Out the window

Apparently, a typical house loses 10% of its heat through the windows… a figure that I’m assuming applies to houses in the UK. And, whilst few of us are likely to be taken with the idea of not having windows, it does give us something to think about.

Windows certainly save us money on lighting and are valuable for ventilation, but they are also a drain on our energy consumption during cold weather. Perhaps the easiest answer, however unfashionable, is curtains. You could have energy-saving windows fitted, with special glass, but the cost is probably prohibitive unless you need your windows replacing anyway. And curtains are readily available, easily fitted and within the budget of many people. You don’t need to be able to make them yourself and, as long as there is already a curtain rail, hanging them is quite straightforward.

Curtains on a track or rail

On the subject of what to hang them from, you have a choice – a rail (track) or a pole. I prefer the former, as they usually fit more snugly to the wall and thus avoid draughts. However, I do have a curtain pole in my office because this allows space for the blind, which is a useful addition – allowing some light in but preventing glare from the sun in the summer when I’m working at my computer. Talking of which – curtains can be useful for keeping the sun out on hot summer days when you want to keep cool… better than opening a window, which just lets the heat in.

And curtains are not just good for windows. In my last post talked about repairing the curtain that we have over our front door. We live in a house with double glazing and well-fitted windows and doors, but even so there is considerable heat loss through them. The front door curtain is, therefore, a really valuable addition to our energy-saving measures. The prevailing wind where we live is from the west and that is, of course, the direction that our front door faces. With a glass panel beside it and a key hole and letter slot in it, routes for heat loss are clear. In addition, it has a metal handle, which must conduct plenty of heat. The curtain over it is very heavy and has a thermal lining and since we put it up about two years ago there has been a noticeable increase in heat in the hallway over the winter, particularly on windy days.

Curtains will probably be a more stylish option for insulation this winter!

We have curtains at all our windows, except the one over the sink in the kitchen, but they are of varying weights. The best ones for heat insulation have thermal linings, which also protect the curtain fabric from being damaged by UV light. Our French Windows in the kitchen currently only have very light gauzy curtains and the heat loss through the metal handles was so noticeable during the coldest of the winter last year, that they ended up insulated with a pair of oven mitts!  This year will be different – before it gets too much colder, I will be buying some curtains to replace the yellow summer gauze.

So, when you are thinking about saving energy and money, consider investing in some curtains before you spend thousands on building work.

… and sewing too…

Although sowing (actual and metaphorical) is an important part of being sustainable, I think that sewing is too…

I was mulling this over yesterday as I repaired the curtain (drape for my US friends) that covers our front door. I say ‘repaired’ but perhaps ‘reassembled’ might be more accurate

If only this was all she did with the mail!

If you don’t have terriers, you may not be aware of their propensity to eat the mail as if comes through the front door (yes, we have letter slots in our doors here in the UK, not those box things on posts that seem to be the norm in the US). Maxwell does not participate in this activity, but Samantha makes up for his lack by being particularly exuberant. This means that if the curtain is open, the mail is grabbed and shredded if no one is around, or simply grabbed if someone it there to yell at her. If, however, the curtain is closed, she grabs the mail through the fabric. This means that the weight of a fairly hefty terrier is taken by the curtain on a regular basis. The result being that the curtain fabric had become progressively detached from the rufflette tape (that’s the stuff that you draw up to make gathers at the top of a curtain).

The curtain is made from a very heavy fabric, selected for its insulating properties and its ability to take the weight of a dog. The thread used to stitch the components together, however, turned out to be less robust. I bought the curtain from a company who sell fabric made only from natural fibres, so it was a surprise to discover that it had been stitched together using nylon thread. The problem with nylon is that it’s slippy, so once it starts to come apart it tends not to stop. But, with my trusty sewing machine (a 16th birthday present, so it’s lasted well) I was able to reattach the tape and lining to the curtain. Each seam now has three rows of stitches, so I think that it should stay in one piece for some time.

A skill like sewing is, in my opinion, greatly undervalued. Too often these days sewing seems to be considered either too old-fashioned to bother with or to be a frivolous hobby… fit only for creating fancy items. I was taught to sew by my mother, my grandmother and an old family friend, but we also had classes at school. These days, media studies and computing seem to be deemed more useful… shame. Wouldn’t it be great if all our kids grew up learning how to create and mend real, not just virtual, things? I learnt to make clothes as well as to do embroidery, needlepoint, darning… you name it.

The ability to repair an item like a curtain provides a way to save money, but is also a valuable addition to our sustainability toolbox… in the same way that Mr Snail-of-happiness can repair electrical items such as my radio. You will often hear exponents of things green talk about the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle, but I think that we should add a fourth: repair. And, in our house at least, this is what we are trying to do… sewing the seams of sustainability, perhaps!

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