Transom windows are largely aesthetic design elements for exterior and interior doors. Apart from greater amounts of natural light being let into any entryway or filtered between adjacent rooms, they offer a bit of a nostalgic appearance, which is just now coming back into style. Transom windows are typically made of opaque or totally transparent glass and can either come as a set piece for a doorway or entryway or be installed separately.

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What is a Transom Window?

Transom windows are aesthetic touches added above interior or exterior doors, as well as open entryways between homes. These decorative windows were originally designed and put in place to bring additional light or ventilation into a given space without exposing it to the outside.

Benefits and Downfalls of Transom Windows

Like any design or functional choice you’ll make as a homeowner, adding transom windows to your entry door or interior archways will come with pluses and minuses. Here, we’ve listed a few pros and cons of installing such a window on your main entryway.

Increased natural light
Easy cleaning and maintenance
Possible increased airflow
Can suit numerous architectural styles
Possible increased energy costs
Certain styles can be more costly

Transom Windows Historical Architecture

The use of transom windows dates back to the 14th century in Europe. They were originally used as total openings to provide additional ventilation and more natural light while being positioned high enough to offer privacy.

Such early iterations of transom windows typically had wood shutters or animal hide closures which would be drawn at night, or during inclement weather. Interior transom windows were used to increase ventilation between rooms which, prior to modern electricity and climate control systems, served a fairly vital role.


Modern Transom Windows

Modern transom windows are most commonly manufactured as accents on exterior doors. Often, you’ll be able to purchase a door and transom window as a single set piece, which makes for efficient weather sealing, and durability.

Most commonly, arched transom windows will be the most popular option for all exterior entryways. These transoms span the width of the door and any accompanying sidelights. Some of the most high-end options include electrical components which allow for remote opening and closing, but most homeowners opt for fixed-frame transom additions.

Front view of a wooden door with transom windows
Image Source: Canva

Transom Window Styles and Design

From stained glass transom windows to models with more opaque window films, this type of addition to any entryway or exterior door will make most spaces feel more open. You should note that, in most cases, you’ll have to have a taller ceiling than the standard eight feet for this to be a viable option. Installing one of these windows that comes too close to your interior ceiling could have the opposite of the intended effect and could make the adjoining space feel cramped.

You’ll have the following window design options when looking into transom windows for your interior room entrances or exterior doors:

  • Energy-efficient double panes
  • Frosted or colored glass
  • Remote-operated hinged transoms (similar to casement windows)

Transom Windows Installation

We at Today’s Homeowner recommend professional transom window installation. Especially if the doorway or room entry in question has not been fitted for such a modification already, a new transom window could require extensive structural remodels. Hiring a local contractor or craftsman to do the work for you will be a far better option.

Follow these links to learn more about each of our top-rated window contractors. They will be able to assist you with a range of window installation needs, including all types of transom windows for interior and exterior applications.

Top Pick

4.1

Exclusive Fibrex framing

A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau

Team of certified installers

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Limited Time:
Save $375 off each Window!
Best Customer Service

4.3

70 years of experience

Frequent discounts

Offers virtual and in-person appointments

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Best Exterior Remodeling
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4.3

Impressive customer ratings

Lifetime window warranties

Large catalog of additional remodeling services

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Limited Time:
No current offers available.
Best Window Selection

4.3

Offers wood and vinyl framing

Outstanding customizability

Seven glass options

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Limited Time:
No offers at this time.

Transom Window Cost

Having transom windows installed is relatively affordable in most cases. Your costs will be split between the cost of your actual window and labor fees. Most window contractors charge between $35 and $50 per hour, with average total costs ranging between $100 and $250.

Material costs for the actual windows can vary greatly, from $100 or so for a simple single-paned vinyl framed transom window, to $2,000 or more for a door, transom window, and sidelight set piece.

