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Interior solid window shutters versus blackout curtain and pelmet systems

 
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In designing a window system to reduce heat loss and unwanted light entry at night, the choices that would work best for our situation seem to be interior window shutters or blackout curtain and pelmet systems.

If you have experience of either of these systems, please share your learning. Did you choose between the two? What factors did you consider? Additionally, if you’ve made your own, it would be great to hear how!

Background
We live at a fairly high latitude in Scotland, where evening light is a problem and disrupts circadian rhythms from mid-spring through autumn. Additionally, our home receives year-round light pollution from street lights on two sides of the house.
Although they are not perfect, blackout roller blinds are very common and greatly reduce the amount of light that can enter windows. They’re easy to open and close in the morning and night as needed. Unfortunately, our windows open by tilting into the house, making blinds unworkable. There are some types of blackout blinds that stick to the window glass itself, and we have one in our son’s room, but they take time to open and close if daylight is desired in that room. They also don’t address the second issue of heat retention.

In many older homes in the UK, particularly those that were built when the windows were only single glazed panes, solid interior casement shutters were standard; a system in which the shutters folded nearly away when not in use. These shutters were used with sash windows that open by sliding up rather than tilting inward or outward.

I’ve also read about pelmets being functional rather than the commonly presumed out-of-fashion decorative. Both pelmet curtain systems and interior solid shutters seem like they would address the light and heat issues fairly well, even if one might slightly edge out the other in a certain area.

With my limited knowledge and experience of each option, I am still working through which would be best for our type of windows, changing seasonal needs, budget, and desired light and heat-loss reduction.

What I have found about pelmet curtain systems
The importance of properly sized curtains and why pelmets have a role in energy efficiency rather than simply hiding curtain rods: (from https://www.fix.com/blog/more-efficient-curtains/ )

How to make simple wooden pelmets. I like that these would be easier to clean than the fabric and foam pelmets I have seen. Although the video doesn’t comment on thermal transfer, my understanding is that with floor length curtains, the solid pelmet top should act as intended and stop cold air circulating into the room. The pelmet is hung directly onto the curtain rod rather than the wall in this example.


An Instructables with a similar approach to a wooden pelmet, which is secured directly to the wall: https://www.instructables.com/How-to-save-heat-money-and-energy-with-easy-pelm/

Pelmets seem to solve the heat loss issue but would need to be paired with very thick curtains to block out the light. I am currently wondering whether this would require a two-layer system with one rod nearly flush against, yet wider than, the window frame to reduce light seepage.

What I have found about interior solid shutter systems
I’ve seen solid shutters referred to as board and batten (particularly if external), casement, farmhouse, and several other names. These are distinct from the ‘plantation’ shutters that have horizontal slats to allow for changing air and light needs. I am sceptical that plantation shutters would continue to block out all light, particularly as they age and get harder to close the slats, so if you have any information to the contrary please share.

I've attached an example of restored shutters I snapped photos of in a museum (https://www.moatbrae.org/) earlier this month. I don't know how to make the photo show up in line with the text. The first photo below shows closed shutters and the second shows the shutters folded into their casement when the window is open. You can see that the windows are sash windows.

Since the searches I’ve done are not for shutters with a casement (that far surpasses my DIY skills and wouldn’t work for several windows that do not have enough side-clearance), the links below will not include how to make a casement. They’re just for functional, solid shutters that fold back to the wall when open.

This video shows how to make solid external shutters, but the measurement and construction would be the same for interior shutters. The important thing I learned from this video, is that the special shutter hinges are called strap offset or offset strap hinges.


This video shows how to make bifold shutters, although it involves plywood instead of lumber so that may alter the type of central hinge used or how it is approached. Perhaps it also affects the angle of the wood where it folds? https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/how-to-build-interior-shutters/

Current thoughts
My initial thoughts are that the pelmet would be quicker and easier to build, clean, and maintain than the shutters. The pelmet, however, will take additional fabric inputs and perhaps trial and error to figure out a truly ‘blackout’ curtain system when skipping blackout blinds.

