Everything You Need to Know About Transom Windows

Shedding Some Light on All Your Questions

A window style that has more than endured the test of time, transoms are unmatched for elegance and function. While their popularity has experienced highs and lows over the past several centuries – yes, centuries! – Thompson Creek can attest to a current increase in demand that shows no signs of slowing down.

Modern consumers are looking for multitasking home improvements and enhancements that make the most of every square foot of space, improving the look and feel of their home, while also offering everyday advantages that make a real impact on their overall enjoyment of their space. Transom windows deliver on all accounts – the true “beauty and brains” of the window world.

History of Transom Windows

While transoms are most often chosen for their refined charm in modern home design, centuries ago – as far back as 14th-Century Europe – they were a key element in ensuring a home had adequate light and ventilation without any compromise to security or privacy. In fact, many of the original transoms weren’t what we think of as windows at all, rather holes cut into an existing facade.

In lieu of glass, the first transoms relied on whatever coverings were available, including animal skin. As you can imagine, these coverings came with some natural downsides, including their inability to properly protect against the elements and pests. The advent of glass over time largely solved for these concerns, and brought with it an advancement in ease of operation.

Through the use of window rods and lifts, easily reachable from below without need of a ladder, homeowners could easily open and close the hinged transom windows above to make the most of the mid-morning sun, or the air circulation benefits of a breeze. Operable transom windows today can still be installed with traditional lifts, though many opt for the ease that comes with motorized designs.

Benefits of Modern Transom Windows

Many homeowners today install transom windows for two primary reasons: they add additional light to their space, and quite simply, they’re an attractive design element. While operable transom windows were once an essential component of cross-ventilation, air conditioning has largely replaced this functional necessity. Add the concerns that operable transoms bring – including maintenance of the moving parts, and the opportunity to introduce moisture or pests to a space – and it’s easy to understand why fixed transom windows are so popular.

By removing the concerns that naturally come with transom windows that open and close, modern homeowners are able to enjoy only their best features, including:

  • Enhanced Curb Appeal: Whether situated above other front-facing home windows, or more commonly, above the front door, the boost to curb appeal is undeniable. While transom windows are a beautiful design element unto themselves, they are also excellent team players, leveling up the appeal of all other features they neighbor. Even the simplest entry doors and window designs are instantly elevated by the inclusion of transoms.
  • Working the Night Shift: While transom windows add charm and style at all hours, they are perhaps at their most impactful for curb appeal once the sun has set, and the interior lights have been turned on, which also ties into their curb appeal. Because most homeowners don’t cover transom windows given their height and lack of privacy concerns, the light from inside the home against the dark of the night showcases the natural beauty of the windows. Many even opt to install a transom with the express purpose of showcasing interior elements at night, such as a grand staircase, or chandelier that shines for all to see in alignment with the window.
  • Increased Natural Light: One historical purpose of transom windows hasn’t changed over time – they are unmatched for adding light to spaces big and small. Whether you live in a narrow row home, or expansive Colonial, transoms can play a major role in illuminating the space inside while helping shape the overall look and feel of your house. They can be included in dark or dim areas where every sliver of sunshine makes a difference, or added to an already well-lit area for even more radiance that will satisfy even the most ardent light-lovers.
  • Glass Options: While most homeowners opt for clear glass transom windows, obscure glass is also a popular choice, particularly for sidelights. Obscure, or frosted glass, allows light to shine through and “open up” a space while maintaining privacy. In addition to being a consideration for entryways, obscure or frosted glass is also commonly found in bathroom transoms.
  • Eco-Friendliness: That increase in natural light comes with an environmentally beneficial upside; decreased reliance on artificial lighting. This reduction in energy usage can have a positive impact on your electric bill year-round, while also enhancing your everyday enjoyment of your space. Many people simply prefer natural light to artificial light, and find it makes them feel more upbeat and motivated than a home illuminated by lamps and overhead fixtures.
  • Fluffy and Fido-Approved: You might even find that some of the most passionate transom window fans in the family are of the four-legged variety! Not only can cats and dogs enjoy an enhanced view of the birds and wildlife outside thanks to transoms, but many are happiest taking their mid-afternoon nap (or naps!) basking in the light they provide.

Exterior Transom Windows

Transom Windows

While transom windows can be installed above interior doors in the home, exterior transom styles are the most common and enduringly popular. At Thompson Creek, most homeowners we work with are interested in transoms above entry doors, commonly paired with sidelights, or transoms installed above energy-efficient double hung windows.

Front Door with Sidelights and Transom
There is perhaps no design element so impactful to your home, inside and out, as the entryway. Even when a full home improvement project isn’t possible, upgrading your entry door can drastically improve the curb appeal of your home, as well as your personal enjoyment of your space.

  • If your current entry door is solid without any window elements, you’ll feel the positive impact that sidelights and a transom can bring instantly! The beauty from the inside and outside is the most obvious perk, but the additional light can be far greater than many homeowners imagine, particularly those who don’t get a lot of light from the sides or rear of their homes.
  • Given the wide range of styles available, installing a new front door combo unit with a transom and sidelights also gives you an opportunity to reinforce your desired aesthetic. Do you want your home to appear more modern? Consider the clean lines rectangular transom windows provide. Prefer a more classic, traditional look? Circle-top, or fan-shaped transom windows are a time-honored design that remains the popular favorite of many.

