Should You Install a Window in The Shower?(Pros and Cons)

Does your shower feel more like a dark, damp cave than a modern bathroom? Just because the shower is meant for water doesn’t mean it should be damp all the time!

There’s a longstanding debate over whether showers should have a window or not. It all comes down to your own preferences and what makes sense for your bathroom. Along with privacy issues, there are safety and building code concerns to pay attention to.

The major benefits of having a window in the shower are natural light and ventilation, but those benefits come at the expense of privacy and potential for water damage and injury.

Before you make any changes to your bathroom or finalize a construction plan, read up to understand what kind of building codes there are for shower windows, the safety implications, and your options for getting the benefits without sacrificing privacy. 

Building Codes for a Window in a Shower

Building codes address all different aspects of a shower window, from the size to the type of glass and the allowed placements within a bathroom. Here are some of the specific International Residential Codes that will impact your choices.

Window Size

Shower windows are usually done in 1 of 3 ways:

  1.  Small window closer to the ceiling
  2. Small to medium-sized window at normal height
  3. Large window, floor to ceiling or similar

Depending on the style of your bathroom, your budget, and how close you are to your neighbors, you can choose the option that makes the most sense for you. Or, you can do something completely different!  

The main building code that impacts your window size is that all opening windowpanes must be at least 800mm (31.5 in.) above the floor. You can have glass panes that reach to the floor, but they cannot be movable, opening panes.

Safety Glass

Each area of your house is subjected to different safety codes, depending on the type of room and what’s in it. Anywhere that water is likely to be splashed on the floor is considered as a hazardous location because of the risk of injuries from slipping and falling.

To compensate for these risks, building codes require that windows located near these hazardous locations be made with safety glass. Safety glass is stronger than regular glass and often breaks in a cube pattern, rather than breaking into dangerous shards.

The main types of safety glass allowed for shower windows are:

  • Tempered glass
  • Heat-strengthened glass
  • Wired glass

Some types of rigid plastic may also be allowed, depending on where you live.

Height Off the Floor

Windows can be located anywhere on the wall from top to bottom. Any window that begins less than 60 inches from the bottom of the tub (or shower floor) as to be made using safety glass. Windows that start higher than 60 inches from the shower floor can use any type of glass.

As mentioned above, there’s also a requirement that any window glass up to 800mm from the floor cannot be movable. 

How to Find Out about Local Building Codes

There is a standard set of building codes in the US (the International Residential Codes or IRC), but some states or counties may have their own local building codes as well. You need to be aware of all the codes that could affect you, including both federal and local codes.

Call Your Local Building Inspector

Building inspectors are employed by the local municipal or city government. Their job is to enforce building codes in the area to ensure that all buildings are up to standards.

With building codes, ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse you from liability if there’s an issue. You need to know about all the relevant building codes before you make plans for your shower window. Failing to build things up to code can result in hefty fines if the errors are discovered.

Contact your local building inspector’s office and ask about relevant building codes for shower windows. They can provide you with all the information you need.

Contact Your HOA

Other than the building codes in your area, there could also be Homeowners Association (HOA) guidelines for what you can do with your shower window. HOA regulations can restrict modifications homeowners can do.

If you are a member of an HOA, contact their office before you start any construction. You could face fines and legal issues if you ignore HOA regulations.

In all likelihood, your local HOA will not have restrictions impacting what you can do with your shower window, but it’s best to check anyway as part of your due diligence. 

Pros of a Window in the Shower

Is it worth the trouble to put a window in your shower? For some homes, it could be a great choice because of these 2 main benefits: 

Improving Ventilation

As long as the window can be opened, you can greatly improve the airflow into your bathroom. This is really helpful for avoiding water damage, especially around the shower itself. More airflow means water will dry quickly, allowing you to keep your bathroom in good condition for longer.

Ventilation is also helpful to keep the bathroom smelling clean. A window in the shower will draw fresh air into the bathroom, preventing any unpleasant scents from overstaying their welcome.

Lastly, ventilation helps small bathrooms to feel less stuffy. In smaller bathrooms, the air can heat up quickly, making the bathroom uncomfortable. A shower window is going to help a lot with this, since the air in the bathroom won’t remain stagnant.

Bringing in Natural Light

Putting a window in your shower is a great way to allow natural light to shine in the room during the day. Even if you put glaze on the glass or a shade over the window, there will still be more light in the room than you’d have without the window.

Natural light is also a fantastic resource for making a small bathroom look larger. While the window doesn’t need to be in the shower to bring natural light in, there may not be a lot of other options for a smaller bathroom. 

Cons of a Window in the Shower

Although it can be a good thing, there’s also a reason not all homes come with windows in the shower. In fact, there are at least 4 good reasons why shower windows can be an issue, starting with privacy concerns.

Lack of Privacy

The obvious problem with a shower window is that you probably don’t want your neighbors or the stranger jogging down your street to see you while you’re in the shower!

While there are ways to make glass opaque, it can be hard to keep a bathroom fully private if you have any kind of window, especially a window in the shower. This one of the trade-offs you’ll have to plan out if you want to feel comfortable using your shower.

Potential for Injury

Bathroom floors can quickly go from safe and dry to wet and slippery. If you slip in the bathroom or in the shower itself, having a window nearby can make your landing a lot more dangerous.

While there probably won’t be a soft landing anywhere, a window can easily break if you land on it, creating razor sharp glass shards that can cause far worse injuries.

