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I have six huge windows in my family room through which Texas sun streams in all day, baking the room and causing my A/C to work overtime. And while I’m tired of the elevated electric bills, I’m a bit leery of some of the solutions I’ve seen.

So I thought I’d turn to my favorite source for this kind of advice: fellow Toolmongers. What do you think of the various stick-on window films? I’ve seen some kind of dark screen replacement — kinda like the ones in the picture above — on some houses around me. Any idea what that is or how it works?

(Thanks, tom.arthur, for the great CC-licensed photo.)


19 Responses to Reader Question: Best Energy-Saving Window Coverings?

  1. FredB says:

    The old fashioned solution is an awning that shades the window. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

  2. PeterP says:

    I’ve seen people actually tint their windows. If you don’t go crazy, it actually works pretty well. You give up some solar heating in the winter, but I doubt that will be an issue in Texas…

  3. Justin says:

    HD/Lowes sell several UV blocking films from heavy to light. My brother swears by them to help insulate the windows on his houseboat. I thought they were obscenely difficult to install properly or well (at least a 2 person job), I would rather choose an old fashion option as previously stated, since the downside to these is they darken the windows even on the inside

  4. I personally like this solution using tinfoil covered foam board:


    But, I’m betting tinfoil is one of the solutions you’re leery about.

  5. bidwell says:

    I know it’s a long term solution without immediate results…. but are trees an option?

  6. Harley130 says:

    You can install the sun block fiberglass screens on the windows. Using the pieces of screen frame that are available at the BORG’s and fabricate them to the full size of the window. Install and forget. They do a tremendous job of blocking out the sun. I installed them on two of my front southern facing windows and WOW what a difference.

  7. Tony says:

    I’m looking at getting ceramic tint for my car, and they make it for house windows. I don’t know how difficult it is to install on your own and it’s more expensive than regular tint, but even the clear ceramic “tint” does a great job at cutting down heat and UV radiation.

  8. Subvert says:

    cantilevered roof overhangs. Check out the “prairie school” architecture style. Efficient, and good looking. Then you can add your films and whatnot if you like.

  9. Davo says:

    Awnings made out of solar cells…

  10. arby says:

    “# bidwell Says:
    June 27th, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I know it’s a long term solution without immediate results…. but are trees an option?”

    We thought so too, until the storm blew through Northern Virginia 2 weeks ago. We not only lost the big shade tree Maple, but suffered damage to the house and two vehicles.

    If you do go with trees, don’t go overboard and size them right (i.e., don’t get the ones that grow way too tall). Certain “contractor favorites” like Bradford Pear should be avoided at all costs…

  11. awnings are the only choice. you have to bounce that heat before it hits your window – after it’s touched your window it’s too late – like how curtains block light but catch all the heat.

    the summer sun is steeply vertical, a well installed awning will block 80% of the hot afternoon sun, still allow a view, and bring in heat from the shallower-angled winter sun.

  12. Jim says:

    If your windows have metal frames then awnings are your only bet.
    If you want an interior option to tinting, check out
    http://www.silverscreen-fabrics.com/. I have roller shades made of this material in a home office that has a south and a west facing window, single glazing. You can definitely feel the difference. Granted I’m in the NE so they’re not up against the Texas sun. On the downside they do reduce visibility. You can make out colors and shapes, but things look fuzzy. There are online vendors that make shades out of this material.

  13. I’m with quasiperiodic on this one.. no question.. take advantage of the angle of the sun in the different seasons and you can get the protection in summer you want/need and still get the solar benefits in winter.

  14. jeff immer says:

    i too live in texas, and i know exactly what you mean, i’m fortunate to have large overhangs on my roofs that block most of the mid day sun. however i did see a few good ideas (solar cell awning, reduce heat and your electric bill) but some may not be feasible or cost efficient. for instance awning work great however they can be expensive and unsightly too all depending on your preference, window tints don’t really work unless a professional installs them they may be difficult to install yourself., try this if you have tinted windows in your car feel the inside of the window in the summer heat, it’s still hot.
    local glass companies should sell and fabricate sun blocking screens that are removable so you can take them down in the winter to get some of the solar heat, even when avg winter temps around here are only down to 40 deg. if you live here all year long that can feel cold to you. secondly on the inside find a non-translucent curtain material and hang that to cover a more unsightly sun blocking curtain similar to what they use in hotels, and if all that gets to be too costly tin foil does work great. i have friends who love it for summers in alaska

  15. Eric says:

    +1 Harley130. The dark screens are solar screens. Here in Austin the power utility has an efficiency upgrade program that provides no-interest financing for home improvements like insulation and A/C upgrades. In order to qualify, you have to install solar screens on your windows.

    You can buy the material at Home Depot or Lowe’s and make your own screens (or replace the material in existing screens), or have them built for you. It’s easy, relatively inexpensive, and makes a big difference. In case it’s not obvious, you do have to cover the entire window with the screen, not just the sash that opens.

  16. Travis says:

    If you tint the inside of a double pane window, where do you think all the reflected heat will end up?

  17. bob says:

    I recently read about someone putting curtains he made out of emergency blankets. He used the super thin metal film type emergency blankets that reflect your body heat back towards you. He hung them in the windows of house & swears it lowered the interior temp. HE hung normal looking curtains up behind them so from inside you don’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

    I used silver interior window tint on my garage windows last year to help keep the summer sun out, & also keep prying eyes off my tools. It works alright, but if you’ve never done it before you may want to hire someone to install it, as I wasn’t real happy with the results. It works to reduce heat buildup in my garage. Unfortunately I don’t have any before & after temperatures.

    Planting some trees will definitely help as it can keep large sections of the house in shade, even if you are getting direct sunlight though the window. Buy some trees & wait a few years.

    Awnings could make the house look out bad if they don’t match the architectural style of the home.

  18. steve says:

    the best thing would be to have a professional tinter install a high quality FLAT GLASS FILM on your windows. (not auto film. there is a HUGE difference)
    contrary to what most people think, the stuff you see at Lowe’s and Home Depot are NOT the same films a professional will install. DIYer films are for one single purpose only–to let you know you’re not a window tinter.
    in texas, a good film (and installation) will run you anywhere from $7-$15 a square foot. if you get quoted anything less than $5 a square, you won’t be getting much. good films are VERY expensive.
    some good films to watch for–Huper Optik (any line), V-Kool, Llumar Vista lines, Llumar N series, Hanita Optitune, Llumar DR, and a couple others.
    stay away from pretty much anything else. especially 3M. with 3M, you’re just paying for a name. they can’t make films for squat.

  19. Jim says:

    I’m a mechanical engineer in the window industry. Be careful about adding tinting films to your windows. Many major window manufacturers state that you’ll void your warranty if you do.

    The tints work by stopping the radiation heat at your windows and they can fry your glass seals.

    Be very careful about this!

    Shades or awings on the outside of your windows is a much better idea I think.

    Thanks for listening!

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