I would like to know about the differences in condensation levels between the two systems in areas with cold, wet winters. Perhaps one would need to experience both systems to compare? Could it be concluded that they’d both reduce condensation compared to curtains on their own as a result of reducing the thermal exchange around the window? Does anyone have any insight in this area?

Finally, if we have the shutters closed to block out light, that means that the windows cannot be opened to allow for airflow (nor would the air ‘flow’ with the shutter blocking it anyway). There seems to be an increasingly equal chance that our summers could more often be dry and hot, or (if the Gulf stream continues to weaken) cold. Still, it is a joy to have the windows open at night whenever they do not need to be closed to keep the heat in.

The practicality of shutters, and previous experiences sleeping very soundly in guest rooms with shutters, had me thinking that they would likely be the best option. Pelmet and blackout curtain systems, however, provided they satisfy the need to block light, may be slightly more flexible in their use.

I’d be eager to hear anyone’s thoughts, experiences, or knowledge on the selling points and pitfalls of pelmets with blackout curtains (or indeed, how to create a strong blackout curtain system) and interior shutters.

Thank you!
Shutters-open.jpeg
[Thumbnail for Shutters-open.jpeg]
Shutters-closed-(2).jpeg
[Thumbnail for Shutters-closed-(2).jpeg]
 
pollinator
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I have to say its confusing to read the article.
An image of the windows you are having trouble with would help considerably.
If you ran a blackout curtain around the shape of the tilted window with a 'ring' attached to the ceiling you may get the result you want.
IE a shower curtain rail.
 
Brandi Lee Lough Dennell
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Hi John,

Thanks for the feedback about the clarity of my post. Perhaps I was trying to do too many things with it.

Rather than simply seek help covering my own windows, I was also trying to share some information on shutters and pelmets that I had found that might be useful to others.

In addition, I was trying to open up a discussion on readers' experiences of either interior shutters or pelmet and blackout curtain systems. Something that someone faced with a choice of how to block out light and address a thermal need might also be able to read and see a variety of approaches and climates. That was my intention anyway.

In the discussions, I hoped that those with experience could share their views on:

1) how they chose the window treatment that they did. Particularly around what cooling/heating, light goals, climate, usage, etcetera they took into account (even if seemingly very different from my situation).

2) if they built it, what they learned

In terms of my windows, are you picturing something like a canopy with the fabric connected to the ceiling and then draping down to the window? So that when the window is open the light is somehow trapped behind the fabric?

I've added a photo of the temporary blackout blind that connects directly to the window. I've also attached a photo of the top of my window when it's open. What I didn't know when writing my original post is that my style of window is called 'tilt and turn'. They're very common in the UK in modern homes but I don't know about elsewhere.

Cheers
 
Ribbet1650545357.jpeg
Temporary blackout blind
Temporary blackout blind
Ribbet1650545390.jpeg
Top of tilt and turn window
Top of tilt and turn window
 
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We have a bright light outside our bedroom window so we are using the Pelmet System similar to what is in your post.

In the US this is called drapes with a cornice. There may be some other fancy name or it might be called a Pelmet.  I just have never heard that word before.

We are using a Day-Night Shade to block out the light at night.

The Day-Night Shade is similar to this one:



In the picture, the top half is the "Night" Shade and the bottom half is the "Day" Shade.

The "Day" Shade is like a sheer curtain.

Over that, I have thermal drapes and a cornice.

If you want something that will keep "heat loss" from happening I would recommend something like this with your Pelmet System:



https://permies.com/t/169504/fiber-arts/good-layered-winter-curtain-system

While the shutters are elegant, I am not sure if they have a "heat loss" value.

Whatever you decide on, I hope you will share what you ended up going with.
 
