upstairs windows on 1 1/2 story house

drjoMay 30, 2007

My husband and I have bought a fantastic small 1 1/2 story clapboard house, in the Hudson River valley, built in the 1770s. Upstairs are two bedrooms with two windows at each end of the house. We want to add some three-light awning windows to the front of the house upstairs, because we really want more light and air up there. From what we have learned, windows like this are appropriate for this age house, but the windows would end up being very low on the bedroom walls -- perhaps 12" from the floor and only 17" high, so the tops of the windows would only be about 29" off the floor, not even half-way up the front walls, which are 61" high. I haven't been able to find any photos of rooms with such low windows. Does anyone know whether low windows like this exist in this style of house and whether they look OK or too weird? Any other advice is also more than welcome! Thank you.

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we have a c1850 farmhouse and there is a 2 story and 1 and 1/2 story section.
in the 1 and1/2 story section we have windows that are nearly on the floor (maybe two inches from the floor). I am sorry I dont' have a picture.
I do not know why the windows are like this exactly. In the two story section of the house they are about 12 inches from the floor (they are the very tall windows so they are about 12 from the floor and 12 from the ceiling)
Because of local codes these windows need to be "safety" or tempered glass. I think even if this were not code you should do this. I can see these windows getting broken VERY easily. We had one break (due to the previous owners buying a cheap replacement window) and we replaced them both for safety reasons two years ago.

It makes decorating a challenge. It does look nice from the outside of the house though. I also have to always keep the entire shade closed because you can see in the house easily. For the other parts of the house I can leave only the lower portion of the window covered for privacy.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 4:37PM
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Dear Renee, Thank you so much for your reply. Your situation in the 1 1/2 story section sounds close to ours. Do you dislike the way the windows look inside? Given the decorating challenge, if you had the choice whether to put in the windows, would you do it? Jo

    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 5:34PM
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I guess I don't think that the windows look odd because our house is so old and I have seen them in other old houses. I do think other friends would think they are odd.
I took some pics and will post them on my website tonight
( go to the pics sections. I will have them there.
You will have to pardon the mess though! this is not a room we have done much with yet. I use it for sewing and exercising so I haven't gotten around to repairing and painting.

If I didn't have windows there I think it would look very dark in the room. So yes, I would put windows there (if i had the choice) for sure. Maybe I would have looked at various types of windows that could be placed there and chosen something different? Can't be sure tho, as I didn't do that.

I took pics of the awning windows we have in the room also. These are great for the room as we can put a bed right under them if we choose and the offer privacy, because they are so high. The wall with the big windows has a fireplace chimney there so it isn't like we could put much on that wall anyways, so at least it lets in alot of light right now, with the windows there.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 7:06PM
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We have low windows in our attic bedroom suite. They're not exactly what you're talking about, but they are very close to the floor.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our Attic Room

    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 8:34PM
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Windows like you are describing are quite common for your house design. I suggest you try to find copies of books describing and picturing this style in the Hudson Valley; I think in a house as old as yours choosing the right style of dormer to go with the pitch of your roof would be very important to the look. I live in mid 19th c. house in the upper Hudson Valley so I am always interested in our local houses; I would be glad to post a list of books about Hudson River architectural styles, if you'd like.

Inside, the windows will never be conventional (by modern standards that is) but will look just fine. I think you will find decorative treatments for these windows if you look for decorating books with pictures of English cottages, which often have low-ish second stories. You might find that casement windows work well for the sash design.

FWIW, my second floor windows are only 22 inches from the floor, although they are full, double-hung windows in a full height room. (My house is Greek Revival with a deep entablature along the eaves which actually covers part of the room's height.) I kind of like my low windows, I like being in bed and looking out and slightly down at the outside world. And my cats think they are great, too.

One thing to keep in mind, though, may be the inescapable code requirements if these rooms are to be used for bedrooms. There are building code formulas that require certain sized window openings (or windows) for each sleeping space. In my experiece these code dimensions are sometimes not compatible with historic proportions (they are much larger and squarer). But historic house-lover that I am, I am also a former volunteer firefighter. We had a tragic incident in our town where children were trapped in attic bedrooms in a 19th c. 1 1/2 story house with only the typical "eyebrow windows". They couldn't get out through the small openings, but neither could firefighters in turn-out gear and breathing packs get in to save them. So even if you have a lax code enforcer or are inclined to ignore this, I urge you make sure there is sufficient means of escape.

Another issue you will need to consider is how you insulate under the roof down to the knee walls. You can't just slap some insulation against the underside of your roof cladding, you'll need to make sure there's some air space there.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 9:35PM
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Not exactly sure what 'three-light awning windows' are, but you can see some pictures of my third floor at the link below. First row of picture shows the windows from outside, 4th row has some pics of the top floor from inside. The are close to the floor and not very tall.
Windows do not open. House as built in 1850.

drjo mentioned decorating....that's a non-issue for me since I'm a bachelor and really don't decorate much! The one room is basically a closet (old house=poor closets), the other room is my Lego room, so decorating isn't high on my list for those rooms.


Here is a link that might be useful: My house

    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 9:47PM
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Hi, i have the pics on my website now (
go to the pictures section and you will see them a couple down . they are in a blue room. If you click on them you will see the picture larger.
You can see one window (left side) is very close to the ceiling, which is why they are so short. The ceiling continues to slope up so it is higher on the right side of the room than the left side. I think they put the same windows one both sides of the room to keep the symmetry outside.

"housekeeping" brought up a good point, you want to make sure there is a good way out of every bedroom in an old house. Since our windows are double hung we can get out there. Right under the windows is a roof and we can walk down the roof and jump to the ground if needed. This is actually an alternate escape route for out other two bedrooms. They have a two story drop from their windows. We can go down the hall to the "escape" bedroom or down the other way and down the stairs and out of the house. All our bedrooms have fire extinguishers to aid in our escape if needed. You can never be too careful! Last year there were so many children that died in fires in the city. It is so sad that could have been prevented!


    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 10:19PM
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Wow, thank you everyone for your input and photos. Housekeeping (Molly), I would love a list of books to try to find. We've only had this house for about 9 months, and I'm very hungry to learn more about it and similar houses, but I haven't really learned how to do the research. Scryn (Renee), it's amazing what you've been able to learn about your house -- I want to try to do that too. Thanks for advice on fire safety -- we already have two smallish but "normal" windows in both bedrooms (at the ends of the house), so we are OK there.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2007 at 4:47PM
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Are awning windows really appropriate for that era? I honestly have no idea, but I do know that we have them on our early-60s ranch, and they're quite funky!

Would it be possible to stagger the windows? I have a couple of interesting pictures, unfortunately I have no shots of the outside of the houses, so you'll just have to imagine what they might look like! :) Sorry that these examples aren't quite as low to the floor, but hopefully they'll give you some ideas anyway!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2007 at 11:37PM
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Here's another picture of a low placed window in a bedroom. This building is from the Victorian era.

Here is a link that might be useful: window

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 10:47PM
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