What If You Added a Window?

What If You Added a Window?

How hard could it be to cut a hole in the wall? Drop the power tools and read this before you attempt to let there be (more) light.

At least once a week, I look at one particular wall in my living room and wonder why the person who built this place didn’t put a window there. It doesn’t butt up against another building; there’s no unsightly view. In fact, there’s a nice forsythia bush. To make matters worse, there’s no overhead lighting in the room and middle age isn’t doing my never-good vision any favors. In the depths of a New York winter, when every second of natural daylight counts, I become increasingly obsessed with the fact that there should be a window in this spot, if only so that I’m not wandering around switching on lamps at 1 pm.

But what would it take to make my dreams of lovely golden sunlight from multiple angles actually happen? It’s a lovely home reno daydream, like knocking out a wall or simply adding a porch, but life (unfortunately) isn’t like HGTV. So I decided to investigate the reality of adding a window and whether there are better options for more light than having somebody cut a big hole in the side of your house.

What’s involved, and how risky is this?

According to Meghan Billings, owner and general contractor at Twin Falls, Idaho-Based Meg & Co. Designer Homes, the actual process of adding a window is pretty straightforward. Your builder or contractor will cut a hole in your exterior wall, put in a header above the window to support the new opening, fit in the window of your choice, and then tidy things up.

The biggest unknown? "We don’t know what’s behind that wall," says Billings. "As a general contractor, that’s always the biggest fear going into remodel projects—we’re really trying to protect our clients and give them the best bid possible." They’ll have to move any outlets that are already there and any wiring, which is actually simpler than tackling another, more time and labor intensive possibility: plumbing. The level of complexity also depends on the exterior of your house; brick, for example, is obviously more involved than siding.

And the finishing work can be more complicated than it might initially seem, too. Cutting a big hole in the side of your house means that they’ll have to add trim, as well as matching materials and paint. "You think it’s a little project just replacing one window but then, if you don’t have someone that can match the stucco really well, or the paint color isn’t turning out so great, you may be painting that whole side of the house," says Billings.

"I think it kinda depends on your level of OCD, to be honest," she adds. Some clients just want the added window and can live with a stucco match that isn’t 100 percent. "It can snowball into a bigger thing, but it doesn’t have to."

How much will it cost?

"Your window is going to be your biggest expense, and that can vary wildly depending on the brand you go with and the style you go with," explains Billings. That’s likely to be driven by what’s already in the rest of the house, to keep the style at least somewhat cohesive.

With the caveat that costs vary wildly across the country, Billings estimates something like $1,000 to $2,500, labor included. Though that could quickly change if, for instance, you want full wall windows: "I would say $2,500 to $3,500 for a really nice brand, a big window," she adds. While it’s more cost effective to roll adding a window into a bigger renovation, it’s totally possible to do just the window and nothing else.

Where should there be light?

When doing new construction, Billings’s rule is simple: more windows are better. (At least visually, anyway–there’s a trade-off in terms of energy efficiency.) She particularly likes fitting them into smaller spaces, which is worth considering if you’re doing a bigger renovation: "If we can get our pantries and our laundry rooms to both have windows, we’re so happy. It’s a smaller space, you do a lot of work in them. And you want to feel happy and have this open light space to be in, instead of feeling like you’re in a dark closet."

Of course, when you’re working with an existing structure, you’re working within the constraints of what’s already there. You’ve got to consider which rooms have exterior walls, and then where a window will look right. "You’re working back from, this is the elevation of the whole home, will that look goofy if I put this window in here? Is this going to affect the overall feel?" Billings says. The realities of existing floor plans also mean that often, you’d have to pick whether the window will be centered in the room or from the exterior. "When that happens, we always choose the exterior. I’d rather be in the room and be like, huh, that window is not centered, than have people driving by my home looking at an off-centered window on the exterior," says Billings.

Probably the most popular added window is, unsurprisingly, the kitchen. "Which is a little bit more complicated, because you do have upper cabinets and so it can snowball into a little bit bigger of a deal in a kitchen," she says. "You get the light, but you’re also giving up cabinet space." But adding a window over the sink is a common request—no doubt influenced by the fact that it’s a very, very popular move on home renovation shows. (Home Town’s Erin Napier loves a window over a kitchen sink. But then again, kitchens perhaps start out bigger in Laurel, Mississippi than they do in, say, the suburbs of New York, making it more feasible to sacrifice cabinet space for light.)

What if you're not ready?

Maybe you’re not ready to punch a hole in your exterior wall—understandable. First, you may want to tweak your lighting strategy. "Our office space, we own it, and it’s a mirror of the building next to us," Billings explains. Billings has been adding artificial light to her own space—fixtures and recessed lighting—throughout the building, but didn’t even realize what a difference it was making until they went next door, into that mirror image. "It can make a huge difference, just getting enough light in there."

So if the mess and logistics of full renovations or even a sizable stand-alone project like adding a window seems like too much, Billings says you could probably add some cans, for instance, for a few hundred dollars, less than the price of adding a window. But then again, can lights are controversial and, as far as a lot of people are concerned, downright ugly. And ultimately, adding a window is a pretty straightforward project—and "natural light’s going to be flooding into your home."

Top photo originally found in Hillside Mid-Century Home Renovation in Texas

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