Site search



Old Windows? Insulate Them with Honeycomb Shades.

Until I was in the market for shades, I didn’t realize that they can actually make a big difference in insulating your windows. Shades that present a continuous barrier, like roman or honeycomb (cellular) shades, can raise the R-value (resistence to heat flow) of your window significantly. And honeycomb shades create pockets of air that are even more insulating. (Double-paned windows are based on the same concept.) I like to think of it like adding layers of clothes—it’s the air in between that makes you warmer.


A typical window has an R-value of anywhere between 1 and 3. By adding honeycomb shades, you can more than double that, especially for older and single-paned windows.

We ended up choosing single-cell honeycombs for our living room because we’re on the first floor and wanted to allow light in when the shades were down, but double- or even triple-cell shades would be more efficient. Adding side tracks to the triple-cell shades would create a full barrier around the window and make them as efficient as possible. I think we’ll look into those for the rest of the house.

Honeycombs are more expensive than regular blinds, but like most efficiency upgrades, they’ll pay for themselves in energy savings. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that heat loss through windows can account for 10-25% of heating bills.

Of course, the absolute best thing you can do is replace old windows with more efficient ones. But if, like us, you’re renting, adding honeycomb shades is something easy that you can do to improve your home’s efficiency—and save money on heating bills.


Comment from Dave
Time October 22, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Nice post. We have also discovered, that if replacing the windows isn’t an option, new storm windows do wonders for insulation.

Thanks for the blind information.

Comment from Jonathan Feist
Time October 23, 2009 at 7:28 am

No no no no no! Don’t replace old windows! That’s a scam, devised by window replacement companies, and it takes longer to recoup the savings in increased energy efficiency (30 to 60 years) than the windows typically last (20 years or less)!

Fix old windows instead! Cheaper, long and often short term, and it keeps stuff out of landfills, like old windows with lead paint that winds up finding its way into drinking water supplies. Plus, old windows, hand-crafted and made from old growth timber, are typically much more attractive than the new plastic ones, mass produced in factories and not matched specifically to the houses that they go on.

Here’s a cool graphic on the subject, published by the Boston Globe. There’s a ton of literature about this.

And yes, if you rent, use shades, make sure storm windows are down all the way (duh!), and use those draft protecters that cover the bottom edge. They are long and thin, and thus tend to match other objects typically thought about by people who frequent this site. (I mean worms, of course.)

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time October 23, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Hunh. I didn’t even realize there was a debate about replacing old windows. Having remodeled an old farmhouse, you’ve obviously done a lot more research on the subject than I have. But even if you don’t want to go with a vinyl window (that’s made from an evil chemical and needs to be replaced sooner), can’t you get double-paned windows with wood frames? Or if your frames are good, replace just the window itself? (By the way, my trusty Consumer Reports tells me that recouping the cost might take “20 years or more,” not “30 to 60 years.”)

Comment from Jonathan Feist
Time November 3, 2009 at 10:26 am

My perspective comes as chair of the Town of Harvard Historical Commission, where the issue of window replacement comes up now and then. And let me say that I’m an environmentalist before I’m a historical preservationist. But this is an area of great confusion. Antique windows were made using old growth timber, which is no longer available, so the wood windows of 150 years ago are made from much better (i.e., more durable and long lived) material than the wood windows made now, which grows from faster growing, more easily replenishable lumber sources. Typically, new windows of any material are waranteed for only 10 to 20 years, and expected to fail soon after. So, people frequently replace windows that need minor repairs after 150 years of use, with a window that will need total replacement after 10 to 20 years.

Even if part of an old window frame is broken, it can often be restored for less money than a new window would cost. People assume that it’s impossible to find places that restore old windows, but there are actually many companies that do this. And they are local craftsmen, rather than they overseas factories that manufacture new windows.

Different studies will show different lengths of time regarding when you could possibly recoup the cost of replacement windows. Yes, I’ve seen 20 to 60 years. It depends in part on projections of how people expect fuel costs to go, climate predictions, as well as other economics involved in the equation. But figure that people move on average every 7 years, and that new windows will fail in 20 years, which is the optimistic estimate of when you’ll finally recoup. Then you’ll have to replace them again. Replacement just doesn’t seem to make economic, environmental, or aesthetic sense, most of the time.

Routine maintenance will help make old windows more efficient. Add weather stripping, and replace the putty, if it is failing. Certainly, fix any individual panes that have holes or cracks. Obvious stuff.

Pingback from Looking Back at 2009 « Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time January 4, 2010 at 9:07 pm

[…] Honeycomb shades – They’re great on the living room windows. The ones we got for the dining room don’t fit so well, though. We may have to end up getting made-to-measure shades, which will be more expensive. Still thinking about it… […]

Comment from upvc windows
Time December 2, 2010 at 4:36 am

These window treatments also look fabulous. I guess, my only complaint is that the do collect dust and therefore recommend you clean them as the instructions suggest. If you do not clean regularly they become very difficult and time consuming to maintain their fresh look.

Pingback from Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time January 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm

[…] One year ago: Old Windows? Insulate Them with Honeycomb Shades. […]

Write a comment