Is it strange if most of the windows in a house don't open?
April 5, 2021 8:49 AM   Subscribe

We're going to be replacing all of the 30-ish windows in our house. I'd like to make most of them fixed/inoperable. Is this a bad idea, especially in terms of resale?

I'm thinking of making most of the windows in our house fixed/inoperable. I would get operable windows where they are required by code or common sense: one per bedroom, one per bathroom, possibly one in the kitchen. I'd like to make most or all the other windows fixed/inoperable (all living room windows, all dining room windows, all office windows, all entryway windows, all mudroom windows, all pantry windows, all the other bedroom windows except one operable, all other kitchen windows except one operable, etc.).

My reasoning is:
1) We have AC and I realized that I almost never open windows. First, like many, I have allergies to pollen. Second, I feel safer not opening windows, especially on the ground floor. Third, noise.
2) It costs about 60% more to get an operable window than a fixed/picture window (inoperable). We could spend this money better elsewhere.
3) The inoperable windows are more energy efficient, less prone to leakage, and longer-lasting (don't have seals and moving pieces that get wear and jostling).
4) We're thinking of enlarging our windows during the replacement, and the fixed ones can be made larger (over 3'x6').
5) I hate the look of screens blocking the light and views, and fixed windows have no screens.
6) Apparently over the last few decades, new builds have been moving increasingly towards fewer operable windows, so I feel like we're in good company with this change. My parents' high-end 1980s architect-designed custom home basically only has the operable windows I described above.

But is this a bad idea? We're probably going to sell in 5 years. My husband thinks that potential buyers will be put off by having all fixed windows except one operable window in each room upstairs. I don't think that potential buyers will notice or care, and might even prefer it.

Are there rooms for which I should be considering an operable window beyond bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen? Would potential buyers be weirded out by no operable windows in most rooms of the downstairs?
posted by ClaireBear to Home & Garden (73 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would notice and dislike it. A compromise might be two smaller opening windows next to the large picture window. I have just one window on my place that doesn't open and it annoys me.
posted by flimflam at 8:53 AM on April 5, 2021 [46 favorites]

Oh my, uh, gosh. I would be so extremely sad to see a house like this. I absolutely would be put off.

If anyone cooks anything with a strong smell, windows help clear the air. If one doesn't really need A/C or heat, open windows with or without a fan are much less expensive and very pleasant. Having that connection to the world outside -- sound, air flow -- is great for emotional reasons.

Also, un-openable windows are associated, in my mid, with working in a (not that great) office, not a home.
posted by amtho at 8:54 AM on April 5, 2021 [52 favorites]

If you search for "invisible window screens" you might see some options that help you -- hint: they're not completely invisible -- but, if it's you and you don't ever plan to open the windows (and you don't have an animal that might escape), maybe you could leave the screens off.
posted by amtho at 8:57 AM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So flimflam and amtho and any others: would you want all the windows to be operable? Or would you be fine with some being fixed, and if so, where? Could one of the two windows in each bedroom be fixed, for instance? Or some of the dining and living room windows? If there were large French or patio doors in a room (we're thinking of adding them to both dining room and kitchen), would you feel like fixed windows would be fine, since there is already so much opening to the outside?
posted by ClaireBear at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2021

From an environmental perspective, having lots of non-opening windows is terrible.

Anecdotal, but the tract houses in my neighborhood originally had bay or picture windows in the living room that didn't open. The homes that have replaced them with ones that open is like 90/10%.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:01 AM on April 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

would you feel like fixed windows would be fine, since there is already so much opening to the outside?

posted by The_Vegetables at 9:02 AM on April 5, 2021 [18 favorites]

We looked at a home with mostly inoperable windows recently and that was part of the reason we didn’t buy the house. Cross-ventilation and passive cooling are important to us (for comfort and environmental reasons) and the house wasn’t priced well for us to buy it and replace all the windows with ones that open.

On preview: I think I’d be fine with one or two non-opening windows if there was a show-stopping view you didn’t want to obstruct, but that’s about it.
posted by stellaluna at 9:03 AM on April 5, 2021 [28 favorites]

I would be very bothered by this. I don't know where you live, but most climates have at least some days where it's nice to open windows. I would much prefer to have windows that open so I can get a nice cross breeze into the house. I don't open my windows a lot, but I definitely want that option.

If you were going to stay in your home for 10+ years, I'd say you should design for yourself. But if you know you're moving in 5 years, then you should keep future buyers in mind.

I think its acceptable to have a large picture window with smaller open-able windows on each side. Definitely enough windows in the house that open to allow a cross breeze.
posted by hydra77 at 9:04 AM on April 5, 2021 [15 favorites]

Yeah, this would also make me sad. At a bare minimum, I would:

Make sure you can get a cross breeze in the kitchen for airing out smoke and food smells.

Make sure there's some way to get fresh air into the common areas -- e.g. if not a window in the living room, then an open but screened patio door.

Make sure you can get a cross breeze in any open layout areas, especially anything connected to the kitchen or a bathroom.

You say you run the AC, but what happens when the AC goes out? You're going to want to be able to open some windows!
posted by natabat at 9:05 AM on April 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

As a kid my house burned down. Inoperable windows in any room are a big Nope for me.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:05 AM on April 5, 2021 [67 favorites]

Whenever I open the windows in a room, I open them all. I would also say that when looking for a house, I never checked to see which windows opened. I probably just assumed they all did within reason. If I came upon a house that had few window openings, I would be concerned. I had 3 kids. Egress was certainly an issue in the event of an emergency. Telling an 8 year old to just kick out the window really does not work (except maybe on my youngest). I generally only used the windows in the early spring and the fall. Summer was for A/C. As for screens, they are removable. I used to take mine off in the winter and summer and put them in the garage.

