What is a Dormer?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

A dormer is a building element that adds space as well as an architectural touch to many homes and other structures. Essentially, dormers are structures that are often added to attic areas in order to slightly expand the available space while also providing another way of adding a window into the attic area. From the outside, the dormer appears as a protrusion on the slope of the roof that is finished with the addition of a window created with a design similar to the windows found elsewhere on the building.

Shutters are a design element that can be used with windows.
Shutters are a design element that can be used with windows.

It is possible to install a dormer when building a new structure, or add the device to older buildings. All that is really necessary is the existence of an attic area and a sloping roof. The house dormer can add visual interest to the exterior of the building, providing the impression of another floor on the structure. Inside, the dormer construction serves to allow natural light into a space that otherwise might be dark and relatively difficult to move through, owning to the proximity to the roofline.

To install a dormer, you need an attic and a sloped roof.
To install a dormer, you need an attic and a sloped roof.

Homeowners may also wish to make use of dormer installation not as a way of expanding attic space, but to simply enhance the outward appearance of the home. This type of application involves the creation of a roof dormer that is prefabricated and placed into position on a roofline. With this application, no changes are made to the attic area. The false dormer is simply an adornment attached to the surface of the roof.

It is not unusual for dormers to be added near the top of the roofline, usually on opposing sides of the roof. This can help to mimic the effect of skylights in the interior of the building, without having to flatten the section of roof or greatly alter the outward appearance of the structure. However, these smaller dormer elements can add a considerable amount of natural light into the space directly under the roof.

In terms of appearance, the exact look of a dormer can vary depending on the architecture of the building. The dormer detail may include elaborate scroll or lattice work, or be a simple design that appears to be a smaller version of windows found on the main floor of the structure. A window may be part of the design, or shutters may be employed if appropriate for the look of the building. Essentially, any design element that can be used with windows, doors, and the eaves of a roofline can also be incorporated into the look of a dormer.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

I have often admired dormers on houses, especially if they have an ornate look to them. I think they can add a lot to the outside appeal of a house.

How much would a dormer cost if you needed to add it to an existing house? I am looking at this more from a visual aspect than from a practical or functional point of view.

It would probably cost more than I want to pay just to have this feature added to my house. I doubt that it would really increase the value of the house either, but it would be something I would enjoy looking at.


One of the houses we lived in when my kids were young had a dormer addition to the attic area. This was a large room with slanted walls and the dormer let in a lot of natural light.

Because this room was much larger than the bedrooms, my daughter chose this for her room. She had twice as much room as anyone else did for their bedroom area.

The only downside to this was this area got really hot during the summer since there was no air conditioning here. The dormer not only let in a lot of light, but also added a nice touch to the exterior of the house as well.

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