Transoms Above Double Hung Windows
While transoms can be installed above nearly any type of window, Thompson Creek clients most often choose to include them in double hung replacement window installations.

  • Double hung windows are by far our most popular windows, favored for their modern design, energy-efficiency, ease-of-operation and cleaning, and adjustable ventilation, provided by independent sashes.
  • They are an investment that adds value, function, and aesthetic appeal to your home, and are considered by many as the standard for modern windows.
  • Pairing a fixed transom with double hung windows allows you to enjoy the best of function, beauty, and natural light. While most homeowners opt to outfit double hung windows with curtains or blinds for privacy, modern transom windows rarely require either as they are too high to be seen through. This can help prevent the confined feeling that comes with lowering the blinds or closing the curtains at end of day.

Transoms Above Sliding Doors

Sliding doors are chosen by many homeowners for their ease-of-operation, and the unparalleled natural light and unimpeded views they offer. Sliding door installations are most common at the rear of a home, providing parents clear sight lines of kids playing in the pool or backyard, or quite simply, a picturesque view that brings the outside in. To add even more light, transoms above sliding doors are a popular choice, providing the closest operable alternative to a window wall.

While window walls add a wealth of natural light, modern beauty, and open views to a space, they come with some considerable drawbacks, perhaps the most significant of which is their fixed design. The combination of sliding doors and transom windows offers the remarkable views, natural light, and illusion of a larger space that window walls bring, with the important addition of sliding doors being operable. The benefits this brings include:

  • Additional Point of Entry and Exit: Having an additional door through which to enter and exit your home isn’t only advantageous from a safety perspective in the event of an emergency, but also allows you to more easily enjoy the space beyond the door without having to “walk around.” Because sliding doors are typically located at the rear of a home, they often open to an exterior patio or deck that homeowners enjoy while sipping their morning coffee, or winding down in the evening with pajama pants already very much in effect! It’s easy to understand why they might not want to shimmy out the front door in their robe for all to see as they make their way to and from their private oasis in the back.
  • Reduced Reliance on Air Conditioning: Sliding doors make it easy to enjoy those “just right” days when neither heat nor air conditioning are required to achieve the perfect inside temp. In the early days of fall and spring, you can give the thermostat a much-needed rest and enjoy the warmth and natural breezes the outdoors have to offer with a simple slide of the door. This can be especially welcomed on household chore days, helping to circulate the air in your home, whisking away the sometimes overpowering scents of cleaning supplies.
  • Keeping an “Ear” on Kids and Pets: While sliding doors and transoms help you to keep an eye on your children and pets while they play outside, when opened, they can also help you to keep an ear on them! This adds an extra element of safety and security, enabling you to act instantly if your assistance is needed.

How are Transom Windows Installed?

While transom windows can be installed as a standalone home improvement project, they are most often included in the design plan when homeowners are upgrading their existing windows or doors. Because their installation requires “cutting away” from the existing walls, their installation isn’t what would be considered a minor or cosmetic upgrade. While we recommend professional installation for all window projects, the importance is even greater for window styles like transoms as there will likely be load-bearing considerations that necessitate the experience and expertise of professional window installers.

When installing new windows or a new entry door, you have the opportunity to make the most of the project by including elements like transom windows in an overall design that is complementary and balanced. Let’s say you have 6 feet of overall wall space to work with for all window elements. By deciding to include transoms in your design plan from the outset, you can customize how much of that space you want to reserve for the transom, adjusting the dimensions of the double hung, casement, sliding, or other operable window style to accommodate them without making them look as though they’ve been “tacked on” to an existing design.

Because all of our windows at Thompson Creek are completely customized for your home, there are no existing size options to consider in your window layout. Our designers can help you craft the ideal design for all window types in your project, making the most of what your home allows for. In fact, when it comes to the size and shape of our custom transoms, the sky you can see so clearly through them can also be considered the limit!

Transom Windows Inspiration

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Transom Windows FAQs

What is a transom window?
Transom windows are operable or fixed windows that are situated above an existing window or door. They are installed above the crosspiece that separates the door or lower window. This crosspiece is called a transom, lending them their name. Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, transom windows are typically installed for their aesthetic appeal, and to allow additional natural light and/or ventilation into the home.

What is the difference between a transom and a mullion?
A transom is the horizontal – or transverse – crosspiece over a door that lends a transom window its name. Mullions are vertical bars found between window panels, offering division between adjoining units. While mullions can be an integral component of the structural support of windows, they are often used for decorative purposes.

How tall is a transom window?
There is no one size for transom windows – they can be just a few inches high, or several feet tall. All of Thompson Creek’s windows are customized for your home, enabling us to design the precise size to fit your home and desired look.

Where do you hang curtains on transom windows?
While blinds are sometimes installed on transom windows, they don’t typically feature curtains or other coverings given their height, and the lack of concern over privacy it affords. When homeowners do opt for curtains over transom windows, they typically consider the overall window design as a single element, installing curtain rods above the transom window to cover the transom and the windows beneath it when closed.

What is a fixed transom window?
A fixed transom window is typically installed above a door, or larger operable windows, with the express purpose of providing more light and enhancing the aesthetic appeal of a home. Fixed transoms do not open or close, and typically require less maintenance than operable transom windows, which provide both light and ventilation.

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