In architecture, a transom is a transverse horizontal structural beam or bar, or a crosspiece separating a door from a window above it. This contrasts with a mullion, a vertical structural member. Transom or transom window is also the customary U.S. word used for a transom light, the window over this crosspiece.
What Is a Transom Window?
Transom windows are named as such because they are located over top of a window or door’s transom– this is the beam that separates the top of the window or door from the rest of the wall.
Consequently, transom windows can come in many different shapes, styles and designs, but retain the name due to their location. The only general difference in transom windows installed above doors and those installed above windows is the size—they generally match the width of the transom.
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What is the Purpose of a Transom Window?
The purpose of a transom window dates back to the days when air conditioning had not yet been invented. Back then, transom windows were opened and closed to allow ventilation from the outside to inside, and from room to room within homes or businesses—yes, transom windows can be installed on interior walls as well as exterior walls.
Because transom windows are usually high in the air, they allowed for a door or window underneath to stay shut, retaining privacy and security. The windows were operated with metal rods on hinges that allowed them to be opened and closed from ground level.
Today, it is rare to see a transom window that opens at all, and even rarer to see the rod systems used to open and close them. Typically these windows are now used for letting in more light, especially in morning or evening hours. Or they are simply a decorative design element. If they do open or close, this is usually operated by an electronic switch.
Transom Window Styles
Transom windows come in a variety of styles. The most traditional and widely recognized transom window style is a semicircular window with dividers separating the panes in equal radius. This style of transom window is sometimes referred to as a fanlite. The second most popular style is a simple rectangular shape. Windows can even be custom-made to fit certain spaces. This can be especially important if the ceiling above is angled.
The options available for frame color and material and glass type are as endless as they are for doors and other types of windows. Frame materials come in the form of wood, vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass and more which can be chosen to match other design elements of the home. Some homeowners opt to use clear glass, while others opt for textured or frosted glass.
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Installing Transom Windows
The easiest installation method is during the design phase of new construction when it is possible to ensure that openings and support beams allow for a transom window to be installed.
However, transom windows can be added to existing homes as well. It will take some work by a licensed contractor to modify the area above the door and window in order to install the transom window. They will have to cut out an opening where it will be installed, which can be a scary prospect for some homeowners.
When looking at transom window options, you may opt for a matching door and frameset that can include a pre-mounted transom window. This will help ensure that everything fits together properly and all the finishes will match. It makes for an easy installation and is a great way to add an overall facelift to the front entrance of your home.
If you’re looking to install or replace just the transom window itself, this is possible too. There are options ranging from simple, plain windows, to completely custom designs and shapes. The price will vary accordingly. Installation costs will depend on the size and what modifications are needed in order to complete the installation.
Where are Transom Windows Located?
Transom windows can be located above any door or window in the home. However, they are most commonly found above front doors, windows in places with tall ceilings, and above french door patio windows. In historical homes, they are often placed on top of interior room doors. You may also see transom windows installed alone up high on basement walls due to the limited space to access above-ground light.
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