How to Choose Window Coverings

by Tim Gorman


Posted on April 17, 2017 at 12:30 PM


A room with excellent window coverings.

Who has the budget or time for do-overs and mistakes? If you follow these four steps, you won’t have to worry about making expensive mistakes. Here is your guide to choosing window coverings for any budget or lifestyle — whether you are in your first rental apartment or your forever retirement home — with help from our professionals available every step of the way.

Step 1: What Do You Need?

Have an honest conversation with yourself and make a list. Don’t think about how the window coverings will look. This is just about what they must do for you and your family.

This is all about function. The pretty part — the window dressing — will come later.

Do you need privacy from the too-close neighbors or the sidewalk right outside your window?

Are you seeing sun damage on your furniture and floors?

Do you need blackout curtains for a shift-worker or a fussy baby?

Do you need some way to control the heat from the summer sun?

Are you losing too much heat through the windows in the winter?

Do you want to control the view in, but still be able to see out?

Do you need cordless window coverings to protect your 2 and 4-legged little ones?

Do you already have window blinds and shades, but wonder if maybe curtains for the living room are needed too?

Are you having a bit of trouble with this list? Don’t worry, chat with us at 888-493-1394. Our reps are there to help you clarify your needs, and make sure this process is an easy one for you.


Step 2: What Products Meet Your Needs?

Once you know what you need, it’s a lot easier to find the solution. Here is a cheat sheet for you that lists most general types of window coverings and their main functions. Run down the first column and check off all the features you need in your window coverings, read to the right to find what will work for you.

Window coverings are first divided into two categories: Hard and Soft. Hard coverings are manufactured, they can’t be replicated by a drapery maker -- Verticals are an example.

Soft coverings are those made of fabric and, while they may be manufactured, (as are pre-made panels), they are typically made by a drapery maker.

Window coverings are either hung inside the window frame (inside mount) or outside the frame (outside mount). Every window covering hung inside the frame will have a light gap between the outside edge of the covering and the inside of the frame. Be prepared for this gap and ask your seller how big it will be.

They also require brackets for attaching to the wall or window frame. When you look at a covering, make sure you know how much clearance you need for the brackets.

A blind is a slatted covering which raises and lowers via a string ladder. Mini blinds are an example of a blind, as are 2-inch wood, metal or faux-wood Venetians. All of these are hard window coverings.

The main benefit of blinds is that you can tilt the slats, allowing light and some view to the outside, but prevent view from the outside in. They are available without hanging cord, can also be motorized, are efficient at controlling light ,but not so great at controlling heat gain or loss, and are available in a very wide range of prices.

A shade is a window covering that looks like it is made of one piece of material, and it raises and lowers either by a cord or a spring system. A roller shade is an example here. As is a Roman shade.

The roller is a manufactured shade and can be made of a totally light-blocking fabric, typically vinyl, or it can be made of a light reducing material which has lots of tiny holes.

The more holes, the more light and heat passes through the vinyl of a shade. Typical view-through is 5 to 9%, meaning that five to nine percent of a solid piece of vinyl is holes. The main purpose of a solar or sun shade is to control light and heat transfer; they offer no or very little privacy. A Roman shade is made of fabric and is most often custom made by a drapery-making specialist and with blackout lining it prevents view-through.

A Cellular shade looks like accordion-folded fabric when the window is covered; in cross section it looks like honeycomb. It is a manufactured product, available custom-made or off the shelf.

Cellular shades are the workhorses of the industry, they provide stellar heat loss and gain protection, are easy to operate and are priced across all budgets. They can be light-filtering, light blocking or a combination of the two.

They can draw up from the bottom, down from the top, or both. This is what you want when the neighbors are too close; you can cover the bottom of the window and leave the top open.

Pleated shades look like cellular shades but are only one layer, they have no honeycomb effect, and are available in most of the same view-through levels as cellular shades. They are great for privacy and light control; not so great for heat loss.

We all know what vertical blinds are; the long vertically-hanging slats which are still one of the best treatments for patio doors. Their biggest drawback? They are noisy. They are available everywhere, at every price level, and in fabric, plastic or even wood and they stack back into a small space.

