Bow Windows vs. Bay Windows: A Complete Comparison Guide

Different kind of windows on a wall

Bay and bow windows are beautiful features that can spice up your home’s exterior, add floor space to your interior, and let natural light into your home. While they’re both projection windows, bay windows and bow windows are actually different types of windows. Which one is the better option for you?

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Bay vs. Bow: What’s the Difference?

An image comparing a bow window and a bay window
Photo Credit: Spencer Means / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo Credit: Spencer Means / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Although bay and bow windows are quite similar, they have differences that are best seen when contrasted against each other. The table below shows these differences side by side and can serve as a summary of both of their qualities.

FactorBay WindowsBow Windows
ShapeThree-paned window with an angular shape; can also look like a boxFour to six “lites” arranged in a distinct curved bow
Interior SpaceOffers more floor space, as it juts out further from the wallMore horizontal space but less depth because its curved shape doesn’t jut out from the wall as far
Exterior SpaceEats up more yard space but less wall spaceUses less yard space but uses more wall space because it’s wider
Natural LightMore than most windowsEven more than a bay window
VentilationOffers ventilation with the side panesEither no ventilation or lots of it, depending on if the lites are made of picture or casement windows
Length of Life20-25 years with regular maintenance and good-quality windows20-25 years with regular maintenance and good-quality windows
Ease of InstallationMore difficult than most windows, less than a bow windowOne of the most difficult window types to install
Energy efficiencyMore energy-efficient than bow windows, but usually less energy-efficient than other windowsNot very energy-efficient
AestheticsHard angles make them more suited for modern builds.
They can be used to balance your home’s exterior.
The gentle curve makes them a better fit for traditional Victorian and Tudor homes.
They can be wrapped around the corner of a house.
Installation Cost$1,125 – $4,790$2,190 – $6,140

What are Bay Windows?

Brown wooden table with bay window in the background
Photo Credit: Pexels

Bay windows are strictly made up of three window panes: a large inoperable center pane flanked by two smaller windows set at an angle. These side panes are usually at a 30-degree or 45-degree angle, but they can also be configured at a 25-degree or even 90-degree angle, forming a box bay window.

Although the center window is a picture window that can’t be opened, the side windows don’t have to be. They can be double-hung windows or casement windows, which can both be opened to improve airflow.

These beautiful fixtures cost much more to install than the average window. A bay window costs an average of $2,370 to install.

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Types of Bay Windows

Bay windows have different types that can complement any home style, from Victorian and Tudor houses to craftsman and modern builds.

  • Full or canted bay window: The traditional bay window that comes to mind is called a full bay window or a canted bay window. This type of bay window can only be installed on the first floor.
  • Box bay window: This window has panes set at a 90-degree angle, making it look like a box. Box bay windows are usually smaller than the typical bay window, so they are perfect for small objects and plants.
  • Oriel bay window: These windows are quite elegant and elaborate and float above the ground. The structures supporting them can be decorated with sculptures and other visually appealing fixtures. Oriel bay windows can be installed on any floor.
  • Circle bay window: While they are curved like bow windows, circle bay windows only have three panes of glass. They’re usually intricately decorated like oriel bay windows.

Bay Window Pros and Cons

This type of window is highly sought after for its dual purpose of form and function, but it also has its disadvantages. The table below can help you weigh the pros and cons of a bay window against each other.

✓ Adds space where you can install a window seat, extra storage, or both✗ More expensive to install than a regular window, costing from several hundred to several thousand dollars
✓ Lets more natural light inside the room than a regular window✗ May require extra structural work done on your home, which drives up cost
✓ Offers stunning views of your surroundings from the inside✗ Can drive up utility bills if you don’t get energy-efficient upgrades or Energy Star-rated windows
✓ Creates visual interest from the outside of your home and raises curb appeal✗ More expensive to repair and maintain than the average window
✓ Raises your property value

If you think you can handle the disadvantages listed above, a bay window can be an excellent addition to your home.

What are Bow Windows?

Outside of bay windows
Photo Credit: Mike Jack / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

While most bow windows come with five window panes (also called lites), they can come in four-lite and six-lite configurations, as well. These window panes are arranged to give the window its distinct bow shape, which is usually flatter than a bay window, meaning it juts out less from the wall. 

Many window manufacturers offer prefabricated bow windows, but you can also have custom bow windows made using four to six of the same panes of glass. This way, you can control the angle of your bow window. With a custom build, you can also choose if you want your bow window to be operable (meaning it opens) or fixed (meaning it does not open).

Bow windows are even more expensive than bay windows because they use more glass and are more difficult to install. The average cost of a bow window installation is $4,270, but it can be even pricier depending on the scope of your project.

Bow Window Pros and Cons

Like bay windows, bow windows are also a popular feature that many home buyers look for. Here are the pros and cons of this type of window.

Pros Cons
✓ More customizable than a bay window ✗ More expensive than a bay window
✓ Adds space where you can install a window seat, extra storage, or both ✗ Adds less extra storage space than a bay window
✓ One of the best options for letting in natural light because of its many window panes ✗ May require extra structural work done on your home, which drives up cost
✓ Offers even wider views of your surroundings than a bay window ✗ Even less energy-efficient than bay windows
✓ Creates visual interest from the outside of your home and raises curb appeal ✗ More expensive to repair and maintain than a bay window because of its size
✓ Can be wrapped around a corner, making it more flexible than a bay window ✗ Operable windows can ruin the perfect bow shape when you open them
✓ Offers great ventilation if you opt for operable windows ✗ Can be more difficult to frame than a bay window
✓ Raises your property value

Like bay windows, bow windows can be a wonderful new feature for your home, as long as you are aware of the drawbacks and prepared to deal with them. 

Find a Window Installation Pro Near You

Bay and bow windows, while similar, have their own quirks. Depending on what you want for your home, one type of window may be better than the other. However, they’re both worthwhile investments that you and your family can enjoy; you can’t really go wrong with either one.

Whether you want to install a new bay or bow window or get replacement windows, Window Gnome can help connect you with the best installation pros in your area. Contact a window specialist near you to get a quote for your window project.

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Main Photo Credit: Stuart Walsh / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao has always been fascinated with growing plants, from fruits and veggies to bonsai trees and orchids. Now, she’s interested in urban gardening with her family. She loves finding new tips and tricks to keep their plants thriving.