Are Front Doors with Sidelights and Transom Right for You? Answered!

1. Introduction

Improvement in visual aesthetics and design seem to be the primary driving force behind the integration of sidelights and transoms into modern front door design. This is usually related to impressions and ideas of increased light and the creation or enhancement of a natural and inviting ambience within the interior of a house. This aim of course is related to the idea of light in general being a positive force in living spaces. An abundance of natural light or well-designed indoor lighting schemes is linked to positive mood, higher productivity, and general well-being. This is intentional through spring and summer, but also a means of trying to create a cozy environment during winter months. It must be noted, however, that while increased perceived access to natural light outdoors can enhance mood in summer, this is only truly effective at the cost of less insulation and greater energy consumption in some instances.

This essay aims to re-evaluate the common attribute of modern front doors: doors with sidelights and transom. It seeks to do so in terms of the stylistic and socio-legal implications of such a design feature, considering the effects on visual aesthetics, domestic security, and energy efficiency. Throughout this essay, in-depth discussion will be made regarding the effects of sidelights and transoms on both the style and substance of doors in contemporary society, seeking to highlight and (where appropriate) debunk any commonly held misconceptions regarding the benefit of such designs to homeowners. This discussion is undertaken with an attitude candidly progressive and critical of doors with sidelights and transoms, and aims to engender deeper understanding of the reasons driving modern front doors from common variations to their current and possible future states, with consideration to the needs of society and individuals.

1.1. What are front doors with sidelights and transom?

Sidelights and transoms can be used by themselves or in conjunction, and can be simple in design or very ornate. They are available individually by special order, but are most commonly purchased as part of an entryway system. An entryway system is a coordinated collection of components which creates a home’s entryway. In addition to the door, an entryway system may also include one or two sidelights, the matching transom, and perhaps other components such as glass top lights and/or a coordinated surrounds. A well-chosen and well-installed entryway system can do much to improve curb appeal for the home and make a good first impression on visitors.

Sidelights and transoms are pieces of glass that are often placed on or around a front door. Sidelights are vertical pieces of glass that are placed on one or both sides of the door. They can be clear, beveled, textured, or leaded. Sidelights can be stationary or venting (able to be opened to let in air). Transoms are horizontal pieces of glass that are placed above the door. They can be a single piece of glass over the top of the door or, in the case of a grand entryway, a fanlight with small individual pieces of glass in a circular or elliptical pattern with radiating bars. Like sidelights, a transom can be made with clear, beveled, or leaded glass, and some transoms are designed to open or vent to let in fresh air.

1.2. Benefits of front doors with sidelights and transom

They create dual points of interest for visitors. A visitor looks to the left and right of the entrance, focusing on both the sidelights and the entrance itself. Dual points of interest provide a balance for the entrance and are more aesthetically pleasing than a solitary entrance way. A door to the front of a house with no sidelights can sometimes look bare. Transoms add the extra touch of elegance and provide a clear view of the outside world. This can help to create an “outdoor sitting room” effect for the home, especially if there is a garden directly in front of the entrance.

An entrance door with sidelights (glass panels on one or either side of the door) and transoms (a horizontal “crossing” of glass to sit above the door frame) is an investment in the sense of home for a number of reasons. Sidelights and transoms have decorative appeal. They are an aesthetic addition to any house, providing a “light and airy” feel to any entrance, and are designed to make the home face the world with an open, inviting, and friendly expression while maintaining security.

Sidelights and transoms became less in vogue when the multi-paned doors of the nineteenth century gave way to the solid timber doors that characterized the first half of the twentieth century. They are based on the palace or castle door evolved from wood and iron, and, providing that visual entrance into the home, has endured repeated alterations in style by right of its purpose and dignity.

1.3. Considerations before choosing front doors with sidelights and transom

Privacy The next thing to consider is privacy. Sidelights are a fantastic feature to a front entranceway, but they do take away the privacy that you have with a solid door. If your front entrance is in clear view from the street or your front lawn and you feel comfortable being able to see straight out of your front door, then sidelights are a good idea. If the entranceway is clearly visible to you from the street and it feels too public and you would prefer to keep that bit of privacy, then sidelights may not be the best idea. This is because while they do add a lot of character and light to a front entranceway, they can make the entranceway feel exposed and clearly visible from the street.

The existing door The most important thing to do when considering sidelights and transoms is to take a look at the existing front door and its proportion to the front entranceway. The front door should always be the main focal point of the entrance. If the door is standing out to you as the main attraction of the front entrance and is clearly noticed more than any other front entrance feature, then you have a good chance of successfully installing sidelights and/or a transom to accent the door. If the front door is already hard to notice, such as a door that is part of a big front entrance or a door that is covered in shadow due to a front roof, adding a sidelight to each side of the door may not be the best idea because it will only cause the front entrance to look lopsided with the added light on one side and not the other.

