Find the Best Energy-Efficient Window Treatments

Before you buy window covers for your home, take a little time to understand the complexities of energy-efficient window treatments — including the pros and cons of insulated curtains, thermal panels, cellular shades and more. And check out our DIY window treatments that’ll keep you comfortable while saving you money.

| October/November 2013

Heat Map

Energy flies right out the window when there are no insulated coverings, as this heat map reveals.

Photo By Fotolia/thieury

Windows have a huge impact on how our homes look, feel and function, so we want to get them right. But even the best windows have a hard time doing everything we want them to do — let in light and views, keep out the cold, etc. Happily, homeowners can make their windows perform better by choosing energy-efficient window treatments such as insulated curtains and blinds.

You can find some great solutions for how to make windows more energy-efficient — and your home more comfortable — without spending a lot of money. You can even make some insulated window coverings yourself.

Out the Window

Windows are often described as “holes in the wall” for good reason. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports that windows typically account for 25 percent of annual heating and cooling costs in older houses, and can even be responsible for as much as 40 percent.

Even those of us whose homes have high-performance windows want them to work better. “It doesn’t matter whether you get the best window in the world. The first thing that anybody is going to do is change the way it works,” says Peter Yost, vice president for technical services at the publisher BuildingGreen. These changes take place with the addition of blinds, insulated shades, thermal curtains or other coverings.

So how do we make window treatments work for us, and still be efficient? To get the most out of our windows, we need them to be adjustable. Depending on the season and time of day, we may want to let in as much light, heat, fresh air and view as possible — or do our best to keep those things out — in the name of comfort, energy efficiency and privacy.

Check the Payback on New Windows

Replacement windows are easy to get excited about because they offer efficiency features that can lower your energy bills. However, many green-building professionals agree that replacement windows are usually not an effective way to spend your money. Less expensive energy-efficient window treatments — such as plastic sheeting and thermal curtains — are often better bets. “If you have decent windows now, does it pay to replace them? No. They’re not going to pay you back in energy savings,” says Ken Riead, a home-energy rater and trainer with Hathmore Technologies in Independence, Mo.

6/14/2015 2:29:40 PM

Its true, window treatment is good, but can never perform as good as low e with energy efficiency. Treatment can block UV but also block natural light. This is what our local expert says: Low e windows are designed to lower the amount of UV light that enters through a window without lowering the light type that brings brightness into your home. By reducing the solar radiation that comes through windows, not only will you improve energy efficiency, but also prevent the UV rays from damaging carpet, and furniture.

10/1/2014 12:28:57 PM

I would not use a vapor barrier (plastic sheet) with a window quilt if it was to be used as a baby sleeping bag, for obvious reasons.

10/1/2014 11:55:57 AM

I read a short article that said you could use bubble wrap as a poor mans window insulation. Just cut to size and tape in place.

9/24/2014 3:40:10 AM

It is a good thing that fixing windows can help you save energy. Well In our home we use . My dad bought that 4 months ago and it a good thing we buy it really work we made some test before and after buying the blinds. well I suggest you must try also. Save energy!

10/3/2013 7:38:41 PM

I agree that new windows may not be the best solution. The windows in my home are 30 years old and are crankouts. Each fall I clean them, lubricate the tracks and weatherstrips. I am having an energy audit done next month. We want to know what energy saving actions are needed. Check with your electric company for an audit. Ours charges $100.00 for one through Honeywell and included is a water heater cover, low flow shower heads, cfl lightbulbs and low flow sink areators, as needed. We should be able to know where to put the energy saving dollars in our home after the audit.

10/3/2013 9:46:12 AM

I made removable insiders for the 10 ft. tall, double hung windows in my 100 year old home. I used 1/2" square wooden screen frame and "L" brackets on the corners, predrill the holes for wood screws because 1/2" wood is pretty flimsy. Cover the frame with super thick, crystal clear plastic and secure with staples. Add a cross member after the plastic or the frame will keep turning itself into a parallelogram. Measure very carefully so these will fit snuggly inside the window frame (add felt weather stripping if it's not snug enough). Predrill holes and install using long wood screws. I take these down in the spring and marked each frame to go back in the same window in the winter. I've used these for about 10 years now making minor repairs as needed. They are washable, surprisingly sturdy, and have really helped raise the comfort level and lower the heating costs for my drafty, old house. Hope they work as well for you.

10/2/2013 10:01:03 AM

P.S. I'm using plastic film now, which I leave on all year.

10/2/2013 9:59:58 AM

Is there a cheap way of making interior storm windows? I checked out the cost for the 8 large windows in my sunroom/office, and they are so expensive that the amortization period would extend 20 years beyond my lifetime! (I'm 71 years old now, and figure I'll be around till 85.)

9/25/2013 4:06:43 PM

We use moving blankets to make roman shades. Attached above our french doors and at the bottom, a dowel is attached. With three small pullys and some nylon rope, the blankets rool up above the doors. Use a valance to hide when not in use. Huge difference in the winter. And the cost for materials was $25.

9/18/2013 12:54:09 PM

This article is packed with great ideas, and I intend to implement some of them in my own home this winter. Thanks!

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