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Budget Thermal Curtains to stay warm and save money

 
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If you live in an older (drafty) house and struggle to stay warm in winter then thermal curtains maybe a fall project that really pays off. They make a big difference in the winter and also keep the house cool in the summer as they block sun/heat. Older windows let in a tremendous amount of cold air in the winter as well as heat/sun in the summer.

The curtains must be FLUSH with the window frame to create a dead air pocket between the window and the room. If the curtain isn't laying against the frame then cold outside air and drafts will simply flow through the gaps between the curtain and the frame/wall. Most thermal curtains sold in stores are for standard curtain rods that leave huge gaps along the top and side which defeats the insulating value during cold weather.

I use a piece of flat wood trim as a curtain rod so it can be nailed/screwed right into the top window frame with no gaps. The curtain is an inch or so wider than the window so it overlaps the frame.  I also use a little bit of Velcro on the bottom/sides to hold the curtain snug against the trim around the window. All of my curtains open from the bottom up, not side to side, using Velcro to hold it or little ties/loops.



You can find lots of inexpensive material at thrift stores. Be sure to use multiple layers (3 to 4 layers) for maximum insulation.  Colored flat sheets provide a lot of material for the room or street sides of the curtain. Blankets or quilted bed spreads make great insulating layers. I also usually add a Mylar blanket or sheet of plastic as an extra inside layer.

One sewing trick -- cut out all your layers and sew only the TOP of the curtain (all layers). Once the top is sewn hang it on the rod and let the sides fall down free. When the sides are hanging naturally then you pin the sides. If you try to pin the sides when the curtain is laying flat on the floor they come out all wavy once hung. I usually just pin/sew the two outside layers and let the inside layers remain free.

Photo of super cute homemade curtains but with a bad air gap due to the hooks on top:



In addition to the curtain I also apply the window film kits to the windows in the fall to stop all drafts and create the dead air pocket. The plastic helps stop most all drafts but if you put your hand against it you can feel how cold it is compared to the walls of the room.  Some people use bubble wrap or other types of plastic but for windows that you want to look out of the film kits are much better. Downside is that if you have old heavily painted window trim the tape can strip the paint off when you remove it in the spring.



If you are a prepper these also serve as black out curtains to conceal lights/activity inside the house in the event of teotwawki though a little tape around the edges may be required.

 
pioneer
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Really good information.

There is a website that shows their version of this with step-by-step details for people like me that do better with those.  Kume Project
 
pollinator
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This is timely, because I'd just been thinking that I needed to do something to our windows for the winter (our first winter in this house).  I'd already planned on getting the window film kits, and was considering curtains -- I don't like curtains, I like to have the house as open and bright as possible.  But for the winter...and I have lots of fabric that I really need to do something with.  Thanks for the reminder!

Kathleen
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Trace Oswald wrote:Really good information.

There is a website that shows their version of this with step-by-step details for people like me that do better with those.  Kume Project



Good link!

One thing to think about when selecting material is how you will clean/wash the curtains. That is one reason I only sew the two outer layers on the sides/bottom (so if the inside layer shrinks it won't be obvious).

My six large dogs constantly stick their noses under the curtains to look out which means the curtains get pretty dirty. Waterproof beige canvas layer for the street side makes it easy to sponge off dirt without having to wash the whole thing (the inside is a darker color or print to hide smudges).

A light color facing outward is important if you want to block heat in the summer. I live in Middle Georgia where it gets extremely hot 3 months of the year and most people use A/C about 6 months out of the year.  I stopped using AC entirely 2 years ago thanks in large part to thermal curtains (and window fans).

While the dogs and I are well acclimated to hot weather we freeze our buns off when the temps suddenly drop for 3 months during the winter. Last night I didn't even have a blanket over me yet woke up to find two sixty pound dogs squeezing me off my (single) bed. Sheesh guess their bed needs the fleece cover as they are already starting to get chilly.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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This is our first year in this climate (south-central Kentucky) and we made it through just fine with no AC!  We have a couple of box fans and a ceiling fan (and IF I can ever get an electrician out here, all four downstairs rooms will have ceiling fans in them for next year); also I didn't try to do too much physical work during the hottest part of the day.  And we drank a lot of cold tea!  But we made it!  After fifteen years in the high desert, I wasn't sure how it would be -- and I still miss the cool nights there.  But I don't miss all the smoke from forest fires....

Kathleen
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:This is our first year in this climate (south-central Kentucky) and we made it through just fine with no AC!  We have a couple of box fans and a ceiling fan (and IF I can ever get an electrician out here, all four downstairs rooms will have ceiling fans in them for next year); also I didn't try to do too much physical work during the hottest part of the day.  And we drank a lot of cold tea!  But we made it!  After fifteen years in the high desert, I wasn't sure how it would be -- and I still miss the cool nights there.  But I don't miss all the smoke from forest fires....

