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Home Improvement Story Book Dormers - Great Design Ideas Cape Cods and Beyond

Dormers are to me the central architecture element for many of the homes designs that I love from the American Cape Cod style classic home to the Victorian with its complex roof lines and combination of dormers. Dormer windows to me are an American classic akin to apple pie and baseball. What exactly is a dormer window? How many different types of dormers are there? Which ones do you like best?

The Victorian style homes and the Tudor style homes often also have a dormer, however, the dormer is not the focal points in these homes. For the Victorian, the central focus is the extensive molding, fret work and wrap around porches, for the Tudor often the focus is the swooping gables.

Journey with us as we explore the many options and tour the storybook home designs and even garage designs that take the simple structure up a notch in charm - due entirely to the use of a simple architectural design - a delightful dormer.

Cape Cod Style Garage

Cape Cod style garage

Cape Cod style garage

Roof Styles

Roof Styles - Roofscape

We cannot fully understand the different types of dormers, unless we first understand the different types of roof lines. Quickly we will define the different types of roofs and then we will move on detail the many different types of dormer windows.

Roofs can define an entire building's architecture. It is not just the roofing material, but also the actual construction or architectural design of the roof. While many believe the character of the roof is entirely concerned with roofing material, the overall design of the home is dramatically effected by the roof design. Some have referred to this as the "roofscape". The "roofscape" can be simple or elaborate as we shall soon see.

Various Types of Roof Designs - Roofscape

There are several different types of roof designs. For our purposes we will simply review 5 of the most common.

  • Flat Roofs often are found on commercial buildings or here in the United States on very modern residential structure. Typically the flat roof will have an elastomeric membrane. Sadly many flat roofs do not have sufficient pitch to carry the water away from the building. Beware, a completely flat roof could mean some maintenance nightmares in the life of that roof.
  • Gable roofs are perhaps commonly found on the Tudor style home. The gable roof line comprised of two sloped surfaces and create a triangular piece of wall at the ends (the gable).The delight of this design is in the slope of the gable created. A famous book "House of Seven Gables" celebrated the gable roof for centuries now. An extremely large Victorian or Tudor style home would be warranted for a full seven gables!
  • Cross-gable roofs are another style common with the Victoria - this is essentially a roof line or roofscape that has two intersecting gable roofs.
  • Hipped roofs are sloped from each wall and do not have the gable ends. For ranches and two-story homes, this roof design is the more expensive roof because it mandates more roofing material.
  • Complex roofs combine hipped and gable forms and may also have turrets or towers and are common again to the Victorian style.

Now that we have the terms defined and understand the elements of the roofs, let's move on to the various types of dormers.

Types of Dormers

co lancaster pa us

co lancaster pa us

Single Dormer

Flat Roof Dormer

Hipped Dormer

Shed Dormer

Wall Dormer on a Shed

pacificoastbuildings com

pacificoastbuildings com

Hire An Architect

Dormer Windows Add Vintage Charm for Home in Magnificant Milton Wisconsin

Dormer windows on second floor - photo courtesy of GmaGoldie

Dormer windows on second floor - photo courtesy of GmaGoldie

Four Types of Dormers Detailed

A dormer window is one of the best tools for adding architectural interest to a home. The dormer window adds charm, light and curb appeal. Typically, a dormer does not add square footage.

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Typically a dormer does not extend the footprint of the home. A dormer window will, however, provide more light and character to a home. While we won't study all six types of dormers, we will have a great start to understanding this great architectural detail that can serve many purposes.

Four of the six dormers are detailed below:

  • Hipped Roof Dormer - roof slopes back from front of structure to a point further back similar to the hipped roofscape.
  • Gable Dormer - sometimes referred to as the dog-house dormer, the front of the dormer rises to a point of the dormer roof.
  • Shed Dormer - here the eave line is parallel to the main roof eave. This type of dormer is often used for more attic space and head room. Commonly used in gable-roofed homes, the shed dormer has a single-planed roof, pitched different from the roof.
  • Wall Dormer- this is where the face of the dormer is flat with the exterior surface of the home or structure.

Other Types of Dormers

Some define a dormer in direct relationship to the roof line as: 1.) built-out 2.) cut-in and 3.) partially cut-in. Select the dormer style you prefer, discuss your options with a qualified architect and you will have the dream design for your home.