Don’t discount verticals; there are places where these are the best solution.

As you go through these explanations, jot down the questions you will ask our rep when you call. Our reps are there with more details on each of these coverings.

Shutters hold a special place in window coverings; they are very touchy, requiring professional assistance from the get-go. If they are off by 1/16th of an inch, they may not work. Save yourself time and aggravation by calling for help right away if you are considering shutters. In the appendix section above it sounds as if these are the premium window treatments but it doesn’t sound that way here???

Fabric window coverings, other than Roman blinds and all the variations on them, include curtains and drapes. Curtains are one layer of fabric; drapes (or drapery) are at least two layers. The more layers, the greater the insulation. Using combinations of window treatments, such as a cellular shade with a four-layer drape and insulated valance topper can provide an R-value of up to 17.

Consider that most top-of-the-line windows provide an R-value of 4, adding this much insulation will drastically reduce your heat loss and heat gain. You will get reduced heating costs AND reduced air-conditioning costs. (25% of your winter heating bill goes directly out your window). Visit the following sites for more information: Green Home Gnome, Design Sewlutions, and The Department of Energy.

The downside to drapery is that to have the whole window exposed when the drapes are open they must stack off to the side of the window. Because they are best when custom made to your window’s specifications, they can be at the top end of the price range.

Decorative additions to curtains and drapes are swags, valances, jabots, decorative panels, sheer under-curtains and toppers.

These are the basic window covering types but there are adaptations and variations which you might want to consider, such as horizontal sheers. These are manufactured fabric slatted shades with a sheer fabric attached to the front and back. When the shade is lowered, you look through two layers of sheer, tilt the slats and they function like a venetian.


Step 3: Which Ones Make You Smile?

Once you have selected the window treatments which suit your needs, you get to do the fun part of window dressing. This is where you will consider the mood and feel of your home, your lifestyle, and your vision.

As you go through the window coverings, choosing the ones that will suit your needs, you will eliminate some.

The possibilities in window coverings are almost endless. By going through these three steps, you have saved yourself lots of time and money by narrowing down what will work for you.

For example; for the babies room: You won’t consider verticals because they are noisy, drapes won’t work because there is not enough room for the fabric off the window, you need a dark room so the baby can sleep, so Venetians won’t work.

You need privacy from the nosey neighbors in the afternoon; you are concerned about heat gain and loss. You are on a budget and would like something which is easy to manage and which you can dress up to complement the fairy princess theme you’ve chosen.

You’ve called our specialist, and after a discussion and looking at your checklist, you can see that a top-down, bottom-up cordless blackout cellular shade would be perfect for you.

To fit the mood and the style of your baby’s room you are going choose a neutral color, preferably white or off-white. Now your shades are the backdrop and you can reinforce the fairy princess theme by simply adding a soft floaty valance above the window frame. Hang it on a pretty rod and use some extra fabric to make a few small accessories; a bow on a chair or a lampshade, for example.

You could choose a pink window shade if you like; but you will be replacing it when the princess goes through her Goth period; if you choose neutral blinds you’ll only have to change the valance.

You’ve taken care of the needs of your room first and then added pizazz with a bit of fabric. Maybe a cornice and blackout curtains would work for you in the media or family room, or maybe floral curtains over wood Venetians are the answer for the curtains for the living room dilemma.

That’s styling a room at its best. You take care of the needs first and then add the jewelry.


Step 4: Talk to a Pro

You don’t have enough time in your life to research window treatments and become an expert in all the types, their functions, their limitations, their prices, their installation requirements and their style implications.

That’s what a window covering specialist does. Their job is to be knowledgeable and share that information with you.

When you talk to a pro and tell them how much you already know about what you need and want, you will have her attention; you will be the well-informed consumer and her job will be so much easier - and you will both save a lot of time.

If you are on a small budget, talking to a pro is more important than if the money isn’t a consideration. You see, you don’t have the luxury of making a mistake; you need to know that your choice is the right one BEFORE you put down your cash.

That is the best reason there is for talking to someone who makes it their job to know. It’s so you don't have to worry. Need more? Call us.