How-To choose windows for your Tiny House

There is no simple way to go about the task of selecting windows for your new Tiny House construct. By the time choosing them comes around you will have heard multiple times that the key to making a smaller space look larger is to incorporate lots of natural light and to use windows and mirrors to give the illusion of a larger, less boxy, space. But with so many brands on the market, so many styles within those brands, and so many ideas about sustainable building, eco-friendly building, and budget-conscious building, the selection process can very easily become a frustrating one. It helps though to become familiar with a few of the most popular styles of windows available as well as debunk a few of the rating myths.

Bay Windows

I am not sure how a large, bay windows could find a suitable place in a Tiny Home. A bay window it typically rather large and more times than not involved a window seat. The most common style is one that has a flat piece and two slated side pieces that attach to the home. It is important to remember though that with a bay window, you are essentially changing the shape of your home (which is already a very limited option in a tiny house), so you may need to rework the flooring, siding, and roof of the house as well.

Awning Windows

Many of us are familiar with awning windows because they were the window of choice for most commercial structure post-WWII including many of our public schools. Awning windows swing or crank outward from the bottom assuring they could stay open even when it rained as well as making it most difficult for students to use as a means of escape from the dreaded world history class! Today these style windows are most commonly used in basement settings. But in a tiny house they may just what you need in a sleeping loft to assure proper cross breeze despite weather conditions. It is important to note that if an awning window is chosen, you won’t be able to use a wall air conditioner in it.

Sliding Windows

As the name implies, sliding window open by using two sashes that slide past one another. In my opinion these are a nice, contemporary looking window that is free of pane glass and allows for a lovely breeze when a screen is in place. The one draw back is these windows are very easy to manipulate open from the outside causing a bit of safety concern for the less brave.

Storm Windows

It is time for me to show my ignorance. I remember growing up my parents home had storm windows over top of their window-windows. They were literally a second pane of glass that helped insulate our home during colder months. Of course, this was before R-ratings, Low E ratings, and vinyl casements. I am not sure storm windows are even necessary any longer and if they are, the second pane of glass would either have to stay on year-round or they would have to be stored; not a forte of tiny home living.

Transom Windows

An architectural mainstay, the transom window probably came to full popularity in the Elizabethan and Georgian styles of building. Used to describe both windows that open for cross-ventilation or for windows that only allow in light above the room door, the transom windows on the market today typically do not open and are meant only to be decorative. They can be decorated, customized, and fashioned as an incredible focal point of an entryway but in a living situation like tiny house when every pound [on the trailer, of course] counts they are not the wisest feature to incorporate.

Skylights

For the smaller of tiny homes the skylight can be a real saving grace. While most Americans either forget about skylights or rule them out completely, the use of a skylight can greatly increase the overall feeling of size in a tiny house bed loft or even in the “great room.” They let in natural light without sacrificing privacy. And having a 10/12 (or steeper) roof pitch as many tiny homes do, the skylight may be the only hope of installing a substantial window for natural light and passive heating/cooling.

The possibilities truly are endless and while choosing “off the shelf” or “in-stock” windows from a box store or a window/door liquidator is the more budget friendly way to go you may also consider custom windows to match just the size and style you want for your tiny house! What windows are you using in your tiny house? Are you still designing and are curious what you should consider? Did you build and realize your windows were not adequate enough? Share your story with us. And as always, if you like this post consider sharing it on Facebook or putting the link out on Twitter!

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Bigger does not always mean better. Progress does not always mean forgetting our roots in order to forge a new future. Blogger, photojournalist, and hobby farmer Andrew Odom has spent much of the last few years rediscovering the lost art of living, growing, and being truly happy. Visit him online, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

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asdf - June 30, 2011 Reply

drew, you have some great info, but it’s incredibly difficult to take you seriously with that ridiculous photo. please.. just lose the hat and vest.

anotherkindofdrew - June 30, 2011 Reply

Thank you for taking the time to both read the article and critique my apparel, Mr. Homerow Keys. I hope that you continue to enjoy my How-To’s with such great aplomb!

Chiot's Run - June 30, 2011 Reply

I’ve read that awning type windows are the safest to use because they’re the hardest to brake into even when open – whether or not this is true I don’t know. I only have one window like this in my home and I do love it. I leave it open even when I close the others. I like that I don’t have to worry about the rain coming it. Mine swings from the side rather than the top.

I’d highly recommend investing in screens for any window you choose. I’m amazed when I visit friends and they don’t have them. My windows are open whenever possible to keep the air in my home fresh and healthy. Not to mention it helps limit the need for using the AC for most of the summer for us!

