Decision time: Blinds or Curtains?!

Windows and doors are a fundamental requirement of any property and the related accessories and modifications must be chosen carefully according to function and appearance. Windows are designed to allow light, heat and sometimes fresh air into a room. Blinds or curtains are used to vary the degree by which they do this, i.e. to provide privacy, security and a means of regulating the temperature in a room. Awnings and canopies are fitted over doors to offer protection from the elements, help to regulate temperature in a house, simply for decoration or to extend the living space.

Blinds

  • Roller Blinds - A simple roller blind is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to cover a window and are ideal if intended for use solely as a black out in a bedroom. They can be rolled out of the way quickly and discretely when not in use and require relatively little effort to install. Given the current rate at which people currently redecorate houses, these cheap blinds, which can be bought and cut to size in the home, are a very popular choice. Furthermore, despite the cheap mass production method (often using cardboard rollers), most will last at least a year or so before they need to be replaced.
  • Exterior Blinds - If the blind is wanted to prevent heat from entering the room, interior blinds may not be suitable however. Once the sunlight has struck the glass, the heat is already in the room and only a small amount will be trapped between the window and blind. To keep a room cool in the summer months, an exterior blind is far more suitable. These absorb and reflect far more of the sun’s energy, keeping it away from the window and thus out of the room. This can lead to massive energy savings on air conditioning. Those in rented properties should consult their lease before purchasing such a blind however, as many landlords do not allow for exterior modifications to be made to the building, however beneficial they may be to current or future tenants. Another drawback of exterior blinds is that they are more difficult to open and close, so are not suitable for frequent use. Some automatic mechanisms are available that adjust the blind according to sunlight intensity and temperature, although these are normally intended for climates hotter than that of the UK.
  • Slatted Blind - If it is not necessary for a blind to be completely out of the way while not in use, slatted blinds are probably the most suitable. These can be wooden or plastic and fitted horizontally or vertically, allowing for increased versatility with regard to visibility. Such blinds provide a security advantage in that it is possible to see out of the property without people being able to see in. They also form a physical barrier against potential intruders.
  • Roman and Austrian Blinds – These are traditionally just used for decoration, as they provide few of the aspects described above. Usually comprising of a thin fabric, they are of little use for blocking out light or heat. Frequent use will leave them very grubby and so they would be more suited for a bathroom window that needs to covered most of the time or as a decorative item on an out of reach window that is rarely used. Modern versions of these blinds are attached using Velcro and can therefore easily be removed, washed or interchanged as desired.

Curtains

  • Fabrics - The fabric type, thickness and weight will depend on the curtain’s primary function. Curtains are clearly the most obvious way to cover a window and insulate a room. A thick and heavy lining is required to keep out light and prevent heat from entering or escaping a room. Shower curtains require a waterproof synthetic finish, and so designs and patterns are limited, but most companies making custom shower curtains are able to provide a vast choice of patterns, over a thousand in some case. The choice of fabric pattern will obviously depend on how the room has been decorated, but as the minimalist trends of the 1990s die out people are opting for increasingly detailed prints and patterns. Some people choose to use a separate set of winter and summer curtains, either by replacing the entire curtain, or just the lining
  • Curtain Rails - The rails themselves can either be hidden from view while the curtains are closed or displayed as part of the room’s décor. This depends on the height at which the curtains are hung and can be varied once the curtains are made up by moving the hooks up and down the lining. Providing the curtain rails are of the appropriate strength they can be chosen to match picture frames or other metallic or wooden parts of furniture. Obviously if the rail is to be hidden, it may be best to go for a subtle style. The rails or runners must be attached to the wall sufficiently to withstand the weight of the curtains and the forces of them being opened and closed.
  • Fastening and opening mechanisms - Tassels, ties and ropes are used to fasten curtains while drawn and hanging and these again should be chosen to match the curtains and the style of the room. These items can also be added for purely decorative reasons. Drawstrings are a useful way of adjusting the curtains, particularly if the curtains are not placed at an accessible part of the room. These range from simple pulley systems which allow the curtains to be moved together with a single cord to motor driven systems which can be controlled by light sensors or remote control, although these are more commonly used with blinds.