While you would save money now, I am not so sure it would make sense in a re-sale. Ask a local realtor.

I would want all the bedroom windows openable. Kitchen, multiple if possible. Elsewhere I probably would not care except that I would want to be able to get a cross wind.
posted by AugustWest at 9:06 AM on April 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I...yeah, I am utterly unfamiliar with this trend (?) of inoperable windows you mention and would be very confused and put off by it. Like, it would be a considerable deal breaker, both from safety and temperature control perspectives and just general pleasantness. I fully expect all windows in a home to open (in a way I don't expect them to in an office, which I am also saddened by but understand) and having just one per room is not enough, you really do need multiple windows per room to be able to open to achieve good cross-breeze and air flow. People will absolutely notice.
posted by anderjen at 9:08 AM on April 5, 2021 [30 favorites]

I would find it strange. I built my house a couple of years ago and for the windows pretty much every group had at least one openable window. In the summertime I try not to run the AC and will open the windows instead. Even in the winter we'll open windows some times if we're doing some cleaning or just want some fresh air.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:10 AM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

We have two very large inoperable windows in our front room, facing north and west. They get lovely light and I like them aesthetically but wouldn't want any more such in the house, and if they ever got broken we'd definitely at least consider operable replacements despite the downsides. If I were looking at a house as you describe, I'd be mentally budgeting for replacing the windows in any offer I made.
posted by teremala at 9:11 AM on April 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Having house with windows that don’t open would be an absolute deal breaker for me if I were thinking of buying it. It’s bad enough to work in offices where none of the windows open, but my own home? Nuh uh. At the very least, I’d expect the price of the house to take into account that it would be necessary for me to replace every single window.
posted by holborne at 9:11 AM on April 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

I would be very bothered by this. We have mostly those windows that are "big fixed pane in the middle with small opening sliders on either end" and even that isn't my ideal but is basically fine. I want to be able to hold off on A/C as late in the year as possible, to have good airflow and fresh air and for both my pets and myself to enjoy outside noises, to ventilate the house easily if we're working with chemicals/paint or have burned food, etc. I really like working and reading near open windows and would add living rooms, play rooms, offices, etc. to your list of rooms that absolutely need at least one operable window.

It might not be a dealbreaker if the house were otherwise perfect in every way and I were willing to spend the money to replace them, but if I were waffling, it could tip the balance to become a dealbreaker.

All of that said, we have made choices in our house that are bad for resale but that enhance our enjoyment of our space so much now that it's worth it for us. Maybe this is that thing for you! But given your short time window for resale I'd think long and hard about it and make sure you're willing to let this add time and/or monetary losses to your eventual sale.
posted by Stacey at 9:16 AM on April 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

I could see having a large stretch of window that is broken into 3 sections where the middle does not open, but there are two side windows that do. We have that in our bedroom and living room and it doesn't bother me since you have multiple vent points, and the window space is so large that the side windows are still big and open wide via a crank. I can't think of any other scenario that wouldn't put me off.

Also, even if something doesn't directly seem negative at first glance, I have to say I am always *delighted* to discover when a window opens that is often usually made inoperable. I very distinctly remember loving that the side panels of the french doors in my last apartment could open.
posted by amycup at 9:16 AM on April 5, 2021 [17 favorites]

Big picture windows that don't open are fine, but personally I'm thinking about future pandemics as well as all the other concerns named above, so I want more ventilation rather than less. We're actually house-hunting right now, and replacing all the windows in a house right away is such an extremely off-putting thought that I would not be interested in buying a house that necessitated it.
posted by wintersweet at 9:22 AM on April 5, 2021 [13 favorites]

Oh, I just saw the door question. So an addition: No, the doors would not replace operable windows for me. Leaving an open unlocked door feels much less safe to me than an open window; I would be very unlikely to leave the doors standing open. (Leaving entirely aside the "I don't necessarily trust my cat not to climb a screened door, whereas I can crack the window just a few inches to prevent that" issue.)
posted by Stacey at 9:23 AM on April 5, 2021 [13 favorites]

Having windows you can't open also makes it more difficult to clean them, especially if you have a second floor.

My house has two smallish fixed windows, and I'd rather they opened, but it wasn't a dealbreaker. One is at the top of the stairwell, and although there are other windows closer to the kitchen that I open, cooking smells tend to collect there.

+1 if your screens are old, try replacing the mesh in a couple to see if that helps. Some screens are better than others for visibility.
posted by momus_window at 9:25 AM on April 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

Are you in an area where climate control is almost always a necessity (Phoenix AZ or above the Arctic Circle)? If so, I can see how this might make sense. Otherwise, no. I would view this as a deal-breaker if I were a prospective buyer.
posted by adamrice at 9:26 AM on April 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Does the fire code allow it? Regardless, I would hate windows that can't be operated -- heck, the 30-year old ones in my house that stick or don't move drive us crazy.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:28 AM on April 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

unfortunately no, a door that opens is not a substitute for an openable window. Most people aren't comfortable leaving a door open overnight, for instance.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:28 AM on April 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all your input! Very interesting that there's such a consensus against fixed windows. I've been reading on Green Building Advisor etc., where many seem against operable windows (especially single-hung and double-hung) for environmental reasons, as they're less efficient, and perhaps that has given me a false sense of what people value. And since our climate has hot summers and cold winters with little temperate weather in between, I guess I figured that in general people's use of operable windows here is slim. But with such a consensus to make them operable, I will definitely reconsider.

