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Like Sean, I, too have a hell of a time keeping the house cool during the summer. And like him, the bedroom is the real point of contention: To get my bedroom down to a reasonable 80 degrees on a hot 100+ degree day (like we’re having this week), I have to bring the rest of the house down to 75. It’s expensive, and it’s an issue. But unlike Sean, my bedroom windows are large and don’t lend themselves well to window units.

But maybe that’s not the end of the road for me. I suspect it’s those big windows that cause the problem in the first place. A few quick spot checks show that when the middle of the room is 80 degrees, the areas over by the window are as high as 90.

The obvious choice seems to be installing some kind of sun shade on the window. I’ve already ruled out tinting because a) it seems to me that if the tint absorbs the heat, it’ll still radiate into the house and b) I talked with a window installer a while back (after a hail storm) and he mentioned that about 70% of his replacements are due to long-term damage caused by the additional heat stresses of tinting. But what about external sun shades like the ones pictured above?

Some quick Googling leaves me with the same kind of feeling I get from blinds: You can buy DIY kits at the big box, but you really need “custom” made frames (i.e. frames cut to size and covered with good quality stuff). From what I can tell, I have a couple of options:

1. Pay an installer.

Just like with blinds, I can just pay a guy to come out, measure, order “custom” shades from wherever these guys order their goods, and install them. This is by far the easiest route, but it’s also the most expensive — a big problem for me. I’m not doing this because I have extra money to burn, but rather to curb my $700+ electric bills in the summertime. I need a low-buck (but not hokey) solution.

2. Buy the big-box stuff and DIY.

This seems to be a pretty low-buck route, but it’s hard to tell how the material at the big box compares to the stuff the “pros” use. I’m not concerned about their “special skills” as I feel comfortable cutting metal and assembling things, but I do want to use high quality material as poor function would derail my project. Is there any real difference in the materials? This leads me to option 3…

3. I could order custom stuff from wherever the installers order it.

Might I be able to track down a source like the ones the “installers” in the area use? Seeing that I’m not afraid to assemble and install these myself, this might be the best option.

From what I can tell, these should run $40-$50/window (varying based on size) plus shipping, unless I can find somewhere local that makes them. Some of my windows have arches, so I’d need to figure that out as well, though I could just start with the rectangular ones — like the ones in the bedroom.

Do any of you have experience with these shades? I’d love to hear about it before I spend some cash on it. I’ll be watching comments — and will probably give some of these a try this summer.


32 Responses to The Texas A/C Experiment: Part 2

  1. Davo says:

    Yeah, the black windows will make it even hotter, duh…

    Here’s what you do: Go down to Home Depot, and find the foil-backed styrafoam insulfoam sheet, cut it to size, with snap-knife, and place it in the window frame. The foil will reflect more of the heat back outside, and the foam will help insulate the inside.

    If that is too ugly for you, look into installing a reflective mylar window tint, or you can get the stuff to do it yourself, at TAP Plastics.

  2. Rick says:

    Let the pro do it. I highly recommend Lone Star Solar Screens. They did a fantastic job on my house.


    Also, if your attic is using passive venting, then I recommend installing a solar powered attic fan.

  3. Dave says:

    I’m curious about this as well. I’m in the DFW area myself, and I’ve gone the DIY tint route on our worst offender (luckily, we only have a single south-facing window), and it made little difference.

    A little better, is adding curtains that block the whole window, insulated ones preferably.

    Better still, would be what you propose. I’ve found http://www.qualitywindowscreen.com and a few others (just google ‘diy solar screens’ and you’ll see a bunch). The material doesn’t seem cheap at all, and you’ve got the added complexity of the bends. I’m not sure if you’d need some kind of bender for the extrusion (i imagine you would). You may be able to get by if you have a tubing bender, but that’s specialty equipment out of my price range.

    Good luck, and let us know how you make out.

  4. PutnamEco says:

    Awnings do wonders for blocking unwanted sunlight while still allowing a view outdoors.

    There is also shade-cloth screens to consider, easy as replacing a window screen.

    My vote is for DIY

  5. Dave says:


    Found this thread http://www.houserepairtalk.com/f10/solar-screen-diy-3320/ which talks about bending the frame. Looks like you might be up the creek with bending the frame…. Prices seem in line with what he’s talking about, around the $900 mark. Probably outside of what you’d be looking at spending.

    But.. Since this is a DIY blog….

    It looks like it’s 3 rollers, the central one is above, and on a threaded rod to allow it to go in and out, changing the severity of the bend. There is a handle also attached to the central roller. There are grooves in it, to allow the material to stay in it.

