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Mounting window coverings of almost any type will increase the insulation value of your
windows, and if they are chosen well they will add beauty to your home. They can reduce your home’s energy use in several ways. In summer, they can block solar radiation, which heats your home and increases your need for air conditioning. In winter, they can reduce the heat that leaves your PRACTICING home by reflecting radiant energy (infrared radiation) and by reducing the conduction of heat through the windows.
- Window covering materials are not given ratings for their insulation values, such as ENERGY STAR ratings or R-values, but there are rules of thumb for choosing materials that insulate well. Tightly-woven fabrics insulate better than open weave fabrics because air doesn’t pass through them; heavy fabrics insulate better than light weight fabrics because they allow less conduction of energy; and light-colored fabrics insulate better that dark fabrics because in summer they reflect solar radiation outward and in winter they reflect heat radiation inward. However, the material is probably the least important factor in their ability to insulate. Whether the curtains or drapery touches the floor and walls, and thus traps air behind it is very important. The color of the material is important, and also whether there are two window coverings, such as shades behind draperies.
Some window coverings can add almost as much insulation as replacing single-glazed windows with double-glazed windows or adding storm windows. Such window coverings will be expensive, but they will beautify your home. The insulation value of window coverings depends on whether they have been mounted to trap the air behind them, whether they are made of a porous material, and whether the material is bright in color to reflect solar radiation and heat radiation. It depends only little on the R-value of the material itself.
Window coverings are likely to be good investments for their energy savings alone under certain conditions: 1) if your windows are drafty and you mount drapery made from a material that air cannot flow through, especially if the drapes touch the floor so cold air doesn’t flow out from under them; 2) if you have single pane windows and no storm windows and your climate is cold; 3) if you mount drapery at a picture window or patio door, and your climate is cold, and they are mounted to touch the walls and floor; 4) if you mount roller shades or cellular shades inside your window openings, fitting tightly against the walls to trap air against the walls.
Windows account for 10% to 25% of a home’s heating bill during the cooler months. If you have single pane windows without storm windows, they probably cost you near the top of this range. Determine what is 25% and 10% of your yearly heating costs. If you make a large investment in window coverings made of materials that insulate well and you mount them to trap the air and your climate is relatively cold, your savings could be the difference between the cost near the top and the cost near the bottom of this range.
Many types of window coverings which have cords are also available in cordless models, which are safer for toddlers. These may have to be ordered.
- Two relatively new types of window coverings are vertical blinds (track blinds) and panel track blinds. Vertical blinds have vanes that hang to the floor and can be rotated to let in light by pulling a cord or chain. They are the least effective insulation because air can seep through the vanes.
Track blinds Track blinds mounted inside
- Panel track blinds are made of long, narrow rigid panels that hang from a track. You slide them with a wand to open and close them. They are gaining in popularity because they don’t collect much dust and they don’t have cords, which are unsafe for small children. They have low insulation value because air passes through the slats.
Panel track blinds
Terms Used in this Chapter
R-value – the measure of a window covering’s ability to resist heat flowing through it. This is affected by the color of its inner and outer surfaces.
- Blind, or Window Blind is used in this chapter to mean a window covering with They are normally mounted inside of a window opening but can be mounted on the outside. The slats may be horizontal or vertical and made of wood, metal, plastic or fabric. Their main function is to “blind” the window, i.e. persons outside cannot see inside, and sunlight is blocked. Some manufacturers used the terms “blinds” and “shades” interchangeably.
Shade, or Window Shade is used in this chapter to mean a window covering that is designed to fit into a window opening, does not have slats, and rolls up on a spring roller (roller shade) or folds up, pulled by a cord. “Room darkening shades” or “blackout” shades block all light from entering, and “light filtering” shades allow some light to enter.
Drapery is used in this chapter to mean curtains made of relatively heavy fabric that extend to, or near to the floor. The phrase “curtains or drapery” means either long curtains that extend to the floor or drapery.