So, for instance, in our living room: we have two windows together on the east wall, and two windows together on the west wall. If I made one of each grouping operable and one fixed, would that do it? I assume that would be the best arrangement, for cross-breeze, rather than to make both of one side open and the other side fixed? Each window is on the larger end of normal (I think about 4.5' x 2.5'), if that makes a difference, and we may enlarge them further.

I guess one final question, then. We're thinking of lengthening all of the downstairs windows so that they start 18" off the floor. (Below 18" off the floor, you apparently have to use tempered glass, which adds 20%.) They windows currently start around 28" off the floor. I have SAD and in general really like light, so I'd like to make the windows as big as possible. Would this be desirable from a re-sale perspective? It sounds like people really like leaving their windows open overnight: I assume this would still be doable?
posted by ClaireBear at 9:32 AM on April 5, 2021

What's typically done in strata development is there will be large expanses of glass that are inoperable for view & efficiency, and then smaller panes that slide or awning open to get ventilation.

In your house, every room with an outer wall should have at least one operable window (or a sliding glass door), and ideally at least one per exterior wall to maximize ventilation possibilities.

This is also important for fire escape reasons; you will be absolutely not permitted to have exclusively non-operating windows in bedrooms is a house. One pane must be operable and be large enough to climb out of (and you should have a roll-down escape ladder for each of these windows as well).
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:39 AM on April 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

I'm fairly conscious of energy use and have been doing energy upgrades for my own home, and having non-operable windows would absolutely be a deal-breaker for me, despite the increased energy efficiency.

More light (longer windows) might be a plus, but just think about whether privacy might be affected. I have long windows that face onto the street, and that means people can see me lazing about on my couch whereas with regular windows this wouldn't be an issue. I didn't think about it when I bought the place, though.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 9:48 AM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

It would make me sad and make me feel less safe in terms of fire (even with one window per room.) Also if someone is stumbling around trying to get out of a burning house, will they remember or know which window opens?
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:53 AM on April 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

For me, the asymmetry of two different windows (none that opened and one that didn't) on the same wall would be very off-putting. Could you get casement windows with screens and just store the screens so they don't obscure your view, if you're not going to open them?

I also think a (non-openable) picture window flanked on either side by windows that open is a good option.
posted by mercredi at 9:57 AM on April 5, 2021 [14 favorites]

I think your idea of longer windows going to 18" above the floor is a great one and I often wish windows would be taller or lower. I would suggest a well-constructed double-hung or even triple-hung window, with a full length screen on the outside. For ventilation you can open the top sash (pulling down) instead of the bottom sash (lifting up) to avoid pets/things from jumping out. Window seal kits (mortite removable caulking, or shrink film) can increase the efficiency of the windows to try and approach fixed glass.

I would recommend all openable windows. You can make double hung windows un-openable by cutting a piece of wood or composite trim to hold the bottom sash down - I do this when installing window AC units on upper floors. Commercial products are available, but a piece of wood painted to match the trim is nearly invisible.

Once you have secured the sashes so they cannot open, then you can remove, label, and store the full length screen for later use.
posted by sol at 10:00 AM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would also want to make sure that an 18 inch sill height would be done in a way that preserves privacy (consider sight lines from your neighbors, the street, and the sidewalk), and has low potential of restricting future furniture placement in a room. I also wouldn't want large windows to come a the expense of being excessively drafty or greenhouse-effecty. More generally, I would be concerned about safety/ smudge factor of low hung windows and children/ pets.
posted by oceano at 10:08 AM on April 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I absolutely wouldn’t buy a house without operable windows. Call your fire station’s non-emergency line and ask them if they have any thoughts on safety concerns over having a limited number of operable windows in a room. They’ll have seen this and will have informed opinions.
posted by corey flood at 10:10 AM on April 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

The value of having a home feel like a home, rather than a sterile office building, cannot be underestimated.

One of my friends owns a condo with a lovely water view. There is no balcony and the window cannot be opened. To be in there, seeing this view but being stuck behind glass, is depressing. It feels like all the lovely world is out there and you can't get so much as a breath of fresh air.

I would suggest getting good, energy-efficient operable windows, remove the screens, store them, and just never open the windows. Perhaps consider the extra cost an investment into getting more money for your home, with less time spent finding a buyer who won't mind inoperable windows, when you do put it on the market.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 10:12 AM on April 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

Non-operable windows are a reasonable idea if you live, say, on the 90th floor of a skyscraper in Manhattan, or in a prison, or if your goal is to be featured in a Buzzfeed "OMG this house is so odd what were they thinking" article. Otherwise, pretty terrible.

When you're selling a house, your goal should be to make it as normal as possible. This is the same reason you shouldn't install mud floors in your master bedroom, or tear down the walls around your bathroom exposing the toilet to the living room. Buyers have an expectation of what a house should be, and windows that don't open isn't it. Literally everyone who sees a house like that will instantly decrease their asking price by the cost of replacing every window in the house. (Every window, including the ones that still open. They'll want the egress windows to match the new ones too.) If you can take that kind of a hit, do it. But also, if you can take that kind of financial hit, maybe consider doing something more useful with your money.

