Window Blinds: A Low- and High-Tech Way to Increase Energy Efficiency at Home

By June 2, 2019Tips

Families across the country have caught the bug to embrace clean energy and energy efficiency wherever they can. Not only are these decisions helpful for meeting dire global climate change goals, but many of these energy-related upgrades are an easy sell because they can save households money on their monthly power bills (just like how Atlantic Energy can manage to provide more renewable sources of energy and still beat competitors on cost per kilowatthour).

While many of these measures to save energy at home have started to become more technical and complex– from electric vehicle chargers built into the garage to solar panels installed on the roof — some of the most effective ways to increase energy efficiency at home come from overlooked opportunities. Window blinds are a prime example of a part of the home many might simply take for granted and not realize the potential for energy efficiency (or, when used improperly, energy waste) they can provide the average home.

Typical Blinds and Home Energy Use

Many people might only think of window blinds as a means to let in or keep out light, but blinds and any other window coverings can also be key to a home energy management strategy. That relation to energy use in the home comes from the fact that allowing in or keeping out sun rays has a direct effect on interior temperatures and, when done correctly, can minimize the energy required to run heating or air conditioning.

Gaining efficiency from blinds is more tangible than some other household retrofits because the savings are felt physically when the temperature of a room is managed, and it can be done with beautiful custom window blinds that appeal to the interior designer even before energy is taken into account.

Home heating and cooling accounts for over half of a home’s average annual energy bill. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, windows themselves can account for 24 to 40% of annual heating and cooling costs due to lost home heating energy, while 76% of sunlight falling on standard windows enters to become heat. No matter the season or the climate, the windows in your home represent a potential weak point in your building envelope through which energy waste can skyrocket. In the cold winters, the heat you pump into your home will try to escape through the windows which is made much easier if the glass panes are the only thing stopping it. During warm summers, the sun bearing down on your windows will heat up your home and require additional air conditioning to maintain a comfortable temperature unless the heat can be reflected away.  

The most basic of window blinds, using flimsy plastic that doesn’t block out light or heat effectively, is minimally effective as an efficiency solution, if at all. These simple and cheap blinds that you might see in dorm rooms aren’t providing the opportunity for energy savings that the world of blinds makes possible today. 

At the most basic level, the ability for blinds to increase energy efficiency in a home breaks down into two parts:

  • How effectively they can control solar irradiance and temperature; and
  • The consistency and reliability with which homeowners utilize their blinds to optimally line up with the heating/cooling needs of the home.

Energy Efficient Blinds

To really understand the potential of energy efficient blinds compared with the alternatives it’s important to understand how that can be measured. When looking at window treatments or windows themselves, the “R-value” is a measure of thermal resistance. Materials with higher R-values have more thermal resistance and vice versa. For example, a single-pane window has an R-value of about 0.9, whereas plywood would have an R-value of 1.25 and a solid wooden door has an R-value of 2.2. The goal of more energy efficient blinds is to use materials that result in a greater R-value when closed, though at the same time the goal is to make them seamless and usable in the home (otherwise the energy efficient solution would just be to board up your windows!)

Roller shades are a basic but still energy-efficient blind solution, providing R-values of 1.3 to 1.8 depending on the fabric used. Their efficiency can be increased when using specifically ‘blackout roller shades’ to eliminate gaps between the window shade and window sill, as well as some higher-grade roller shades made out of solar screening material. 

The next step up in efficient blinds is plantation shutters. Averaging around an R-value of 3.0, can be quite effective at blocking out heat transfer, especially when more insulating materials are used. 

The most energy-efficient blind type is called a cellular shade. This form of blind can come in a variety of fabrics and can have ‘single cell’ or ‘double cell,’ so the R-value can vary, but typically they fall between R-values of 2.0 and 5.0 thanks to their ingenious design that can trap heat and keep a room insulated. 

High-Tech Blind Solutions

These previously discussed efficient blinds only addressed the first aspect of potential energy efficiency: the effectiveness of controlling temperature and insulating from the sun. But in today’s world of smart phones, smart lights, and even smart refrigerators, you may be surprised to learn that smart blinds have hit to market to tackle the second aspect of potential energy efficiency in blinds: consistently and effectively deploying window blinds at the right time for home energy management. 

A U.S. Department of Energy study has found that 75% of residential window coverings remain in the same position every day. This habit leaves low-hanging fruit in energy savings waiting to be harvested, and smart window blinds are one such solution. To rectify that, smart blinds (or “connected blinds”) have found their way into the market of Internet of Things products. Smart blinds are somewhat new on the market, but they have already found themselves in retailers like Ikea, showing the push to the mainstream they are making. While the obvious use of smart blinds would be to be able to open and close them via app on your phone or through voice command with Amazon Alexa or Google Home, the real potential to be tapped in the coming smart blinds market is through sensors and automation.

Picture, for a second, that you have an ideal temperature you’d like to keep your home during the day. You can tell your smart home system what that temperature is (even varying it based on time of day and occupancy) and have the AI behind the smart home system determine the optimal way to achieve that temperature– should blinds be opened or closed? Can doing so be a more energy-efficient way to reach that temperature than ramping up part of your HVAC system?

Take it a step further, and you can also let it know what the light levels you’d like to have while at home in addition to the temperature. Now the smart home system can sense the light levels and determine what the most energy efficient way is to accomplish the light levels and temperatures between your smart lights, your smart blinds, and your smart thermostat. This trend is what will take the market from segmented smart products to truly smart homes, and blinds will be at the forefront of those possibilities!

If smart home products pique your curiosity, be sure to check out the smart light bulbs, plugs, cameras, and speakers that Atlantic Energy offers as a part of its Smart Home Bundle.

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