Cellular Blind, or Honeycomb Blind, is a window blind made of long cells that collapse as the blind is raised. It traps air behind it, providing much better thermal insulation than blinds with slats.
Curtain rod – either a simple hollow metal rod with a bend on each end, or a “traverse drapery rod”, which contains cords that control the curtains. Both types have their ends mounted to the wall to allow the curtains to contact the wall.
Drapery rod – A strong, straight pole that supports drapery, with decorative ends (finials) and no cords to control the drapery.
- Light filtering blinds, curtains and These let light in, but you can’t see through them. They are also called “translucent”.
Right end of curtain rod Left end of traverse drapery rod
- Drapery on wooden straight pole drapery rod
Ways to Save Energy Using Window Coverings
- Install shades, cellular blinds or Roman shades in the window openings of all your windows, including those in the attic and basement. Don’t install blinds with slats because they don’t trap air behind them, which is good insulation. Cut them to fit in tightly- about 1/8” gap on each side. White shades and blinds insulate best because they reflect solar radiation in summer, and reduce your need for central heating in winter by reflecting thermal radiation. Shades and cellular blinds and Roman shades mounted in a window opening normally insulate better than most types of curtains (but not drapery or vertical blinds) because they are close to the glass, creating an effective layer of dead air insulation. Curtains and drapes are mounted much farther from the glass, which allows the air to move in convection current cycles and not serve as dead air insulation. In winter, the cold air next to the glass moves toward the curtain or drapery, reducing the insulating ability of the window covering. In summer, the warm air next to the glass moves toward the curtain or drapery.
- Mount curtains, drapery, or vertical blinds at all windows and patio doors where they would be appropriate (not in most bathrooms or kitchens). Closing them while the blinds or shades are closed is much better insulation than blinds or shades alone. They are most effective in winter when cold air from the windows falls to the floor and they trap it. If you have single pane windows and no storm windows, heavy window coverings should noticeably reduce the noise level. a) Hang them to touch the floor, to trap cold air. b) If they are light-colored they will reflect solar radiation outward in the summer and reflect heat radiation (infrared radiation) inward in the winter. c) If you buy curtains that are supported by a traverse curtain rod (these have cords), or a simple cordless curtain rod that bends on each end, the curtains can be positioned to touch the wall at the edges. d) Some straight pole drapery rods can be ordered with elbows that screw onto the ends in place of the finials. Buy these rods if available and extend the drapery to the walls. f) If you don’t buy rods that allow the drapes to touch the wall and the window or patio door is close to an adjacent wall, buy a long rod that allows the drapes to touch the adjacent wall. This will block horizontal convection. g) If your climate is cold, you may choose to buy thermal curtains, thermal drapery or thermal vertical blinds. See Thermal Curtains, Thermal Drapery and Thermal Vertical Blinds.
Curved curtain rod Traverse curtain rod with cords
- If your climate is very cold or if you have single pane glass windows with no storm windows, it may be a good investment to replace your window coverings with similar window coverings that are designed to be energy-saving. These include thermal curtains, thermal drapery, thermal vertical blinds, and energy-saving shades and blinds. They have energy-saving features such as multiple layers and reflective surfaces. See Energy-Saving Shades and Blinds, and Thermal Curtains, Thermal Drapery and Thermal Vertical Blinds.
- If you have curtains or drapery or track blinds or panel track blinds that don’t quite touch the floor, remount the rods to a lower position so the window coverings touch the floor.
- If you have drapery that is hung from a straight pole drapery rod, replace the rod with a rod with elbows. Some straight pole drapery rods can be ordered with elbows that screw onto the ends in place of the finials. This will allow you to extend the drapery to the walls, to trap the air behind it. There are inexpensive drapery rods which have bends at each end, but these do not support much weight because they mount to the wall at their ends, as do shower curtain rods.
- Convert curtains or drapery into thermal curtains or drapery using a thermal insulating kit. These have insulating fabric that you attach to your curtain or drape. They are available at some stores and websites that specialize in energy-saving products.