I like the idea of embiggening your windows. The windows in the room I'm in now are about 18" above the floor, and in general I think most windows could stand to be bigger. That said, it's going to be a pretty significant project in terms of cost, and those costs almost certainly won't be recouped in the sale price. Financially, it probably doesn't make sense, even if it is a good idea in the abstract.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:14 AM on April 5, 2021 [16 favorites]

would you want all the windows to be operable?

Besides wanting the ability to open windows for fresh air (and fire safety), I genuinely find fixed windows psychologically distressing. I lived in an apartment once with a window that was both fixed and too high to see the beautiful view from without standing on tiptoe, and the whole time I kept wondering what cruel mind even came up with such a thing. There's something about a fixed window that feels frustrating and inhuman, and no amount of openable windows around it cancels that out.

I am aware of the trend for hermetically-sealed houses, and I hate it and would never voluntarily live that way. Fresh air matters. The light that you get through an open window matters.

I hate the look of screens blocking the light and views, and fixed windows have no screens.

Just don't install screens on the windows you never plan to open. If you're worried about resale value... you'll probably still come out ahead.
posted by trig at 10:21 AM on April 5, 2021 [13 favorites]

A piece of anecdata: we bought a house last year, and had to do it remotely because of the pandemic travel restrictions. During our (many, many) FaceTime walkthroughs with our realtor, it certainly would never have occurred to me to ask "Which of these windows are operable?" Just something that (as a first-time homebuyer, and a generally not-very-practical person) was entirely off my radar when assessing houses, even though I am a regular window-opener in my day to day life.
HOWEVER! Our realtor made a point, as part of her standard walk-through routine, to open several windows at random in many rooms, to test out how smoothly they worked, how far they opened, what condition they were in, etc. So even for buyers who do not have window preferences at the forefront of their minds, it seems very likely that this is something that many Realtors (whose job is to think of the things buyers might not!) will very quickly bring to the attention of even the least-discerning window connoisseurs. So while I personally would not have really thought twice about openable vs non-openable windows of my own volition, our Realtor absolutely would have noticed, and would have raised it to us as a red flag/thing to seriously consider.
posted by Dorinda at 10:26 AM on April 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

I lived for a year in a lovely victorian where the landlord decided that fixing the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows was too expensive and sealed them all shut, caulking hem, and waterproofing them. This was a lovely home. Exceptional features, otherwise. I plotted to move within weeks of living there, and when asked if I miiiiight consider purchasing, I said only if the windows were fixed/the asking price allowed for full (historic) rehabilitation.
posted by oflinkey at 10:29 AM on April 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Working windows for egress in every room was a condition for our FHA loan, which in our case meant having the owner take out the screws they used to screw the windows shut.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:34 AM on April 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

This is really hard to discuss without knowing how your house looks.
Here, about half of the windows are fixed (because it was a thing in the sixties, when the house was renovated), and I am bothered by it almost every day. One thing that might seem minor: if there is a fly or a bee in a fixed window, I can't just open it at let the insect out. I don't like killing them, and finding a cup and a piece of paper to catch them and move them to another window is a project, instead of just opening the goddam window.
It also makes cleaning them (a bit) more complicated.
I too have allergies, but I still cross-ventilate the whole house for five minutes every day during the warm season. It doesn't affect my allergy, but it does a lot for the health and hygiene of the building.
Finally, and this is a bit speculative: some years from now, everyone may have to retrofit their houses for better energy efficiency, and that may include improved natural ventilation. It all depends on both politics and access to renewable energy. In five years, a buyer may be looking more realistically at that future.
posted by mumimor at 10:35 AM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

We spent a large sum of money getting the inoperable windows in our house operating again. We knew of this issue when we bought it, and accepted it only because it's a historic house with original windows, and we knew we could get them repaired. Historic windows that over time became painted shut, lost their weights, and such is a fairly normal problem and something we expected to see when we looked at old houses.

A house with newly-installed inoperable modern windows that would have to be entirely replaced in order to get them working would be a no-go.

I expect almost every window in the house to open. The exceptions could be large picture windows (often flanked by smaller operable windows) or decorative windows in an isolated location. It would be very weird to me if only one window in a room worked. I can't say whether or not it would be a dealbreaker, because there are a lot of factors that go into choosing a house. But certainly if there were two identical houses, one with windows that open, and one without, I'd buy the one with windows that open. I probably wouldn't even take a lower price or credit for the other one, because replacing windows is such a hassle.
posted by primethyme at 10:37 AM on April 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Sorry, I spaced on the second half of that answer: and one window wasn't good enough. If a room didn't have two doors (I think even two interior doors would have been fine) all the windows had to be operable. I think the assumption is that if you are in a room full of smoke you don't have time to check each window until you find one that works. I believe there were exceptions for windows under a certain size/above a certain height, so tiny/odd/high windows for light (and skylights, I remember specifically) were excluded.

Anyway, if you know someone in the mortgage business, it might be worth asking them what the most restrictive egress conditions they've seen are.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:38 AM on April 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

In my experience, windows are far more environmentally-friendly than AC. Because I never use AC. In the summer I open windows at night to let the cool air in. Then I shut the windows in the daytime.
posted by aniola at 11:16 AM on April 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Yeah, much as the consensus seems to be, not having operable windows would be an absolute dealbreaker for me. Our small house has something like 10 operable windows on the main floor, and I still wish it had more. Anywhere I've lived that had picture windows, I spent a significant amount of time thinking about what a shame it is the window couldn't open and let in more of the nice breeze even if it was next to other windows that did open. If it were just you living there indefinitely go for it, but if resale is 5 years out, definitely put in regular opening windows.

