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Designing Our House: The Windows

by Tara

Over the past few months, I've been researching, planning, and gathering materials for the construction of our little cottage. My first area of focus has been the windows. Initially, I went through a phase where I was dead-set on having wavy glass (commonly referred to as "restoration glass") windows, like one would find in a historical building or a storybook cottage. As has frequently been the case on this project, a little dose of reality changed my perspective.

Whimsical Windows

Photo credit: Jeroen Kransen and god-knows-where.

It turns out that restoration glass is exorbitantly expensive, and that finding used antique windows in the correct sizes would be difficult or impossible given our timeline. Even more practically, thanks to the ice-cold air that has been pouring through our crappy single-pane camper windows all winter, we've come to the conclusion that commercially available, double paned windows make a lot more sense.

After settling on "regular" windows, I built a second cardboard model (our first one was crushed in the trunk of our car) and meticulously planned the kitchen, dining, living, and bedroom areas of the house. I then chose window locations, and made a rough estimate of their sizes, with a minimum and maximum height and width for each location.

Cardboard Model House Window

I based my placements around the beams in our timber frame, rafter overhangs (we have large overhangs, so I don't want the windows placed so high that we have a view of the underside of the roof), and the planned cabinet locations. To determine sizing, I took into account things like the distance from the floor to the top of the bed for bedroom windows, and from the floor to a comfortable sitting height for our window seats.

Cardboard Model House Window

Once I had a list of how many windows we needed (6 to be exact), and what their approximate sizes should be, I entertained the possibility of trying to find great deals on craigslist and ebay. Eventually, after finding nothing to my liking, I gave up on this plan. I don't like the idea of having a mishmash of differently styled windows, anyway.

And so, I headed to a building supply store.

I'm not sure what I imagined building our house would be like. But I know for certain that perusing the Marvin, Anderson, and Pella options at our local building showroom was not it. Perhaps I thought we'd be finding gorgeous antique hobbit windows from Ye Olde Building Supply? Or maybe we'd be blowing our own glass with local sand, and hand-hewing wood from our own trees for the casing?

Most likely, I had no clue what we were going to do, and I simply didn't think about windows at all, except for collecting vague images in my mind (and on Pinterest) about what my dream house would look like. But regardless, there I was in the showroom, opening and closing all of the model windows, comparing hardware options, and learning the differences between casements and double hung windows.

I chatted with a salesperson, and together we weighed the pros and cons of everything ever. I decided which details were worth spending more money on (oil rubbed bronze hardware instead of the standard "satin taupe"), and which weren't (rounded windows are two or three times more expensive than rectangular ones). We also went through my entire list of windows and determined which "standard" window sizes would fit in my guidelines. Sometimes the difference between a few inches was over a hundred dollars!

Oil Rubbed Bronze Window Hardware

Finally, after making decisions about color and hardware and size and shape and grill and casing and every other detail imaginable, I ordered them. They're wood, with aluminum exterior cladding. They won't have any grill patterns, so we'll get the maximum possible sunlight and views. They'll have a wide, evergreen-colored exterior casing, which will hopefully look lovely against our earth-tone plaster exterior.

Marvin Aluminum Clad Window Exterior Colors

Eventually, I'll make shutters and window boxes for them—my storybook dreams will come true yet!


Photo credit: Mo Westein and Mihai Chintoanu



I really like the evergreen, good choice! :)
Posted by Magalie on March 14th, 2014 at 11:26 PM
Thanks, Magalie! :D
Posted by Tara on March 17th, 2014 at 2:33 PM
I love that you prepared min & max dimensions before shopping for windows instead of going in with a precise set of measurements. I learned far too late into my first (and only so far) home renovation that flexibility is key!

Curious... did you do a sun study when determining window placement? Where I live, in the southwest desert, the interaction of roof overhang & window placement with the seasons & time of day is crucial. I imagine it's not quite as important in the northeast woods, but if you did one, I'd be really interested in seeing the calculations.
Posted by Jennifer on March 17th, 2014 at 5:35 PM
You can definitely make them look like antique 6 by 4 inch squares windows in the future with some wood molding and silicone. We did that on a old 1875 house that we were replacing the windows and you have to be really close to see the difference.
I know that the "original" look really good and most of all, feel as the original but you'll save a lot of cord of wood because windows are the worse heat trap ever.

Winter is almost over up here so you should be near Spring too!
Posted by Carl on March 17th, 2014 at 7:06 PM
What about those lovely Russian window frames?
Posted by Scot McPhie on March 18th, 2014 at 4:43 PM
Jennifer - Unfortunately I don't have any calculations for you. We did do a solar survey on our land, but didn't really incorporate that into our design.

We did, however, put our largest windows on the south side so we'll get plenty of winter sun. The north side of the house won't have any windows, but that's where our door will be, and it will be half-lite (half window).

Since we're going to have straw bale walls that need protecting from the elements, our roof will have a huge overhangs. I'm not sure what that will do to our light, but I'm hoping we'll still get some sun. :-)
Posted by Tara on March 19th, 2014 at 8:33 PM
Jennifer - I almost forgot! In addition to the six regular windows, I ordered four skylights. They should help bring light into our house despite the massive roof. :-)
Posted by Tara on March 19th, 2014 at 8:35 PM
Carl - Thanks for the idea! Yeah, I'm totally sold on modern windows after living in our cold, drafty camper. Having an insulated house is going to be amazing!
Posted by Carl on March 19th, 2014 at 9:50 PM
Scot - Those Russian windows are gorgeous on old Siberian houses, but they're far too ornate for my taste. And I'm pretty sure we'd have to go back to Russia to get them! (Which would be awesome, but not very economical) :-)
Posted by Tara Alan on March 19th, 2014 at 9:58 PM
Ooooohhh, skylights! So lovely in sun *and* rain.
Posted by Jennifer on March 23rd, 2014 at 11:45 PM