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Window Shades: Everything You Need to Know

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Jan 16, 2021

Most people might assume that window shades or window treatments are an essential part of keeping your home comfortably cool in the middle of the summer. Why then are we writing about the best window shades in the middle of winter? 

Window shades, shutters, blinds, curtains, and others add a unique aesthetic to your windows' exterior and interior surfaces. They also play an essential role in improving your home's energy efficiency and thermal performance. Those thick, energy-efficiency drapes not only keep the hot sun from overheating your house in July but can also help to lower your heating bills in the middle of January. Below, Rise takes an in-depth look at the best window treatments available for homeowners. We explain the fundamental differences between different types of window treatments to help you determine which types of window treatments can add energy efficiency to your home.

Styled For Hue
Photo Credit: Styled For Hue via Instagram

What Are The Different Types of Window Treatments?

Do you know the difference between window blinds and window shades? Window treatments are defined as any cover or modification to a window to improve the aesthetic quality or better control light and temperature inside the room or home. 

Generally, window treatments are divided into two categories: hard treatments and soft treatments. Hard treatments refer to window accessories made from "hard" materials such as wood, vinyl, or aluminum installed to either the interior or exterior of a windowed façade. Soft treatments refer to more delicate materials made from fabric or textiles such as curtains or drapery. 

What Are Examples of Hard Window Treatments?

Examples of hard treatments for windows include:

  • Shutters: These window treatments include window shutters installed on the exterior part of the window.
  • Blinds: These treatments come with louvers and horizontal slats, which allow homeowners to either allow or block light without actually lifting the shade. Window blinds are generally made from hard materials such as wood, bamboo, or hard plastics and allow for customized natural lighting.
  • Shades: These window treatments are manufactured from a fabric that rolls, stacks, or folds. In general, window shades need to be raised to allow light (and heat) to enter the home.

Now that we know the fundamental differences between the different types of hard and soft window treatments let's turn our attention to the characteristics to look for when focusing on energy-efficiency and sustainability.

Heavy Curtains

Curtains: What to Look For?

To stay cool during the summer months, many people rely on turning up the air conditioner. However, most unwanted heat gain occurs due to poorly placed windows that allow significant amounts of radiation and heat from the afternoon sun. Even a simple curtain can block some of that sun and unwanted heat to reduce your cooling needs during the summer.

However, the most energy-efficient curtains can also play a role in keeping heat inside your home during the cooler winter months. Energy-efficient curtains, generally made from thick fabric, are long enough to touch the floor and do not leave any spaces around the edges of the window. Some "thermal curtains" even come with a reflective backing to actively reflect unwanted heat and light out the window. According to one manufacturer, thermal curtains might reduce unwanted heat gain during the summer by up to 33 percent.

Aurora Home Blackout Curtain Liner Overstock
Aurora Home Blackout Curtain Liner. Photo Credit: Overstock

When shopping for the best curtains for energy efficiency purposes, prioritize those products made with at least two layers and include triple woven fabric. Blackout technology can also help trap heat inside your home during the winter and keep light and heat out during the summer. Perhaps you don't want to change your existing curtains completely. In that case, blackout curtain liners are easy-to-install, detachable linings that you attach to any curtain or a separate rail.

Ralph Lauren Blackout Curtains Overstock
Ralph Lauren Blackout Curtains. Photo Credit: Overstock

There are hundreds of different companies offering thermal curtains for your home. These products not only improve the energy efficiency around your windows but can also add a light filtering and decorative touch to your home interior. Very affordable options by Best Home Fashion claim to block 99.9 percent of unwanted light from entering your home. Other options are made with thick cotton fabric (for a higher price) if you prefer to opt for natural fibers.

Bamboo Shades Home Depot
Bamboo Shades. Photo Credit: Home Depot

Blinds and Shades: What to Look For?

