Dormer 101: Dormer types and information for prospective homeowners

What exactly is a dormer, you might ask? A dormer is basically an independently roofed window structure...

What exactly is a dormer, you might ask? A dormer is basically an independently roofed window structure within the attic that is an appendage to the main roof of a building. Dormer types are really defined by the shape of the dormer, and some are more commonly found than others. They add an eye-appealing quality to the existing roof and serve a diverse range of functions.

Dormer functionality

If you have existing dormers, you may already be enjoying some of the benefits. However, if you don't, you might wonder why would you want to install a dormer. You can install dormers with a variety of uses in mind, and it really depends on what you are looking to do for your home.

  • Lighting: Adding dormers to your current attic/roof will offer natural lighting into the existing attic.
  • Ventilation: The dormer windows, excluding fixed windows, will help accommodate for air flow into the attic.
  • Spatial enhancement: Dormers can be finished as loft space or left unfinished and used as storage space.
  • Exterior outlet: Having windows in the attic provides another opening for emergency situations requiring an extra exit out of the home.
  • Aesthetics: Dormers add a beautiful look to a home, giving it a charming character.

Common dormer types

  • Blind/false dormer: This dormer is solely for aesthetics, visible only from the exterior of the building and serves no other purpose. This will not help with lighting, space, ventilation or for having an external opening due to being blocked off from the rest of the attic.
  • Eyebrow/eyelid dormer: This dormer a low semi-oval shape or half-eye shape reflective of its name.
  • Flat dormer: This is just as it indicates--a dormer with a flat roof.
  • Gabled dormer: These are probably the most common. The two sides of the roof come into a point to make a triangular roof shape. This type of dormer is often called a "dog-house" dormer.
  • Hipped dormer: This is also triangular-shaped like the gabled dormer, but it slopes back as well.
  • Recessed/inset dormer: As the name implies, this dormer is inset into the main roof.
  • Shed dormer: These dormers maximize space by having a sloped roof, allowing for a larger amount of space underneath. These dormers are one of the more cost-effective options in a new build because of their basic structures.

Dormer windows

Now that you know what dormer type you have or want, the next step is to look at windows. Windows come made from varying materials such as aluminum, wood or vinyl and come in different levels of efficiency standards. The number of panes a window has contributes to its efficiency and insulating capacity. You will want to pick the most energy-efficient windows for dormers because of the difficulties of heating and cooling attic spaces. Certain dormer types need the use of specific kinds of windows based on the dormer's functionality. A brief description of window types is found below; please check with a window installation professional to see what kind of window is right for you based on your needs.

  • Fixed windows: These are windows only for lighting, as they cannot be opened. These are the kinds of windows found in blind, oddly shaped or eyebrow dormers.
  • Casement windows: These open and close with hinges.
  • Single hung windows: These are sash windows that open and close but only have one sash that moves.
  • Double hung windows: Both the upper and lower sashes can move up and down. These are easier windows to clean due to their dual functioning.

Dormer downfalls

Although dormers come with a multitude of positive uses, they are not without shortcomings. Dormer installation is a costly venture due to the level of difficulty of installing dormers into pre-existing structures and the materials necessary to build them. You will want to have them properly installed by skilled professionals to avoid structural damage, moisture accumulation, air leakage and energy efficiency issues. Further, if you are adding dormers to your home or if you have existing dormers, you will need to do routine maintenance of these structures to avoid any future problems due to increased exposure to weather and the elements.

Dormer installation for loft living

Are you an Atlanta homeowner wanting to add more room to your existing home? Some homeowners are seeking to increase living space and/or storage space through attic remodeling. Depending on your current existing home design, an attic loft might be a possibility. In order to decide if this is possible, you should contact a contractor and/or roofing specialist who specializes in attic rebuilds and roofing. Please also note, these structures are subject to local codes and permits as applicable by your city.

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