If I hear another old house owner tell me they have to replace their historic windows because they need to save money on their energy bills I may actually start throwing things at my computer screen. But violence never actually solves anything so I’m going to channel my “passion” into solving your drafty window concerns with five window treatments that will actually save you far more money than replacing your windows.
If you are interested in the facts about window replacement please read my earlier post The Replacement Window Myth. If you’re not interested in facts then by all means keep listening to the relentless marketing from the replacement window companies out there.
According to EnergyStar.gov (an unbiased source) the national average savings for changing every window in the average sized 2,000 square foot house from single-paned windows to new double-paned EnergyStar rated windows will save you and average of $125-$340 per year in utility costs. You can use the chart on the link about to find what the savings in your specific city or region is to really dial in what your savings would be.
That means if you spend the national average of $600 per window to replace 20 windows (the average number of windows assumed in the EnergyStart calculations above) you spend $12,000 to save around $233 per year (the mid point between $125 and $340) in utility costs. That means you’ll make your money back in 51.5 years! Yay, look at those savings pouring in!!
Use Window Treatments to Keep Warm
Here’s a better idea. Instead of replacing your windows and losing a ridiculous amount of money, why not try using window treatments the way they were supposed to be used. Alison Hardy, the president of the Window Preservation Alliance says, “
There are far more options than the five I’ll cover here, but these are the best place to start keeping warm this winter without forking out tens of thousands of dollars for replacement windows that do nothing to save you money in the end.
What’s the difference between curtains and drapes? They are very similar and most people use the words interchangeably, but drapes are essentially thicker and longer than curtains. You wanna keep that cold weather out of your bedroom, then install thick winter drapes.
Open them up during the day and let that winter sun inside to help warm things up and combat window condensation, but close them tight at night and when the sun is nowhere to be found.
Thermal drapes can reduce heat loss and gain depending on several factors, including fabric type (closed or open weave) and color, but according to the U.S. Department of Energy, using drapes with a thermal lining can reduce heat loss by up to 25 percent in the winter. It’s not just a winter thing, drapes with white plastic backings can reduce heat gain by up to 33 percent in the summer in hot climates.
Not only do drapes help with comfort and energy efficiency, but they can also beautify your windows. Can you say win-win?
Possibly the greatest energy saving window treatment you can get are cellular shades. These shades have a honeycomb structure that create pockets of air that act as little pockets of insulation, majorly slowing the conduction of heat or cold from your window into your room.
In heating seasons, tightly installed cellular shades can reduce heat loss through windows by 40% or more, which equates to about 10% heating energy savings. In cooling seasons, cellular shades can reduce unwanted solar heat through windows by up to 60%, reducing the total solar gain to 20% when installed with a tight fit. That’s huge!
At $50 to $90 per window installing cellular shades is a no-brainer for money savings. There are even automated smart home compatible cellular shades that can be remotely controlled and set to timers so they open and close at the most efficient times to keep the cold out and let the sun in when appropriate.
Always a popular option, but pricier than drapes and cellular shades, plantation shutters can be very effective at keeping the cold out. Just like shades and drapes, closing your shutters at night and opening them during the day to allow airflow and sunlight at the right times helps them work most efficiently.
One huge thing about plantation shutters that most people miss though is how to operate them varies by season. The slats should be arranged pointing upward in the winter and downward in the summer. Why? Glad you asked. Hot air rises and cold air falls so arranging your plantation shutter slats so the interior side is positioned upward in the winter keeps the cold air between the window and the shutter and stops it from entering the room. In the summer reverse their position and you’ll do the same for the hot air.
Probably the least expensive and least effective window treatment to keep you warm is the roller shade or Roman shade. These are typically thin vinyl or fabric, but there are some decorative version made from bamboo or other woods. Mostly roller shades be pulled down to provide privacy, but they can be paired with with other treatments like drapes since they typically fit inside the window opening.
Consider using roller shades as an inexpensive add on to other energy saving window treatments to give them that extra oomph at keeping you warm.
Blinds can be another inexpensive option that combine the seasonal functionality of plantation shutters with the low profile of roller shades. Installing low profile blinds inside the window opening and leaving room for drapes is an effective way to double up your protection from those cold drafts.
Blinds are ubiquitous and when used effectively are usually the first line of defense against cold and heat.
Keep it Regional
Using window treatments to keep you warm this winter is not a one size fits all approach which makes it a much better option than replacing your windows, not to mention the much lower cost. You should take a different approach in what treatments to install if you live in Florida or Kentucky or Maine or any other state for that matter.
Consider what works best not only for your region but for the individual rooms in your house. Your bedroom windows probably need the most protection against the winter weather and your garage windows the least. You can and should customize your window treatments depending on how your family uses your house to get the most bang for your buck.
So, don’t be fooled that the only way to stay warm this winter is to replace your windows. There are far more options that most people realize and using window treatments to keep the cold out is not only extremely effective, but also a very cost conscious way to go.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
7 thoughts on “5 Window Treatments to Keep You Warm This Winter”
I completely agree, Scott! I recently replaced the sleeping porch windows on my 105 year old, 2-story colonial home in Pasadena, CA. My local window craftsman built replacements using Architectural Glass (the old wavy stuff). There’s no way that anyone can detect that the new windows aren’t original! Keep the great content coming, Scott!
I’ve been preaching this for years. The only problem we have is that cellular shades are too deep to fit into our old window frames. In our previous house, with modern windows, we found they really cut the cold and blocked drafts.
Our hundred year old windows are, for the most part, in good shape, having been protected by storms since about the 1970’s. The vinyl windows on the sunporch addition have not fared so well. They are cracked and falling apart.
Three years ago I bought and 80 year old farm house with wood windows. The first thing my son said was you need new windows. Not on your life they are beautiful 3 over one pane windows and I have made a lot of drapes with thermal backing. Change them in the summer for sheers. Love my house!!!!!
I never thought of the direction of the slats when it comes to California Shutters, and I imagine to some level that would apply to blinds as well. Thanks!
Thank you , Scott for your informative article . I live just outside Boston in a ninety year old tudor that has steel casement windows . It gets pretty chilly during the winter season . We invested in ‘interior’ storm windows for several rooms … they have made a significant difference . They are lightweight , and easy to put in and take down when spring arrives . I love my old windows – I would never replace them … they are the eyes to our home .
Thanks Scott! I refuse to replace my windows in my historic Montana home. This information really helps!
A lot of people don’t realize too that reglazing the old windows can be done with those missing some and this isn’t that hard to do!!!!!!, Then add those drapes!