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A Shade More Efficient

I am redecorating my home, and I thought about installing insulating window shades and curtains. Will these help and what types are the most energy efficient?—Tina S.

Inefficient windows are a significant area of energy loss in a home and can increase your utility bills. Installing high-tech efficient windows is a cost-effective improvement, but the investment is substantial. With today’s energy costs, it may take years to pay back the cost of installing new ones.

Installing insulated shades or curtains is an excellent method, especially since you’re redecorating, to improve the efficiency of old windows and your wintertime comfort. Keep in mind, though, the shades will not be nearly as effective in blocking the summer heat. For this purpose, exterior shading that blocks the heat before it gets indoors is more effective.

The insulation value of typical single-pane windows is R-1 and the value of standard double-pane windows is R-2. The most efficient insulated window shades can increase this to more than R-6. Even if you have the most efficient window glass, adding the shades can still double the insulation level. Good-quality window shades can also reduce the convection air currents near the window to keep cooler air from mixing with room air.

Obviously, the efficiency of the shades is important, but they should also look good. If you install unattractive but efficient shades, you will likely not close them as often as you should for the greatest energy savings. I cannot tell you how many homes I have inspected only to find their efficient, insulated window shades are not closed.

Many companies offer insulated window shades that you can find at most home centers and on the Internet. When selecting them, it is important to compare the insulation levels and how well the edges seal against the wall or window framing. Also check the ease of raising or sliding the shades open: if they are cumbersome to open, you will not use them as often as you should. The small mini-samples in the store may not give a true indication of how a full-sized one will operate, so use judgment when selecting them.

A Roman shade design is very popular and efficient because it can be made to be quite thick, yet still open and close easily. You can make your own Roman shade from scratch, but it is better to get well-insulated ones in kit form. The best ones have four insulating layers, including reflective Mylar and a vapor barrier in the center. A magnetic edge strip is used so they seal well against the wall to block chilly drafts.

With these kits, cut the insulated multilayer Roman shade fabric to the proper size and sew on your own material cover to complement your room décor. If you are not good with a sewing machine, the kits also include double-sided adhesive strips. For large windows and patio doors, side-pull curtain kits are available with the same multilayer material and magnetic seals.

Cellular pleated shades can more than triple the insulation level of single-pane windows, and they are easy to open and close. These are ideal for contemporary décors because they almost disappear above the window when opened. The pleated shades with the highest R-value use double cells and slide-in vertical edge tracks to block drafts. Shades that use a denser light-blocking fabric on the side near the window glass provide slightly higher insulation.

The following companies offer insulating shades and curtains: Country Curtains, (800) 937-1237, www.countrycurtains.com; Cozy Curtains, (800) 342-9955, www.cozycurtains.com; Smith and Noble, (800) 560-0027, www.smithandnoble.com; Symphony Shades, (877) 966-3678, www.cellularwindowshades.com; Warm Company, (800) 234-9276, www.warmcompany.com.

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