2. Aesthetics and Design

Enhancing curb appeal with front doors with sidelights and transom. The front entry is a focal point of your home’s exterior, so make the most of it. Whether you want more light in your home, to increase your home’s energy efficiency, or simply to change the look of the exterior, updating the front door can have a big impact on the overall look of your home. If it’s a fresh, modern look with an architectural feel you’re after, consider a contemporary front door. Or, for a more traditional look, a classic door can be just right for you. Think about the statement you want to make with your front door and keep in mind the possible matching options with the rest of your home, such as window shutters and trims. Sidelights and a transom window can not only increase the sense of space and the amount of light in your home but create an inviting entry and a more graceful-looking front facade. Because this is a fairly long-term investment that can change the face of your home, be sure to carefully consider all aspects of your front door selection. Matching front doors with sidelights and transom to architectural styles. A great benefit of a door system with sidelights and a transom is the possible combinations to suit the style of your home. Consider a classic door for a more traditional look or for a modern feel, a rustic, Therma-True Canvas, or Fiber-Classic Oak door can be complemented with matching sidelights and a rectangular transom. French or patio doors with sidelights can be complemented by sidelights or a sidelights and transom to create an elegant look with increased natural light in the option of either a swinging or sliding door. Your patio doors can also have that classic look by adding a pair of hinged patio doors with an equal or non-equal active door and recently available sidelights. Customization options for front doors with sidelights and transom. One of the most beneficial aspects of purchasing an entry door system with sidelights and a transom is customization. This type of door often comes as a unit with matching sidelights and a transom pre-hung into a frame, but each of the components can also be assembled on site from individual door and sidelite units as seen in the image of an open transom above. With the latter method, transom kits are also available to add a transom to an existing door and sidelite unit. Matching the shape or configuration of your door, sidelights, and transom will usually depend on the amount of space in your current entry, but you can be assured there are numerous choices available with new pre-hung units. In addition to shapes, there are a variety of textures and privacy glass options for door, sidelite, and transom glass. These too can add to the overall look of your door system and affect the amount of natural light in your home. A vast selection of hardware is also available for entry door systems to further customize the look.

2.1. Enhancing curb appeal with front doors with sidelights and transom

Sidelights are narrow windows that frame the front door on one or both sides, and a transom is a window that rests above the front door. Sidelights and transoms are usually comprised of leaded, beveled, or stained glass and can accent any style of front door to create a warm and inviting entryway into a home. The benefits of adding the additional windows extend beyond aesthetic appeal. Leaded glass windows allow natural light to flow into the entryway, giving a brighter, well-lit ambiance. This added light to the front of the home is sure to have a positive impact on the entire house. The additional windows offer a view of outside, and at the same time, the leaded glass provides privacy. For those concerned with higher energy costs, higher-end insulated glass provides energy efficiency. Overall, the addition of sidelights and transoms is a creative and highly beneficial means to accent any style of front door, and the advantages are noticeable.

How important to you is your home’s curb appeal? Most homeowners want their home to make a lasting impression, not just on guests, but on people who might be just walking by. Front doors are a key focal point on the exterior of homes, and having one that makes a statement and stands out positively will add value and appeal. Admirable statements can be made with an elegant style of solid wood front entry doors accented with leaded glass, elegant hardware, and an intricately carved design on the glass. One such design option is to install exterior entry doors with the “sidelights” and “transom.

2.2. Matching front doors with sidelights and transom to architectural styles

Transitional Entry Doors: With the entry door being the defining element of the transitional home, we would recommend either a single or double door with an eyebrow arch and matching round or rectangular transom. Sidelights can also be added to accentuate the door. A good choice for this style would be our 842 mahogany door, the 961A mahogany door, or the 100C mahogany door. These doors have a very classic look and would be best complemented by the additional sidelights and transom.

The architectural style of your home can provide you with many options when choosing a front door. Sometimes, due to the style of the home, certain doors are simply better choices. At ETO Doors, we are always striving to provide our customers with the best products for their homes, which is why we provide doors with sidelights and transoms that can be paired with most of the doors we offer. We have gathered some of the most popular home styles in America and have recommended which entry door combination would be best for that particular style.