- If you have curtains or drapery mounted at a patio door or large picture window and the edges of the touch the wall, you could seal the edges against the wall with Velcro. Velcro has two strips that cling together. Each strip has self adhesive tape; you stick one strip to the wall and sew the other to the curtain or drape. It is sold at home centers and hardware stores.
- If your climate is cold or if you have single pane glass windows with no storm windows, it may be cost effective to remove any blinds with slats and put in shades. All types of shades insulate better than blinds with slats because they trap air against the glass. Buy shades which are wider than your window openings and cut them to allow only an 1/8” gap on the sides. See Energy Saving Shades and Blinds.
- If you have curtains or drapes that are mounted on a straight rod that ends very close to a wall, remount the rod or replace it with a longer rod so the curtain or drapes contact the wall. This will block the horizontal convection currents that draw cold air out into the room in winter and draw warm air out in summer. For maximum insulation, use Velcro to connect the edge of the curtain or drapes to the wall.
- If you have drapery that is hung on a straight pole drapery rod, you may be able to replace the drapery rod with a traverse drapery rod with cords, which allows the edges of the drapes to touch the wall and trap the air. You may be able to use the drapes you have by sewing in the hooks that support the drapes, if you can re-mount the rod at a lower height, so the drapery touches the floor.
Traverse drapery rod with cords
- If you have heavy curtains or thermal curtains, replace the curtain rod with a close-fitting curtain rod. This will close the gap between the curtains and the wall. It prevents you from fully opening the curtains because the pleats will be small. ??where do you buy them??
- Close-fitting curtain rod
- On living room and dining room windows and patio doors that have drapery or full-length curtains, build valance boxes and cover them with cloth valances, or build wooden window cornices. Both are very attractive and will improve the insulation of a window or patio door. In the heating season they block the convection current of air flowing behind the window covering from above, and out from the bottom. In the summer they block a reverse convection current. Blocking these currents makes the window coverings much better insulators. They are more effective and be better investments if your curtains or drapes do not touch the floor than if they do touch the floor. Cloth valances Convection current in winter are sold wherever drapery is sold.
A window cornice is not hard to build if you have carpentry experience, and would probably not pay for itself in energy savings if you hired someone to build it. To build one, use high grade 1” thick boards and the molding of your choice. There may be other molding in the house that you could match. Builders supplies stores have the best selection of moldings. The piece of molding used for the top should be crown molding. Screw one board, for the top of the box, to the face board of the box, and nail on 1” boards to form the ends of the box. It is best to use a miter saw to cut the molding because the corners will appear sloppy if you use a hand saw. Nail on the molding and caulk it carefully. Window cornices are most often painted with semi-gloss or high gloss white paint. Mount it to the wall with 3 or 4 small angle braces.
- A valance box is easier to build than a window cornice and requires very little carpentry experience. You can use low-grade 1” thick boards. Screw together the pieces of wood to form a box; a front piece, a top piece and a piece on each end. Mount the box to the wall with 3 or 4 small angle braces. Use a stud finder and screw a brace to each stud (they are spaced at 16”). Glue and staple on the valance, using a heavy-duty staple gun. If this staple gun is not available, you could glue and tack on the valance to the box before mounting the box to the wall. Valances are sold wherever curtains are sold’. They are designed to be hung on a rod, so you must find one that would look acceptable on a valance box.
Window cornice Side view of window cornice
- Valance boxes covered by valances
Valance box with valance
- partly removed, piece of wood at top not shown
- If your climate is cold, improve the insulation of your windows or patio door by mounting a set of curtains or drapes behind those that you have. This will create a layer of dead air between the two sets, which is effective insulation. Two sets of drapes with a small gap between them is better insulation than blinds or shades mounted inches behind drapes. You could mount thermal curtains or drapes. These are air-tight and made of a reflective material to block solar radiation in summer. See, Thermal Curtains, Thermal Drapery, and Thermal Roman Blinds. If you have curtains, replace the curtain rods with “double curtain rod sets”, in which one curtain rod extends further from the wall. Instead of replacing your curtain rods, you could hang new curtains from a spring-tension rod mounted in the window opening if you have no shades or blinds in the openings. If you have straight pole drapery rods without cords, you can mount a set of drapes behind your drapes by replacing the drapery rod with a matching set of drapery rods. These are sold wherever drapery is sold. The set is sold with double brackets that support both rods; the outer rod is normally used for valances.
