What Are Clerestory Windows And Can Any House Have Them?

Clerestory windows are as old as ancient Egypt. You can find them in churches, train stations, and modern homes.

Clerestory Windows

Clerestory windows appear on the top floors of homes, most often between roof lines or at the top of the wall just below the roof. Most church architecture has them. They can be one large window or a series of smaller, singular windows.

History Of Clerestory Windows

According to Britannica, the word clerestory appeared in Egyptian temples. Because their columns were higher in the center, this allowed for more light.

In 300 AD, they were part of Roman basilica architecture. Centuries later, they appeared in gothic churches and Victorian architecture.

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright popularized clerestories in the United States during the late 1800s. He used them in his Prairie Style prototype to provide more natural light and help the house connect with nature. Wright’s Praire Style house influenced many of the styles we see today, including modern and mid-century modern.

What Is A Clerestory Window?

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Image from Western Window Systems

A clerestory window is a vertical row of windows at the top of a wall, above eye level. Some designs sit higher than the roof of their home.  The purpose is to illuminate a space without impacting privacy.  

More common in modern homes, these windows help provide heat in colder climates. Residential buildings may add them in an attempt to reduce heating expenses.

Window Vs. Clerestory – What’s The Difference?

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Jeremy Levine

A regular window is an opening in a wall covered by a pane of glass. A clerestory is a type of window that sits along a roofline or the upper part of a wall – always above eye level. 

What Is The Purpose Of Clerestories?

Clerestories illuminate an interior. You can use them to increase natural light without taking up large amounts of wall space.

In warmer climates, the light they admit isn’t as harsh as light from standard windows. As sunlight is filtered from above, it can leave your room well-lit but not hot.

You can also add clerestories above other windows to create a wall that looks like it’s made of glass.

Are Clerestory Windows Fixed?

Most clerestory windows are fixed. But you can buy versions that open and allow for ventilation. 

Clerestory-style windows that open are typically awning windows or hopper windows, opening from the top or bottom with the use of a hand crank. 

Which Direction Should Clerestory Windows Face?

Direction Should Clerestory Windows Face
Image from Flickr.

Clerestory windows should face north or south, depending on your climate. When facing east or west, it’s because they’re on every wall. Also, south-facing clerestories require overhangs. North-facing windows will receive less light but won’t overheat a room.

How Tall Should The Windows Be?

Clerestory-style windows come in a variety of sizes. There isn’t a standard. Some are a foot wide and two feet long, while others are ten feet wide by 20 feet. Narrow is the go-to style for taller walls.

Examples of Interior Clerestory Windows

Here are images of clerestory windows in very different styles. 


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Via Jeri Koegel

If you want a custom look, your windows don’t have to be in a straight row. You can try slanting or positioning them to one side. Work with the pitch of your roof.


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Via Guild Hall Inc.

If your walls are slanted, add clerestories to the taller side. For inclined surfaces, exposed rafters will make your space feel larger and add to the design aesthetic.


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Via Mission Tile West Showrooms

For rooms higher than your other spaces, add regular or large paned windows. You can also achieve this effect by adding floor-to-ceiling windows. The effect is modern and offers opportunities to experiment with floor-to-ceiling glass.

Natural Light Sunroom

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Try this style for a sunroom or naturally-lit bedroom. You can view nature and let natural light in. If you have adjacent rooftops or adjoining aisles, include exterior clerestory windows.

Separated Windows Admitting Daylight

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Via CLB Network

To maximize natural light in a room with tall ceilings, consider adding clerestories and a row of standard, double-hung windows high on the wall.

Dual Options

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Create a modern look by adding a row of windows to both sides of a room. Lower windows are a good option, depending on the climate. If your house is cool, then low panes will allow more natural heat to enter.

Faux Design

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If you don’t have enough room, fake it. You can add clear doors to the bottom level and a support beam above it. A clerestory windows exterior will add curb appeal to your home.

Clerestory vs. Transom Windows

Transom windows are installed above doorways. Clerestory windows are installed at the roof line. They sit higher and are larger than transoms. 

How Much Do Clerestories Cost?

How Much Do Clerestories Cost
Via Acanthus Architecture

Clerestory windows cost between $1,000 and $5,000, but the price depends on size and style. For elegant models or awning windows, you’ll pay more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

How To Pronounce The Word Clerestory?

The pronunciation is “kleer – staw – ree” or say it just like you would “clear story.” An easy way to remember how to pronounce it would be to imagine a “clear story.” If you aren’t sure, you can check a dictionary.

What Is A High Window Roof?

This is a vertical wall which sits between two sloping sides. It has a row that stretches across its span. Most roofing styles are symmetrical, with a hipped or gable-type design, or asymmetrical. The roofing style has a row of panes in the vertical panel between the two sloped sections. Clerestory roof windows require serious planning and design.

Can You Add Clerestory Windows In Kitchen Designs?

A clerestory windows kitchen design is possible with high ceilings. You could add a single row along the top part of a wall. If your kitchen ceiling is low, then add them above. If you have an interior rising space, it will be hard. Once you make a clerestory window sketch, you’ll have a better idea of what you can do. There are plenty of clerestory windows manufacturers that can create what you want.

What Are The Best Clerestory Window Coverings?

Motorized clerestory windows are popular but pricey. To complement them, you would want to get motorized blinds. With motorized blinds, you can block sunlight which would help keep your house cooler. If you have a row of windows, like a stone church, you will need to custom order the coverings.

Sheer vertical or panel track blinds are two options. Because of the clerestory windows passive solar design, blocking sunlight from entering your home can be challenging. You might consider installing a clerestory window pole crank for manual protection when you buy clerestory windows.

With clerestory window bathroom coverings, you might want to make them tighter so they cover the panes. They do make blinds for clerestory windows. Clerestory window blinds are best for bedrooms.

Curtains can be tailor-made for your mid-century modern clerestory windows. Floor-length drapery panels or wooden shutters are common.