floor-to-ceiling kind, windows help define the homes they adorn.
Top: This rear view of a lovely one-story, five-bedroom Craftsman-style home looks impressive with its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the raised deck. Bottom: The large windows taking in the rear-view vista of the home site are the focal point of the home's Great Room (Plan #161-1042).
In recent years, floor-to-ceiling windows have steadily increased in popularity. Designers and architects note that as more homeowners read about these “walls of glass” and see them in ads and movies, their fascination with them grows. And with that comes the idea of including floor-to-ceiling windows in their homes. After all, how can you not rave about the beautiful views provided by these "window walls"?
This impressive Great Room in a four-bedroom, 2,095-square-foot Transitional Ranch style home includes floor-to-ceiling windows that extend to the kitchen and dining area (not shown) – virtually connecting the indoor and outdoor spaces. The covered porch at the back extends the entertainment area during warmer weather(Plan #142-1237).
But do they make sense in the home’s overall design concept?
Let’s find out about floor-to-ceiling windows, the reasons to consider them in your home, their benefits, the challenges they present – and whether they are being used more often in contemporary homes.
Why So Popular?
Popular culture, design magazines, and advertisements aside, floor-to-ceiling windows are an attraction for homeowners interested in extending the open-floor-plan layout. Who can argue with the concept of connecting the indoors and outdoors with plenty of window walls?
If you want to transform any room in the home dramatically, floor-to-ceiling windows are the way to go. Here are some advantages:
1. More Natural Light
We all love a room that’s bright and airy. Floor-to-ceiling windows open up the room and allow plenty of natural light into the space. With abundant natural light available throughout the home, fewer light fixtures are used during the day. This reduced lighting load cuts down on utility bills – and results in valuable savings over time.
In addition, medical experts agree that exposure to natural light improves overall health and well-being. The natural light that filters into the home through floor-to-ceiling windows boosts Vitamin D, wards off seasonal depression, improves sleep, and reduces the health risks of fluorescent lighting.
Look at the amount of sunlight that fills the hallway of this one-story Contemporary style home (Plan #202-1014).
2. Indoor-Outdoor Connection
The "window walls" appear to “open” the outside world to you and present stunning sights of the surroundings and the landscape. Whether the home is built in the countryside or an urban environment, amazing views – like lakes and rivers, mountain ranges, green fields, or city skylights – are highlighted by the large windows.
“The driving force for my clients is the connection to the outdoors, being able to expand living onto outdoor spaces,” says Rick McAlexander, primary designer for Associated Designs, Inc. ”I very much support the concept of connecting the indoor and outdoor living environment and feel that a window wall – especially the folding type – is an excellent concept.”
Top: As you walk down the stairs of this magnificent two-story, four-bedroom Mediterranean-style home, take a deep breath and bask in the spectacular sight of a lake and lush green field through the home’s floor-to-ceiling windows (Plan #161-1034). Bottom: These windows provide another breathtaking view of nature’s beauty in a two-story, four-bedroom, 3.5-bath Transitional home with Craftsman influences (Plan #146-2810).
3. “Enlarging” a Smaller House or Room
A glass wall of windows opens up a space and makes it look bigger and brighter than a solid wood or concrete wall ever can. As mentioned, the indoor-outdoor link is also better facilitated with these windows.
This unusual floor-to-ceiling arrangement of windows opens up the living room in a smallish 1,235-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath vacation home, making it seem larger than it is, at 13 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 4 inches (Plan #160-1009).
4. Improving Curb Appeal
Well-designed floor-to-ceiling windows can make any home attractive. Just imagine all the sunlight during the day – and how stunning the house looks at night when all the light fixtures from within shine through the walls of glass. In purely aesthetic terms, floor-to-ceiling windows are a feature to be desired in any home.
The fantastic Modern style three-bedroom, three-bath home wouldn't be the same with Its large expanses of floor-to-ceiling windows on both the first and second stories. The glass not only fills the interior with plenty of natural light but also adds to its curb appeal and inviting look (Plan #116-1100).
Yes, the walls of glass can be show-stoppers. They allow all that natural light and provide terrific views. However, there are also several disadvantages to floor-to-ceiling windows.
1. Expense/Cost of Installation
The large walls of glass come at a steep price – even with a number of manufacturers and product options. In addition to the initial cost, other factors should be considered. For example, a structural engineer may have to be involved in the design. So the “added cost of engineering and structural components like steel girders or parallel-strand laminated beams makes an already expensive product even more cost-prohibitive,” says house designer Sam Morgan of SW Morgan Fine Home Design.
“I think these will always be luxury products,” says Bill Fagerquist of New Line Home Design. “Even if you mull stock windows together to create a full-height effect, you'll still need to have the lower windows tempered and install support mullions and posts. For the most part, these windows and all curtain walls will be special-order items.”
