What Are Clerestory Windows And Can Any House Have Them?

Clerestory. This is an old term that may be new to you. It refers to a certain type of window that you’ve probably always wanted but never knew how to ask for. If you do know what they are, you probably picture cathedrals.

Clerestory WindowsView in gallery

This is because lancet windows are often clerestory windows that are on the top floors and balconies of churches. But of course, this isn’t even where the first clerestory windows were built, and not the only place they are used today. 

The truth is that clerestory windows are a lot more common than you may think. Anyone can have clerestory windows, not just old cathedrals that use lancet windows to gain height. Here is what you need to know about clerestory windows. 

What Are Clerestory Windows?

Clerestory windows
Image from Western Window Systems

A clerestory is any windowed wall that is higher than the roofs around it. They appear as a row of windows high above eye level that let the light shine down inside to give your room a heavenly appearance.

They are common in modern homes as the pitches of the roof are more forgiving. In older homes, there isn’t much room for clerestory windows, though they do exist. Most clerestory windows in residential buildings have been added on. 

Why Get Clerestory Windows?

Via Charlie and Company Design Ltd.

People usually get clerestory windows for that celestial shine that it gives a room. But they also offer other benefits. For example, you can use only clerestory windows to let there be light without the windows taking up entire walls.

In warm climates, clerestory windows are often preferred because they let in the same amount of light as low windows but the light is less harsh. This is because the sunlight is filtered above, leaving your room lighted but not too hot.

When clerestory windows are added above other windows, they make it appear as if the entire wall is made of glass. There can be a support beam between the two window rows so you get the effect without the danger of having a wall of windows. 

History Of Clerestory Windows

Via North Fork Builders Of Montana Inc.

Now that you know what clerestory windows are, you may be interested in their history. According to Britannica, one of the first uses was in the huge hypostyle hall of King Seti I and Ramses II at the Temple of Amon.

This was in the 1300s BC. The columns in these buildings were higher in the center, letting light in the center of the building. This was something that wasn’t thought of before then. But it sure was afterward.

By 300 AD, many Roman buildings were covered in clerestory windows. Fast-forward eight-hundred years and clerestory windows are one of the most popular windows in gothic and Roman architecture. 

Clerestory Windows Inspiration

It’s great to know that clerestory windows aren’t just historical, they are current and even trendy. You can find a home that already has them or put clerestory windows in your current home. But do to that, you need to know what you’re looking for. 

Although finding out more about interesting architecture is fun, what’s most important is finding a way to apply it to your life. These ideas and inspiration will give you something to work with as you design your new home.

Pitched Clerestory Windows

Via Jeri Koegel

Interestingly enough, clerestory windows don’t have to be straight at all. They also don’t have to be slanted up on one side only. They can work with the pitch of the roof. After all, clerestory windows don’t have to be the highest point of the house.

This can work on the ends of the house only as they will have a pitch. Unless you add on and create an L-shape to accommodate pitched windows that you would normally see on the end of a house.

Inclined Clerestory Windows

Via Guild Hall Inc.

Though these windows are inclined, the roof is. With roofs that are slanted only once and not pitched, you can always add clerestory windows to the higher side. Adding them to the slower side would disqualify them from being called clerestory windows.

If you do add clerestory windows to an inclined roof, consider using exposed rafters. This can add to the effect and give an open feel to the ceiling, making the space seem bigger and giving you more to work with.

Continued Clerestory Windows

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Via Mission Tile West Showrooms

In rooms that are set higher than the rest of the house, you can add normal windows and they can be considered clerestory windows. You can also make this effect even more powerful by adding floor to ceiling windows.

This looks amazing no matter what room it’s in, but it’s even better in the highest room in the house. The effect is modern, yet offers room to play with the design style and making it look rustic or chic as well. 

Clerestory Sunroom

Via Thielsen Architects, Inc. P.S

Clerestory windows are perfect for any sunroom or naturally-lit bedroom. The two were created for the same reason. So that you can view nature and let natural light in without being bombarded by intense sunlight. 

To make sure the light is only pleasing, never too intense, hire someone to add a protective gloss on your windows. This will not only stop the heat from the sun, but can also allow you to choose how clear the windows are from the outside. 

Separated Clerestory Windows

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Via CLB Network

Despite popular belief, you can have clerestory windows without having a row of narrow windows above other windows. Clerestory windows simply need to be higher than part of the roof. This gives a lot of room for creativity.

You can even put standard windows up above and call them clerestory windows. Remember Clerestory isn’t a design style, it’s an architectural style. So any type of window can be a clerestory window.

Dual Clerestory Windows

Via Dillon Kyle Architecture

Another great trend is to add clerestory windows to two sides of a room. You can do even more, but usually, the architecture will only allow two opposing sides. This will make sure there is natural light coming in at all times of the day.

The lower windows are an option, and it really depends on your climate. If your house is often warm, the lower windows aren’t eccomedned. If your house stays cool, the lower windows can let extra heat from the sun in. 

Faux Clerestory Windows

Via Level One

If your house just doesn’t allow you to add clerestory windows, you can always fake it out. Do this by adding glass doors on the bottom level and a support beam above it. Then, add large windows that reach as high as your structure will allow.

This makes it look as if the windows reach higher than the roof when really they are just below. They may not technically be called clerestory but they will look like clerestory windows and add the aesthetic you’re looking for.

How Much Do Clerestory Windows Cost?

Via Acanthus Architecture

The windows themselves will cost the same as any other window. The only thing that makes them cost more is that they are usually multiple windows put together. So instead of paying for one window, you’re paying for three or four. 

So the more expensive and unique the windows you choose, the more expensive the clerestory windows will be. Choose small, square windows for the cheapest total cost. Or hire someone to help you find out what’s best for you.

Cheapest Clerestory Windows

The cheapest “row” of clerestory windows will be about $500. This is for paned windows of a standard size ( or smaller), and that really is the cheapest you’ll pay. These are usually repurposed windows too.

If you want decent clerestory windows, you will pay more. 

Average Cost Of Clerestory Windows

The average price of clerestory windows is about $1000. This is for standard clerestory windows, not standard windows used for clerestory windows. These windows come in all shapes, sizes, and materials.

Most standard homes will pay about this much as most people want regular clerestory windows. But some people have big dreams and need the best of the best to fulfill them. And that’s okay!

Best Clerestory Windows

For the nicest clerestory windows, expect to pay over $2000, likely up to $5000. These will be wood or steel and have the exact panes that you want. You can get the size you want as well, and choose whether they open or not. 

If you have a $5000 budget, your dream can probably be replicated exactly. Any less and you may have to settle. 

Cost Of Clerestory Window Installation

Keep in mind that whenever you hire a contractor, you’re hiring an expert. This contractor is going to pay anyone that helps him, he’s going to pay for the tools he needs, and he’s already paid for training.

So expect to pay a good amount of money. Contractors work hard, and they charge a lot. The cheapest contractors for clerestory windows will be about $500. But the standard is at least a few hundred dollars more. 

What’s great is that most contractors have connections that will let you get the windows at a lower price. So, if you do hire them, they can help you find windows at an affordable price and the money saved can be transferred to their pay.

In the end, hiring a contractor is your best bet for saving money and making sure your new clerestory windows are as safe as possible. And that’s what’s most important. When you can rest easy, you can truly enjoy your new addition.