- Double curtain rod set Double bracket, to support 2 drapery rods
- If your home is early 20th century, the piece of casing (framing) at the top your windows may be crown molding that sticks out several inches from the wall. If there is a gap between the crown molding and the curtains or drapery when they are closed with no pleats, close this gap by replacing the curtain or drapery braces with shorter ones or by adjusting them if they are adjustable. This will block convection currents and improve the insulation of your windows. Blocking these currents will have an effect even if there are gaps between the walls and the sides of the curtains and drapes because vertical infiltration is more forceful that horizontal infiltration; the air next to the window is either hotter or colder than the air in the room, so it mainly flows upward or downward if unblocked.
- Make thermal backings to sew to the back of window coverings you have. There are articles on this in self-sufficiency or “back to nature” magazines, and also in “do-it-yourself” websites.
- Make inexpensive quilt shades using a sewing machine, and attach them to the window frames with Velcro on the coldest days of the winter. A quilt of inexpensive materials can be made by sewing together a cotton-blend fabric for the front, polyester filling (buy polyester quilt batting), and a thin cloth for the back. Between the fabric used for the front and the polyester filling you must put in a vapor barrier, which could be cut from any plastic drop cloth or large garbage bag. This will prevent the quilt shade from getting wet from condensation in winter. Without a vapor barrier, air would flow through it and create condensation on the cold fabric at the back. One homeowner who made quilt shades claimed in an article that they cost only about $12 per window. This person also claimed that a company that made them gave him an estimate of about $95 per window.
Cut the material an inch larger than the quilt’s dimensions. To sew it together, set the sewing machine for a long stitch to keep the plastic sheet and batting from becoming bogged down in the machine’s feed dogs. To attach the Velcro, staple one of its strips to the window frame with ¼”staples, and sew the other to the quilt. If you attach the bottom half of the quilt with long strips of Velcro, and attach the top corners with small pieces, you can fold down the quilt to let in light.
A problem with quilt shades is that they can cause moisture to condense on the windows and run down into the wells. Check for this and wipe up the water before it damages the window sills. Also, only use the quilts on the coldest days of the year. To prevent the possibility of mold forming, wipe the wells with a rag dipped in diluted liquid chlorine bleach.
Tim Klein/Lifesize/Getty Images
- Repair any drapery rods or curtain rods that you can’t operate with their drawstrings. If a drawstring is broken, replace it with an identical drawstring. You must order this from the manufacturer. If a drape or curtain that is operated by a drawstring always gets stuck at the same place, the rod may be bent there. Straighten the rod with pliers. If you have to pull the drawstring too hard, lubricate the pulley, track and rollers with WD40. Be careful not to use too much because it could stain the fabric. If the curtains or drapes are stuck, check if the roller is stuck. Try to rotate it with your fingers. If it won’t rotate, work it free with a screwdriver and lubricate it with WD40.
- If you have a skylight above a room you would like to darken, mount skylight blinds or skylight shades. These are not a good investment for energy savings alone because they are expensive, because tracks must be installed. Some are motorized and operate by remote control are available. Since they are in tracks, they trap air better than other blinds and shades. They have a potential problem if the skylight is double-glazed (thermal), they block the heat of solar radiation, sometimes making it too hot between the blind or shade and the glass. This can break the seal in some double-glazed skylights.
- Energy–Saving Shades and Blinds
There are shades and blinds that are designed for improved insulation. These are all normally mounted inside of the window openings but may also be mounted above the window.
All of these types of shades and blinds are available as “light filtering”, which allow some sunlight to enter and lighten the room when they are closed. These will lower your heating and air conditioning costs if you leave these coverings closed during the daylight hours.