Chiot's Run - June 30, 2011 Reply

PS – don’t listen to asdf – love the photo – after all I’d hate for you to look too serious – that’s no fun!

Logan - June 30, 2011 Reply

Hey Drew,

Tammy has a few good examples of the window types you describe in her rowdykittens flickr set labeled “tiny house photos”. Feel free to use the photos in any of your wonderful “how-to’s” as they are uncopyrighted and under the creative commons label in flickr. She even has several examples of a “bay window” in use in a Portland Alternative Dwellings built tiny home. Cheers!

anotherkindofdrew - June 30, 2011 Reply

@Chiots – I think you are right about the awning windows and they are what we are going to have in the sleeping loft. They will allow us to keep them open during even rain. I like the idea of cross-breeze even when it is drizzling.

As for my picture? I am not changing it anytime soon. You can count on it. HAHAHAHAH

anotherkindofdrew - June 30, 2011 Reply

Hey Logan, thank you so much for your permission to use those pics. I expect to see more as y’all choose the windows for y’alls tiny house. Which, BTW, I am especially looking for a How-To from y’all on the floor vapor barrier. I am just torn and perplexed by people who choose to put something between the trailer and the floor joists/subfloor and those who do not. What is your take?

Also, thank you so very much for the kind words on my How-To’s. As with rowdykittens all of my posts and images are uncopyrighted so y’all are welcome to use them anytime as well!

alice - June 30, 2011 Reply

I have sliding windows, they are easy to make more secure with various options, some as simple as a stick inserted in the window track to prevent it sliding open. If you want a bit of ventilation you can use one that doesn’t allow the window to be opened enough to get a hand in to remove it. If a person isn’t home and somebody wants to break into your place they can just break the glass to get in which kind of makes the security issue a moot point.

    Benjamin - July 1, 2011 Reply

    Also some sliding windows come with small levers in the track that you can move into place to prevent the window opening more than a few inches. You can also get screw clamps that clip on to the track at any point you choose. However it is still possible for an intruder to simply lift the window out of its track. You can prevent this vulnerability by installing a sheet-metal screw vertically in the top track that is just out of reach when the window strikes the sliding limit device. Tighten the screw to just allow the window to slide, but prevent it from being lifted. (You can always remove the screw temporarily if you need to repair the window.)

Pest Control - June 30, 2011 Reply

Good windows can make all of the difference in the world in a new home. A good investment up front can save a lot of money in the long run, and that does not even consider the safety advantage.

Freth - June 30, 2011 Reply

I tried to get an estimate on tilt-or-open german style windows. Nobody was willing to talk to me about 4 small windows. Not large enough of an order for them to make them. I’ve walked through the Big Box stores and most of the windows there are too big (McMansion style). I will only have 2 moderate-sized windows in my plan … along with several small ones. The problem is coming up with the small ones that are double & low-e. Or being stuck with the louver ones from my old trailer.

Logan - June 30, 2011 Reply

Try Jeld-wen. They do custom & I’ve found them helpful to work with.

Logan - June 30, 2011 Reply

Heads up! Low tech magazine online had a great little post on window type, orientation, & shading today also! 🙂 I’ll have to do a write up on vapor barriers. Great idea Drew! 🙂

Claudia - June 30, 2011 Reply

I love the idea of using sliding balcony doors on one side of the house, with rolling shutters for security. Maybe even on both long sides of the house, so you can get a good breeze going in the summer.

Abel Zyl Zimmerman - July 1, 2011 Reply

I’ve been thinking alot about windows lately, because i build them myself for my little houses. My curiosity is this: how necessary are window screens to you? I dont really use them… But everybody else seems to love them. Thoughts?

Abel

    Benjamin - July 1, 2011 Reply

    Window screens are a waste of money and hamper your views …as long as you enjoy the company of flies, bees, mosquitos, wasps, etc.

    alice - July 1, 2011 Reply

    I would never have an opening window without a screen. You can take them out after bug season if you need to, but if you leave them in place it’s simple self-storage. The key to screens is using the black stuff, not the aluminum, it’s much less visible. Also keep them clean, easily accomplished with a bucket of water and a brush once a year or as needed. Dusty screens are more visible. If you live in an area with no bugs you can get away with no screens but in my area it would be completely maddening.