Dormer verses Dormer Window

While I use the term dormer and dormer window interchangeably as is the general case in our colloquialisms, a dormer is the whole unit, the dormer window is the actual window set into the dormer.

Use of Dormer - Home Design - Remodeling Tips

Light, air ventilation and head room are the three principle benefits of a dormer. Often found in the original design of a home, sometimes added. Sadly, too few people consider adding a dormer window during their home improvement or remodeling projects. This is frugal option that adds a great deal of exterior charm and interior light and architectural interest to a home. Much different from a sunroof, a dormer is a detail that should be considered when investing in your home improvement projects.

Reclaimed Square Footage in an Attic

Unlike a skylite, a dormer can add head room which is ideal for low ceiling in reclaimed square footage in an attic.

Interior Architecture of the Dormer

Besides adding light and air ventilation and sometimes much needed head room, a dormer can add great interior design to a room.

Symmetrical Use or Asymmetrical Use of Dormers

The design and scale are best left to your architect. The symmetry is a personal choice. Before you consult with a builder and your architect, now your own personal preference. Myself, I prefer asymmetrical designs, my husband, is adamant, symmetrical or nothing! Do your homework, discuss your personal preferences at home before consulting with the professionals.

Shutter or No Shutters - Your Choice

Ironically all the options shown in this article are without shutters on the dormer, do be aware, it is possible to have a shutter on your dormer - but you do need the room to do so. Plan ahead - ask yourself this question before putting pen to paper or before speaking with your professional builder or architect.

Best Solution - Hire An Architect

Professionals who have studied design, know what works both for form and function are well worth the dollars paid. Bring an architect on board early in your project. Even if you are DIY, the project your craftsmanship will speak volumes with the added expertise of an architect.

You have worked a lifetime to build, remodeling, design your home. The architect will return to your major dividends of dollars well spent.

Consult A Real Estate Professional

Never over build for your neighborhood. Build for the market - consult a professional who sells homes, a real estate professional who specifically knows your market - your neighborhood. Add what the market wants and you will be adding resale value to your home.

Remember an asset on paper means nothing until cash is in hand. Do your homework, create your dream home, create your design with the market in mind, and you will have a lasting investment for you and your family.

Dormer - photo courtesy of GmaGoldie

Dormer - photo courtesy of GmaGoldie

Storybook Dormer

Custom Victorian Garage with Dormers

Dormers Added Later to a Sears Crescent Home "Sears Crescent with its expanded attic! The dormers were probably added in later years, after the home was built." "Sears Crescent with its expanded attic! The dormers were probably added in later years, after the home was built."

Storybook Victorian Dormer

Dormer for Added Space in Your Attic - Returns 93.5%

Dormers Are Delightful!

Dormer windows can add allot of additional light. And while a dormer doesn't add square footage, it can make an attic into usable living space. Reclaiming square footage from the attic may be a great investment for your home. Perhaps the biggest payback for the dormer is the exterior charm that it adds to any structure - a home, a coach house, a garage, etc... The day to day payback is the added light, ventilation and for reclaimed attic space the added head room. In these days of frugality, our home remains our number one spot for investment. Adding to the interior and exterior character of your home can be a DIY project or a professional remodeling job, whatever you choose, do consider the option of the window dormer for your home.

Cap Cod Homes with Dormers

  • Cape Cod House Pictures - Cape Cod House With Dormers
    Small, economical Cape Cod houses were built all across America during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but the Cape Cod style began centuries before in colonial New England. Twentieth century Cape Cod houses were often given large dormers and decorative

Homes with Dormers

  • Blah House - Dress it up with Dormers!
    Like other features in the architectural and design world, dormers take on many shapes and sizes, depending on the style of home they complement. Get familiar with these most common types. Dormer pointers If you're thinking about adding dormers to y

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Ken Kline (author) from Chicago, Illinois on February 17, 2013:


The reality of the workmanship is very critical to the execution of the construction. Thank you so much for contributing - this helps allot. I look forward to visiting your website.

Jeffn19 from Boston, MA on January 30, 2013:

Dormers need to be installed with so much attention to detail, otherwise they can be an eyesore on a home. We just installed a beautiful copper roof over three dormers in Tewksbury MA and have to say the home looks amazing! With proper roof installation over a dormer you will also avoid leaks that are a common symptom of such additions.

jamterrell on July 25, 2011:

I love it.

Nino Plevnik on September 27, 2010:

Really nice article, good ideas. Thanks for sharing.

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