One of the nice things about window blinds and shades is that there is generally a wide variety of products made from natural products. For example, Home Depot has an impressive variety of window blinds made from bamboo, which, when sourced responsibly, is a great sustainable building material

Honeycomb Blinds Ashton Blinds
Honeycomb Blinds. Photo Credit: Ashton Blinds

If you cannot find any bamboo shades or blinds you like, consider opting for cellular shades. Also known as honeycomb blinds, this type of blind relies on honeycomb-shaped cells that are sewed into the fabric of the blind. The unique construction of the individual cells naturally filters the light. This feature not only creates a warm, glowing ambiance in your home but also adds thermal protection from the outside elements.

Solar Shades Blinds.com
Solar Shades. Photo Credit: Blinds.com

For the best protection from the harmful UV radiation from the sun, solar shades might be an option worth exploring. This energy-efficient window treatment option looks like the traditional roller shade popular in living rooms and kitchens across the country. However, solar shades are made from specially coated materials that are tightly woven together to block UV rays while still allowing light into your home. The best solar shades have been shown to block between 86 to 99 percent of UV rays. This feature not only protects your furniture and wood flooring but can also offer enhanced climate control for your home.

PriWatt Film Smart Glass Tech

Window Tinting: What to Look For? 

Today, the most energy-efficient windows also come with treatments applied directly to the glass. Triple pane windows might come filled with argon gas. The actual glass could have tints or other treatments that affect solar radiation and heat entering the home. Smart glass window technology is another "direct-to-glass" window treatment that has recently hit the market. Smart glass technology is a type of glass or glazing whose light transmission properties change based on exposure to particular light or heat levels. Generally, the glass changes from transparent to translucent and vice versa, thus altering the amount of light and heat that can enter a home. This technology, still new to the market, is an excellent window treatment to help homeowners create a climate adaptive building shell.

Regular solar films can also be applied to windows by homeowners. These films are thick enough to absorb or reflect (with most products doing both) up to 99 percent of UV rays from the sun. A good quality solar film will help regulate your home's temperature throughout the year, thus increasing indoor comfort and energy savings.

Slatted Awnings
Slatted Awning. Photo Credit: Awning Works

Window Awnings: What to Look For? 

The use of awnings over windows is often an essential part of passive solar design. This home design type focuses on house and window orientation, seeking to maximize the amount of heat and light from the sun entering the home in the winter to heat the home passively. Those same windows, however, can lead to significant, unwanted heat gains during the summer. The summer sun is higher up on the horizon. So window awnings can effectively block that sun from entering the home while still allowing the winter light (which is lower on the horizon) to enter the house.

Retractable Awnings

Most homeowners prefer retractable awnings. These simple solutions offer a space-saving solution and can be rolled or folded up when not in use. Consider searching for products made with durable fabrics or other materials that can withstand the elements. Some smart awning covers to hit the market even include weather sensors recently. These sensors can detect sudden strong wind or heavy rainstorms and automatically retract based on customizable weather thresholds.

Smart Home

Smart Window Shades: What to Look For?

Smart home technology is continuing to develop new and innovative strategies to help homeowners improve their homes' energy efficiency. Smart shades and smart blinds are a type of window treatment that includes built-in motors. These motors let homeowners remotely raise/open or lower/close the shades or blinds based on different schedules. Homeowners can program these smart shades to open and close on a given schedule automatically or controlled via a dedicated app on your smartphone.

Smart shades are significantly more expensive than some of the other window treatments discussed above, as they will most likely cost you somewhere between $300 and $500. Because of the added cost, it is best to install smart shades or blinds in large, south-facing windows where your home suffers from the most unwanted heat gain during the summer. Make sure to look for smart shades or blinds that include a feature wherein the blinds automatically close when the temperature in the house reaches a certain level. This feature will most likely offer the best thermal performance and thus help drive down your energy bills.

Style In Textiles
Photo Credit: Style In Textiles

Which Shades Are Most Sustainable?

Window treatments have long been seen as a great way to add décor to your home while also increasing privacy levels. Today, however, the best window treatments on the market can also substantially improve your home's energy efficiency and thermal performance. When choosing the best window treatments, spending a little more for thicker products made with reflective material can save you money in the long run by reducing energy bills.

Buyers can find many of the best window treatments discussed above from natural materials such as bamboo, organic cotton, and even wool. All of these options can offer thermal protection while reducing your household's dependence on synthetic fabrics.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-08-17T20:04:59+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.