2.3. Customization options for front doors with sidelights and transom

Customization options for front doors with sidelights and transom. When we begin to think about the different types of designs for our front doors, we must also take into consideration the different design options that are available to us. Do we have some sort of control over what type of design we are looking for, or are we restricted to a limited amount of options? In recent years, there have been many design options that have been made available to us, but still, there are some door types where design options are restrictive. However, when it comes to a front door that is accompanied by sidelights and a transom, we are given a variety of design options to choose from. The best part about these varied options is that they enable us to be creative with our design, and we can mix and match these options until we find the perfect style for us. These options range from the different types of glass that can be installed in our door, sidelights, or transom, to the many different types of carved wood that can be used in the door. But for the time being, let’s just take a look at the options that are available for the glass. With the door itself, the only glass that can be present is typically a small glass window, unless we are looking for a very modern style door. This is where we can be creative with the design of the glass on the door.

2.4. Impact of front doors with sidelights and transom on natural light

Step outside and gather an overall impression of natural light and visibility through the doors and sidelights. From the inside, you will be able to determine whether the methods used to reduce solar heat gain have had a large effect on light transfer and visibility. In most cases, it is likely that the change in natural light will be very minimal, and the long-term cost savings will be well worth the initial investment. High amounts of natural light are proven factors in improved living conditions and health, and if the changes to increase energy efficiency have had a dramatic effect on light transfer, then there are more alternative methods to recoup the losses.

Transoms are small horizontal windows above the door, and generally, their main function is for aesthetic appeal and the addition of extra light into the home. These too can be made with either low-E or tinted glass to reduce heat gain. In extreme cases where heat gain is a serious issue for your home, there is also the option of using dual-pane doors and sidelights with an insulating Argon gas between the panes. These will further reduce heat gain, but it is likely that the previous methods will be adequate enough to accomplish this.

Low SHGC can be achieved using tinted glass; however, this will reduce the visible transmittance of the glass and reduce the natural light transfer. The best way to achieve maximum light transfer and reduce solar heat gain is by using high-performance low-E glass. Low-E glass is coated with a microscopic layer of metal which allows the sunlight to pass through with minimal effect on the natural light and the view. However, the metal will block the UV and infrared rays which cause heat gain in the home. Low-E glass is a cost-effective method of reducing solar heat gain in your home and, in the long term, will save you money on heating and cooling bills.

In general, the addition of glass to a door will affect the transfer of solar heat gain into the home. However, the most effective way to determine the solar heat gain through the glazing is by analyzing the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) value. This value gives you insight into the fraction of solar energy transmitted and absorbed, and the fraction re-radiated into the home. You should aim for the doors and sidelights to have a low SHGC to reduce the focus on cooling the home in summer and reduce the potential cost increase to your energy bills.

3. Functionality and Security

In summary, front entry doors with sidelights and a transom can enhance the aesthetics, function, and energy efficiency of the entry. These benefits must be balanced with potential security and privacy concerns. Often the effective use of a door system with glazing is situation dependent and an intelligently selected combination of openable and fixed glazed lites can achieve the best result for light, air, and security.

It is often assumed that a front door with sidelights and a transom will have lower security than a solid door with no glazing. This depends on the design and construction of the door system. Never assume a door is secure; ensure it is tested to Australian Standards or equivalent. Consider the use of security or insect screens to maintain natural light and ventilation without risking security or insect ingress.

Security features of front doors with sidelights and transom.

Typically, the additional glazing in a front door with sidelights and transom will reduce its energy efficiency. This will depend on the design and construction of the door system and the glazing features. Consult a manufacturer for energy ratings on door systems with sidelights and transoms. Consider the impact of increased solar gain during the cooling season and the potential to offset energy use for lighting and cooling with free natural light and ventilation.

Front doors with sidelights and a transom can have a specific benefit over solid entry doors as they can offer a greater potential to enhance natural ventilation. If protection from intruders or noise is an issue, the increased ventilation may not be seen as a benefit. This will depend on personal circumstances and location of the entry. Sidelights and transoms can be hinged or fixed lite. Hinged lite sidelights and transoms provide the ability to direct airflow by angling the lites, also allowing easier cleaning from both sides. If security is a concern, it may be best to avoid glazed lites and seek professional advice.

3.1. Enhancing natural ventilation with front doors with sidelights and transom

A door with sidelights and transom can be easily designed to open inwards, which is the most efficient way of ventilating a home. Doing this maintains maximum protection from the weather by only exposing the edge of the door to the elements. It also means that you can leave the door itself open without the issue of pets and small children escaping. A screen can easily be fitted to the whole door frame, so opening the door in this manner does not result in any more insects inside the house than having a door open with no screen. The screen door in this situation is much easier to use as there are no obstacles to negotiate when opening and closing the screen and main door, and no banging together of doors in strong wind; one door simply glides past the other. This type of airflow is maximized when several doors in the house are left open, allowing windows on the opposite or adjacent walls to be opened and a cross breeze to develop. This minimizes the need for air conditioning and ceiling fans and results in substantial energy savings in the home. By doing this, you are also more likely to spend time outside on your porch, a behavior which studies have shown to have a positive effect on mental health (Southall, 2014).

