Bow or Bay? Here’s How to Choose Which Window Is Best for You

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated January 11, 2022
front of house with bow windrow
Photo: Spiroview Inc. / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Bow and bay windows look similar, as they both extend from the home

  • Bow windows are often more expensive, at 1.5 to 2.5 times the price of their bay counterparts

  • Bay windows include three glass panes, while bow windows have four to six panels of glass

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If you’re dreaming of a cozy reading nook for your home, you’ll need to study up on bay and bow windows. While both are great options for bringing in natural light and adding seating or storage space, there are some key differences to keep in mind. Plus, depending on the layout of your house, one may be more suitable than the other in terms of cost and construction. 

Find out the key differences of bow windows versus bay windows, from what they look like to how much they cost.

What Is a Bay Window?

exterior brick house with bay windows
Photo: Susan Vineyard / Adobe Stock

A bay window has three glass panels. Typically, the center window is the biggest, with two smaller windows on each side. It protrudes extensively from the house, making it great for a spacious reading or dining nook.

Pros and Cons of Bay Windows

If you’re working with a tighter budget, bay windows may be right for your home improvement project. They are less expensive than bow windows and are easier to install. Bay windows have many unexpected benefits, too, like boosting your home’s design and resale value. Plus, they typically include opening mechanisms so you can let in fresh air. 

But there are some drawbacks to this style of window. Both bay and bow windows extend past the house, but bay windows tend to jut out farther and take up more space. They’ll let in natural light and views of your favorite tree in the front yard, but light and views will be more limited than what you can get from bow windows.

How Much Does a Bay Window Cost?

Replacing bay windows costs about $1,800 each, including $100 to $300 for labor. If you’re hoping to install new bay windows, the cost ranges from $1,000 to over $7,000, depending on how much construction is needed to make your walls ready for this style of window.

What Is a Bow Window?

interior shot of house with bow windows
Photo: littleny / Adobe Stock

Bow windows are similar to bay windows in that they extend past the house, although they don’t protrude as far as bay windows. One of the most notable characteristics of a bow window is that it has four to six glass panels and offers panoramic views. The panels are usually all the same size.

Pros and Cons of Bow Windows

Bow windows are wider, so they can offer more extensive views of your surroundings. The multiple panels of glass also bring in more natural light, so you can sit in a bow window nook while comfortably reading your favorite book until sunset.

Bow windows are wider and heavier than bay windows, so they are harder to install. These features, plus the higher number of glass panels, also means these windows are more expensive. While you can customize bow windows to be operable, they usually are sold without the ability to open for natural ventilation.

How Much Does a Bow Window Cost?

Bow windows are large and heavy, so they tend to run at $1,500 to $6,500 each for replacements, according to HomeAdvisor. Adding new bow windows to your home costs $3,000 to $10,000 per window, including labor costs.

Bow Windows vs. Bay Windows

Bay and bow windows both offer scenic views and more storage space for homeowners hoping to add in a reading or dining nook or small work or craft space. Aside from their differing appearances, there are many other characteristics to consider when choosing between bay and bow windows.

Appearance​

Both bow and bay windows extend out from the side of the home’s exterior wall, but bow windows jut out less. The key difference in appearance for these window types is the number of panels. Bow windows have four to six glass panels, while bay windows always have three.

Options and Customizations​

You can customize both bow and bay windows in many ways, including size, color, and even shapes. Both windows are usually offered with vinyl frames and panes, but many homeowners also opt for custom options, like wood. Bow window panels are installed at the same angles for a curved look, but you can choose different angles for bay windows: 25 degrees, 35 degrees, or 45 degrees.

Price​

Bow windows tend to cost 1.5 to 2.5 times more than similarly sized bay windows. New bow windows can cost $3,000 to $10,000 per window, while new bay windows start at $1,000 each and can go over $7,000 for customized options.

Ease of Installation

Installing bow or bay windows isn’t exactly a task for you and a few friends to tackle. Both options require you to widen existing window openings and ensure the wall can support the added weight of these window styles, which are heavier than flat windows. Between the two, bow windows are heavier and harder to install.

Ease of Repair

While the multiple glass panels and panes of bow windows may offer picturesque views and a charming look to your dining or living area, the additional parts make repairs more difficult than fixing bay windows. If you need to replace your window, bow windows are more difficult to replace because they are heavier.

Maintenance

Keeping up with window maintenance is important if you want your windows to last, regardless of if you go for bow or bay windows. 

  • Cleaning: For both styles, you’ll want to do a deep cleaning for the glass panels, panes, and frames about once a year

  • Maintenance: When it’s time for cleaning, also do an annual inspection to check for warping, cracking, or other signs of damage.

  • Hardware: For bay windows or operable bow windows, check that the opening mechanisms are in working order. Clean hardware with a microfiber cloth to remove dust. Grease moving parts once per year to prevent sticking or squeaking.

Length of Life​

Bow and bay windows will last 20 to 25 years, depending on if you buy high-quality windows. Improper installation can shorten your windows’ lifespan, so hire a local window installation professional. Keep up with cleaning and proper maintenance to ensure you get many years out of your window investment.

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