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Cellular Insulating Window Shades

by Chad Ludeman on May 1, 2008 · 24 comments

in Building Science,envelope

Cellular Window Shade ImageI thought I’d take a close look at these insulating window shades today that Zero Energy Design is referencing in their energy model. There are a lot of cellular shades that are made up of one, two or three layers of honeycomb fabric with air in between the cells that makes the shade act as an insulator. From what I found, most shades can increase the R-value of a window by anywhere from 2.0 to 4.8 depending on the number and size of the cells and the material used. This is pretty significant since most energy star, double pane, low-e windows still have an R value of around 3.0 or less.

The first thing I thought when I heard insulating window shades was whether or not they would be ugly in a modern interior. After seeing some, I don’t think they look too bad. Look how happy the people are with their installed shades! The bottom line is that in the city most are going to install some type of window covering for privacy, so why not give them a nice white shade that is custom made for their windows and save them some cost and hassle?

Zero Energy recommended looking at both Bali and Hunter Douglas brand shades. Long story short, Hunter seems to have the slightly better brand in terms of quality and R-values in their shades. They also offer one of the only triple-cell shades I could find.

There are a whole bunch of window shade sites out there but most of their pricing seems to be the same. I’ll use for reference here as they seem to be a larger site. I priced a double cell shade in white that is semi-opaque to still let in light and for our 2′ x 5.5′ windows, they will cost $90 each. This has an R-value near 4.35 and the jump in price for the triple cell version is over $50 for only 0.45 increase in R value. Not really worth it in my opinion.

So we still have the question of whether this is a good investment toward improving the energy efficiency of the home. We will spend a little over $1,000 on the window shades which will decrease our energy costs by about $80 if the homeowner uses them properly and religiously year round. The other option is to spend more for the better Thermotech windows which guarantee a thermal improvement of almost $100 per year no matter how the homeowner uses them. The cost will be at least double the $1,000 premium for the better quality windows, but the labor costs will not increase. I would imagine the window shades will cost a couple hundred dollars to have installed in the overall budget.

What are your thoughts? Shades and the Pella windows or no shades with a superior Thermotech window?

Source Link: Great link on window shading options to improve energy efficienty. If you really wanted to go nuts you could probably bring your windows to a similar R-value as your existing walls by installing cellular shades internally in your windows, installing a roman shade over the window and then adding some heavy drapes outside of that.

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{ 7 trackbacks }

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brandon May 1, 2008 at 8:51 pm

Honestly I don’t see how either option is worth the cost, they both seem like a huge waste of the construction budget to me. Spending nearly $1000 to save approximately $80 a year (if used properly) is a huge expense for little gain. Spending more than double that for better windows which will only net approxmiately $20 more in savings per year is even more wasteful.

I also believe that you should leave window shades up to who ever it is that actually buys the place as personal preference varies greatly in this department. There’s no telling if your potential buyer will want these shades, hence making it a total waste of money.

Don’t get me wrong here, I think both options are great ideas if you have money to burn. For your project every dollar counts and this seems sort of wasteful. I think the budget of $1000+ could be spent in other places of the house, better materials, better finishes, etc.

I always tend to think of things in this way:
If I spend X amount of dollars on (insert product here), how many years will I have to live in my house for the savings to cover the cost of the product? To each his own though. And you’re right…those people do look happy with their shades.

2 chad May 1, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Excellent comment, Brandon. Thanks!

3 Brandon May 1, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Um, what the other Brandon said. We have one insulating shade in our boys’ room as a stopgap measure to warm up their room until we replace all of our windows. I can confirm that they are effective, though. With better windows in our house, I’m not sure I’ll stick with them.

4 Shawn Busse May 2, 2008 at 12:27 am

Hey Chad,

Nice post, as always. I tend to agree with the two Brandons on this one – pretty big expense and I could see someone actually removing the blinds out of design preference. As much as you want to control the “look and feel” of the space, the new owners will want to make it their own and could go in a totally different direction. I think the best thing you can do it educate the owners about the benefits of insulating shades…and call it a day.