Expanding the windows to be taller has pros and cons. More light is nice, but it does make furniture placement more difficult, lessen privacy (depending on what it's like outside your house), and potentially make replacing windows in the future more expensive if you had to do that (depending on the expected life of the windows you're putting in). I wouldn't probably be swayed one way or the other on the window height.
posted by past unusual at 11:20 AM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

It would be an instant dealbreaker no matter how energetically efficient it may be on paper (?) to rely fully on AC for cooling and proper ventilation. I'd be totally fine with some massive fixed bay windows or unopenable skylights, but I'd expect any normal-sized window I can access without a ladder to open and close smoothly.
The title of this post alone made me upset. It IS strange and off-putting, there's something un-homelike about the very concept. Who knew this was such an emotional issue?!
posted by Freyja at 11:33 AM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

As a current homebuying household where both of us have allergies and we have the joys of wildfire season coming up: we would still be emphatically turned off by most of the windows being inoperable. If that was the case for the majority of the windows in a given house, we would just walk away. That may seem extreme, but:

* Replacing windows is a hassle in the best of times. Right now, with supply chain shortages and delays for everything and window installers booked out for months and thus able to drive up the cost of window replacement well above any prior reasonable estimates? Especially if we'd like the windows to at least coordinate, let alone match, which probably means replacing every window in the house, even the ones that did open. My rough math in USD for just this part of the equation *alone* would be "30 windows times an average window replacement cost of $650 pre-pandemic would be $19,500 pre-2020 but now we'd probably better have an extra $40,000 set aside just to be safe."
* Plus, great, now we have this window replacement thing before we can move in, and can't get the window contractors in for several months, so we have to extend our lease, and our landlord may or may not let us go month to month, so now we're paying for a mortgage, a window replacement, and apartment rent for probably 3-6 months beyond what we'd planned. Add another up to $15k on.
* Plus "operable windows in every exterior-facing room for safe egress during a fire" as part of the bargain for us being able to get a loan for a mortgage? Is hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk right there.
* And if your windows are this much of a problem, what else are you hiding about the condition of the house you're trying to sell us?!

On the off-chance we didn't straight-up walk away, after doing all of the math, we'd probably reduce our offer to you by at LEAST $70k. (Or just try to wait you out, because your house having this big a boondoggle means there's an excellent chance you'll still be on the market several weeks later with no offers, at which point we could probably get a bigger discount than my $70k estimate above, maybe even six figures worth.) But summed up, that's a big enough level of hassle all around that we would probably just nope out of your house, no matter if it checked off all of our needs and wants otherwise. Even in our current almost-no-inventory market, where we're lucky to see one house a week in our price range and size pop up.

And I say this as someone who LOVES picture windows with a nice view and would pay extra for good natural light. Who stopped in a hallway of a house I toured yesterday to admire a *peekaboo* view of the local hills from when you walk through that hall in a specific direction.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:39 AM on April 5, 2021 [11 favorites]

My house has 50% inoperable windows because the former owners installed vinyl windows ON TOP OF old metal windows (gnashes teeth) and I hate them all! Openable windows are wonderful, and every time it’s nice outside or manky-smelling inside, I gladly open all the ones that work. I find the difference in air quality is REALLY noticeable.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:44 AM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Who knew this was such an emotional issue?!

I just found the metaphor I was groping for earlier: they make me feel like a bird batting at a cage.
posted by trig at 11:48 AM on April 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

So, for instance, in our living room: we have two windows together on the east wall, and two windows together on the west wall. If I made one of each grouping operable and one fixed, would that do it? I assume that would be the best arrangement, for cross-breeze, rather than to make both of one side open and the other side fixed?

Your best bet is to just make them all operable and not pick and choose.

We're thinking of lengthening all of the downstairs windows so that they start 18" off the floor...Would this be desirable from a re-sale perspective?

Hard to say without seeing the room, but sure? Assuming the longer windows don't interfere too much with furniture placement, it doesn't cost the earth to outfit them with window treatments, and the newly embiggened size doesn't turn the house either baking or freezing (a friend lived in a condo with floor-to-ceiling windows on one entire wall and it cost them over a grand in energy bills each month).

I feel like if your goal is to save money, just putting in "normal" windows everywhere in the existing spaces you already have is probably the way to go in the long run. As someone said above, it will cost you either now during installation, or later when it's harder to find a potential buyer.
posted by anderjen at 11:51 AM on April 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Contrary to most posters I wouldn't care personally, as long as there was at least one per room for fire escape etc. I don't open windows often, a trend that accelerated last year since all my windows were right on a sidewalk so it was never safe to leave them open in a pandemic.

Also I use a lot of air purifiers and filters which is not compatible with open windows, especially in fire season.

