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6 Benefits of a Clerestory Window

Tuesday December 26th, 2023
High above, near the roofline of a vaulted ceiling, a clerestory window illuminates the space, bringing natural light to an otherwise dark and unnoticeable area. Clerestory windows are a type of window that isn’t exceedingly common, but their unique benefits make them an ideal window type for the right home design.

6 Benefits of Clerestory Windows

  1. Natural light
  2. Privacy
  3. Limits Distractions
  4. Aesthetic Framing and Design 
  5. Saves Wall Space 
  6. Historic Relevance and Modern Design 
Clerestory windows add several benefits to the home. Not only are they a unique window type, but they also have a fascinating history that adds historical relevance to modern designs. 

What is a Clerestory Window? 

When designing a new home or reimaging a room for a remodel, you’ll be surprised to find that there are several different types of windows to consider. Each window type has its own advantages and purpose. 

For example, common windows, such as single or double-hung windows that open up and down, are the ones most people are most familiar with. But there are some window styles that many people haven’t heard of, such as clerestory. 

Clerestory windows (pronounced “clear-story”) are fixed windows used on vaulted walls. They sit above eye level, situated just below the roof line. They come in a variety of sizes, and are used to brighten the room with natural, ambient light. 

They are similar—and often confused with—transom windows. However, the difference is that clerestory windows are not set above a door and transom beam, like a traditional transom window. Rather, they can be found on any upper portion of the wall in the home. 

History of the Clerestory Window 

Clerestory windows have been used in architecture for thousands of years. According to Britannica, they first appeared back in 1,300 BC at the Temple of Amon in Egypt for King Seti I and Ramses II. 

They were also popular in Roman architecture, and were most prominent in Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals as they allowed warm, natural light to flow into the high vaulted ceilings of the upper level of the church. These windows were also designed to not distract the churchgoers with views of the outside world. 

The benefits they provided Egyptian temples, Roman architecture, and Gothic cathedrals are the same benefits you can find in your modern home, including their ability to brighten a large interior space, add privacy and aesthetics, limit distractions, and save wall space. 

6 Benefits of Clerestory Windows 

Now that we’ve explained what a clerestory window is and explained their historical relevancy, let’s talk about some of the benefits they provide. 

1. Natural Light 

Perhaps the greatest benefit of clerestory windows is their ability to bring natural light into a room. This is perhaps the most common reason they are used, as the unique architectural feature of windows high on the wall allows the room to be fully lit by natural light. 

If the room also has windows, then the space doesn’t need artificial lights during daylight hours. Not only does this save on energy bills each month, but natural light is easier on the eyes and increases productivity compared to artificial lighting. 

Furthermore, natural light is simply that—more natural. In that way, it’s more comforting and inspiring. We all know that a fully sunlit room draws us in more than a room without windows. 
Common windows aren’t usually enough to light up a room, especially on cloudy winter days. With clerestory windows, you can confidently rely on natural light to illuminate your space during the day. 

2. Privacy 

Due to their positioning on the upper section of a wall, clerestory windows have the advantage of offering occupants’ privacy without sacrificing natural light. Because of this, a high window is often placed in showers and bathrooms. 

In these areas, privacy is of the utmost importance, and with the addition of clerestory windows, you can still benefit from that touch of ambient light in the room. Showering or taking a bath with daylight streaming in—all while fully confident of one’s privacy—is a luxurious and magical experience. 

They are also beneficial for privacy in rooms that face a neighbor's house or busy street. You can maintain the privacy you need while still enjoying the comfort of natural light streaming into the space because the windows are on taller walls above eye level, and thus too hard to see into. 

3. Limits Distractions 

In the same way that clerestory windows offer privacy, they also limit distractions. This is a neat benefit for areas that require focus and limited interruptions, such as an office. 

However, not many people want work in a windowless room, which is why clerestory windows offer the best of both worlds. Occupants aren’t distracted by outdoor activities, and they can enjoy both the comfort and mood-boosting benefits of natural light. Plus, as mentioned above, natural light can raise productivity, making clerestory windows that much more beneficial. 

This is one of the reasons clerestory windows were so popular in Roman Catholic cathedrals, as the people within the church weren’t distracted by events outside and could focus on their prayers or the sermon. This same benefit can be applied today in modern homes for places of study or work. 

