Understanding Window Coverings

Fact sheets on all the major types of window coverings, explaining their uses, strengths, and typical total costs.

Start Here to learn about window covering options and how this site can help you decide what to do with your existing windows.

Windows play some vital roles in our homes: bringing in natural light, connecting us visually with the outdoors, providing fresh air during warmer months, helping to slow down heat loss, managing solar heat gain, and contributing to the overall appearance of homes. Balancing these needs can be complex. This overview covers all of the window attachment options and attributes, including a summary “Consumer Report-type” table.

Interior Window Coverings

Applied films primarily reduce summer solar gains and block UV light effectively. They require little maintenance. Many variations exist for additional desired performance including: glare reduction, privacy, security, and winter thermal performance.

Cellular shades provide excellent additional insulation, thus improving energy performance in cold climates. Their adjustability adds elements balancing view, privacy, glare control, and daylighting.

Drapes and curtains are primarily used as decorative elements.  Their adjustability combines some level of solar and glare control with privacy. Insulating versions improve wintertime comfort.

Interior louvered shutters provide solar heat gain control.  Their adjustability adds elements of view, privacy, glare control, and daylighting.

Interior Panels primarily reduce winter heat loss and improve air-tightness while maintaining view. Low-e coatings further improve their insulation properties.

Interior roller shades provide solar heat gain control. Their adjustability adds elements of view, privacy, and glare control. Shades are available in a wide range of fabric, affecting many aspects of roller shade performance.

Interior solar screens provide solar heat gain control while reasonably maintaining view. Roller versions add all the advantages of adjustability.

Louvered blinds provide solar heat gain control.  Their adjustability adds elements balancing view, privacy, glare control, and daylighting.

Sheer shades provide solar heat gain control.  Their adjustability adds elements that balance view, glare control, and daylighting.

Roman shades provide solar heat gain control and limited insulation.  Depending on fabric type, they can also provide good sound absorption. Their adjustability adds elements that balance privacy, view, glare control, and daylighting.

Sheer shades provide solar heat gain control.  Their adjustability adds elements that balance view, glare control, and daylighting.

Window quilts provide excellent additional insulation, thus improving energy performance in cold climates.  They also provide sound absorption. Roller quilts add some adjustability for balancing view, privacy, glare control, and daylighting.

Exterior Window Coverings

Exterior louvered shutters protect existing windows from weather and improve security and privacy.  Certain types also provide excellent solar heat gain control.

Exterior roller shades cover and protect existing windows from weather and provide solar heat gain control. Their adjustability adds elements of view, privacy, and glare control but can reduce existing window protection.

Exterior solar screens provide good solar heat gain control while reasonably maintaining view. 

Fixed awnings provide good solar heat gain and glare control while reasonably maintaining view.

Retractable awnings provide good solar heat gain and glare control while maintaining view. Their adjustability improves qualities such as privacy and glare control.

Roller shutters protect existing windows from weather, including severe weather, and improve security and privacy. They also provide excellent solar heat gain control.  Insulated versions substantially improve resistance to heat loss in cold climates.

Exterior storm windows cover and protect existing windows from weather and improve energy performance, including air-tightness while maintaining view. Low-e coatings in cold climates and low solar gain coatings in hot climates increase their energy performance.

Automation

Just about any window attachment that is adjustable can be automated: shades, screens, awnings, shutters, and draperies. Automation includes motors, sensors, controls, and timers. Motors can raise-and-lower, tilt, or both. Both controls and power can be wireless, the former using radio frequency technology and the latter using battery technologies.