In these days of steeply rising utility prices and pressing environmental concerns, it pays us all to think hard about conserving energy.
It’s a complex issue, particularly in older housing stock and often involves major works and considerable outlay. However, a huge amount of our expensive energy escapes out of windows, and while draught exclusion methods and double glazing are very effective, curtains and blinds can also play a big part.
The first rule is to always draw your curtains at nightfall (and open them again in the morning so that any solar energy to be had will be welcomed in!).
Here are some other tips for keeping out the chilly night air:
For a very modest outlay, thermal and black out linings are surprisingly effective at stopping draughts and deflecting chill. Despite the name, black out lining is usually white or cream although there are now some exciting ranges of face fabrics in various designs that are intrinsically black out.
Interlined curtains and roman blinds have a third fluffy cotton layer, between the face fabric and the lining, that not only make the flimsiest of fabrics hang beautifully, but cut down an enormous amount of draught and chill from windows. They’re also surprisingly effective at cutting out noise pollution – useful for bedrooms that face the busy streets of London. And combining a layer of interlining (or bump as it is sometimes called) with a thermal or black out lining is of course doubly effective for keeping out the cold.
Some of the worst draughts whistle through external doors and a heavy curtain that drops right to the floor can work wonders on keeping ambient temperatures up and energy bills down. The trouble is, if its hanging from a conventional pole or track, when you go out, the curtain will stay undrawn, leaving you to return to a chilly house. Luckily the Victorians thought about this all a long time ago and devised a clever contraption called a Portiere or riser rod. This is a metal curtain pole with a hinge at one end, and a rising bracket at the other that is mounted at the top of your door so that when it opens, the rod swings up and open too. This means that your curtain stays drawn even when you are out, but won’t get caught under the door when its opened. Ingenious, and very effective.
In a harsh winter, it’s a good idea to keep heat in the part of the house that is used the most and curtains across a corridor, or at the bottom of a flight of stairs are really helpful. I’ve developed a way of using pretty cotton quilts from India for just this purpose. The main advantage is that when Spring returns, and you want to open up the house again, you can take them down and wash them in the washing machine before storing away for the following winter – whereas a heavy interlined curtain will need to go to the dry cleaners.
Some very clever people have devised pleated (or concertina) blinds with a double or triple honeycomb construction that , like a string vest of old, traps air between the layers to provide very efficient insulation. Called Duette blinds, they come in a variety of materials from transluscent to black out and are fitted up close to the window frame. An added feature is that they can be raised from the bottom, or lowered from the top so that you can choose to have the top part of your window uncovered while still insulating the bottom half of the window (also useful for gaining privacy in bedrooms and bathrooms without shutting out all light and view).
There is of course the opposite problem – that of keeping sun and heat out. Conservatories and wide expanses of glass doors and windows are a wonderful feature of modern architecture, bringing the outdoor in, and pouring light into our lives. But, there is a hitch – in summer the heat in a conservatory can be overbearing, and direct sunlight can bleach and fade. Thankfully, there are solutions – sheer roller blinds in special heat reflective solar-tech fabrics, pleated honeycomb blinds with reflective backings, and some wonderful semi-sheer wide-width fabrics designed for large floor to ceiling windows.
I have a special interest in organic textiles, having run one of London’s first organic fabric shops in Stoke Newington until 2005. Conventional cotton is a dirty commodity, belying its pure and natural image, with a long and complex supply chain. Organic cotton is grown without huge amounts of harmful pesticides and is processed in such a way as to limit environmental damage. Luckily in recent years, several furnishing fabric companies have introduced small ranges of organic cotton fabrics – some woven, some printed – in addition to some other ‘eco’ textiles such as hemp and bamboo. So if you are planning an eco-house, or simply want to keep your purchases as green as possible, these are definitely worth checking out.