Saturday, July 12, 2008

Radiant Barriers and Sun Shades make a HUGE Difference!

It's 100* outside. Nothing new for Texas summers but geeze! Our 2 story faces West, full up West. So when it's 100* outside, that radiating heat coming through the windows is HOT and makes our AC work that much harder. Ugh!

We installed Solar Screens soon as we moved in. 90% shade upstairs and 80% downstairs. It made a difference. But not enough, we need more. I came up with the idea to wrap aluminum foil, shiny side out around cardboard. Then use packing tape on top of that as a sort of laminate. Hubs wasn't sure that would be what we wanted.

It was his idea to use another product to slip between the windows and the Solar Screens. This is the stuff. It comes 4 feet wide, 2 feet wide, 16 inches wide. We bought one of the 4 foot and one of the 2 foot rolls.


We measured inside the window frame, wall to wall. Then subtracted an inch from each side and top and bottom. So, if our window was 4 foot by 4 foot, we used 46 inches by 46 inches as our pattern. There is Reflectix tape to piece together the pieces. And I ran the ribs of this stuff horizontal on the windows that raised up and vertically on the horizontal slide windows. This allows for ease of getting it between the solar screen and the window.

We did this to all the windows upstairs. It really seemed to make a difference but we weren't sure if the boys would feel the difference with their rooms being on the west side. We didn't want to ask, we wanted it to be enough of a difference that it would be obvioius. We installed in May and waited to see if it was noticed by two college guys.

My husband's office area is in the loft by a west facing window that had been protected by the radiant barrier/Reflectix and he thought it was considerably cooler right away. However, the real test would be if the guys said something about it without us asking.

Then last week my younger son told us he thought it was much cooler in his room with the solar shades. Yay!

The draw back to this is inside the house you see the Reflectix very shiny insulation if you open the blinds. My guys could care less, the blinds are always drawn in the summer and they don't care if they can see out or not.

Here is what the Reflectix looks like from the outside of our house.

Late in the afternoon you can see more of a sparkle but certainly not garish like foil. This is the most sparkly I have seen it.

Downstairs, I really NEED to be able to see out and have light so we didn't put them in the downstairs windows. Obviously Low-E windows are the best answer but with two in college, that simply isn't an option. Therefore, the challenge was to have a radiant barrier/Reflextix AND be able to see outside in the mornings and late evenings.

Awnings would be perfect, I thought. I'd line them with Reflectix and make them of PVC, my favorite building material. However, it's already hitting 100*, it will only get hotter for days on end. I wanted something FAST! I could work out a better plan later for next year.

Rather than make an awning which would take more time, painting, more hardware and a trip to Home Depot, I made a Solar Shade out of scrap material from another project. The decorative material won't last past this summer because the sun will bleach it badly but the Reflectix will last a LONG time and can be reused next year for a better, longer lasting solution. It also gave me the opportunity to do a test run and iron out the kinks before using quality fabric that would be an investment.

So, grabbed the remnant fabric, rolled out the sewing machine and started a basic design on paper to guide me.

I cut the fabric 4 inches wider than the window, both top and sides. Made a rod pocket for my (in the garage) skinny PVC pipe to slip through. Laid out an old white sheet and laid on top of it the fabric and cut it to the same size. Stapled every foot around the edges to adhere the white backing to the wrong side of the fabric. Then overlapped and sewed down each side two inches for a finished look; then made a rod pocket at the bottom.

If you are following my directions, you know that I just sewed up my top rod pocket. So I took a seam riper and sliced open one end on the inside of the rod pocket for the PVC pipe to slide into. Now I have about 2 inches overlapping each side of my window.

I cut 2 strips one and 1/2 times the length of my finished fabric and about 4 inches wide. Find the half way point on these strips and place it right side up on the far upper 1/4 inch edge of the rod pocket; about one quarter the length in from each side, I sewed them on with a heavy back and forth zigzag. Half of the strip will fall to the back and half to the front. Make sure the decorative side is facing up when you sew it on.

Once you have finished sewing it up there is an opening remaining under the top rod pocket. It should have a few staples in it, just pop those off and slide in your Reflectix. Mine had two 2 foot wide panels and 1 foot wide panel. I put the larger pieces on the outside first. Staple each panel at the far bottom outer edge to hold it in place. Then put the second large piece and staple it to the outer corner bottom edge. Now you can place the smaller piece in the middle and even it out, then staple it to the edges over lapping the side Reflectix pieces. Just fiddle with it till it lays smooth before you staple. It doesn't need to be perfect.

Remember to run the lines horizontal, NOT Verticle, so the shade will roll up easily. I put the natural bend/curve toward the back of this shade and I roll it up toward the back as you can see in the photos. I hope that made sense.

Grabbed hubby and out we went into the blazing heat and bright light. *geeze*

We slid the PVC into the top where I used the seam ripper on the back side. Once we saw how far in it needed to go, he pulled it out about an inch and sawed it off. Popped that PVC back to hide in the rod pocket.

Repeat for bottom. Ready to hang.

Hubby positioned it on the window, with my expert eye telling him up or down a little till he was about to choke me. Then he tacked through each upper outer corner with a small nail. The material is thick here. Then, that place were the strips of fabric were zigzagged he tacked another nail through the zigzag area. There were four nails in all attaching it to the window.

Like I said, it is very basic and I'll have a year to think up how to make it better. We used a 10 foot piece of PVC and had about a six inch piece left over. All this we had on hand thus NO money out of pocket. My favorite way to do things!

Please feel free to ask a question if the directions aren't quite clear. I have been enjoying a couple Margaritas with the money I saved, LOL, I will happily help clarify anything the Margaritas overshadowed. :)

Update. Wow, this shade made a huge difference this afternoon!! It was amazing! I think if we can get these over the big bay window and the back french doors it will save HUGE as we are in the HIGH AC Use part of the summer.

Oh, and let me share a wonderful site with you! If you are thinking Solar and want some good reading you may enjoy a visit to: I have enjoyed it very much.


  1. Hi Mels!

    I gotta tell you I've been pretty inspired reading through your posts. I told dh we need to grow more veggies (just tomatoes right now) and since we live in the hot central valley I'm thinking it isn't too late to plant some squash and maybe some pole beans. When the weather cools down in the fall I can do some lettuce in some big pots on the patio. I've been growing some herbs too as I love to cook with fresh herbs.

    Did you build the solar oven yourself or order one from somewhere? We are loving our solar unit on our house.


  2. Laurie,

    Thanks for dropping by!

    I think we can both enjoy year around growing. We just planted the squashes on July 4th, and they are coming in strong and gorgeous. I know you guys would do well too.

    Pole beans, I want to grow those!

    I'd like more info on your Solar Unit, that is something we are wanting as soon as possible.

    How are you liking your new Cross-Over? LOVE that color!