The Evolution of the American Window

Have you thought about your home’s windows lately? You may take staring out of your window for granted. Now try to imagine a world without windows. It’s probably too difficult to grasp at first, just as the notion that windows were once invented and not always a part of residential architecture is too foreign a concept to understand. Once, homes were structured with only walls, made of impermanent materials like mud, animal hides, and straw. Light would only be let in through a doorway or through cracks or spaces in the walls themselves. Any work that needed to be done that required light would be done outdoors, in full range of the sunlight. So, how did we get to this point, where a home without windows is unthinkable? Let’s review the evolution of the American window.

Before Coming to America: A Portal into the Past

Before the concept of windows was brought to America, with the arrival of European explorers and settlers, an archaic window structure was being used in Roman Egypt around 100 A.D. We’re not referring to openings in the walls leading to the outdoors, although that concept of a “window” certainly came first. We mean that glass windows were prevalent as early as 100 A.D.

FUN FACT: The term “window” comes from an Old Norse term which directly translates to “wind eye.”

However, these windows were nothing like the glass ones we have today. They were so thick that only light could pass through them, which was the primary purpose of a window: to bring natural light inside the home. When glass windows finally did become transparent, it was only so the wealthy homeowners could look out them to take in a full view of their own wine supply.

Before glass windows were invented, light was brought into residences through paper, animal skin, cloth, and very thin pieces of marble.

The Evolution of the American Window

A Window into a New World

When Europeans came to the new world, now known as the Americas, they stumbled upon a thriving culture and societal structure that reflected a completely new way of life. Although glass windows had been prevalent for the affluent in Europe in the 1600s, there were no windows to speak of in America when Europeans arrived. Once Europeans started creating settlements and building homes for themselves (in as close to their traditional structure as possible), they had glass imported to make their windows, which as you can imagine, was a lengthy, expensive process. A journey by boat (no matter how large) across the Atlantic was no small feat.

Europeans imported Crown Glass in the 17th century, which was made through glass blowing would often leave a circular marking in the middle as a result, known as the “crown.”

FUN FACT: The average American home has 8 windows.

Windows and the Industrial Revolution

Glazing windows became the custom for window making in the mid-19th century. Double glazing (or double panes), however, would not become popular until around 1930. Glass block, glass units, and curtain walls were all popularized after World War II. Window glass and frames were the very first domestic construction components to assembled in a factory. All other materials were assembled at the construction site.

FUN FACT: The White House has 147 windows!

In the 20th century, it became popular to use steel and aluminum as window casements, instead of wood. Steel sashes (the crossed bars in early window models that connected glass panes) brought more daylight into homes as they were able to link more pane of glass, making for larger, sturdier windows. Early this same century, we also start to see variation in window design.

The Evolution of the American Window

Windows as Art: A Brief History

While windows were invented to bring natural light into residences, they became a way through which to view the beauty of nature from the comfort of our homes. As windows evolved, however, they became works of art in and of themselves. Let’s explore the different types of window structures in alphabetical order together.

FUN FACT: The Empire State Building has 6,500 windows!

Arched Windows

Rather than being square or rectangular in shape, with rigid lines on all sides, the arched window is characterized by an arch on top.

Awning Windows

Awning windows are named for their ability to open up and out, creating an awning with the glass of the window itself.

Bay Windows

A bay window is named for the structure of the wall encasing the window panes. Bay windows push out of the home in a half-hexagon shape.

Bow Windows

Similar to the bay window, bow windows protrude from the home, rather than sitting flatly in the wall. However, bow windows bow out of the home in an arch, rather than in a half-hexagon.

Casement Windows

Casement windows have a more traditional look, but they’re so named for the way they open. These windows swing open rather than slide up.

Circle Windows

Circle windows, as their name suggested, are windows in a circular structure, rather than a rectangular one. Most circular windows are either “fixed” (see definition below in the Fs) or casement windows.

Double Hung Windows

A double hung window (compare with “Single Hung Windows,” outlined below in the Ss) is named for the top portion of the window. In double hung windows, both the top and bottom sections can slide up and down.

Egress Windows

Egress windows are thin rectangular windows that you usually see in basement. They’re installed for safety measures, however, not aesthetics.

Fixed Windows

Also referred to as “Stationary Windows,” fixed windows do not open and are exclusively meant to bring in light and a view of the outdoors.

Garden Windows

Garden windows are similar to bay and bow windows in that they protrude from the walls of the home. However, these are much smaller and serve almost as tiny greenhouses. They’re meant specifically to shed light on small house plants.

Picture Windows

A picture window is a large pane of glass “framing” the view of the outside, without any sashes to obstruct it.

Single Hung Windows

Single hung windows (compare with “Double Hung Windows,” above in the Ds) have two glass panels, but only the bottom panel is able to slide up and down.

Sliding Windows

Sliding windows slide left to right, rather than up and down like the single and double hung windows mentioned above.

Transom Windows

These types of windows are exclusively meant for decoration. They usually frame larger windows or front doors of modern-day homes.

The Evolution of the American Window

Windows are such an integral part of our homes that it’s difficult to imagine life without them, but just as walls, roofs, and carpeted flooring all have origin stories, so too do windows. This has been the story of the evolution of the American window. We hope you enjoyed this journey through time with us!

DID YOU KNOW?: The US Department of Energy claims that 25% of energy is lost in homes through old, leaky, or improperly installed windows.

 Are your windows ready to evolve?

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