Q&A / 

Hanging Window Coverings

DEAR TIM: Window coverings are part of building or remodeling, so I felt you’d know a little bit about them. Is it hard to install blinds and window coverings? What things do you have to think about when you’re working with them? I just saw an ad for solar window coverings that says I’ll save all kinds of money. Is that true? Should I even consider discount window coverings, or will they fall apart? I don’t want to waste money. Krista B., Sammamish, WA

DEAR KRISTA: I know enough about drapes, curtains, valances and window coverings to be highly dangerous. All you have to do is ask my wife. Just this past weekend she walked away from me in complete frustration after I hung a window covering at the wrong height. I made a bonehead mistake that had me using my pry bar to take out the carefully placed brackets so they could be lowered to the correct height.

These simple window coverings were made by my wife in an afternoon. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

These simple window coverings were made by my wife in an afternoon. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Installing window coverings can be somewhat problematic. There are all sorts of things you have to take into consideration when working with the hardware and the surfaces in and around the windows. Years ago, I remember my Dad swearing at the plaster walls as he blasted craters next to the casement windows while trying to install simple rolling blinds. The tiny nails and screws shattered the plaster and didn’t hold well at all.

There are other things that can go wrong, some of which you might not discover until you’ve already spent hundreds or thousands of dollars. For example, you may love a heavy curtain rod that mounts on the wall beyond the outer edges of woodwork trim. Imagine what happens in a bay window situation where the window trim is somewhat close to the intersecting corners of the angled walls? Yes, the curtain rods can interfere with one another.

You may have an installation emergency working with wide windows. The metal rods can easily droop once the window covering fabric is attached. You’ll need to ensure there is a way to support the hardware so the coverings are straight and not sagging. Not only will you need a small hook, bracket or other piece of hardware, but you’ll also need a place to insert it that won’t interfere with the operation of the window. As you can see, there’s lots to think about.

I had to deal with this sagging issue recently. It can really be an issue with windows that are found in thicker exterior walls like mine. My one home has walls framed with 2x6s instead of the more common 2x4s. This means the windows are two inches farther away from the inside surface of the wall.

In my case, the window coverings and valances were hung in the same plane as the interior wall. These were suspended by a thin round tube that could only span 26 inches without drooping. My window was nearly 5-feet wide so I had to install a vertical wood trim piece that projected from the center of the two windows back towards the room about one and one-half inches. This piece of wood was the perfect solution allowing me to screw in a simple L-hook that held up the small round drape rod.

We may have seen the same marketing push for the solar window coverings. These products are very intriguing, as I like everything solar. The ones I saw contain a fluid that heats up and stores this heat only to release it later after the sun goes down. You only install these coverings on south-facing windows.

My mantra with products like this always focuses on the real payback savings. Remember, you never ever save money on any home-improvement energy-related purchase until such time as you get back the money you spent, plus interest, in fuel savings. Simply put, if you spend $1,000 on these window shades, you don’t save a penny until you actually experience fuel savings in excess of $1,000. Then, after that time, you do start to save. Be aware that some payback periods can easily exceed ten or more years. These payback periods can be reduced by rebates, tax credits and other incentives.

Be very careful with discount products. They may be made with inferior materials that quickly degrade once exposed to harsh ultraviolet light from the sun. Any hardware that comes with these products may also be of marginal quality.

Measuring for window coverings can also be a challenge. Mistakes can be expensive, especially for window treatments that fit within an opening. Window coverings that extend sideways and below a window can be much more forgiving.

If you’re building a new home or doing an extensive remodel job, consider installing solid-wood blocking in places where you’ll be installing hardware. This requires the preselection of your window coverings early in the job so that you can tell the carpenters where to place the wood blocks. You’ll never regret installing these simple scraps of lumber.

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