But seems like that's clearly a minority view, so while some people would be fine if your goal is resale I wouldn't rely on people like me.
posted by thefoxgod at 11:57 AM on April 5, 2021

Bigger windows/more light is generally lovely, I think. I wish semi-regularly that our windows started closer to the floor. I would potentially be concerned about privacy issues/furniture placement or having the window be a standard enough size to get curtains for easily, so it's really a "know your space" issue. But in the right room, absolutely, more light is great! But for me, not at the cost of having the window be inoperable. In a pinch I'd prioritize fresh air over more light.
posted by Stacey at 12:01 PM on April 5, 2021

We rented a place where the windows were rendered inoperable because the landlord refused to repaint them -- suspecting, as we did, that they paint they would have to scrape off was FULL OF LEAD. So we put up insulating plastic and left it up until we moved out.

The windows don't work? I can't think of a single reason that speaks well of the situation, and "Because my architect thinks it's The Future" is definitely counted as a negative.

posted by wenestvedt at 12:03 PM on April 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Re: some windows opening, others not:

Inflexible layouts: If a room has, say, one or two windows that open and one or two that don't, that will very much restrict how I can arrange the couch, tables, etc. I would _have_ to always maintain a clear path to the one window that opened, and that might be where I'd prefer to put my couch or table. And by "prefer" I mean - depending on the furniture I have, it might be impossible to set things up so that there are clear walkways, access to the shelves I need, somewhere pleasant to eat or study or watch birds/people, etc.

Inferior ventilation: you really need more than one window for fresh air: one for air to enter, the other for air to leave. If you have windows in two compass directions in one room (either on two walls with a corner, or across from each other), then natural air movement will do this for you and it's wonderful. If they are on the same wall, it's still lovely: put a fan blowing in in one, and the other window will assist by giving air a place to exit.

Re: would doors or large windows compensate (alas, no):

Also: I live in a place with _only_ floor-to-ceiling glass doors, four large sets (no windows). In a way they do let in light, but there are huge downsides: Can't put a dresser or table in front of them if I want to open them ever -- plus it would look awful; can't walk around without knowing that people can see _all_ of me; nowhere to set a potted plant (except the floor, and you can't see them well there, and there's not a good way to put a table in front of the doors).

They are also a pain to clean, and, when I had cats, they would get nose prints all over the lower glass. That was kind of cute, but still.

Oh, also: when open, stuff is likely to blow in onto the floor -- there's a lot of dirt at ground level outside.


I know you have allergies, but I do wonder if there might be a way you could enjoy your windows more :)


Re: Green Building Advisor: It's always dangerous to evaluate things by only one metric. If I lived in an office-building-like enclosure, I would become less and less connected to the environment, less optimistic in general, and less motivated to do what was needed to make anyone's life better.
posted by amtho at 12:19 PM on April 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Also remember that any space without an operable window is un-air-able if you have something smelly in there (on purpose like off-gassing paint or hardcore cleaners, or by accident). Forced air doesn't really do it. Smells will hang around for ages.

I've gone from working in office buildings with AC only to one where the windows open and the change in the wellbeing of both myself and my office plants was dramatic. Even in the worst heat or cold, just opening the window for five minutes while we're out of the room gives a blast of fresh air.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:41 PM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

This would absolutely be a deal-breaker for me. There are 6 windows in the ~400 sf room I'm currently sitting in and they are currently all open.

Also consider: we just went though / are going through a pandemic. Indoor ventilation is good. Open windows can help with that. That's a bit of a personal crusade of mine though, since pre-pandemic, and I doubt it will catch on. But at least *some* other people probably share this view with me.
posted by ToddBurson at 12:49 PM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

We had unusually low to the floor windows in our first home, but on the second floor - just a note that for children and pets they were not great, and the one over the back porch we also had to install bars as we had a break-in through it. It was a pain for bed/desk placement as well. Depending on your second floor it might make more sense to put in a sky light (over the stairs or if you have some house that's single-story).

That said, the light was lovely and I used to lie on the floor and read in a sun puddle.

I'm with the chorus here on the opening question. We have a bay window that doesn't open and a kitchen window that only opens on one side, both 60s-era windows, and they almost pooched the deal for us - and both have additional windows in those rooms; all the other windows in the house open.

Just don't install screens on the windows you never plan to open. If you're worried about resale value... you'll probably still come out ahead.

I'd buy the screens with the windows and then store them and install them at the point at which you're selling, if you do go this route.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:52 PM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

> If I made one of each grouping operable and one fixed, would that do it? I assume that would be the best arrangement, for cross-breeze, rather than to make both of one side open and the other side fixed?

Nope. Still a dealbreaker. And it would raise concerns about what other questionable choices are hiding in plain sight to save money.

Look, if you weren't planning to sell in a few years, I'd tell you to do what you want, even though I think non-operable windows are a very poor choice. We made some nonstandard choices based on our personal preferences, but we plan to live here for the rest of our lives (or close to it) so I don't give a %^& what anyone thinks about our decision to install custom countertops and cabinets without including a dishwasher.
posted by desuetude at 12:59 PM on April 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

While I agree 100% with the consensus here, what has not been brought up yet is what sort of housing market you're in. If your housing market is generally hot and likely to get more in demand in the next 5 years (or at least stay the same), then perhaps it doesn't matter what you decide - you ultimately just need one buyer.