Kathleen



The window dual fans also work really well. I have a $20 Holmes fan (bought at wally world) and it has been going strong 2+ years (used 12 hours a day 8 months out of the year). I put them at the top of the window instead of the bottom.

Also here is a video I made on passive home cooling methods which are all but forgotten in our modern day. The Victorians knew how to keep their homes cool without power and if we learn how to block heat and use windows for maximum airflow we can mimic many of their methods.

 
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We found an entire bolt of polyester fabric insulated window shade material at jo-ann fabrics craft store.

It is 4 layer, white with a reflective mylar inner layer, poly batted insulation, is quilted and is made to decorate with whatever fabrics you would like inside or out.

We had a 75% off coupon and got it for next to nothing! About the only coupon i have ever used.

I had a chance to install insulated blinds 20 back and the poly material is desireable for wear and stain resistance.
the trick to manufactured blinds is the hems on the sides... it is patented and is a heavy stitch that makes a thick bead or cord that is used to hold the sides apart and make the blinds taut. Then a set of tracks and a heavy weight along the bottom.

The mechanism is like vertical blinds and the coolest thing is dropping and raising them its like a door on startrek shhht, shhht and looks like a hard panel!

Expensive when pre-made but worth every penny if you can afford them. You can feel the resistance to heat loss immediately.... shhht, shhht! We actually did some maintenance to a large church set of blinds, lots of them at that place. Only needed some dry lube and a couple plastic cam locks replaced out of probably 30 sets! Those were 18 or so years old and operated daily. I checked a couple years back and they are still in use!

Amazing.

Home made versions can be executed well also and rodale institute has nice plans and drawings.
 
pollinator
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Nice find Frank! I've lost track  of how many hard valences I have been asked to remove over the years during Reno work. The valence that encases the top of vertical curtains keeps the air from flowing behind and down. They were standard once upon a time in an era of expensive home heat, maybe they should make a comeback. I have tight fitting wood blinds myself but my windows are double pane low e . I have thought I might build storms for them this year another element ripe for a comeback... there is always room for improvement.
Cheers!
 
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Lucrecia, this is a great topic!  Thanks for starting it.

One year we lived in a draft place and a friend suggested using terry towels as curtains.  Depending on the window and size of towels this could be really easy.


I found this picture as an example:



If you used the kind of rod that is close to the wall or window and put a pocket in the side of the beach towel to run the rod through this would be real simple.


Or this one with the pocket at the top of the towels:




Or something like this:







 
Kathleen Sanderson
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David Baillie wrote:Nice find Frank! I've lost track  of how many hard valences I have been asked to remove over the years during Reno work. The valence that encases the top of vertical curtains keeps the air from flowing behind and down. They were standard once upon a time in an era of expensive home heat, maybe they should make a comeback. I have tight fitting wood blinds myself but my windows are double pane low e . I have thought I might build storms for them this year another element ripe for a comeback... there is always room for improvement.
Cheers!



The hard valances do serve a useful purpose, but the top of the unit is a dust catcher unless you can take it all the way up to the ceiling.  If I make hard valances here (I'm considering it), I will take them all the way up -- my goal is to simplify housekeeping and make it less of a chore, rather than creating new jobs that need to be done.

Kathleen
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Anne Miller wrote:Lucrecia, this is a great topic!  Thanks for starting it.

If you used the kind of rod that is close to the wall or window and put a pocket in the side of the beach towel to run the rod through this would be real simple.





Good idea! Heavy terry cloth towels would be a good and easy solution for privacy and blocking the sun.  

Though layers of material work best for insulating against the cold, just like multiple layers of clothing or thermal underwear. It isn't the material itself that keeps you warm, its the little trapped air pockets created by the material that hold heat and insulate. As a California native I was utterly clueless regarding how to dress/stay warm, I have just learned about a lot of that stuff the last few years (out of necessity).

One bit of trivia -- if you ever use a mylar emergency blanket put it inside your jacket, or layered between blankets. Wearing it on the outside does very little but layering it between clothing magnifies its ability to insulate greatly.

I use narrow wood trim as a rod. It is inexpensive and easy to cut to size plus it nails/screw right to the window frame with no air gap. Course the curtain has to open from the bottom up, not side to side. The trim does have to be strong enough to support the weight of the curtain without sagging though as these curtains can get pretty heavy.





 
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I've made a couple of experimental sets of curtains using foil bubble-wrap style insulation slid into a polar fleece pocket.

They work extremely well!  On an average winter's day, you can feel an immediate temperature difference between open and shut.  

The problem is if I hold my hand near the edges I can feel a stream of cold air pouring out from behind.  I tried velcro all around, but it didn't stick to the metal door I tried it on -- perhaps due to humidity(?).  Plus, it's not really ideal anyway as it makes it annoying to open.