I am, however, glad for the post. Since I WILL be living in our new space, this looks like an interesting option.

For another, non-insulating idea, check out my post here:


5 Rob May 2, 2008 at 1:29 pm


I guess I am the lone wolf here in seeing the logic of either choice. Personally I say go with the windows and not the shades, as I see the windows having more of an effect on the the energy. The blinds are a very viable option but at a 16-20 year payback will they even last that long? And you will definitly have to explain the benifits to the new homeowner. But that is par for everything in this house, as it is all slightly different. Perhaps a home owners house operating manual? Petersburg Commons was supposed to have one, I am not sure how that ended up.

Back to the windows…I see them as a more valuable option because the blinds could always be installed later, by the home owner and the windows are not as easily changeable and are there for 20-40 years untill someone replaces them.

Will either of these have a downsizing effect on the HVAC system? That could help.

6 chad May 2, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Another thing to consider is that the shades will not effect the HERS score of 50 that we are seeking as far as I know. This is the key to getting LEED Platinum and our $2K credit from the government.

Secondly, I spoke to Thermotech directly yesterday in more detail and it turns out the the premium for the U 0.17 rated windows would be more like $4K than $2K so that is really no longer an option.

Rob makes a good point that the blinds would probably not last to see their full payback period. They could be offered as an upgrade to the homeowner if desired so they could pick the style, color and insulating value. It’s always nice to be able to throw something you want for the home into your mortgage if you have the option.

We will also have a homeowners operating manual as part of our LEED process that will cover these types of things.

It’s a good thing I didn’t suggest motorizing these things and hooking them up to an elaborate programmable thermostat to control them also. You guys would’ve really given it to me then. :)

7 chad May 2, 2008 at 4:47 pm

To address Rob’s downsizing question, we are still looking at eliminating a traditional A/C system, so I guess you could say that’s a significant downsizing.

The heating system will simply be a water heater so there’s not a tremendous downsizing potential there. I guess if you reduced the heating demand enough you could take care of it with a reasonable solar thermal array. The passive houses that use these windows simply pre-heat the incoming fresh air into an HRV with an inexpensive electrical coil also.

8 Ray May 2, 2008 at 5:08 pm

When considering windows you should consider other factors such as aesthetics, noise control, warranty etc.

Depending on facing and the type of road I’d go with whichever window scores best on all counts, not just a low U value.

A cheaper window with cellular shades and heavy drapes will better insulate than a more expensive window. But if the cheaper window doesn’t do much for sound control, or has other defects, it really doesn’t make sense in the life of the house.

Have you considered mix-n-matching the windows depending on the conditions the opening is facing?

I have the Bali cellular shades (single cell) and they work pretty well. 40″x70″ ones were $45 at HomeDepot. But as some of the other posters stated, that really should be a home-owners decision. Unless you want to make it an “upgrade”.

9 chad May 2, 2008 at 5:22 pm

I leaning strongly toward the optional upgrade route for the homebuyers on the shades due to the intelligent discussion resulting from this post. You guys are quite helpful. Keep it up!

10 Y. Bzerious May 3, 2008 at 11:22 am

I want to affirm Ray’s comments, most especially about noise — and privacy. I think one thing many, if not most builders seem to have lost perspective on is noise control. We’ve used cellular shades (double cell) and have found them to be really helpful in reducing exterior road noise while allowing in light — and at least in the case of the shades we use, being able to lower them from the top has proven really wonderful in terms of allowing in even more light while protecting our privacy. I think noise could be a completely separate thread, from where one locates an external compressor to appliance and HVAC “thrum.” Too many recently built homes feel and sound as though they’ve been designed with the acoustics and solidity one might find living inside a snare drum. For comparison, the relatively small house we lived in while in the UK had no AC, but had true brick exterior walls, plaster instead of sheet rock interior walls, slab construction and poured concrete for the second floor rather than wood joists — and I never slept so well in my life!

