At Home: Window Coatings: Not seeing is Believing

2014-01-29T09:00:00Z 2014-02-05T19:12:21Z At Home: Window Coatings: Not seeing is BelievingMarni Jameson nwitimes.com
January 29, 2014 9:00 am  • 

It could be the best home improvement you never see. Or not. It’s hard to know.

Window film — a transparent barrier that, its makers say, keeps big bad sunrays from eating up your furniture and driving up your air-conditioning bills — is at its best unseen.

And that’s the problem. How do you know it’s there? Because it’s invisible, I’m tempted to put it in the same category as the Emperor’s New Clothes, or as those who buy and sell galactic stars. I worry that homeowners are buying into some big transparent lie.

It’s like sunscreen for windows, those with more faith tell me. But I want more proof. Plus, I have other concerns about sunscreen for windows:

1. I like natural light in a house. “The space has great light,” realtors will say, pointing out a plus in a home. Why kill it?

2. I like sunshine. I grew up on the West Coast, where, before I knew better, getting a great tan was like a second career. When I did know better, I avoided the sun like a bat and coated on sunscreen. Now I have Vitamin D deficiency, from not enough sun. Someone is wrong.

3. I like conspicuous consumption. I’d rather buy a new area rug or table than some non-obvious, no-fun home improvement, like, say, insulation.

4. I’ve seen bad window jobs. And just like nose jobs, you only notice the bad ones.

As it happens, there is a man whose job is to turn unenlightened cretins like me around on this subject.

Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association, a group of manufacturers, distributors and installers, welcomes my skepticism. “We’re trying to provide accurate information to those who have misinformation that is over 20 years old,” he said.

“I’m your target,” I said, then shot my opening round. “I don’t like how window tinting affects interior color. Why go to all that trouble picking paint to go with your sofa fabric to blend with your carpet, then cast a pall over it all?”

(As Smith answers me, I get an email from his PR person who’s listening in: No one calls it tinting any more days. The preferred term is window film. Oh.)

“No, no, no,” Smith assured. “You can get products today that don’t affect color.”

I’m dubious.

He explains. Years ago, window films used to screen damaging light rays either by adding a dark color to the film, which would absorb the heat and harmful rays, or by adding metal to the film that would reflect them.

“So that’s how you got those dark, shiny buildings that made you certain a drug deal was going on inside,” I said.

“Today’s technology uses absorbing metals and materials that have reflectors we can’t see,” said Smith. “The harmful rays are still absorbed or reflected, but this work is done outside of the visible light spectrum.”

“Ohhhh. So it’s like the National Security Agency.”

“In the past, if a window film stopped 65 percent of the solar energy, it would block 65 percent of the light, too,” said Smith. “Today’s films can stop solar energy and be color neutral.”

“That’s clearly better,” I said, finally coming around.

Here are more points Smith said homeowners should know about getting great protection, even if they never see it:

• Color neutral options. “If you don’t want to change the color of your home’s natural light or see any metallic shine, ask for a color neutral day-lighting film,” said Smith. Your windows will save energy but give up next to nothing in light quality.

• Lower bills. In hot weather, solar-control films can block up to 80 percent of the solar energy coming through windows, which cuts down on air conditioning. “It usually translates into a year-round savings of about 5-to-10 percent of the home’s total energy bill,” said Smith, and much more during hot months.

• Added protection. Visible light lies on the spectrum between ultraviolet, which damages furniture, and infrared, which beams heat. Treated windows will block 99 percent of UVA and UVB rays, thus greatly slowing the deterioration and fading of drapes, carpet and furniture.

• Decorative applications. Today’s window films can also inexpensively make clear glass look etched or frosted for privacy or a decorative effect.

• Not a fix. If your window is in bad shape, leaking or poorly insulated, adding film won’t fix that. Deteriorating windows should be replaced. However, if your windows are in good shape, don’t replace them just for energy efficiency, said Smith. Try film first.

• Warranty on work. And read it before you sign a contract. You should be protected against bad installations. Signs of a bad job include film that peels or lifts at the edges, or little bubbles growing under the film.

• Word of warning. Many window manufacturers will invalidate their warranty if you do anything to their windows, including adding window film. If your windows are still under warranty, find out how adding film will affect that protection. Get it in writing.

• Money back. If you had window film installed in 2012 or 2013, you could get a federal energy tax credit of up to 10 percent of the cost of installation up to $500. Ask your utility company if they offer a credit toward your energy bill if you treat your windows.

• How much? Cost to coat a 5-foot-by-6-foot window can vary from $120 to $270, depending on where you live, said Smith. Shop around. (You can find an installer in your area at iwfa.com.) You’ll find the best deals in winter, which is why we’re talking about this now. As the weather heats up, deep discounts fade.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.

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