As much as I prefer operable windows, I am also used to living in old houses where at least a couple of windows have weights that don't work or have been painted shut by the landlord. If I loved a house, it wouldn't be a deal breaker if a few of the windows were inoperable.
posted by coffeecat at 1:04 PM on April 5, 2021

I think it's really important to be able to open windows for ventilation (and to control temperature...if windows are opened judiciously, someone may be able to avoid using AC most of the time). I think the trend in architecture is actually toward operable windows, even in office buildings that might not have had them in the past. One cutting-edge building I saw a few years ago had windows that automatically opened or closed based on temperature sensors, so it could cool off passively overnight. Indoor air quality is often terrible, and opening windows quickly changes that. A lot of people (myself included) also like to sleep with windows open.
posted by pinochiette at 1:20 PM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Re: bigger windows - When we were building our house the windows were originally roughed in to be 48x60 inches. When we saw them roughed into the walls we immediately had regrets and switched to a smaller size. The bigger size came with both privacy issues and furniture placement issues. Like in the bedroom there’s a window on each side of bed. Bigger windows meant the nightstands would be in front of a window. Most of the windows in our house are now 36x48 and we have no regrets about going with the smaller size. Could you add additional windows instead of making your existing windows bigger?
posted by MadMadam at 2:23 PM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Apparently over the last few decades, new builds have been moving increasingly towards fewer operable window

I bought a house with a wall of south-facing inoperable windows (Very large, like four 3x6 windows in a row) which was there for passive solar. The house had a big sliding glass door in the bedroom (only window in there) and two fixed windows by the front door and two hinged windows in the living room on the east side of the house. The west side of the house was just a giant barn. North side had no windows. It was a small place (800 sq ft). The house did not have AC. I would not do this again. Here were the downsides...

- I lived in a place with a real winter climate and when I would cook or otherwise up the humidity in the house, water would drip down the windows and pool in the sills. This is not a fixed window issue as much as an airflow and humidity issue but it was sub-optimal
- BUGS. We had a cluster fly season and they just lived there. Gross.
- Exposure - at night I felt I had to cover the giant windows because they were basically one wall of my house that faced the outside. Again not a fixed window issue per se but more of a "large window" thing
- ventilation. The house got really hot in the summer and was hard to cool down through conventional fans and usual cross-breezes
- furniture - my living room basically had one configuration that worked unless I blocked the windows

I definitely see a lot of houses that have fixed window portions, like clerestory windows up higher that of course don't open, or modern designs with the wall-of-glass look, so a lot here will really depend on what your place looks like. I know in the market that I am in, it's super hot so no one would care. But for me personally, if I can't open every window in a place, I am likely to look for a place where I can.
posted by jessamyn at 3:21 PM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this would horrify me. I would not even look at a house if I knew that any/many windows couldn't open.

We have a two-story foyer in the house in which I grew up, and except for a giant one-floor high second-story arc-ed picture window (that nobody would be able to reach to open), all windows on both floors open. Some 8-foot-tall windows have never been opened in the 50 years (this month!) since we built, but could. The house has central air and central heating; there's no "need" to open the windows, but if you want to hear something going on outside, if you want to smell fresh air in the house, if you want to get a breeze on a transitional-weather day, if you want to get rid of cooking want the windows to open. Sometimes, someone is standing outside a window and you need to be able to open the window!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 4:11 PM on April 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I've lived in multiple older houses where windows that were supposed to be operable were not and it was a big UGH for me. How do a cool a bedroom with a non-opening window without AC? How do I air out the kitchen after accidentally making a lot of smoke? How do I air out a house for COVID-reasons after a repair person comes by or create air circulation after using cleaners or other stinky chemicals?

I lived in an apartment with an inoperable-picture-window-flanked-by-operable-windows setup and one where there were two windows over each other, the top operable and the bottom inoperable. Both were just fine, and there weren't any screens in them (in a region where mosquitos aren't much of a problem).
posted by A Blue Moon at 5:42 PM on April 5, 2021

Reasons for plain old normal easy-to-find functional windows --
Access by fire department, police department, paramedics, etc. Especially important above the first floor where ladders are needed.
Do not expect the fire personnel to guess which windows are functional.
Installing window air conditioning.
Installing window access for cats and dogs (with steps and platforms).
Using standard aftermarket accessories such as storm screens, shutters, awnings, window boxes for plants, etc. This also applies to curtains and blinds.
As mentioned above, windows that open are necessary for ventilation, climate control, removal of undesirable odors and humidity, and for the general wellbeing of the occupants.
posted by TrishaU at 5:42 PM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, all. Wow, again, very surprised at the basically unanimous consensus here. Will definitely bear that in mind.

A few of you mentioned walls of windows being fine to be fixed. We're thinking of doing an addition where we use a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows (maybe 12 feet wide) to simulate a wall of windows. Am I right in thinking most of you would hope/expect that *all* of these open? If it matters, they won't look like double-hung: they'll be flat (either operable casement or fixed/picture).
posted by ClaireBear at 6:11 PM on April 5, 2021

Maybe late to the party, but do have a look at the Residential Building Code specifically para's 303.1 and 310.1.
posted by rudd135 at 6:25 PM on April 5, 2021

It will likely look less beautiful if some of the windows don't match, which is a shame in a window-wall feature that is mainly there to add beauty, BUT if there are opening/non-opening windows of the same model that look essentially the same, then: if there are two windows that open, that would probably be OK.

However: a room that's got a whole wall of windows is likely vulnerable to overheating (even if there's a tree shading you, the tree might not be there forever, there might be enough sun to overheat even in winter, etc.), so being able to have natural air flow might be even more important.
posted by amtho at 7:27 PM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't find the mere presence of non-functional windows psychologically upsetting, but I do find it infuriating, to the point of absolute red hot rage, to have an unpleasant smell in my living space that I can't get rid of (especially now that I can't really leave).