      Anne B - July 8, 2011 Reply

      Good information but you left out my two favorites. Double hung windows seal better than sliders for better energy efficiency and can open at the top for ventilation during rain (if you have a good roof overhang). I loved the tilt in feature of mine that allowed me to clean both sides without ladders.
      Casement windows crank open from the side. I liked the ones I installed in my very small house because the whole window opening is ventilated, unlike sliders and doublehung which have a max of 50% of the opening for ventilation.
      I vote for screens every time even though we have fewer bugs in the southwest than in midwest. I still don’t like the occasional fly, moth, hornet etc. to come in. And at night, when I especially want windows open, it keeps out scorpions, beetles, lizards etc.

Benjamin - July 1, 2011 Reply

I think bay windows add charm to a small house plus they allow you to see a wider span. They don’t necessarily have to be big, I’ve seen numerous ones on tiny houses and trailer-homes in photos right here in this forum. Even large ones, some with window seats.

Lindig Harris - July 2, 2011 Reply

I live in a tiny RV (100sf) and have two large windows, which are great for light and visuals. However, the biggest one has a slider that opens 1/4 of its area, and the other window has a slider that opens 1/3 of itself. Very annoying as I like air movement most of the time.

Also, like many, I wish they were awning windows so I could have them open even when it’s raining (obviously the horizontal openers).

Wish I had the money to replace them.

Lindig

PS The hat’s cool but the vest rates a shrug.

Jamie - July 5, 2011 Reply

You forgot to mention stained glass windows! I found an antique stained glass window with a small panel that opens, and my builder (Scott Stewart) put it in as my bathroom window on our tiny house. I love it. It’s a great way to get some light and still retain your privacy.

You can see a photo here:
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=6664589&l=d2b15bca0b&id=596356560

stewart - July 5, 2011 Reply

If you make your windows about twelve inches wide intruders cannot fit threw the broken glass hole lift behind.Make the windows non opening and use sections of the wall that open to allow for air movement one at the extreme top of the building and the other at the extreme bottom on the opposite side of the building and the air flow will cool the occupants. Windows and shutters set up this way will allow for a chimney effect, screens can be placed over the shutter openings and do not restrict the view. This leaves the windows for looking out of. Then there is the added bonus of having to make only one frame to hold the window glass not three, first hole to hold the say metal frame the metal frame to hold the sliding frame to hold the window. cheers Stewart

H. Renee - July 5, 2011 Reply

Storm windows (at least the ones we have) are, quite literally, for having the windows open in foul weather. You slide open the outside panes and open the inside opposite of them (they go sideways). This lets you enjoy the breeze without the rain from outside enter your house. Good for no A/C and an area prone to bad weather. I’m pretty sure insulation is a secondary consideration. 🙂

Evan - November 25, 2011 Reply

I find it strange that not many people consider those floor to ceiling windows(or sliding doors). Maybe its just a choice of aesthetic I suppose, but I personally love them as they provide a massive amount of light and can extend your space, and also replace your main door. There are even the “frameless” ones with the extremely thin frames and high insulation values. Can anyone see problems with these types of windows I’m not seeing?

Hannah - January 24, 2012 Reply

Ok, so I’m new to this whole Tiny House thing, and I plan on building one once I get the money saved up. It’ll take me a few years, but I like to know what I’m getting into. I plan on buying a book or two on how to build them, but there’s something that has been bugging me. Maybe the answer is above and I’m just not seeing it, but here goes:
Are the windows normal windows like what you could put in a house, just on a smaller scale? Or do they need to be special glass types/framing so they don’t break while you’re trailer and house is on the move?

Thanks for your help, and for posting this, I’ve been looking everywhere.

Leah - March 20, 2014 Reply

So I don’t know if anyone will see this, but I’m looking at what kind of windows I should get. My boyfriend thinks plexi would be the way to go because they would be less likely to shatter if you are driving on a bad road. Has anyone had problems with broken windows due to moving your tiny house?

Brad Hoppo - July 5, 2017 Reply

Most of the tiny homes that we have worked on have skylight windows which not only gives the home that extra light, but rather enhances the design of the tiny house. We at Seaton Glass in Adelaide provide with window solutions to tiny homes, and most of our customers prefer skylights more than any other type of window.

Matt - August 29, 2017 Reply

Great guide to windows Drew – we’re huge advocates for replacement windows as they can really open up any room, and a tiny house could be totally transformed by the right styles. Double hung is obviously the classic style, and of course vinyl is extremely popular nowadays. Just have to measure correctly and double check since any tiny house renovation project (or any project really) can’t afford sizing mistake.

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