Awning

An awning is a extendable piece of fabric or plastic that extends from a building to offer protection from the elements. This can be done to keep a room cool by shading the exterior window, which also protects furnishings from sun bleaching. In areas with unpredictable weather, an awning may be used to cover a patio area from rain or retain energy produce by a patio heater.

Increased awareness of the dangers of skin cancer will hopefully see awnings also being used as protection from the sun and may become an important part of any modern property.

The style of fabric and frame should be chosen to match the exterior of the house. Window frames, guttering and garden features are an easy starting point for deciding on the style for your awning. A good retailer should be happy to visit the property with examples of their work and help you decide on the colours and effects.

The frequency of use, prevailing weather and aspect of the building need to be taken into consideration as these factors will decide the required durability for the fabric and frame. Awnings can project around three to four metres from a wall without needing vertical struts to the floor. Anything wider than five metres will most likely require a secondary support to the wall, a chain or second arm is frequently used for this purpose.

Awnings of this size will be very difficult to manage manually and so employing a motorised system is advisable. Sadly, this will of course massively increase the price of installing and maintaining the awning. These general rules apply to aluminium frames. A more traditional looking wooden frame will be far heavier and unsupported, very limited in size.

If the awning is to be left out for months at a time, this is not a problem, although long periods of exposure will reduce the life of the fabric.

Canopies

Canopies offer much of the same functions as awnings but are permanent installations. They are often used to shelter cars from the elements, being cheaper to build than a garage, and not requiring planning permission. Such structures are usually not very aesthetically pleasing, and probably not a sensible investment if you wish to sell a property.

A brick canopy over the door provides protection while entering and leaving the house and has some insulating properties, although these will not be sufficient in terms of energy saving to counter the cost of the building itself.

What to look for when having blinds or curtains made

When choosing a company to carry out a project for you, the following things should be considered:
  • Length of time the company has been in business - A more established and experienced company will provide a better service and should be able to provide a list of references and/or recommendations. This allows you to have more confidence in the service you are paying for, an important consideration for large and expensive tasks. A written guarantee should always be obtained before parting with any money, this will of course be more reliable with a company that has been trading for some time. Companies that have recently been set up and who cannot provide valid recommendations may have been set up specifically to get rid of excess or second rate stock. This may be an opportunity to get a bargain, but such companies can be impossible to track down if something goes wrong.
  • Size of company - Many people choose household names and brands, which is the power of advertising. By buying from a large company however which advertises heavily, you are paying not only for the service, but also for their promotion. Money spent on glossy brochures must be made up somewhere, often at the expense of the product quality. Very large stores offer little in the way of protection if things go wrong and there are many examples of this in recent history where customers have paid for goods and then lost out. Very large companies may be able to recover from such events, but smaller companies can not risk giving a poor service.
  • Samples - Before making a firm decision on the work you are to have done and which company to entrust it to, ask for samples of what you are getting. There are many quality cheap materials available, although it is hard to be sure what you are paying for unless you have seen it. Avoid companies who do not have a showroom or valid business address.
  • Price and Delivery times – Neither of these factors are reliable indicators of quality, but it is worth considering that people tend to remember quality over price. Despite the current throwaway society where people tend to pay less more often rather than invest in quality, if it is your own home you’re buying for, it is almost certainly worth spending more. A firm date of when the work will be complete should also be a priority. Failure to provide this could indicate that the work is being subcontracted, which naturally puts the price up and lowers the confidence you can have in the work.
  • Special Offers – By purchasing a “two for one” blind or similar product, you are unlikely to be getting anything free. A more likely explanation is that you are buying two low quality items for the inflated price of one good quality item. Many of these offers involve a home visit and some hard selling where more expensive goods are offered and in practice very few people go for the original low price that they originally saw. This is a marketing technique and, although it does not necessarily imply you will get poor craftsmanship, is worth avoiding to ensure you receive a more honest and straight forward service.

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