The last time you may have given thought to window treatments might have been when you noticed your neighbor peering into your living room window while you were eating breakfast in your undies. But in addition to providing privacy, window treatments are important for a number of reasons – they can help you sleep better, keep your house cool and comfortable, and save you energy. Did you know that the right window treatments can help you save a significant amount of money on your electricity bill each month? By carefully investing in the right window treatments for your particular environment and location, you can help prevent your house’s indoor warmth from escaping in the winter (cutting down on winter heating), and keep your house cool in the summer (cutting down on air conditioning). You can also dramatically reduce the need for electric lighting during the day by being smart about your window design. Read on to learn how to choose the best possible window treatments for your particular windows, and save money and your sanity in the process!
Why have window treatments?
In addition to providing privacy, window treatments serve two other primary functions: controlling temperature and controlling light in a room. The main function of window treatments is light control. You may dislike how bright your bedroom gets in the morning when you are trying to sleep in. Or at night perhaps moonlight or the glare from the street keeps you awake. Maybe you have a toddler who rises with the sun, and you would like her to sleep longer in the morning. There are actually room-darkening window treatments called “blackout shades” that can block out most of the visible light that comes into a room. Window treatments, such as the Hunter Douglas Silhouette, can also be used to diffuse and disperse harsh sunlight into a room. This eliminates the need to close off natural light and turn on electrical lighting. Shutters, blinds and drapery all control light, but they all have different effects on ambient room temperature – which is why it’s important to think carefully about your window type, location and needs before choosing a window treatment.
Window treatments control light, and how much sunlight shines into a room is connected to the room’s temperature. Direct sunlight shining in through a large window can heat a room up very quickly through a process called “Solar Heat Gain”. Solar heat gain can be a boon on a frigid winter day (you won’t have to use your heater as much) — but it’s the opposite of what you want on a hot summer day when you are trying to keep your space cool. The right window treatments allow you to block solar radiation in the summer (or anytime you don’t want excess light) while allowing your windows to soak up the warming sun in the winter. Shades, blinds, shutters, awnings, overhangs and even window films are all effective ways of controlling excess solar radiation, depending on the environmental conditions of your home.
WINDOW TREATMENTS AS INSULATION
Another important temperature consideration for folks who live in cold winter climates is window insulation. While radiant solar heat gain can be a great thing in the winter, heat is often lost through conduction and convection (drafts). The older and thinner a window, the more of an issue this becomes. It is most problematic at night when there is not a lot of solar radiation to make up for this heat loss. Anyone who has ever seen a thermal photograph of a home at night has probably witnessed how much heat escapes from a home through the windows.
Heat can be lost directly through panes of glass and also through drafts and thermal breaches around the edges of windows. Window treatments help mitigate both types of heat loss by providing an extra layer of insulation. Most types of window treatments provide some insulation, but the most insulating are those that create a thick “air gap” between the window pane and the inside surface of the window treatment. Thick fabric curtains can be very insulating, but the most widely used type of window treatment for insulation is a Honeycomb Shade – also known as a “Cellular Shade.” This ingenious, pleated, Duette super-insulating shade was invented by Hunter Douglas in 1985 as a response to the energy crisis of the 1970s. Cellular shades are super-insulating because the double pleats trap pockets of air inside the shade, blocking heat from moving in or out. A homeowner who is concerned about heat loss through windows in the winter can save a lot of energy and money by investing in cellular shades.
Of course, aesthetics are also important – and homeowners often choose window treatments based on the type of “look” and ambience they provide. So how to find the best window treatments for your windows? The best place to start is with an in-depth assessment of your window situation and your current needs.
Do a window assessment
Start by making a list of all of your windows, the environmental conditions of each window and each room (e.g., living room windows face south & face the street), and your needs and concerns for each room (e.g., room gets too bright and too hot in the summer, need privacy during the day). Some things to consider when choosing window treatments include what direction your windows are facing, the type of windows you have, what happens near your windows at different times of day, whether you prefer motorization or manual operation of window treatments, and whether you want to be able to control them remotely.
THINGS TO CONSIDER:
- What direction do your windows face?
- What type of windows do you have? (insulated? do they open?)
- What is the sunlight like in the morning, noon, evening, summer, winter?
- Do you have high windows or windows that are out of reach, e.g., over a tub?
- Do you need cordless window treatments? (do you have pets or small children)
- Do you need motorized window treatments?
- Do you want the ability to operate window treatments from a mobile device or tablet?
- What types of problems/concerns do you have with your windows?
- Which of the issues listed above are you prioritizing for your life and your space? (privacy, aesthetics, winter warmth, cooling in the summer, etc)
- How and where will the window treatments be installed?
- Do you want the help of a certified window treatments consultant?