Also, I've never figured out a good way to secure them.  The curtains for my recessed windows are currently just stuffed in the hole and on flush windows for doors, they are poorly held up with a couple of magnets.

So I guess I have two questions:
1) How do I attach the curtains and still make them easily open and close...
2) And yet there is less heat loss due to air gaps around them.

Do you think some kinds of tracks or something would work??  I'm no draperies enthusiast, and wide open to ideas, here.
 
pioneer
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K Eilander wrote:I've made a couple of experimental sets of curtains using foil bubble-wrap style insulation slid into a polar fleece pocket.

They work extremely well!  On an average winter's day, you can feel an immediate temperature difference between open and shut.  

The problem is if I hold my hand near the edges I can feel a stream of cold air pouring out from behind.  I tried velcro all around, but it didn't stick to the metal door I tried it on -- perhaps due to humidity(?).  Plus, it's not really ideal anyway as it makes it annoying to open.

Also, I've never figured out a good way to secure them.  The curtains for my recessed windows are currently just stuffed in the hole and on flush windows for doors, they are poorly held up with a couple of magnets.

So I guess I have two questions:
1) How do I attach the curtains and still make them easily open and close...
2) And yet there is less heat loss due to air gaps around them.

Do you think some kinds of tracks or something would work??  I'm no draperies enthusiast, and wide open to ideas, here.




They make magnetic tape specifically for this purpose, probably can buy it at Warm Windows Web Site, which is actually Cozy Curtains, now taht I look it up.  So, here is the order page, and there are pages of instructions  http://cozycurtains.com/store/
 
Sue Reeves
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Here is the link for the Warm Company ( Warm Windows) and they have tutorials on making insulated window shades.  YOu could use their techniques and patterns and not use their insulation, you could use wool batting, for example.  

https://warmcompany.com/creative-corner/
 
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K Eilander wrote:

The problem is if I hold my hand near the edges I can feel a stream of cold air pouring out from behind.  I tried velcro all around, but it didn't stick to the metal door I tried it on -- perhaps due to humidity(?).  Plus, it's not really ideal anyway as it makes it annoying to open.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds velcro annoying. In the right place though, it can be a great option. It can be difficult to find the velcro tape that is *not* sticky back. I make Roman shades with the wooden support above the window frame and the shade also several inches out to each side, so that the shade is against the wall. Since most window frames stick out a little on the inside, the shade sits against the wood, slowing but not eliminating air flow. If you eliminate air flow completely, I'd be a little worried about mold developing. I screw the hook velcro to the top of the top board, and the fluff velcro to the shade, so the shade can easily be removed and washed.

For our metal garage door, I got the magnet holders and rare earth magnets from Lee Valley Tools. I used nylon bolts to attach the magnet/holder combo to bubble-wrap insulation and then magneted it to the door. The nylon bolts gave a little thermal break, but probably weren't really necessary. This is not something I'd want to be taking on and off regularly, but we don't normally open that door.
For your door, if you were to attach the magnet holders to the door, and sew giant metal washers into the drape in the right spots, would that do the job? I have done something like that for a different purpose. So long as there isn't too thick a layer of fabric between the metal washer and the door magnet it should work. The thick fabric layers can be outside of that.
 
Jay Angler
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May I make a strong vote for the return of proper, insulated, exterior shutters that open and close easily? To me, they make the most sense because I think there'd be less worry about humidity issues between any fabric drape and the window area. Has anyone used them, and what do they think? My sister has some metal ones that go up and down like a garage door using a strap system which she can operate from inside. That lets some heat out, and they're metal, so are mostly just giving a mostly dead air space rather than being actually insulated, but she feels it makes a big difference in her climate both in the winter for heat retention and the summer for keeping heat out. They are an expensive compromise and I think there are creative, skilled permies who could do much better!

Also, regarding transom "window" above doors: if the goal is to let some light into a hall area as well as being openable for air flow, glass would make sense, but if that's not an issue, there doesn't seem any reason they need to be glass? A wooden "door" above the door would have the same effect, wouldn't it?
 
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All these examples of insulated window coverings reminded me of a shade I saw a few years ago. Doug Kalmer is a guy who has allowed several of his projects to be displayed at www.builditosolar.com. Insulated shades was one of the projects. He created a track at the side of the frame to keep the airspace  between the window and the shade closed. Here is the link: https://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/Conservation/ThermalShades/ReflectexShade.htm
 
Jay Angler
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Interesting counterbalance in the picture T Phillips posted! We use counterbalances on our Roman shades, rather than the traditional cleat because kids were too rough on the cleats. Number 1 son's old room has a small cloth bag with pennies in it - very easy to get the weight just right. Number 2 son - the creative one who came up with the system first - had found a glass "beer" bottle with the metal and ceramic clip closure which happened to be the perfect weight and very easy to tie on to.
 
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