Tom Shafer

Adding new windows where none existed

October 09, 2012

If you're not one of those people who loves being in the dark and your house doesn't let in enough natural light, one solution is to install a window where there isn't one -- just cut a hole in the wall and put the window in it. Of course, it's not quite that simple if you don't want the wall to come tumbling down. The framing support under the drywall and siding was not designed -- nor constructed -- for an additional window. What if it can't support your home's structure above the opening?

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contemplating adding new windows

Structural modifications

Support for placement of your existing door and window openings was built into your house when the walls were put up, whether the house has a wood frame, metal frame, or even masonry construction holding up the roof.

Usually on wood frame construction, wooden studs are spaced at 16 inches on center. Removal of any of these studs weakens the support system for the roof and any upper stories. If you're creating openings for new windows or doors, horizontal window headers -- usually 2-by-8, 2-by-10, or 2-by-12 -- are needed in addition to combining more vertical wooden supports for windows wider or narrower than 16 inches across.

window header

Usually the wider the opening, the bigger the header you need. You can keep structural modifications to a minimum, however, by choosing small windows that fit between the studs -- a good choice for bathrooms where a little more light might be all you need, and adding a low-e window could even help control humidity.

Other considerations

  • Exterior appearance: Once the wall construction is modified to accommodate the proper size headers and new stud supports, you can add your new windows. But before you hack through that wall, you also want to consider how a new window will change the look of your home's exterior. If placement is too high or too low in relation to other windows on the same elevation, it might upset the aesthetic balance of your home's appearance.
  • The view: Don't forget about what you'll see through the new opening in that wall: what's on the other side? Is it a panoramic view to enhance your room or one that forces you to keep the blinds shut more often than not?

Adding a window is more than buying one you like, cutting a hole in the wall and nailing it in. This is one home improvement where the expertise of a certified contractor should also be considered -- unless you want to risk letting in a bit more light than you bargained for.

About the Author

Tom Shafer has decades of experience in window sales, marketing and product development. He's worked closely with window design engineers in testing, design, and building code interpretation. Past employers include United Windows and Doors and Norandex, MI Windows. He currently works at a home improvement retailer.

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