    So, how about this.. Piece of angle iron. Get skateboard or some other hard plastic wheel (delrin, probably a better choice). Machine it into an appropriate diameter (3″ looks about right). Weld a threaded section from a C-clamp onto the deal. Drill and tap holes to attach a handle. You’ll have to use a lathe to make grooves in the wheels, and make sure they line up appropriately, but given the equipment and skill, a weekend would do you.

    Then, rent it out to your friends 🙂

  6. Richard says:

    I live in Melbourne Australia, which doesn’t have the sustained heat of Texas, but in summer is prone to 5-7 days heatwaves of 36-44c (96-110f) the worst I remember was 46c (115f).Double Glazing, block-out blinds, proper insulation in the roof and ventilation of the roof cavity have made a big difference. Even trees that shade the house all help.
    Of the above, Double glazing has made a huge difference, it really helps in Winter, which has been quite cold this year.

  7. IronHerder says:

    Bear in mind that I know as much of the specifics here as I know about hammers (evidently, not much). But the logical progression seems to be the same as for many other projects.

    First, I’d guess that you could try DIY reflective mylar (which is different that simple window tinting?) to see what kind of savings can be had with this approach. If it works and is not an eyesore, leave it, or improve it minimally. If it works but is an eyesore, maybe a professional installation would be worthwhile. And if it doesn’t help at all, you won’t be out much, and you’ll know that you have to up the ante for window solutions, or concentrate your efforts elsewhere, like taking measures to keep the attic from trapping heat. Yeah, I know, that should be done anyway, the question is how urgent is working inside the attic before the cool season arrives.

  8. Pezdad says:

    DIY – materials at HD will set you back less than $50, and no harder than doing a window screen (in fact that is what you are doing it is just special window screening – takes maybe an hour). If you get the highest rated material (i.e. blocks the most UV) it is the same as the installers will use.

    And it WORKS. And yes Davo, even the black will keep it cool (the screen is on the outside, so the color doesn’t matter).The only downside is that it cuts the “view” down from the inside about 50%. For windows where the view is important, you can get DIY clear UV film that will cut the heat noticably (but not as much as the screen) – you can even do both if necessary.

    I did pay a pro to put in a new sliding screen with the UV/sunscreen stuff, but that is because I always tweek sliders. But the DIY stuff I put on the windows is identical and works the same.

  9. swedub says:

    I was thinking about using a semi-clear UV blocking window film. Should work like most modern car windows. When the car window is down the heat bears down on you but with the window up and it’s not as hot on your skin. Anyone have experience with just a UV blocking film? I’m in South Florida so it’s hot most of the year. We have single pane windows, can’t afford the double pane insulated glass just yet. My bedroom is farthest away from the AC with a south and east wall, quite a few windows, getting all the afternoon sun. It is constantly 5 degrees warmer then the rest of the house.

  10. Brau says:

    Awnings, shade trees, shutters, solar screens, are all good ideas and will work well because they absorb the radiant heat *before* it enters the house. All interior based treatments such as window tints and interior shades are futile as they emit the heat inside.

    One thing to also keep in mind is those bricks absorb a ton of latent heat that continues to radiate through the walls during the night. Well positioned deciduous trees can shade the wall in the summer and allow sun through during winters … but then there’s the leaves.

  11. Steve says:

    My parents dealt with a hot bedroom too far away from the central air to effectively be cooled. They got a portable window unit. The main unit sits inside on the floor and only has a duct that installs in the window. Its a much smaller visual footprint on the window and might work with your window.

  12. Dar says:

    There is an outdoor shade fabric that is sold at Home Depot and Lowes. Green, tan, black or white in color, it blocks a significant amount of heat / light. I have seen it in 6 ft widths. Seam the sides and make a dowel pocket at the top and bottom. Hang it on the outside of the window with about 1 inch from the window frame (anchor the bottom dowel if you want) and it will allow air to circulate as it heats. At the end of the season, or if you need more heat (yeah right) roll it up from the bottom to store or expose a certain amount of the window. The arch can be covered by using a fiberglass tent pole in a curved pocket to create the bend (as used in tent arches) or left uncovered.

  13. Toolhearty says:

    Somewhat interesting anecdote about glass and “tints”:

    Around here, it’s tradition for the high schools to paint the windows of downtown merchants with rah-rah-team slogans and graphics for homecoming week. The barber shop I go to has a couple of roughly 8′ by 8′ windows and the painting had never been a problem EXCEPT for the one year the kids decided to use the color black on the south-facing windows. The black absorbed more of the sun’s rays than the other colors and the heat caused the glass to expand unevenly resulting in cracks and both panes having to be replaced.