I don't normally open most of the windows in my flat, but for the past few weeks my block of flats has been undergoing a complete repaint, and this means paint smells and cigarette smoke coming from different places at different times. Not being able to open and close different windows in the flat to direct the air flow in different ways would have driven me completely insane.

Escape is not really a factor because I live in a country with a high crime rate and it's normal for all windows (at least those at ground level) to be fitted with burglar bars. :/

Most of the windows are large ones with a fixed middle panel and side / top panels that open, apart from one little one that opens in its entirety and one little one with an opening top panel (bathroom). But every single one has at least one openable component.
posted by confluency at 1:16 AM on April 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

> We're thinking of lengthening all of the downstairs windows so that they start 18" off the floor...

More light is good, but a couple of possible downsides to consider:

The old part of our house originally had quite small windows, and these were replaced with large ones at some point in recent decades. So we have more light and views, but the outside appearance looks a little unbalanced, like the original sized windows just worked well for the original design. If we were to replace the windows in future we’d consider filling in some of the windows to put them back to the original size.

Our living room window (one of the enlarged ones) reaches fairly low down the wall. Again, more light, better views. But it does mean we can’t really put any chairs, sofas, sideboards, etc on that wall, which restricts the flexibility of the layout.
posted by fabius at 5:08 AM on April 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

A few of you mentioned walls of windows being fine to be fixed. We're thinking of doing an addition where we use a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows (maybe 12 feet wide) to simulate a wall of windows. Am I right in thinking most of you would hope/expect that *all* of these open? If it matters, they won't look like double-hung: they'll be flat (either operable casement or fixed/picture).
I think if you have a wall of windows it's best if you can see clearly where the door is, for safety reasons mentioned above. This can be done very nicely.
Another thing. I inherited my house from my grandparents, and for the last couple of decades of their lives, they were always complaining about how dark it was. I did change one window into a door (in my bedroom, so I can go straight out into the garden during summer), but otherwise I didn't change any windows. I painted the floor white, and I removed some trees in the garden, and now everyone mentions how wonderful the light is here. It is. I enjoy it every day, all day. As the owner of a large hairy black dog, I should probably have gone for a light grey floor rather than bright white, and that would have worked almost as well. But it is actually easy to keep, and with allergies, I need to vacuum all the time anyway.
posted by mumimor at 6:01 AM on April 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

if you're doing a floor-to-ceiling wall of windows, my expectation would be that the entire row of windows at standard height (like, from your waist height to your head height more or less) would be operable. I wouldn't expect the ones along the bottom to be, and I wouldn't much care if the ones at ceiling height would be, since presumably they'd be harder to reach and they wouldn't be an egress option (although I do think that having them as a ventilation option would be excellent, at least in my climate.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:35 AM on April 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I live in a modified 1950s Levitt ranch and when we bought, we restored the living room wall of windows (many of which had been boarded over, and the remainder mismatched) and decided to go with all fixed. It was definitely an order of magnitude cheaper to have 16 insulated glass units (even with the bottom four tempered) than 16 windows with sashes. It's a 16 window 4x4 grid that takes up the whole living room. I sometimes wish we'd made one a slider, which many people in the neighborhood have, but it's an open floorplan and I find that opening the window on the opposite wall, plus one or both screen doors, does the trick fine. Plus my husband and I both have terrible seasonal allergies, so we prefer the house sealed more often than not. Cleaning hasn't been an issue, and we like the original mid-century vibe. At some point, I'm thinking of adding a small back patio with awning, which will shade the room considerably. There's a big tree behind our house that shades the room now, but I don't know if it's going to outlive me.

Either way, the amount of draft and chill we get in an old house with lots of uneven settled and warped spots and no meaningful wall insulation means the insulation value of those particular panes of glass is probably minimal. They may be the best insulated part of the house, which is literally cold comfort in winter.

If we want to sell, that might be a time to change, but I very much hope to stay put for the most of the test of my life. Anecdata from walking around the neighborhood indicates that many neighbors have taken the approach of adding a single working window or two into the grid, or replacing the whole thing with wall with a couple normal sized normal windows.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 10:11 AM on April 6, 2021

Windows should be operable unless they are skylights or clerestory.

I wouldn’t buy a house with reachable, inoperable windows.
posted by slateyness at 9:08 PM on April 7, 2021

Depending solely on AC uses a lot of energy. Please consider getting an energy audit and making appropriate design choices. Large windows may increase AC and heat costs. Energy audits can end up paying for themselves. I live in Maine and AC at home is not a requirement. I've worked many places with sealed windows, and on a beautiful breezy day, it's kind of soul-killing to not be able to have actual fresh air. I recognize that I'm an outlier, but sealed windows disconnect us from Nature, and if I had a house with them, I'd have to replace them.
posted by theora55 at 8:50 AM on April 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a house with ceiling-to-nearly-floor picture windows in the living room and while it was great for natural light, it was shit for privacy and worse for temperature control. And those were the only non-functional windows in the house and included one bay that had louvered windows for airflow. It was very clear that they weren't intended to open and there were many other exits in that space (it's a pretty open floorplan on that floor) but I did not love them and they make that whole corner of the space functionally unusable for furniture. It's just dead space that only gets used if my folks have a really big dinner party and need to set up a couple card tables for the overflow.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:31 AM on April 30, 2021

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