A home’s orientation in relation to the sun has a dramatic impact on heating and cooling costs, which account for the majority of the energy load in most homes. While one can spend a lot of time and money installing insulation and beefing up mechanical heating and cooling systems, one of the easiest fixes for heating and cooling problems is to treat your windows strategically. Think about how the sun moves through the sky each day and throughout the year. Do you have windows with more sun exposure than others? For example, if the morning sun is dominant in east-facing rooms and you’re a morning person who enjoys lots of light, it might not be necessary to treat these windows with anything other than simple shades. West-facing rooms take in early evening light, which comes in at a low angle. In cold areas, this is the last chance of the day for a home to take in heat from the sun; and in hot areas, it’s the most important window to shade with trees or overhangs. North-facing rooms, on the other hand, have the least natural light and therefore the greatest potential for heat loss through windows.
Types of residential window treatments and what they offer:
Drapery (or drapes) consist of lengths of fabric hung from a rod. Drapery can be a fantastic way to insulate your home in the winter because they act like blankets, keeping your home’s heat from escaping out the window. In the summer, drapes can also be a nice way to shade your home from light and radiant heat gain. Drapery typically lend a more traditional and classic look to a home, and they add warmth and softness to rooms.
Shades are soft fabric window treatments that are rolled or drawn up vertically, rather than pulled to the side of a window like curtains. This category includes everything from roller shades to Roman shades and honeycomb shades. Shades that are white or reflective on the window-facing side do a great job of reflecting sunlight back out the window. Honeycomb shades are the most energy-efficient thanks to their insulating layered air space. Shades are also usually easier to operate than most other window treatments and they are the simplest choice for motorized or automated systems. Shades tend to lend a home a more modern look due to their clean lines and defined shapes. They are available in recycled fabrics, as well. Shades differ from shutters in that they do not have hard “slats” that can be angled in different directions to let in light.
As we mentioned earlier in this article, honeycomb shades can save energy by keeping a room warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, so they are a great choice for anyone who is concerned about energy efficiency and effectively controlling room temperature without the use of mechanical heating and cooling. These shades significantly slow down the transfer of sunlight, radiant heat gain and loss, and air flow thanks to the cavities in the honeycomb structure of the shade. In fact, the R-value of a window can increase from 3.5 (a standard window) to nearly 7 simply by adding a honeycomb shade.
SHUTTERS & BLINDS
Shutters are hard window treatments made from wood or plastic that have slats that can be opened or shut with a push rod. Shutters are fantastic for all types of climates, including balmy and bright areas like Los Angeles or Florida, where the biggest concern for most homeowners is regulating sunlight to counter radiant heat gain, as well as areas that experience the seasons at full blast, such as New York City and Chicago. This type of window treatment provides excellent insulation in the winter.
Blinds are typically not very insulating, so they aren’t the warmest choice for cold climates. However, like shutters, they offer the best light control, which is why they are typically used by homeowners in warm, bright climates like the South, Southwest and Southern California, where people want precise control over visibility and light throughout the year.
Window films are a type of permanent treatment that can come in handy on windows that can’t be covered by a shade or shutters due to their shape, size or location. Sometimes they are used in conjunction with other window treatments to maximize the energy efficiency of a window. These films are typically made from self-adhesive polyester, and they can upgrade the solar control, safety, and appearance of existing glass. Often they are sold as part of a window, although they can also be added after a window is installed. As solar radiation strikes a piece of glass, the window film acts as a sunscreen to block UV rays while regulating how much heat and light pass through. The most well-known types of window coatings are probably “Low-E” (or Low Emissivity) window coatings. Window films are most commonly found in automobiles and commercial buildings, but they are also sometimes used in residential windows.
AWNINGS & OVERHANGS
Awnings aren’t just a cute appliqué found on Parisian buildings. Awning and overhangs can actually be incredibly effective structures for controlling solar heat gain because they block the hot summer sun (when the sun is high in the sky), but let in the warming winter sun (when the sun is lower in the sky). Window awnings can reduce solar heat gain in the summer by up to 65% on south-facing windows and 77% on west-facing windows. Retractable awnings can be rolled up in the winter to allow sunlight and heat into the house.
It seems a little funny to call trees “window treatments”, but they can function much like awnings and overhangs when they are placed in front of a south-facing window. In the summer their branches are bushy with leaves, which blocks the hot sun. In the winter, when the branches are bare, they let the sun in to warm a house.
New technology in window treatments
Window treatments have come a long way in the past few decades. ‘Top down bottom up shades‘ can be raised and lowered at the same time to create a clerestory effect. This can provide privacy at eye level while letting in daylight and views of the sky. Cordless blinds are important for safety in houses with children and pets, and motorized shades can be operated with a wall switch or a remote.
Shades can be automated through an iPad, iPhone, or Android device and programmed to open and shut with the rising and setting of the sun. Shades can also be connected to existing home automation systems so you can control whether they’re up or down even when you’re away from home. Today’s high-tech window treatments can even be connected to temperature sensors so when the sun is at its hottest and the temperature goes up inside, the shades will automatically come down. Automating and programming shades greatly increases their energy efficiency value because you can close them during peak hours of heat loss or heat gain and open them back up when peak hours have passed. Motorized window treatments also have a longer life-span because they are not tugged at or touched when being operated.
At Décorview, we know all about Hunter Douglas products. Our certified designers bring the showroom into your home in a fun and engaging design session.