What are witch windows?

witch windows

Witch windows, also known as “Vermont windows" or “coffin windows,” are an architectural feature of many homes in the American Northeast. They’re standard portrait-style windows, but they’re angled so that their long edge is parallel to the roofline.

The term “witch windows” probably comes from superstition. According to local lore, witches can’t travel through the tilted windows, since the windows form a cross with the roofline—or possibly because witches aren’t very good at flying at strange angles. Some Vermonters claim that pioneer homeowners purposely placed the windows askew in order to ward off the supernatural intruders.

Others claim that the windows were once used to transport coffins out of attic bedrooms—stairs and hallways, they say, would make this too difficult a feat. That explanation doesn’t really make much sense, as there’s no reason someone would put a body in a casket before removing it from the top floor. Plus, most Vermont windows are far too small to accommodate a coffin.

The truth is probably much less interesting: Dormer windows (which project out from a sloped roof), for many early builders, were an expensive and impractical luxury. Builders had a bunch of standard portrait windows laying around, though, so they used what was available when adding windows to the top floor.

While witch windows certainly have a distinctive look, they’re not necessarily better or worse than other architectural options. They can complicate siding and waterproofing projects, but they add plenty of light and ventilation. They certainly don’t hurt home value, according to many Vermont real estate agents.

Nevertheless, you’ll rarely find Vermont windows (or witch windows, or whatever you want to call them) outside of the Northeast.