11 chad May 3, 2008 at 12:40 pm


Thanks for the reference to your UK experience. This is definitely helpful info that I agree not all developers today take into consideration. I have some unpleasant stories of very dissatisfied new condo owners in downtown Philly who didn’t check to make sure the developers had put up more than two layers of drywall in between each unit prior to purchasing.

Using SIPs on our house should reduce the noise considerably compared to that average Philly rowhome. Also, the “bottom-of-the-line” windows we are considering are Pella Proline which is a pretty nice window all around and again, better than the average window installed in many new Philly rowhomes.

Eliminating conventional A/C and using the hot water heater as the heating source in the winter should also reduce the noise factor in the home. We are even looking into mounting the exhaust fans for the bath and range hood in the ducting near the roof in order to greatly reduce the noise at the point of use.

12 Ted May 6, 2008 at 3:09 am

I’m quite a fan of insulating cellular shades. I installed triple cell Comfortex Symphony shades in all my bedrooms when I had the original double hung windows in my house and the shades made a huge difference, very noticeable comfort improvement because of the reduction of convection currents near the windows and great reduction in the radiative losses due to your body heat going right out through the windows.

Later, I replace all my windows with Loewen double and triple glazed, low-e windows (which are fantastic) and the shades still make a difference. Not as much, but certainly noticeable.

Will they pay for themselves in saved energy costs? probably not, but then, neither will the windows. Nor will many of the ecologically friendly choices I make for my home. But together, I’ve been able to reduce my oil consumption to about 1/3 the previous level.

The economic payoff argument that I see so often when it comes to “green” upgrades is largely bogus. Yes, one should know what the economics are and should prioritize projects. However, there are many aesthetic choices one makes where there is zero economic payoff. Why do these items get a free ride? How do you put a price on comfort and health of your structure?

Granted, I understand you have a pricing goal for your home, so you have to prioritize based on the economic formula, but I don’t want others to constrain themselves to this line of thought. Most people will put in shades anyway, often very expensive ones that provide minimal insulation. Why not put in less expensive window treatments that actually make the house better?

13 chad May 8, 2008 at 7:04 pm

Excellent comment Ted, thanks!

14 Goran January 14, 2009 at 10:41 pm

I have two 55×120″ Levalor snow white double cell shades that let through a lot of light. The light transmission costs some insulating efficiency, but it provides very nice lighting in the morning. I’d recommend them for the light, alone. They leak air around the edges, but the window is so big, there is still a noticeable improvement in comfort. A smaller window may have less improvement unless the shades are carefully installed to seal air.

15 bjolley July 14, 2011 at 10:34 am

cellular shades can be more expensive but like Chad mentions they do provide energy savings. I think it depends on where you live, whether it is worth it to purchase these shades based on energy savings. For instance, I live in Arizona. During the summer months we average 108 degrees. My house faces east and west. So my cellular shades help out a lot with keeping the heat outside of our house.

16 bali cellular shades March 3, 2012 at 7:20 pm

The cordless cellular shades were appreciated by parents with young kids and, cat owners worldwide mainly because they can now facilitate their small children and four legged friends to play freely in the home with very little supervision. Gone are the days of product recalls and legal actions as window blind makers have sorted out the issue with this risk-free product. Moreover, people with special requirements as well as the aging adults gave this shades the thumbs up because of it mechanized characteristic which they could, by a push of a button close and open using a remote device.

17 diya August 7, 2012 at 10:45 pm

i think it’s all about look and feel of your home. People seems to be happy if they find inspirational designs in window shades which secure energy efficiency and privacy. i will suggest you, If you are a window covering professional, interior designer or retailer selling and specifying custom window coverings, Window shades etc, Sunshineblinds is your own site for inspiration and industry education where custom window blinds, shades, shutters and drapery are made to order, using your unique window measurements and specifications, so they fit correctly and work properly.

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