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Out of curiosity why not just do a ceiling mount track running wider than the width of the windows?  Ikea makes something like this for their curtain panels, but I believe they also sell clips that this works with so actual curtains can be used.  When you want to open the windows, you simply gather your curtains to the sides of the windows (so they do not overlap) and open the window into the house.  When you want blackout, simply close the window and your curtains go floor to ceiling.  If you wanted to get fancy, you could even do a dual tracked system with some sort of sheer curtain layered in case you just wanted to reduce light transmission a little

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/cat/track-systems-18893/
 
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My son just finished mechanical engineering and that included information on heat transfer which he discussed with me in relation to windows and greenhouses.

1. With windows, the trick is to not let the heat on one side "escape" - so to keep the house cool in the summer, you need to intercept the heat on the outside of the house with shade - a) plants (perennial or annual that grows fast like pole beans b) awnings (my mom had some awesome adjustable ones so she could alter them based on the angle of the sun) or c) solid, insulated shutters.
Options a and b can stay in place and still allow air through, but they would also allow light through. C would block light completely, but also air.
Option c could well increase the tendency for the outside of the window to go moldy in a damp climate.

2. The reverse is the case where you're trying to keep heat inside in the winter. You need an insulated shade like Ann posted above on the inside. If the layer against the window is waterproof, that will help to decrease the risk of mold or just water getting in places you don't want it, but no guarantee. Hubby tried something like that before we married, but it was on a leaky window that got cold at night, but which the sun warmed in the day and he ended up with water leaking places he didn't want it. However, he installed insulation and left it there continuously. If he had only put it in place at night, and then removed it during the day, he might have found a way to manage the condensation issue instead of deciding the whole idea was a bad one.

3. Light is a totally different issue.
Summer: We usually want light, but only sometimes heat to come in during the day. One local fellow designed a trellis to grow beans up to allow light in during the day, but still help to keep unwanted heat out.
However, you've got issues at night, and I'm not clear how much you want air-flow and darkness at the same time. We aren't as far north, but our children were preschool when we moved in. I made Roman Shades with a solid wooden support at the top which has some of the characteristics of the Pelmet, was wider than the window frame by an inch or more, and was several layers of dark fabric on the window side and they do a fairly good, but not perfect job of blocking the light. Something to clamp the bottom to the wall would improve the system light wise. Mold isn't a big issue so long as they're opened most days. They are machine washable, so that helps too.
From the sound of it, a Roman Shade made to fit a box that encloses the window frame on all sides - so Pelmet-type woodworking surrounding the whole window - with a Roman shade or similar at the outer edge  from the window might be able to block the majority of light while still allowing you to open the window. However, the fabric would slow much of the breeze.

4. I remember reading a book about household air quality and the fellow totally believes that combining "windows for light" and "windows for air quality" is ridiculous and that windows should be for light only. Managing indoor temperature should be done with holes designed to be opened for airflow or closed and insulated when airflow is not wanted. They should be positioned so that the airflow goes from high on one side, to low on the other, but it's been years and I can't remember more than that.

Hopefully this give you some ideas.
 
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I sympathise with you Brandi Lee. Being further North I understand blackout for windows makes it much easier to sleep, and not wake up too early either! At the moment I'm just enjoying our lighter evenings, since it's well dark by bedtime. At midsummer, we could read a paper at midnight if we want though!...We haven't settled on a proper window covering for our bedroom windows yet. They are dormer windows, so the windows are set in a deep box, and I had some thick curtains from our old hallway that were just wide enough to fit. I strung a wire across just above the window and get a pretty good light blockage, with just a bit of bleed at the top. A small pelmet probably would block that OK. Our windows open outwards though ,so don't knock into the curtains like your's do.
I think a curtain/pelmet either mounted on the wall above the window, or the ceiling as Laurel suggests, is probably your best bet. The curtain may deform as the window is opened in summer, which may give a light problem under the window, so you might need a way of constraining the curtain against the wall at the sill. Some sort of tie half way up across the window might do it, or a drop in pole perhaps. If you need more ventilation then wide gaps above the curtain with a deeper pelmet to shade it might help.
 