4. Aesthetic Framing and Design 

Clerestory windows can be nearly any shape or size, making them not only a functional feature of the home, but also a decorative and aesthetic element. 

Because they commonly follow the roof line, they are a great addition to spaces that have an angled roof—or really any roofline that is a significant architectural feature. The “roof edge” of the clerestory window can follow the roof line, creating a unique geometric window that highlights the roof’s angle or design. 

In this way, they can highlight beautiful ceilings, such as a ceiling with open wooden beams or interesting light fixtures. These high-story windows capture one’s gaze, drawing the eyes to the ceiling above where other artistic features of the home or building can be appreciated. 

The framing of clerestory windows also adds an aesthetic touch to the overall design scheme of the home. A window frame is more than a functional element of a window—it’s an integral piece of a home’s design, both in color and shape. Black windows, for instance, are becoming increasingly popular for modern homes, while rustic wooden frames are perfect for farmhouse-style homes. 

Because of their placement on tall walls, clerestory windows with beautiful window frames and interesting shapes can significantly complement the home's internal and external design. 

5. Saves Wall Space 

One of the biggest advantages of placing windows toward the ceiling is that it opens the opportunity for more decorations or shelving on the walls. While you may decide to use an entire wall to frame a beautiful view with large picture windows and clerestory windows, you can also choose to forgo lower windows entirely in favor of shelving and decor instead. 

Imagine a large wall full of the finest art—or perhaps a library full of treasured books. The clerestory windows above can highlight the beauty of the art or give the library ambient lighting as you read on a cozy day. On the other hand, you can also add cupboards for storage, just as you would in a kitchen, art studio, or office. 

You can do so many things with the free wall space, and you won’t have to give up any natural light. 

6. Historic Relevance and Modern Design 

Finally, clerestory windows bring a mix of historical design and modern features to your home. These windows respect old traditions while also showcasing modern architectural elements found in today’s home, such as unique roof lines. 

Because of the historical relevance and modern design, they fit beautifully with virtually every design style. As long as there are vaulted walls to place them, they’re sure to enhance the space in more ways than one. 

Which Direction Should Clerestory Windows Face? 

There isn’t one “right” direction that clerestory windows should face, as it depends on the climate, the home’s structure, and the desire of the homeowner. 

Generally, clerestory windows are placed on south or north-facing walls to maximize sunlight, but there are exceptions to this. North-facing clerestory windows won’t bring in the same amount of direct sunlight that south-facing windows will. However, south-facing windows may bring in too much sunlight and require an overhang to avoid overheating the home. 

For hot climates with lots of sun, north, west, or east-facing windows may be better, as south-facing clerestory windows may bring too much heat or direct light into the home. That said, there are ways to remedy this, such as using low e glass for your window glazing to reduce heat transfer. 

However, milder climates can benefit from south-facing windows, as they can help warm the home on sunny winter days.

Do Clerestory Windows Open? 

Because of how high they are on the wall, most clerestory windows are fixed. In other words, they can’t open, mainly due to how difficult it is to reach them. 

Fixed windows are also more insulated than operable windows because they are completely sealed into their window frame. For windows that capture daylight like clerestory windows do, they must be well-insulated. 

All that to say, clerestory windows can be made to open or close if the homeowner desires fresh air. If this is the case, they’ll open like an awning window or casement window with a hand crank. 
Because clerestory windows are placed toward the ceiling, they are more exposed to significant winds and weather elements, making it important for operable clerestory windows to have strong, impact-resistant glazing, such as tempered or laminated glass

If you would like an operable clerestory window to increase the ventilation in your home, you’ll need to custom order it, as most standard clerestory windows are fixed close. 

Brighten Your Home with Clerestory Windows 

Clerestory windows are great for big rooms and walls because they fill the area with natural lighting. But they're not just for big rooms or tall walls; they can improve any part of your home where you want more privacy, fewer distractions, and more wall space.

With their historical relevance, modern charm, and aesthetic design, clerestory windows are ideal for highlighting unique roof lines and interesting ceilings. 
If you’re ready to add more character and depth to your high ceilings, contact Rustica today to ask about our clerestory window options. 

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