Distinctive window treatments include the many types of blinds and shades. Both practical and aesthetic, blinds and shades differ slightly in terms of design, but they serve the same basic function. Blinds consist of either suspended horizontal or free-hanging vertical slats of various widths. Wood, vinyl, bamboo and composites are the primary materials. Shades typically consist of a solid piece of fabric, vinyl or even paper. Blinds and shades come pre- or custom-made for virtually any size window. A wide assortment of colors, styles, textures, patterns and features are available. Popular brands include Bali, Levoler, Comfortex and Graber. Prices range from under $20 to several hundred or more per blind or shade depending on the type, material, size and features.
Blinds and shades are useful for a number of reasons. They provide privacy when closed, keeping an indoor or outdoor space concealed from outside view. They help to increase energy efficiency in a home by reducing heat gain from blazing sunlight. Blinds and shades may also block up to 90 percent of harmful UV light. Select types block light entirely, which is great for nurseries, bedrooms and home theaters. Window treatments also add to the decorative aspect of a room, coordinating with furniture, color scheme and other aesthetic features either indoors or out.
There are many types of blinds and shades. All provide the same basic benefits listed above, while select types excel at one particular aspect. Blind types include venetian, wood, faux wood, mini, vertical and panel-track. Shades include cellular or honeycomb, woven wood, roman, roller, sheer, solar, pleated and exterior.
Horizontal vs. Vertical Blinds
Most blinds are horizontally oriented with slats positioned one above the other. They are suspended by cords or strips of cloth. A twist rod, pull cord or loop cord is used to rotate the slats in unison up to 180 degrees, opening and closing them. A second cord is used to pull up the blinds to expose the whole window. Vertical blinds are mounted to a track placed above a door or window. They hang freely at the bottom and usually feature wider slats. A cord is typically used to open and close the slats, while a rod is in place to manually push the blinds together to one side or the other.
Several extra features may be available depending on the blind or shade type:
- Blackout/room-darkening-provides full opacity or light-blocking capability, sometimes with the aid of a liner. Blinds or shades of this type are great for media rooms and nurseries.
- Child safety-features a cordless or motorized design, so there are no dangling cords to potentially harm a child.
- Cordless-used both for child safety and to provide a cleaner, neater look.
- Eco-friendly-made from green or environmentally sustainable materials.
- Energy efficient-helps reduce heat gain and in some cases heat loss.
- Privacy-highly opaque, even when backlit. This type of blind or shade is ideal for bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Remote controlled/motorized-very convenient and relatively sophisticated technologically.
- Panel-track-runs along a top-mounted track and is vertically oriented.
- Top-down/bottom-up-features a versatile design that can be opened from either the top or bottom.
A venetian blind is perhaps the most common type of blind. This kind of blind used to be made from wood but now is primarily made from vinyl. Venetian blinds are horizontally oriented and can rotate outwardly or inwardly to let in more or less light. Venetian mini blinds are nearly identical, just with smaller slats. Venetian blinds typically feature a twist rod to control the slats, a pull cord to raise and lower the slats, and a top-mounted valence to conceal the hardware.
Wood, Woven Wood and Faux Wood Blinds
Wood and faux wood blinds are usually made in the venetian style with slats up to 2 inches wide. Wood blinds may be painted or naturally finished but are at a disadvantage in terms of moisture and/or UV damage. Faux wood blinds are made from a composite of wood particles and man-made materials, are better able to withstand moisture and often feature a high UV rating. Woven wood blinds are usually made from a combination of bamboo, grass and reed fibers. Woven wood blinds may be shutter or venetian types or roman or roller shades.
Cellular or honeycomb shades are named for their unique design. From the front, they look like pleated shades. From the side, they consist of a single or double row of 6-sided cells. Cellular shades make excellent blackout or room-darkening shades and even insulate windows against heat loss.
Roman shades feature a unique design. When raised, the shade folds into itself in pleats. The flat-fold variety, as its name suggests, layers flatly over itself in sections. By contrast, with hobbled or teardrop roman shades, each pleat is rounded at the bottom, resembling a teardrop. Roman shades come in inside- and outside-frame, cordless, side-tracking and top-down/bottom-up varieties.
An affordable alternative to other types of shades, roller shades may be bamboo/woven wood or vinyl. When raised, they wind around a horizontally mounted bar. Inexpensive vinyl roller shades feature an easy-to-use spring-loaded mechanism and lock into place when lowered. A light tug from the bottom releases them, and they quickly wind back up. Bamboo roller shades are raised and lowered with a pull cord.
This type of shade is expressly designed to block harmful UV light and reduce heat gain from the hot sun. In this way, they improve the energy efficiency of a home during the summer months. Solar shades or screens have an openness factor of 3 to 14 percent. The higher the number, the more see-through the shade. Smaller numbers provide greater privacy. Custom-made solar screens are an attractive feature in an energy-conscious household.
Stylish and neat, pleated shades are available in many colors, textures, patterns and sizes and may be operated by a pull cord, continuous loop, spring-loaded rail, electric motor or top-down/bottom-up mechanism. The shades are usually semi sheer by design but may be combined with an opaque liner for reduced light entry. Pleated shades are commonly custom fit.
Whether outside of a door or window or adorning a patio, exterior shades offer privacy, light reduction and an attractive design. Made from all-weather materials and adjustable in the same way as indoor shades, exterior shades add a pleasant touch to a home or business. An integrated solar screen blocks UV rays and cuts down on heat transfer, saving on energy bills. From behind, views are not impaired, as one can see out without suffering from the harsh glare or harmful radiation of the sun.