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I don’t have either in my current house, but have friends with both.

Shutters are more efficient IF you actually use them, but are a complete pain if not designed correctly. They block outlets and you can’t put furniture close if not sized and hinged  properly. They also are all or nothing.

Drapes are much more flexible, but also a pain if you have pets, kids, or heat with wood.  Also are probably more expensive to make look good.

Go with whichever you are more comfortable working with or whichever you can source within your budget.

I am going to do both in my next house, depending on the location.  Mostly drapes because they will fit the design better with shutters and airlock doors where the drapes would be dangerous.
 
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I have cellular shades but not the ones that Anne has just plain blackout cellular shades. I find them much more useful in summer than in winter, but heat is the main problem here not cold. Having them in tight against the window helps immensely. In some rooms I have black out curtains as well. The air gap in the cellular shades makes them much better at insulating than mini blinds or curtains. Up at my daughters house she has coolaroo shades as well that filter light before it gets to the window but you can still see through them, but that's not likely to help with your issue.
 
Brandi Lee Lough Dennell
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Anne Miller wrote:We have a bright light outside our bedroom window so we are using the Pelmet System similar to what is in your post.

In the US this is called drapes with a cornice. There may be some other fancy name or it might be called a Pelmet.  I just have never heard that word before.

We are using a Day-Night Shade to block out the light at night.



This seems to be another example of being divided by a common language! I have seen pelmets called ‘valances’, which here tends to only be the fabric covering to a pelmet. I would have never guessed ‘cornice’ to be the same thing since cornicing in the UK is the decorative feature between walls and ceilings.
Those blinds look interesting! We cannot have anything set into our frame or it would block the window, but I can see how they’d be great for light control.
 
Brandi Lee Lough Dennell
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Laurel Jones wrote:Out of curiosity why not just do a ceiling mount track running wider than the width of the windows?  Ikea makes something like this for their curtain panels, but I believe they also sell clips that this works with so actual curtains can be used.  When you want to open the windows, you simply gather your curtains to the sides of the windows (so they do not overlap) and open the window into the house.  When you want blackout, simply close the window and your curtains go floor to ceiling.  If you wanted to get fancy, you could even do a dual tracked system with some sort of sheer curtain layered in case you just wanted to reduce light transmission a little

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/cat/track-systems-18893/



Our curtain rods run wider than the windows but without a blind flush against the window there’s a lot of light seepage at the side.  We’re so far north that we only get a few hours of darkness in the summer.

Your suggestion for a dual system is currently an option, probably with a thick, dark layer like Anne linked to above.
 
Brandi Lee Lough Dennell
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Jay Angler wrote:However, you've got issues at night, and I'm not clear how much you want air-flow and darkness at the same time. We aren't as far north, but our children were preschool when we moved in. I made Roman Shades with a solid wooden support at the top which has some of the characteristics of the Pelmet, was wider than the window frame by an inch or more, and was several layers of dark fabric on the window side and they do a fairly good, but not perfect job of blocking the light. Something to clamp the bottom to the wall would improve the system light wise. Mold isn't a big issue so long as they're opened most days. They are machine washable, so that helps too.
From the sound of it, a Roman Shade made to fit a box that encloses the window frame on all sides - so Pelmet-type woodworking surrounding the whole window - with a Roman shade or similar at the outer edge  from the window might be able to block the majority of light while still allowing you to open the window. However, the fabric would slow much of the breeze.

4. I remember reading a book about household air quality and the fellow totally believes that combining "windows for light" and "windows for air quality" is ridiculous and that windows should be for light only. Managing indoor temperature should be done with holes designed to be opened for airflow or closed and insulated when airflow is not wanted. They should be positioned so that the airflow goes from high on one side, to low on the other, but it's been years and I can't remember more than that.

Hopefully this give you some ideas.



Thank you for the details on heat transfer.

Air flow and darkness at the same time is really ideal, which is why I’m a bit stuck at the moment. Considering this, I would wholly agree with the author you paraphrased.

