A Practical Guide to Window Placement

Living room/ dining room with natural light

Windows bring in natural light and give you a view of the outdoors. But where do you place them to maximize that view, help keep your home comfortable, and maintain your curb appeal?

The question of window placement comes up constantly during the design of a major remodel or addition. If you're planning to do either of the above, or are in the process of designing a new home, you should get familiar with the basics of window placement. Because windows are expensive to move or add later if you get it wrong.

In this short article, I'll try to shed some light on this concept. Let's jump in!

Exterior Window Placement

The challenge about window placement is doing it in a way that looks good both on the inside and outside of your home (and can capture a great view). If possible, it's best to start with the exterior of your home. Specifically, the front of your home that faces the street. That's what you will view the most. When it comes to exterior window placement, the back and sides of your home are less critical, and the concerns of indoor placement take precedence.

Get the Ratio of Glass to Wall Right

Make sure you don't have too much or too little of a wall taken up by glass, especially on the side of your home that faces the street. I'm not talking about the sizes of individual windows here but the percentage of your wall that's glass. Aesthetically, either extreme will look "off." There isn't a hard and fast rule; rather, let your sense of proportion be your guide. You want enough glass to capture a great view but not overdo it and throw off the look of your home.

Choose Landscape or Portrait

Most homes benefit from having most windows oriented vertically or horizontally (like a portrait- or a landscape-style photograph). Portrait orientation is often the best choice for traditional homes with a second floor and a gabled roof. Landscape-orientation can work well with low-slung house styles. The important thing is to choose one orientation or another and stick with it. Many traditional homes make an exception for a large picture window with a view of the back yard. The contrary orientation doesn't affect the curb appeal of the home, and the sweeping views and connection with nature are worth it.

Seek a Pleasing Proportion

No doubt your home will have windows of various sizes. Some will be large and some small. But each window will have a unique height versus width ratio. (Divide the height in inches by the width in inches, and you'll get this number.) The more you keep to this same ratio, the more pleasing and balanced your home will look from the outside. A home with a mishmash of tall skinny windows and short, squat ones may look unbalanced. This is especially true for traditional architectural styles. More modern or contemporary styles can often get away with more of a mix.

Keep Windows Aligned

Whenever possible, try to align all the windows on a wall both horizontally and vertically. For instance, the windows on your second floor should mostly be aligned with the ones on the first floor. If the top or side edges are floating, unaligned with each other, your home won't have a pleasing look. If the alignment of every window is simply not possible due to the interior layout of your home, you can center one window with the top or bottom edge of another.

Use Novel Shapes Sparingly

Most homes feature rectangular windows exclusively. It's a safe way to tie your facade together. If you crave a bolder, more visually interesting look, you can incorporate a less conventional window shape, like an oval or curved-head design. If you do so, try to limit it to one non-conventional shape. Too many shapes can give your facade a disjointed look.

What direction should windows face?

If you live in the northern hemisphere, consider placing most of your windows so they face the south. South-facing panes allow plenty of light into the room because the sun tracks mostly in the southern half of the sky.

Also, use energy-efficient windows to control the amount of natural light into the house. The north-facing windows receive less natural light in most parts of the year. That is during autumn, winter, and spring except for the summer. Thus it is better to install smaller west-facing windows but also keep ventilation in mind. The use of high-performance glass can also help in controlling the amount of excess heat in the room.

Consider Ventilation

When choosing windows, you have a choice between operable windows that open and non-operable or fixed windows that do not. To take advantage of cooling breezes in the summer, pay attention to the prevailing wind direction for your area and be sure to place plenty of operable windows facing that direction. You will also need operable windows on the opposite end of the house so the air will flow all the way through.

What side of the house should have the most windows?

You have to weigh aesthetics with comfort and practicality here. As mentioned above, you should be conscious about the orientation of your home to the sun. In more northern latitudes, like Seattle, we generally try to maximize solar heat gain in the winter, orienting most of a home's windows toward the south. Add windows to the north side of the house sparingly, for these tend to just lose heat without warming the house at all. For windows that face the sun, try to use overhangs that will let in low-angle winter sun, while blocking high-angle summer sun that may overheat your room.

Interior Window Placement

When deciding where to place windows, you can't just think about how they will look on the outside of your house. Almost as important is how they will function and affect the inside of your home.

Capture the perfect views

Most people choose to install their biggest windows in the living room, but if your living room overlooks an unsightly alley, you will probably want to avoid a large picture window.

Placing kitchen windows

The kitchen is often the most challenging room in which to place windows because the upper cabinets compete for wall space. If the only spot for a window is above the sink, choose a casement or fixed window because it will be difficult to open and close a double-hung window in that spot. Try to avoid placing a window above the cooktop. Grease can splatter on it, heat can shatter it, and breezes from it can blow out a gas flame.

What height should a window be from the floor?

Traditionally, the bottom of a window is spaced three feet above the floor. This allows the furniture in the room to be placed in front of the window. However, if you don't plan to place any furniture directly in front of the window, you can place your windows lower to the floor. Just keep in mind that if it's two feet above floor level or lower, you will have to use safety glass and

How do you place a window in a bedroom?

The primary function of bedroom windows is to let in the breeze at night, so make sure they are operable. Depending on the size of your room and the orientation of the views, you may be faced with placing windows on the same wall as your bed. Generally, a single, high-placed window above the bed can be difficult to access (to open and close the shades and the window itself), and it may be too high to offer any views, so two smaller windows flanking the bed may be the preferred approach.

Window placement do's and don'ts

Do

  • Place opening windows where they will catch prevailing breezes.
  • Request special glass coatings on south- and west-facing windows that will prevent your room from overheating. Different coatings on north-facing windows can help reduce heat loss.
  • Consider replacing old, drafty windows with new windows as part of any remodeling project.

Don't

  • Forget about ventilation. Position opening windows where they will face prevailing breezes and create a pleasant airflow through your home.
  • Overlook the curb appeal of your house. Windows that are unaligned can give a haphazard appearance.

See also: Window Replacement 101

Window Placement Inspiration

Custom Mantle

Two small windows add to the overall polished aesthetic of this bright mantle wall with custom built-in shelves and a shiplap accent.

Sky Light

This compact kitchen is brightened up with a half-light door and a large skylight, leaving space for wall cabinets.

Floating Mirror

Placing bathroom windows can be a challenge. Here's a creative solution that brings in natural light while layering the vanity mirror on top.

Inside & Out

Creative window placement can do wonders to tie interior and exterior spaces together. Here, a profusion of windows makes the pool and patio area feel like an extension of the interior living space.

Side Light

This boldly painted sidelight door makes a statement and floods the entryway with light.

Portrait Format

Image: Refined

With its tall gables and front door, this home's design is well complemented by the portrait-oriented windows on its front facade.


This article highlights a hand-picked selection of work by a variety of designers and builders and is meant to showcase their talent. Please drop us a line if you would rather not be featured on this page.

Article Categories: Interior Design, Design Tips And Trends, Remodeling

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