    New rule: No more black.

  14. Bert says:

    I had solar screen put in 2 yrs ago. Effectively reduced daytime temperatures by 5-8 degrees Celsius for rooms at the back of my home (back faces W SW).

    Local company charged approx $200-$300 for a large 6’x6′ window. If the products were available locally I would try a DIY next time.

    The good thing about them is that I can remove the shades come winter time and let more light into the house.

    My window company warned me that I should not use tint on 2- or 3-pane windows, because of large temperature differentials between the outer and inner pane(s). Something about voiding my warranty lead me to stop pursuing this route.

  15. Charles Anderson says:

    I feel you man. I live in DFW as well. I bought the supplies at Alumacraft and made my own solar screens. It was easy and cheap, if your windows are square.

    For my arches I cut foam insulation boards and glued fabric that matched the drapes to them with spray adhesive. The outside yellows but the inside looks good enough to keep the wife happy.

    I also use Davo’s technique. My master bedroom is on the west side (never again) so once it hits a point where the AC can’t cool it, I put in the foam and close the drapes for the summer. In October I remove the foam and throw it in the attic. This easily drops the temp about 10 15 degrees in that room and prevents the AC from running continuously

    I have 3 arched windows, in the future (before next season) I will probably cut hardboard templates and take them to a shop to have solar screens for the arches done if for no other reason it will hide the faded cloth and improve the appearance from the outside.

    I heard the same as Bert from my window company but I think I might still try the Titanium Heat Control Window Film. To block UV and stop fading of my furniture.

    I may try Dars suggestion as soon as this weekend.

    Richard’s and Rick’s suggestion about Active ventilation of the attic space is on the list when my 11 year old roof gets replaced.

    Love the blog keep up the good work.

  16. Mitch says:

    What about solar shades on the INSIDE of the house? I’ve been thinking about getting these: http://www.smithandnoble.com

    I know the sun will be heating up the shades and then radiating the heat inside but if curtains work, then these should work at reducing heat buildup in the house too.

  17. jonathan peterson says:

    there’s really no excuse for NOT having deciduous trees on the south side of your house. We have an east facing double french door bedroom with double pane UV filtering glass – and it has white fabric blackout curtains ($40 at bed bath and beyond) that made a significant difference.

    The black bamboo that has finally gotten high enough to block the window this summer has made a WORLD of difference, even when we forget to close the drapes in the morning.

  18. SS says:

    Help? With all these suggestions on solar screens, maybe someone can suggest some solution for my heat issues. I live in Brooklyn, NY in the 1st floor of a 2 family brick house, about 1000 sq ft, probably built in the 60’s.

    There is no insulation in the walls. Essentially its brick to brick then sheet rock. During the summer, the sun beats down on our apartment and it can get up to 90-92 degrees.

    We’ve made, solar screens but they haven’t done much. And aside from spending $300 on an electric AC bill, I have no idea what to do and can’t make any significant modifications since I’m a renter not and owner.

    The “best” part is after sunset, they AC will be running for a few hours and bring the temp down to 75 degrees or so. Within an hour of turning off the AC, the temp will bounce back up to 80 due to he heat the bricks are giving off.

    Can any of you smart folks suggest anything?

  19. Rich says:

    @SS – Insulate. There is no free lunch, you need to insulate. The first option that comes to mind is blowing in cellulose insulation. You can do that by just drilling holes near the tops of your walls (one hole between each pair of studs).

    That way you don’t have to pull down the drywall.

  20. JKB says:

    @SS – if your big problem is radiant heat in the summer, you could look into shading wall outside. A vine might work or a trellis with a fast growing climbing plant. Or an awning if the sun hits it at a high angle. You’ll still get the outside ambient but not the solar radiation load.

    On the interior, you could hang an insulated curtain on the wall but you’d still need to vent the hot air rising at the top. A tight fit at the top and bottom could trap the heat near the wall till the diffusion reverses to the outdoors with cooling night temperatures.

  21. SS says:

    @Rich, that’s what I figured. But as a renter I’m not sure I would be there long enough to recoup the investment and @JKB I’m not sure my Landlord would let me make modification (even temporary ones).

    Looks like I’m SOL. But I appreciate the helpful tips. Thanks!

  22. gnume says:

    thermal insulating glass helps a lot from my knowledge

  23. Michael says:

    Why are we sill using windows anyway? With shutters no less-what does a shutter do on a house these days?