3.2. Energy efficiency considerations for front doors with sidelights and transom

Lastly, there are some door materials and designs that may be aesthetically pleasing but do not offer good energy efficiency. High energy costs can be a big negative of having a front door with sidelights and a transom, but if installed and taken care of properly, it is possible to maintain a good level of energy efficiency.

Many doors with sidelights and a transom are installed without regard to potential energy costs. It is quite common to find doors of this type built as a standard entryway into a home. Most of these doors are constructed with a clearance on the hinge and lock side that does not meet the recommended 1/8” to 3/16” clearance. This large clearance inhibits a good airtight seal and will waste energy. Improperly installed doors will not function properly and may damage the door and the frame due to pressure and friction. Damage to the door does not necessarily mean that there is air leakage. A door can be damaged by forces other than weather that may not necessarily affect energy costs.

A good seal around the door will prevent outside air from getting in and inside air from getting out. This will maintain the temperature inside the home and reduce the amount of energy used to heat or cool the home. A well-insulated door will prevent heat transfer by conduction, meaning the door will not become a conductor of heat and will help maintain the temperature inside the home. A door with a low U factor will block unwanted heat flow from outside to inside during the summer and from inside to outside during the winter.

The method of energy efficiency for entryway doors with sidelights and a transom is measured by the door’s ability to block energy loss. The entryway is the most functional part of a home and provides the most traffic. It is where the home is both sealed in and out. Air exchange is both brought and removed from the home in the entryway, both of which affect the home’s heating and cooling costs.

Energy efficiency in a house is determined by many factors such as insulation and lighting. Doors are also a significant factor in the home’s energy efficiency and costs. With the addition of sidelights and a transom, more light can be brought into the entryway, but energy costs could go up significantly if not installed and taken care of properly.

3.3. Security features of front doors with sidelights and transom

To add credibility to the fact, it is possible to get door slabs with full or almost full lites of glass that still have been tested to be secure. As steel and fiberglass doors have become cheaper and more widely used, but not necessarily more aesthetically pleasing, wooden door slabs have become less and less common. Steel doors with glass and fiberglass doors will be considered as there are versions of these door types that are commonly used in combination with sidelights and a transom. These doors can come factory pre-hung in a frame with the same configuration as a typical entrance door and pre-drilled for door hardware. This makes it easy to install double and single doors in these configurations and makes retrofitting new or old construction an easier job.

To single out front doors with sidelights or transoms as less secure than typical entrance doors simply because they are more glass than wood may not be accurate. At one time, wood doors were at the top end of the market and the idea of replacing what many would call the standard 6 panel door with a door that has more glass than wood might have been seen as extravagant.

Specific to security, there are two levels of concern with sidelights and transoms. The first is the enhanced risk of forced entry due to the fact that the doors themselves are in many cases more glass than wood. The second, of concern when the doors are operable, is that an inswinging entrance door cannot be secured like a fixed panel when the occupant is not at home.

