Cool window coverings to beat the heat

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Summertime averages of 14 to 16 degrees have historically made purchasing air conditioning difficult to justify for Albertans.

According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, only 29 per cent of Edmontonians, and 26 per cent of Albertans, owned some sort of cooling system in 2013.

But with the mercury climbing above 20 C more often than usual last year (Edmonton hit 80 days of plus-20 degree temps in June, July and August versus the typical 64), Albertans may be considering ways of keeping their homes cool this summer.

Updating window coverings can be cheaper than installing a central air conditioning system and will save money long-term on maintenance and repair. Blinds, shutters and panels also don’t add to your energy usage, and could in fact help shave a few bucks off your utility bill.

Window coverings can double to triple the R-value (a measure of thermal resistance) of a window. For the best insulation, Rob Cooper, owner and manager of Budget Blinds serving Edmonton and St. Albert, recommends either cellular shades or wood shutters.

While all window coverings will provide some level of heat control in the summer, cellular shades and wood shutters are the only products that also effectively help keep cold air out in the winter.

Cellular, or honeycomb, shades get their name and insulating properties from their pleated design. The comb-shaped pockets work to prevent air from entering or leaving the room.

“Still air is a very good insulator – that is, it doesn’t conduct heat,” explained Cooper. “When you extend the shade down the pockets will fill with air and become a great resistor to heat flow.”

Not only do cellular shades have the best R-value on the market (between R-2 and R-5, although some companies claim values as high as 7.8), they also have the smallest light gap when inside mounted, said Christine Biggar an interior decorator at Gayle’s Decorating Ltd. in St. Albert. That makes cellular shades the perfect room-darkening shades.

They are also extremely versatile. Cellular shades come in sheer, semi-opaque and room darkening materials and can be installed “top down bottom up” – meaning the shades can be lowered from the top, or raised from the bottom – allowing for more control over view, privacy and light control.

A regular cellular blind with a continuous cord loop on a 48” x 48” window costs $500 before installation and GST, said Biggar, placing them in a mid to high price bracket.

“This is the way to go if you don’t have AC,” she said. “It’s amazing how much it helps.”

Wood shutters on the other hand are more costly, but with transformative esthetic results.

“Shutters make a real statement,” said Cooper. “I call them window furniture; it’s just like having a fine cabinet door, but on your window.”

Cooper likens wood shutters to “closing a door on your window.” When fully closed, minimal gaps between the slats fully enclose the window and trap the hot or cold air between the glass and the inside of the shutter, preventing heat transfer.

Both experts also recommend solar shades, combined with side panel drapes, if winterization isn’t a concern. Common in most commercial settings, solar shades cut down on heat and glare, while maintaining a view to the exterior.

When considering insulating window treatments, don’t forget about skylights. A cellular shade on a track system will instantly cut the heat, said Cooper.

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Michelle Ferguson