Clerestory windows are the kind of feature you have to design a home around. Yet the benefits of these small windows located high up on the wall make it worth considering when planning new construction. By building a clerestory wall that rises above one level of the home's room, you create new opportunities to let light and air in for a much more welcoming space. Here's how clerestory window installation can make a big difference in a home.
The main reason to install a row of clerestory windows high on a wall is to increase natural light. The normal placement of standard windows low on the wall only captures a limited amount of the sun's rays, especially in the winter. Higher windows let in light similarly to a skylight without the need to create a penetration through the roof that could leak. While clerestory windows are a little more effort to clean and maintain than standard windows due to their high placement, they're still less work to maintain than skylights or solar tubes. Placing the clerestory windows on a southern or western wall maximizes light to the fullest.
Most clerestory windows are fixed, which means they don't open and just let in light. Some do open with the help of an automated system or a manual crank. This allows you to take advantage of natural ventilation and release hot air at the end of a summer day for a cooling effect with no electricity needed. Since clerestory windows can add heat to a home depending on the orientation of the wall they're installed in, choosing units that open can compensate for this effect. Clerestory windows that open need a little more maintenance and cleaning than fixed units, so make sure they're easily accessible if you choose them.
Clerestory windows open up a view of the sky and the treeline that isn't usually visible from inside the home. When planning for a grand entryway or trying to make a statement in a room that combines natural and manmade features, this kind of view can make all the difference. Just like with standard placement windows, it's important to consider the potential view when choosing a direction for clerestory features. An unattractive view will make the windows an issue rather than an improvement since it's harder to cover these high openings with shades or curtains.
Solar Heat Gain
These types of high windows are commonly used in passive home designs that have heat gain in mind. In cooler climates, gaining heat from the sun in the winter can reduce heating bills and help mitigate drops in temperature between the day and night. The windows must be placed along a southern wall in most cases to maximize this effect. With the right roof overhang, only winter sun will enter the windows directly to contribute heat. As the sun's zenith increases when summer arrives, the angle of the light will change to bounce off the overhang instead. This design feature takes a skilled architect to pull off, but it's worth the reduction in heating costs.
Finally, installing a row of clear windows at the top of a wall visually raises the height of the room. If the room seems a little too cramped or cozy as it currently stands, a clerestory addition can open it up and make it seem much taller. Only a thin slit of windows is required for this benefit, not tall panels with an extensive view. Consider encasing a room with these windows on multiple sides when possible to gain a visual expansion that goes beyond just a little extra height.