Picture windows are also called 'fixed' windows because they don't open. While that means they don't provide any ventilation, it also means that they don't have any moving parts or unnecessary frames, or window screens that would muddy the view. Picture windows are designed to serve one and only one function to offer the largest unimpeded field of vision possible.
Setting the Scene
Picture windows are terrific choices for homes that face the ocean or the mountains, sit atop a hill, or have a lush garden to show off. They also enhance areas of the home that face unique architectural features, such as picturesque neighborhoods or historic districts, or maybe a backyard gazebo or greenhouse. They are nice accents for rooms that look out upon a decorative element such as a cascading fountain, as well.
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Picture windows can be used to frame the simple beauty of an outdoor pool or tailored lawn, or even an orchard or thicket. They may also be used simply for extra illumination, perhaps in a sunroom or breakfast nook. There's nothing like a bright, sunlit room to make a home cheery, warm, and welcoming! Picture windows make lovely accents for any home, and can transform a room and the view equally.
Planning for a Picture Window
Picture windows are wonderfully rich details for any room, but they do require some additional planning and consideration. For one thing, because they do not offer any ventilation, you should plan for other sources of airflow. Fire codes vary from city to city, but most require rooms (especially bedrooms) to feature at least one operable window. One suggestion for fully-functioning windows would be casement windows that flank the picture window, or perhaps an awning window placed above it.
Another issue with a big-budget impact is the energy efficiency of picture windows. On the one hand, picture windows are thermally efficient because they have tight seals. They don't open, so there are no moving parts, no glide tracks, and no air leakage as they are generally sealed right into the frame itself.
However, installing a picture window demands a high-performing window. After all, doors and windows are a home's greatest source of energy loss. A window is basically a hole in the wall, and the basic rule of thumb is that the larger the pane of glass, the less energy efficient it is.
If you intend to have a picture window, it's critical that you invest wisely and well: Get a double-pane (consider triple panes!) window with a low-E coating and a low U-value. You might also consider a gas fill and a warm-edge spacer. An EnergyStar� label is a good indicator of performance.
Shopping for a picture window is definitely not the time to let the financial bottom line dictate your purchase. The money you think you'll be saving now by buying a cheaper window will seep out of that window gradually in the years to come. Be smart!
Frames and Other Factors
Other aspects of a window that can affect performance (and cost) are the type of frame finish, which can be just as important as the energy efficient glass system. You can find picture windows in wood, vinyl, clad wood, fiberglass, or aluminum frames.
Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, wood requires diligent attention and maintenance (painting and staining). Vinyl is very budget friendly. Aluminum is exceptionally strong, which allows for a smaller frame, and it's the best at reducing noise. You'll have to do some research into which frame type is best for your needs, climate, facing direction, and budget.
Other factors can impact your window's energy performance as well. Using a storm picture window, for example, can provide extra insulation by adding a layer of dead air space on the outside of the window.
Picture More Security
Picture windows can also add extra security. Many people mistakenly think that such a big glass window might make their home more vulnerable to breaks or break-ins, but the opposite is usually true.
For safety reasons, picture windows are often made with tempered glass, which is four to five times stronger than standard glass (and also more expensive). Picture windows are not always made with tempered glass, but some municipalities have building codes that require it. Check your local building codes to be sure.
As for burglars, picture windows are totally unappealing. With no screens to pop out, moving parts to tinker with, or window locks to pick, burglars would have to resort to breaking the glass and they don't want to do that. Breaking windows is noisy and attracts attention. (And if it's tempered glass, they'd have some difficulty.) A fixed window is actually a deterrent to most would-be burglars.
Design Foundation of Picture Windows
Another advantage to picture windows is the design benefit. Picture windows are ideal for customization. Not only can they be combined with just about every window type imaginable for a unique effect (casement windows, double hung, awning windows, French doors, and so on), but you can also use a picture window as the focal point around which you build everything else.
Picture windows can come in any size or shape you specify. Decorative accents such as leaded or colored glass, artistic insets, or colonial or diamond grids can result in a distinctive look that's bound to make an impression. Picture windows can also be combined with other windows to create architectural accents such as a bay or bow window. You could then add a window seat for contemplative reading, or maybe some birdwatching or daydreaming.
Large picture windows let the sunlight stream in and extend the room into the outdoors. There's no limit to the configurations you could construct you could turn one whole wall into a glass showcase if you wanted. Imagine how striking that would be!
Once you've got your picture window installed, think carefully about the window treatments you use. The whole reason you opted for a picture window was to bring the outside in and enjoy the beautiful view. Whether your goal was to read the morning paper by sunrise or watch the squirrels scamper, the last thing you want to do is obstruct your view.
Choose treatments that open easily and quickly, and without hassle. Your picture window can accept virtually all window treatments, but not all window treatments are truly appropriate. Fixed window treatments, for example, afford a lot of privacy, but defeat the purpose of a picture window. If your picture window is exceptionally wide, it may require custom curtains, shades, or blinds, so be sure to consider that additional cost and effort when designing your windows.
Picture windows are a lovely and powerful way to interact with the world outside. As an architectural detail, they offer a simple yet striking way to capitalize on the landscape around you while allowing natural light to stream in and establish a bright and inviting atmosphere. A picture window is a natural choice to transform a room from ordinary to extraordinary.