The people most at risk of these injuries are young children and elderly people who may be more prone to falling, and who can’t catch themselves as easily on the way down. Make sure you follow all the building codes and take every necessary precaution to avoid serious injuries.

Mold Buildup

Anywhere there’s a seam in your shower tiling, there’s a risk of water leaking. This is an issue for shower windows since window frames are usually made from wood.

The window can have tile all around it, but there will have to be gaps around the edges where the window frame connects to the wall. This area will be prone to mold growth because of the constant exposure to moisture.

Wooden window frames can grow mold over time, resulting in structural damage, a difficult cleaning job, and a further spread of mold around your bathroom.

Water Damage

Mold isn’t the only water problem your shower window can bring up. Not only do tile seams create weak points for waterproofing, but window frames also give water a way to get into the wall itself.

Window frames are connected to the wall. Normally, your shower wall is covered with water resistant or waterproof tiles, but window frames don’t offer the same protection as tiling.

Water can leak around the edges of the window frame straight into the bathroom wall itself. If this happens over time, you can end up with severe water damage that’s going to be very costly to fix. 

Choosing a Safe Window for a Shower 

Safety is a big concern with shower windows, since the risk of slipping and falling is much higher in a shower. With the right materials, you can counteract a lot of the risk.

Let’s look at ways you can make a window in the shower safer.

Install Tempered Glass

Shower windows need glass that’s stronger than regular windows. Not only is it safer, but it’s also required by most building codes.

Tempered glass is a specific type of glass that’s been superheated then rapidly cooled. This process increases the strength of the glass about 4 times above normal glass.

Tempered Glass Window

Windows made from tempered glass are much more difficult to break, which makes them a safer option for a shower. If you slip and hit the window, it’s not as likely to cause serious injury.

The other major benefit of tempered glass is that when it breaks, it shatters into tiny cubes rather than shards. This greatly lowers the risk of cutting yourself on glass, even if the window does break.

Heat-Strengthened Glass

If your shower window will be higher up near the ceiling, you can use heat-strengthened glass instead of tempered glass. This is glass that’s about twice as strong as regular glass, so it’s more difficult to break even if you slip and hit it.

Heat-Strengthened Glass

Heat-strengthened glass is a type of safety glass, so it can be used in any part of a shower window, but tempered glass is the industry standard in most parts of the US. 

Window Glazing

There are two types of window glazing. One refers to safety glazing and the other refers to a waterproofing method. Safety glazing talks about a process of making glass that will result in stronger glass, such as making tempered glass.

Window Glazing

Window glazing can also refer to applying a type of caulking around the edges of the windows secure them tightly in place and close up any gaps around the edges. This type of glazing also works to increase the safety of the window by reducing the risk of water damage in the bathroom, helping the shower walls maintain their structural integrity.

Use Glass Blocks

Glass blocks, also called glass bricks, are essentially cubes made from very thick panels of glass with a small, hollow interior. They can be clear or mostly opaque, with different textures and styles.

Glass Blocks

Glass blocks are very strong and resistant to breaking, making them a great choice for a shower. However, while they do let in natural light, they can’t be opened to allow airflow in. 

Adding Privacy to a Shower Window

Safety is only one concern. Privacy is one of the big issues with shower windows. Luckily, there are a few simple ways you can make a window in your shower more private.

Covering with Window Film

Window films help to make any windows opaque. You can apply them to existing windows to improve your privacy. Window films can also help with:

  • Glare
  • Heat control
  • Interior design
  • Locking UV rays

For privacy, window films can be frosted, mirrored, or colored. Black is the most common color for dark window films.

Window film is very affordable and easy to install on your own.

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Glass Block Windows

Glass blocks make great privacy blocks. But, as mentioned before, they don’t allow airflow since they’re solid blocks that can’t be opened. If you use block blocks for the lower section of the window and a traditional opening window at the top, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

Frosted glass protects privacy

Frosted glass has a clouded look that obscures people’s view while still allowing light to come through. Permanent frosted glass is done by sandblasting or acid etching a thick windowpane. You can get this done professionally or purchase pre-made glass for a new window, but both methods will be pricier than regular glass.

A similar look can be achieved for cheaper with frosted window films or frosted glass spray paint, although these can both wear out and come off over time.

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Shades or Blinds (Budget-friendly) 

You can get window shades or blinds for between $20 – $50 depending on the material. There are no-drill options as well, so you can install shades for your shower window without any equipment or a handyman.

Vinyl, wood slats, bamboo, plastic, and fabric shades can all be waterproof or water resistant. You have a lot of choices for style, size, length, and materials to choose from.

The best part about window shades is that you can open and close them as you need. Flexibility is nice for allowing sunlight when you want it, but also getting the option for total privacy.

Opaque Window Inserts 

Window inserts are fitted over your window, holding tightly in place around the inside of the window frame. They are fully opaque and snugly in place, offering you both privacy and extra waterproofing.

This is a great solution for privacy. Your window will become 100% opaque, allowing you to use your shower in peace without losing natural lighting in the room. However, you will have to sacrifice airflow and ventilation if you use window inserts.

Custom window inserts can be pricey as well, costing between $30 – $45 per square foot. This outprices window films, shades, and frosting. However, window inserts do provide a more permanent privacy solution.

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Shower windows are great for bringing in fresh air and natural light. Whether it’s a tall vertical glass block window or a small horizontal window near the ceiling, you have so much flexibility within the building codes to come up with a great solution for your bathroom!

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