Light filtering pleated window shades
These types of shades and blinds are designed for increased insulation value.
- Cellular shades, also called honeycomb shades, have air pockets for greater insulation. The air pockets collapse when the shades are rolled up. They insulate well because heat must pass through Cellular or honeycomb shade two layers of material with dead air between. Each surface, two inner surfaces and two outer surfaces, reduces radiation, and the dead air space reduces heat transfer by conduction. This is similar to double-pane thermal windows, which insulate well. Some cellular shades have a reflective coating on their outside surface to reflect solar radiation in summer. Some cellular shades are designed to open and close on side tracks. This prevents almost all air from flowing around the sides of the shades. Cellular shades with “double cell construction” have a greater insulation value because the heat must pass through two cells and three layers of paper or fabric.
Cellular shades with double cell construction
Cellular shade with side tracks
- “Energy saving pleated window shades” fold up like an accordion, pulled by shade cords, as do all pleated window shades. They have at least two layers of fabric for better insulation. Some slide on tracks to block airflow.
- Thermal Roman shades are similar to conventional Roman shades, but have thermal linings. Heavy Roman shades insulate better than conventional Roman shades but no as well as thermal Roman shades.
Thermal Roman shades
- Window quilt shades are roller shades made of quilt material. They are sold by on-line suppliers. One manufacturer offers a window quilt shade made of five layers of fabric. Each layer increases the R-value of the quilt material.
- Cellular/Roman shade hybrids are Roman shades with cellular liners. They combine the beauty of Roman shades with the high R-value of cellular shades. They are sold by on-line suppliers.
Cellular/Roman shade hybrid
- Reversible shades have a light, reflective side and a dark, heat absorbing side. You mount them with the light side facing into the house in winter to reflect the thermal heat into the house, and the dark side facing outside to absorb heat. In summer you reverse the way they are mounted to reflect the solar heat.
Thermal Curtains, Thermal Drapery and Thermal Vertical Blinds
- Thermal curtains, drapery and vertical blinds have at least two layers: a front layer of cotton, velvet, polyester or silk; and a rear layer, the lining, which is made of an insulating material. There may be more layers for additional insulation. As with clothing, each layer increases the insulation. The lining is rubbery and waterproof because it can become slightly damp from condensation. It may be white or have a reflective surface, to reflect the run’s radiation to reduce your need for air conditioning. Some thermal curtains and drapes have an insulated core with fabric on each side. There are thermal curtains and drapes with an insulating lining attachment that is not attached to the original curtain, but is hung on a separate track or rod, so you can wash the front layer separately or replace them to redecorate. A lining will slightly dampen outdoor sounds, especially if you have single-glazed windows without storm windows. The lining protects the cloth from harmful solar radiation, so in some climates it will add years to the life of the curtains or drapery. Thermal curtains and drapery may not be attractive, but you can improve their appearance by mounting valances.
Thermal curtains and drapery should only be used in bathrooms if they are made of waterproof materials that can be machine washed because they are made of thick materials that will absorb water in a humid bathroom and become mildewed.
- Thermal backed draperies
- “Comforter style” thermal drapes have the greatest insulation value. They look like a comforter because they are very thick. They have a higher R-value, but as explained above, the R-value has much less effect on the insulation value than whether the drapes are mounted to trap air behind them. Many homeowners consider them to be unattractive.
- If you have curtains and no drapes, you can mount curtains made from reflective materials behind your curtains on separate curtain rods. The reflective material will keep more heat inside the home in winter, providing that there is a gap between it and your curtains and block the sun’s radiation in summer. The space between them will provide the insulation of dead air.
- Thermal curtains and drapes can be found at large home furnishing stores, window covering shops, and some discount stores.
How to Mount Drapery Rods and Curtain Rods
- Always mount drapery rods and curtain rods to allow the drapes or curtains to touch the floor. If the drapes or curtains are very close to an adjacent wall, mount the rods to make them touch the wall, to close the gap, to block horizontal convection currents. In bathrooms, they should touch the floor so you don’t feel cold drafts on your bare feet.
