13:24 PM

By Jackie Kennedy

(Don't) Let the Sunshine In

I absolutely adore the family room in our home. The leather sofa and loveseat are worn in just the right places and the perfect spots to catch up with the kids—or catch a nap. Family photos are on display, along with a huge painting of magnolia blossoms that hangs over the grand square piano I inherited from my grandmother. Across the room from this antique is the room’s newest addition, a curved TV with HD that’s finally updated my viewing experience to 21st century standards.

Our family room is a perfect combination of old and new, classic and comfy. But there’s one problem: It’s the hottest room in the summer, and the coldest in the winter. Thank you, big windows, for creating this aggravation.

The 20x20-foot room has two floor-to-ceiling windows on each of three sides, one which faces the west to capture the afternoon sun in all its hot summer glory. The rest of the house can be a comfortable 78 degrees while the family room stifles somewhere around 85. It rarely bothers me; I stay cold even in summer, thanks to inheriting (along with her piano) my grandmother’s thin blood. But when company’s coming, I turn down the thermostat to accommodate them, hoping the temp in the family room reaches at least high 70s before they arrive.

Closing the blinds helps, and so does the ceiling fan. Eventually, I’d like to purchase new energy-efficient windows designed to help lower heating and cooling costs, but that’s an expense that has to wait until my youngest is at least halfway through college.

In the meantime, I’m considering options for window treatments that would provide additional comfort for my hot-natured company while reducing heat in the summer and welcoming it in winter. The assessment so far:

  • Whether we use shades, drapes or blinds, white is the best color because it reflects heat away from the house. (Check. My wide, horizontal slatted blinds are white.)
  • Speaking of blinds, adjustable slats help control ventilation and light. Reflective blinds that are lowered and closed on a summer day can reduce heat gain by up to 45 percent.
  • Draperies that are medium-colored with a white plastic backing can reduce heat gain by up to 33 percent in summer. The darker the draperies, the greater the heat reduction. In winter, drawn drapes may reduce heat loss by 10 percent. (Ah, now I understand why my mother kept up those dark green drapes in her living room.)
  • Take a tip from the hotel industry and double (or even triple) drapes to create a tighter air space.
  • Window shades can be great energy savers when lowered in the summer. For the best efficiency, try dual window shades, which are white and highly reflective on one side, while dark and heat absorbing on the other side. Keep shades down all day and reverse them as the seasons change, making sure the reflective side faces what’s warmest—your home’s interior in winter and outside in summer. (Hmm, wish they made blinds like this.)
  • Outdoors, installing awnings to provide shade over windows can reduce heat gain dramatically—by as much as 77 percent on windows facing west. Today’s awnings are crafted from synthetic fabrics that are water-repellant and mildew-resistant. Use light-colored awning fabric to best reflect the sun’s rays. As winter approaches, roll up retractable awnings to allow in the sun.

It’s a lot to think about, but one thing is clear. As much as I love the view outside my family room, keeping the blinds closed in summer is the kind thing to do for my hot-natured kin.

For more on comfort-inducing and energy-saving window treatments, visit https://www.energy.gov/energysaver.