Costs settle around the following figures for basic transom windows:

  • Vinyl or low-grade wood: $100 per window
  • High-grade finished wood: $200 to $300 and up
  • Operable transom awning windows: $300 and up

These figures are per-window, with each window averaging around 12 inches in height and 36 in width.

Read more cost information in our article about inexpensive window replacement.


When Would You Install a Transom Window?

If you have higher ceilings and feel in need of better ventilation and lower heating and cooling costs, then these can make an excellent functional and fashionable interior design feature. When installed over the entryway into a living room or kitchen, they’ll open up the interior of your home without you having to make major structural alterations to it.

Structural Considerations for Transom Windows

Exact structural considerations will vary, depending on the location of your transom window. Installation methods will depend on whether your wall of choice is load-bearing or not. In all cases, drywall and siding will have to be cut away before fitting your transom windows in place.

If your wall is load-bearing, then structural beams will need to be cut away and rebuilt around your new transom window. This process will require professional assistance. When shopping around for transom windows — if you decide to buy them independently of a contractor — you should review the exact factory specifications to determine just how much space your new windows will require.

Read Also: Ways to Calculate Exterior Shutter Size


Transom Windows vs. Clerestory Windows

Transom windows always sit above an entryway or a door. Clerestory windows, on the other hand, sit in the middle of a structural wall. They are typically mounted above eye level on an exterior wall and are most commonly seen in bathrooms or standing showers. Such home design elements are also meant to let in more natural light and make certain rooms feel more open.


Final Thoughts

Again, transom windows are a largely aesthetic addition to any home entryway. As such, you should consider the existing architecture of your home before making a decision. The shape, design elements, and size of the prospective opening should all be relevant factors for you. A full in-home consultation with one of our recommended window contractors below should give you more insight into the selection process. A licensed professional will be able to walk you through this and show you which available options are feasible and visually pleasing for your home.

Top Pick

4.1

Exclusive Fibrex framing

A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau

Team of certified installers

GET ESTIMATE
Limited Time:
Save $375 off each Window!
Best Customer Service

4.3

70 years of experience

Frequent discounts

Offers virtual and in-person appointments

GET ESTIMATE
Limited Time:
Buy 2 Windows, Get 2 Free!
Best Exterior Remodeling
Logo for Power Home Remodeling

4.3

Impressive customer ratings

Lifetime window warranties

Large catalog of additional remodeling services

GET ESTIMATE
Limited Time:
No current offers available.
Best Window Selection

4.3

Offers wood and vinyl framing

Outstanding customizability

Seven glass options

GET ESTIMATE
Limited Time:
No offers at this time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are transom windows outdated?

While they’re definitely an older architectural feature, they aren’t outdated by modern standards. Aside from the definite improved natural light, these windows can offer any entryway it’s a stylistic choice that has come back into vogue in recent years.


Why is it called a transom window?

“Transom” is an architectural term for crossbeams that lie over the tops of doorways. Transom windows sit on top of these beams, hence the name. These beams aren’t load-bearing, which makes the insertion of such a window fairly easy here.


Do transom windows open?

Some transom windows do open via a crank or lever mechanism. These will have screens on the outside, just as any functional window does.


Can you put shutters on a transom window?

You can put shutters or blinds on your transom windows, but most who opt for these windows on their front door will avoid using any sort of covering. The excess lighting can make any entryway feel larger and more open, which is why most people install exterior transom windows.


Why do old houses have windows above doors?

Older homes had transom lights — or fanlights — installed as a functional choice to let in more light and fresh air. Though this architectural style fell a bit out of favor in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, it has more than come back into style.


Editorial Contributors
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Sean Donnelly

Staff Writer

Sean Donnelly works to inform, engage, and motivate homeowners to take the reigns in making key decisions concerning homeownership and relocation. He is a content producer covering provider reviews, the homeownership and rental experience, real estate, and all things moving for Today’s Homeowner. Sean leverages his own experience within the moving industry to improve the consumer experience. He studied English literature and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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Lora Novak

Senior Editor

Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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