Living Off Grid: How To Make Insulated Shades Part 1

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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One of the items on our “off grid checklist” was insulated curtains. At elevation 4200 feet and temperatures below zero degrees every winter, it just made sense to have them. The actual R factor isn’t all that much, (claims are from R-2 to R-5), but every little bit helps and I can assure you that in spite of the low R values these curtains make a huge difference in both comfort level and heat retention.

We burn about 5 cords of wood each year. After two winters I am going to say that these curtains save us as much as ½ cord per year and when they are in full use they make a difference of about 2 degrees warmer in the house. You begin to feel the difference in temperature almost immediately when you lower them.

My wife Laurie made our curtains so I asked her if she would write down instructions for everyone to read. This is Part 1 and next week we will finish up with Part II. The reason we are posting this in the summertime is to give everyone plenty of time to absorb and make plans for fabrication before the next cold season.

Laurie: I started my shades with the Warm Windows Insulated Windows Shade System. Warm Windows has manufactured the shade system so that all you have to do basically is to add a decorative cover fabric to match your interior decorating. The system they have produced is 5 layers thick, with a drapery lining on the outside, and the layer that will be the backside of your curtains. The next layer is the high density hollow polyester fiber, then there is a vapor barrier layer, next is the metalized film needled with another layer of the poly fiber, and finally you add the final layer of cover fabric. I know that all the components of this curtain system is available separately, and is totally feasible to build your own system but I think you will find its much simpler, tidy and easier to purchase the pre made system.

The Warm Windows website has instructions on how to make several different types of curtains with their products. I chose to start with the Roman Shade instructions and make some major changes to simplify the installation of the finished curtains, plus a few changes in the production of the curtain itself. I used a different hanging and measuring system than the Warm Windows folks suggest.  I measured the inside of the window and hung the curtains inside each window frame. Instead of using the magnetic tape I sewed ribs inside the curtain where the curtain folds when you pull the shade up. This works really well to keep the curtain right up against the window frame and make that air seal that is very important with the insulated curtains. The air pocket between the window and the curtain is not as deep as it would be if you installed your curtain on the outside of the window frame, but I like the look of the shades on the inside better, plus you are not using the magnetic strips on the inside of the curtain and on your window frame. I did try using that system some time ago on a different house and I could never get it to work properly. Lots of fiddling with trying to make the magnetic strips stick and it just never seemed to work, plus the tape is pretty expensive.   

I always read and research a lot of resources before I start a project like this. This is a pretty expensive project and time and effort on your part too, so you want to put some research of your own into a project like this. The Warm Windows website has very easy instructions on making curtains with their product. I just took their information and tweaked it to fit into what we wanted. Making these curtains is not rocket science and you don’t need to be an expert sewer to put these curtains together and make them look really nice,  although a sewing machine that is working properly with the proper tension will make this job go way easier! I chose a small window in one of the bathrooms to use as an experiment to make my first shade. This way you can tweak the product your way to fit what you need. And if it doesn’t work out the way you had planned its not a large amount of fabric and work that went into it if you don’t like the finished product.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website and

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