As you imagine it, would the shade be connected to the front edge of the pelmet rather than the shade/blind recessed into window frame or in front of it?  Wood on the sides?

Unfortunately, the layers will slow a lot of the breeze, like you say, but that was what we worked with in our old house with the windows that opened outward. We still needed a recessed blackout blind and curtains to reduce light.

Would you be able to share a photo of your shades and/or share how you made them? Did you vary the material used or add a filler in any way? What fabrics did you use? The tightest weaves I am aware of are either poplin (which would need a lot of layers to block out light) or a waxed canvas which might be too heavy to wash properly.
 
Brandi Lee Lough Dennell
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Nancy Reading wrote:I sympathise with you Brandi Lee. Being further North I understand blackout for windows makes it much easier to sleep, and not wake up too early either! At the moment I'm just enjoying our lighter evenings, since it's well dark by bedtime. At midsummer, we could read a paper at midnight if we want though!...We haven't settled on a proper window covering for our bedroom windows yet. They are dormer windows, so the windows are set in a deep box, and I had some thick curtains from our old hallway that were just wide enough to fit. I strung a wire across just above the window and get a pretty good light blockage, with just a bit of bleed at the top. A small pelmet probably would block that OK. Our windows open outwards though ,so don't knock into the curtains like your's do.
I think a curtain/pelmet either mounted on the wall above the window, or the ceiling as Laurel suggests, is probably your best bet. The curtain may deform as the window is opened in summer, which may give a light problem under the window, so you might need a way of constraining the curtain against the wall at the sill. Some sort of tie half way up across the window might do it, or a drop in pole perhaps. If you need more ventilation then wide gaps above the curtain with a deeper pelmet to shade it might help.



I’m absolutely revelling in this spring light. As dreary as I find the nearly constant dark days of winter in Scotland, absolutely nothing beats the beauty of late evening light cast long and sideways on the hills.  It gets me every summer.
Your suggestion of adding something halfway up is a great idea. It makes me think that I could try rigging a cord from one tie back to the other to close over the curtains at night once the time comes to keep the windows open. With a pelmet at the top blocking the light, extra fabric at the sides from wider than necessary curtains, and the tieback used in this different way to hold the curtains in place against the windowsill, I imagine that there would be far less light seepage! In the winter I’d add a still to be decided thermal layer.
 
Brandi Lee Lough Dennell
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R Scott wrote:I don’t have either in my current house, but have friends with both.

Shutters are more efficient IF you actually use them, but are a complete pain if not designed correctly. They block outlets and you can’t put furniture close if not sized and hinged  properly. They also are all or nothing.

Drapes are much more flexible, but also a pain if you have pets, kids, or heat with wood.  Also are probably more expensive to make look good.

Go with whichever you are more comfortable working with or whichever you can source within your budget.

I am going to do both in my next house, depending on the location.  Mostly drapes because they will fit the design better with shutters and airlock doors where the drapes would be dangerous.



Great point about being guided by my budget. That’s how I ended up wanting to make my own shutters – if I could do it well, then I would be guaranteed a thick wooden insulation layer that blocks light and wouldn’t have to put so much thought or planning into the curtains. I’m also like the idea of simply wiping them clean and would probably skip the curtains on a few windows. I currently have a stack of fairly thick curtains from freecycle to replace the sheer ones that were here when we moved in, but they will need several additional layers added if I decide against shutters.

I had to look up airlock doors to ensure you weren’t referencing space ship components (ha) and see that it’s another way- from what I understand- to refer to an entry way or vestibule. Am I picturing this right?

We have a double door system at our front and back doors and it makes such a difference to heat retention.
 
R Scott
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I had to look up airlock doors to ensure you weren’t referencing space ship components (ha) and see that it’s another way- from what I understand- to refer to an entry way or vestibule. Am I picturing this right?  



Yup. Sorry I wasn’t clear.

Another reason I want curtains is because my wife can make them and I would have to make the shutters.
 
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