4. Installation and Maintenance

Like with anything else in your house, maintenance is the key to maintaining aesthetics and function over a long period of time. This is especially the case when dealing with wood, as the saying goes, “the point of no return for a piece of wood is fire”. Wood is also by nature biodegradable, but that’s another story. Your front doors with sidelights and transom are going to require some cleaning and the occasional recoating/painting, especially if they are located in direct sunlight or are otherwise exposed to the elements. Direct sunlight and rain are the two worst things for wood finish and paint. UV rays will cause clear finish to turn yellowish and opaque, and the rain will wear down this now weak finish and start eroding the wood below. How much damage is actually done is highly dependent on geographical location. Typically, doors located in sunny and humid climates, porch, patio, or pool areas will require maintenance at a two-year interval. Another factor in wood degradation is insect infestation or direct wood-to-ground contact with plants. Whatever your choice of pesticide, it wouldn’t be tough to do a preventative insect treatment of your porch’s door frame and flooring around maintenance time. This will save by eliminating the need to repair any termite damage. Sometimes a separate door company will also offer maintenance services which might be worth looking into. When you finally decide on which of the many front doors with sidelights and transom to choose, you will want some professional installation help to achieve the best results. Using a general contractor can work, and depending on the experience of the carpenter, the results may be satisfactory. However, take the easy path and look for a door and window company that offers to install custom entry doors. There are very few do-it-yourself opportunities when it comes to this project, and you will wind up paying just as much or more than you would have if you hired a service provider to do it in the first place. Although hiring the service of a company this way may cost more, it will have a greater chance of success. You can shop around to see if any contractors will come to install the doors you have purchased from a retail provider, but it may not necessarily be successful, given that such installation would be the contractor’s equivalent to a do-it-yourself project. A professional service provider will take the necessary measures to gauge and outfit the door unit you have purchased, effectively prioritizing function over fashion. The process will begin by placing the door on some sawhorses and removing any packaging, then removing the existing door unit you have at your home. Next, the installer will compare the measurements of the new and old doors to ensure that the door you’ve purchased will be a good fit, and then confirming this by placing the new door into the exposed opening before attaching it. There will likely be some hammering and shaving going on during this process to account for any size discrepancies between the new door and the aperture. When the door has been attached, the next procedure will be to make sure it is located square in the frame, as this is a major factor for the door’s long-term function. The remaining steps involve installing the hardware and any finishing touches you may have requested.

4.1. Professional installation of front doors with sidelights and transom

Doors and entry systems, especially front doors with sidelights and transoms, can be much more complex than they may seem. Consideration needs to be taken into the thickness of the wall when dealing with a transom. Sidelights require proper support as they are installed in the framing, and not doing so can lead to sagging or a stuck door. Consideration may also need to be taken in regards to exterior lighting fixtures near the door and alarm systems. All of these fixtures can interfere with the door unit, and it is always better to discuss these issues prior to installation.

Professional installation is highly recommended. A good installer will make sure that the door fits properly and that it functions as it should. When considering a builder for installation, inquire about his experience with the specific doors you are considering. Also, make sure that the contractor is familiar with any installation guidelines provided by the door manufacturer. This may seem like an insignificant issue at the time of purchase, but poorly installed doors, especially entry doors, can result in long-term problems and expenses.

4.2. Maintenance tips for front doors with sidelights and transom

Front doors with sidelights and transoms are a popular choice for homeowners desiring a sophisticated and elegant look for their entranceway. Although aesthetically pleasing, additional maintenance may be required. The side edge of any door is especially vulnerable to rain damage, which makes it the perfect place for wood rot. Any door can have this issue, but those with sidelights are even more susceptible. It’s important to scrutinize this area, and if signs of wood rot are apparent, take remedial action to lessen the damage. Rotten or damaged wood can be professionally repaired with an epoxy filler to prevent the rot from spreading. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that things break. This also applies to glass, and therefore the relatively fragile sidelights and transoms of these kinds of doors. Replacing a broken pane in a wooden door can be a really simple DIY task, but many homeowners are intimidated by the thought of having to repair or replace an entire door. The good news is that a professional can repair and reseal the door with no need for a full replacement, saving time and money without incurring the expense of a new door. A poorly maintained finish on a door is likely to tarnish the door’s appearance and may result in more severe damage. Clean/wash the door to remove dirt, followed by immediately treating the surface to prevent further buildup of dirt. Painting or varnishing a door every two to three years can effectively protect the surface from the weather and prevent any possible water damage. Failure to do so may result in the need for the whole door to be sanded back and refinished, a costly and time-consuming process.

4.3. Common issues and troubleshooting for front doors with sidelights and transom

Width. Given that the entrance door is without a doubt the most significant aspect of any house, it is important to take every aspect contributing to its surroundings into consideration. By having additional glass panels installed, although they may look aesthetically pleasing and give a large amount of natural light, width becomes an issue. Installing all of these features in one go may lead to complications and added expenses down the track if not considered properly. Old style entryways tend to be quite wide, so purchasing a unit with sidelights and transom to fit the existing frame could lead to mismatch and fitting issues thus leaving gaps above and beside the unit. The standard sizes of single and double entry doors that are currently being installed have not changed, so entryways are still generally much wider and taller. A door unit alone will not fill the opening and it is necessary to have the door above filled with transom or to each side with sidelights to stop any water or sun damage occurring. Dimensions must be checked as buying a unit too small will leave holes that need to be repaired, and a unit too large will not fit in the space provided without vigorous and unnecessary adjustments. A more practical approach would be to order a door unit only and have the transom and sidelights retrofitted. The only setback to this is that it often costs slightly more than purchasing the whole lot as it is a different order and job altogether.

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Top 10 Front Door Designs with Sidelights and Transom: Enhance Your Entryway (


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