- Drapery rod brackets are sold with wall anchors for mounting them to drywall (wallboard) or plaster. Curtain rod brackets are sold with nails or screws because they are normally mounted to the window frame.
- If your walls are finished with drywall or plaster or plaster board (popular in the 1940’s) you can use the instructions in the packages. You will only need a drill and a ¼” bit (preferably a masonry bit). However, if the walls were built in the early 20th century of earlier, they may be built from brick or block covered with plaster, called “solid masonry walls”. You cannot use the wall anchors provided because the plaster isn’t thick enough, and you can’t use a shorter anchor because the plaster probably isn’t very strong. They become weakened by water. If your home is early 20th century of earlier, you could check if have solid masonry walls by drilling into a wall, but if they are feel cold in the winter they are solid masonry walls.
- There are at least two ways to mount the drapery rod brackets to this type of wall. The strongest way is to use 1 7/8” masonry screws, mounted through the plaster and bricks. Use 3/16” masonry screws and drill 5/32” pilot holes. The problems with using masonry screws are that they are large and unattractive, and you must drill out the holes in the brackets for the screws to fit through. Also, drilling out the holes would make some brackets too weak. Another way would be to use plastic wall anchors that are over 1” long, if you can find them in a hardware store. Buy screws that are longer than the wall anchors and which fit through the holes in the brackets.******1 7/8” masonry screw *****.
There may be steel or stone behind the plaster where you need to mount the brackets. These are “lintels”; they support the bricks or blocks above the window. They are longer than the width of the window by at least one-half of a brick. If you hit a lintel, drill the hole a little farther away from the window or a little higher because the bit will not penetrate it. You could mount the braces into the plaster alone, which will probably be about 1” thick, if the drapery isn’t too heavy and the plaster is strong. Use metal (not plastic) self-drilling wall-board anchors. Cut off the tips to make them 1” long. Drill ¼”holes in the plaster, screw them in, and screw the brackets to the anchors. Test every one of them for strength. In some areas the plaster may have absorbed water through the wall, weakening it.
Metal self-drilling wallboard anchor, before and after being cut
Mount Awnings to Lower Your Energy Costs
If your air conditioning costs are high and you normally leave your window coverings open during the day, you could have awnings installed over your windows and patio doors, on the walls that receive direct sunlight. You probably won’t recover your investment in energy savings alone, so you should probably do this only if it would beautify your home and increase its property value.
Fabric hood awnings Aluminum hood awning
Direct sunlight passing through the windows, with the window coverings open, will raise the air conditioning costs very much. It has been estimated that if awnings are properly installed, they can reduce the direct sunlight entering the house by 65% on the south windows and 77% on the east and west windows, where the sun shines in at lower angles. Light colored awnings stay cooler and thus have slightly less heat build-up behind them, but if the awnings are installed with gaps between them and the house, hot air will not be trapped. Awnings should drop to cover 65% to 75% of the window on the east and west sides of the house, where the sun shines from lower angles, and 45% to 60% of the window on the south side of the house.
Awnings can be either fabric or aluminum. There are hood awnings, which have sides to block sunlight from entering at angles, and Venetian awnings, which have only one panel and can be elevated by the homeowners, and retractable awnings, which you roll up with a crank. These are only mounted above patios, as a roof for the patio, but when opened they block the sunlight from entering the patio door. Hood awnings are the most effective, especially for south–facing windows because their side panels block low angle sunlight throughout the day. Venetian awnings are popular for windows on west facing walls because the residents can raise them in the evenings to receive maximum sunlight. If you have fabric awnings you can remove the fabric from the frames in winter to allow heat from solar radiation to enter your home. There are also metal awnings with louvers, which you can see through. Some have adjustable louvers that can be rotated from inside the house.
Awning shutters with louvers
If you have awnings, you may be able to re-mount them at lower angles to block more sunlight and lower your air conditioning costs. They are normally mounted at high angles for better appearance and a better view from inside.