    We take an insulated structure and then start poking holes in it that let in heat in the summer and let heat out in the winter–Huh?

    Better, why don’t we just put some webcams on the outside that would be invisible and then hook them to flat screen “windows” inside. Don’t like the view–change it to the view from another “window” or even another house.

    Ok, for those people that still have shutters “because that’s the way we did it”
    we could put “faux windows” on the outside—or just paint on windows–put them anywhere you want.

    oh, and no windows means no peeping toms and with only a door or two much easier to keep the big bad burglar out too!


  24. Jacob says:

    Michael, the only problem is each room designated a bedroom has to have 2 escape routes, one is out the door and the 2nd is typically al window.

  25. Jim K. says:

    I went with a solar screen on my place for the large front (south facing) windows. And to help a bit more added some potted native grasses under the windows along the wall to break up the sunlight and offer a bit of shade. Granted I don’t live anywhere it gets too hot, but on a typical 80F degree day we used to push 95F easily inside. Now we’re staying close to the outdoor temp throughout the day. Not bad for about $50 of investment.

  26. Dr Bob says:

    I have a similar problem as SS, but have no answers. My old farmhouse is of wood frame construction, but between the studs, there is a brick wall. So, not only do I not have any space for insulation, the darn brick acts like a huge heat sink in the evening.

    The west upstairs room which is exposed on three sides and has no forced air heating/cooling, is the worst room by far. I have a window air conditioner running just to keep it habitable.

    So here’s what we’ve done –

    — windows were replaced with double pane glass with a thin film that reflects the outside heat/light.

    — when we put on permanent siding, we added insulation under it and chose a relatively light color.

    — we planted shade trees about 20 years ago on the west side and southwest corners which are now large enough to shade the house on the west side.

    — the windows have room darkening shades, however I’m looking seriously at making some reflective shades placed on the inside of the windows made of structural foam with a foil surface toward the window to keep the heat out. In the summer you put them foil side out, in the winter you put them foil side in.

    — when we re-roofed the house, more vents were added to the soffits and the roof to vent the attic better.

    About the only idea we have left which would be very difficult to do, is to put a second wall on the inside of the current outside walls (much like you’d finish a basement) and insulate it.

  27. IronHerder says:

    I think Dr. Bob is correct, that Chuck’s next step should be to plant trees 20 years ago.

  28. Bart Dring says:

    An interesting related issue.

    My friend’s vinyl siding was melted by his neighbors “Low-E”. If you search for ‘Glass Melting Siding” you will see a lot of examples. The neighbor’s windows were about 15 feet away. This happened in Illinois.

  29. Holly says:

    Have you made a decision yet? If not, keep these points in mind.

    1) All other things being equal, the darker a screen’s color is, the easier it is to see through it.

    2) The lighter the fabric is in color, the more heat rejection you get out of it.

    3) A five percent openness fabric will give you a decent view at most angles. A three percent openness fabric will give you an acceptable view when you are perpendicular to it.

    4) Any fabric more open than 5% is a waste of money in your application. (IMO)

  30. Poe says:

    Shutters are designed to convert light energy into heat OUTSIDE your home. Just for one day, lean a few 2x4s in front of your worst windows and experience the dramatic difference.

  31. Mark says:

    I live in the DFW area and did my own solar screens. I ordered on-line and got a combination of 80% and 90% white shade cloth (90% for the west side). You’ll need to order the cross bars on-line, I couldn’t find them at Lowe’s or Home Depot anymore, but they do look better. Frame sections I got at Home Depot. I did some temperature tests on the west side of the house in the late afternoon and the solar screens dropped inside temperatures 15 degrees at the edge of the window. I had also tried the solar tint before, but gave up after the outer window panes of my double windows started cracking. I built a small platform out of a piece of plywood to keep the screens square and used at least one cross bar in each screen to allow me to keep the screen from bowing when I rolled the screen. You can remove the cross pieces after you put in the screen if you don’t like thw look. Make sure you clamp the edges of the screen to the plywood to make them stay square. I also ordered the aluminum corners on-line as the plastic corners die quickly in Texas.

    • Jake says:

      I think I have you all beat. I live in Phoenix AZ. Temps up to 115 here regularly. I have done 3 main things to my home to conserve energy
      1. Added a radiant heat barrier
      2. Added 90% solar screens from http://www.southwestsunscreens.com
      3. Added a return vent in my a/c.

      NO DOUBT! The screens made the biggest difference.. No doubt at all!

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