These window treatments were made by Earthshade, which specializes in natural materials.© C.WILLIAM SWANSON
According to the Department of Energy (DOE), 25 percent of the energy used to heat and cool buildings goes right out the window. If windows aren’t installed properly or aren’t made of the right kind of material, you could end up losing a tremendous amount of energy. When installing new windows or window treatments, there are several rather simple environmentally friendly options that can help make a big difference.
The most basic piece of advice is to insulate your windows. If you don’t have or can’t afford gas-filled, double-pane windows, consider putting up plastic in the winter. Window plastic comes in kits that are available at most hardware stores, and is easy to install. According to the DOE, the pocket of air created between the plastic and the window reduces heat loss by 25 to 50 percent.
Some cultures believe sealing windows and doors with paper helps keep evil spirits at bay. That won’t help control drafts too much, however. The Utah Department of Natural Resources recommends ferreting out and sealing up air leaks. This simple move can reduce your energy bill by 10 percent. Caulking and weather stripping are easy to install.
When replacing windows look for the R-value of the panes, which marks the effectiveness of preventing heat loss. The higher the R-value, the more insulation it provides. Also look at window type. Casement windows are the most efficient as a general rule, with awning and sliding windows next.
Give Your Windows a Good Treatment
Although upgrading your windows is often a smart move that pays off in the long run, a much easier and cheaper way to "green" your dwelling is to start by putting up some good window coverings. Although it isn’t too difficult to make your own curtains, most people buy pre-made ones.
Western Massachusetts-based Earthshade Natural Window Fashions specializes in eco-friendly designs. Founder and president Craig Swanson explains that his company uses sustainably harvested bamboos, grasses, reeds and other natural plant fibers. "We know the materials are grown in environmentally and socially responsible ways because we are very involved in the entire process," says Swanson.
"Consumers have to be careful when looking at energy-efficient window treatments, because a lot of companies sell products that save energy, but are made of petrochemicals or natural materials treated with toxic pesticides," cautions Swanson. He says concerns about indoor air quality have led many to worry about the toxic fumes that can off gas from conventional materials such as glues, paints and lacquers.
Earthshade’s fibers are dried in the sun, treated with a less-toxic hydrogen peroxide process, and are hand woven into delightful patterns that accent the rich earth tones of the natural materials. Synthetic dyes and other industrial chemicals are not used. Some of the hardware has recycled content, including reclaimed wood.
"For places where window coverings must be treated with fire retardants by law, we offer a less-toxic, water-based alternative to conventional processing," adds Swanson. Earthshade makes 10 different styles of coverings, including Roman fold, top/down, bottom/up and motorized. Average R-values range from two to 2.9, although adding an optional liner increases that by one to two points, helping Earthshade models surpass industry averages. "Natural products need not be expensive," says Swanson. "Our products are seven to 17 percent cheaper than models from the big conventional manufacturers."
One company that offers hemp curtains is Rawganique, which specializes in an impressive range of items made from the versatile plant, from fabrics to paper, bath products and foods. Made from certified organic European hemp linen, the curtains are much softer than people might expect. They are naturally resistant to UV damage and come in several beautiful colors, from olive to alpine meadow blue (starting at $49 a panel).
With window treatments, it helps to think in terms of layers. Layering of panels, valances or dual shading will help keep unwanted heat out. In warm months, light colors such as pink, ice blue or peach can help you keep cool. Don’t forget to use the light to your advantage.
Accessorize with tassels, decorative tiebacks and other touches. Wind chimes hung from curtain rods can lighten the mood.
Whether you choose to let the sunlight stream in through your double-pane windows or keep it out with natural fiber curtains, know this: there’s little energy being wasted here.
DIVYA ABHAT is an E intern.