2. Lack of privacy and security
Unless you live in a secluded, fenced-in property with a lot of acreages, having floor-to-ceiling windows offers very little privacy. “In more dense housing situations, our clients haven't requested these units, presumably due to privacy issues,” says Douglas Schoonover of Schoonover Design Group.
Everyone – from your neighbors to passers-by - can see you, especially if the windows are in the front of the house. If you have to keep the shades or curtains drawn all the time, there’s no point in having these windows to allow plenty of sunlight to filter into your home. Then, there’s also the threat of vandalism and rock-throwing.
These renderings of the front (top) and rear (bottom) of a fantastic two-story five-bedroom, five-bath, one-half-bath Modern home showcase the floor-to-ceiling windows that surround it. While the windows are stunning, they also present a clear view of everything inside the house – highlighting the lack of privacy and security challenges (Plan #116-1106).
Be careful of fingerprints and other unsightly dirt that stick to the glass of floor-to-ceiling windows. Unlike solid walls, these windows have to be washed and cleaned. And it is a challenge to clean and maintain them. It’s definitely not a solo job. You may have to hire a service to help you out.
4. Too Much Light
The amount of natural sunlight allowed by floor-to-ceiling windows to come into the home is both an advantage and disadvantage. During the colder months, the heat from the sun is a good and welcome benefit. However, the windows can get very hot in the summer months and will likely damage furniture, fabrics, and rugs. You can select high-performing glass, have large roof overhangs, or use exterior or interior shading devices to mitigate the heat in the summer.
As you weigh the pros and cons of floor-to-ceiling windows – and decide whether you still want to move forward with them in the home or not, here are a few designs to think about:
A wall of glass – Multiple units grouped together to form a wall
This glass wall of floor-to-ceiling windows in a Great Room provides an unobstructed view of a fully furnished entertaining and dining area on the covered back porch (photo credit: Alberto Castillo Q.on Unsplash).
Expansive glass windows with narrow frames give more definition to a home’s exterior and make it more attractive.
More curb appeal, please! There’s a landscaped front yard and stunning outdoor lighting fixtures. Add tall glass windows and doors with narrow frames – and this gorgeous five-bedroom, five-bath, two-half-bath Colonial Coastal style home becomes more dazzling (Plan #175-1243).
Arches are in this year, so why not arched glass windows? They give the home a classic touch and a geometric shape different from the grouped units of glass windows.
Arched floor-to-ceiling windows in the home office of a luxurious two-story Mediterranean-Spanish style home complement its overall classic design (Plan #195-1216)
Square or rectangular windows for the master bedroom – Floor-to-ceiling windows are not limited to the Great Room, kitchen, and dining area. Many modern homes now feature these windows in bedrooms. In the master bedroom, the windows may form tall walls of glass – but rectangular or square-shaped.
Artsy and minimalist charm define this master suite in a 2,568-square-foot, two-bedroom Contemporary Ranch style home. A cozy sitting area, wall art, and two walls of glass windows that provide views of the outdoor surroundings are attractive features (Plan #161-1125).
The Harsh Reality
While they are increasing in popularity, the reality is that floor-to-ceiling windows are costly and most often do not meet the budgets of a majority of potential homeowners. For the moment, these windows are only in the realm of the very wealthy – who have unlimited budgets.
The answer for the regular homeowner? Multiple fixed windows or sliding glass patio doors.
“We have been using large lift and slide doors more than the windows, “ says Dave LiaBraaten of DesignHaus in Bend, Oregon. “I think with the windows, it is a balancing act between expense (they are expensive), privacy, energy efficiency, and cost. The truly spectacular wood and glass creations we see and admire are essentially impractical from an energy and cost standpoint, so my goal has been to optimize the effect of more glazing and try to minimize the negatives, all at the lowest cost.”
Can’t afford floor-to-ceiling windows? How about sliding glass patio doors that open to the outside space - as shown in this attractive, sunny, airy, and spacious Great Room in a one-story, three-bedroom Contemporary style home? Walls of glass like this are more expensive than multiple regular sliding glass patio doors, but the unobstructed opening (a critical factor in the expense) is a game-changer. Look at the vaulted ceiling, clerestory windows, and sliding glass panels here. The top photo shows outside views through the closed doors, and the bottom displays the panorama from open doors (Plan #202-1013).
Despite the prohibitive cost of floor-to-ceiling windows, their charm and appeal are no denying. They adorn homes and add to their aesthetic value. But for now, it’s a waiting game for prices to decline. We can expect floor-to-ceiling windows to be installed in more significant numbers when that happens.
Footnote: The top left rendering in the lead image of this article is the exterior of a gorgeous one-story Contemporary Prairie style home with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow such spectacular views. For more on the 2,593-square-foot residence with four bedrooms and a three-car garage, go to Plan #161-1085.