Entry Doors With Sidelights

The Purpose Of Sidelights

It is not easy to explain the purpose or even definition of a sidelight (also spelled and known as sidelites) to a door. The dictionary definition says that it is a side panel next to the door that is fitted with glass for both decoration and letting in light.

But why not place the glass directly in the door or decorate the door directly? The answer is that beyond a certain width, doors become cumbersome to install, open and close. Therefore, instead of putting in a large, unwieldy door, people put in normal-sized doors and then one or two slim panels of equal height flanking the doors - i.e. the sidelights. These enhance the look of a normal sized door by making it look wider, as well as more ornate by virtue of the decorations on the sidelights.

Single Or Double

The entry door sidelight may go on both sides or on just one side. If it is a single side, it is usually placed at the side where the door knob is for reasons of balance and aesthetics. Entry doors with sidelights
Adding sidelights would make the opening of this door unnecessarily narrow

Sidelight Color - Follow The Trim Or Door Slab?

There are two choices when picking out the color of the sidelights. The color may match the door slab (which is the technical way to refer to the actual, swinging part of the door itself) or match the trim. The trim is the jamb, frame, transom and includes all the parts that surround the door. Understandably, if it matches the door, the sidelight blends in and makes the door look larger from a distance. If it matches the trim, the door tends to stand out but be a bit narrower. Both choices are often seen, although this author argues that matching the door slab is perhaps a bit more common.

Operating Or Crank Sidelights

Usually the sidelights are immobile but some are built in a way such that the glass cranks open. Ostensibly the purpose of glass is to let light in. With the crank opener, air is also let in which is good for stuffy days that are ameliorated by a little movement of air. But this is not a common option offered by many manufacturers. You may need to branch out and ask for help from a contractor or craftsman to install or build a crank-open panel.

Add Frosted Glass Or Film For Increased Privacy

One common complaint is that the glass panels means less privacy especially if the interior of the house is structured in such a way that the door way provides a view deep into the house. Since the purpose of entry doors with sidelights is to let more light in, few people put up curtains or blinds to block the light. But because the glass is uncovered it provides an unfettered view from the outside in. There are three ways to solve this problem. One way is to install frosted glass which prevents the exterior from having a clear view. Another way, if the glass has already been installed, is to place a sheet of window film (made of vinyl) over glass to mimic the frosted effect. Look up window film or privacy film. The third way is to alter chemically the glass by acid etch, which is the way to produce frosted glass. However, it is imperative to ask for the services of the professional as acid is dangerous to work with.

Avoid Sidelights When The Doorway Is Narrow

It is not always a good idea to install sidelights even though the reasons seem innocuous and persuasive enough, i.e. beautifying the house and increasing the incoming light. If the rough opening is narrow already then installation of sidelights may mean compromising on the width of the door. You will have to go for a narrower door (for example 32" versus 36") which has both aesthetic and functional consequences. Narrow doors look less attractive and make it harder to move large furniture into and out of the house.

Avoid Sidelights If It Leads To Loss Of Privacy

Another reason to avoid adding these side glass panels to the door is when the entry doors are very close to the curb and other publicly accessible areas. The problem is that neighbors, passers-by and other people will have a nice view into your home. This is addressable to some degree with the privacy solutions we outline above but not always. In such cases, consider adding a transom instead which accomplishes much of the same by letting light in except from over the door instead of from the sides.

Double configuration

Doors can come in a double configuration. Moreover, "side-lites" can be added to adorn the frame of the door.


Depending on your home, your door can be customized to include a "transom" that runs over the top.

Robust to Weather

Regions with changeable climates that see wintry rain and snow can be ideal for non-wood doors.

(C) Copyright 2015 Fiberglass Entry Doors

photo by jdickert via CC 2.0

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