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Blackout curtains, blinds and shades. A buyer’s guide.

Aug 1, 2017 By Jeanne
blackout curtains

Summertime brings longer days and more sun. Light pours in the windows, and that feels good to nearly all of us. Until we’re trying to get a full eight hours of sleep and the light wakes us up at 5:30 am. Light is a well-known enemy of sleep. Thankfully, we’re not entirely at the mercy of the sun (or headlights or neon signs). There’s a wide array of light-filtering, room-darkening and blackout window treatments currently out there to help. Here are the major options, along with what to think about when choosing.

Blackout liners

Some companies make filtering liners that can be attached to the curtains you already have and love. Perfect and easy; right? Well, not so fast. You need to find a size that’s the same length and width as your curtains. Easier said than done. If the liners aren’t wide enough, you’re still letting light in, and they look funky during the day. If they’re too wide, there’s more aesthetic weirdness to deal with, with white liners hanging out from behind your curtains. If the liner isn’t the same length, you’ll also see it prominently silhouetted every time you walk by, like a black slip under a white skirt. Even if you own a sewing machine, you likely have better plans for your weekend than spending a couple hours measuring, hemming and attaching curtain liners.

We also found the “convenient” attachment devices on these blackout curtain liners aren’t all that convenient.  Some are too bulky or difficult to attach, or don’t stay put. Some have sharp metal hooks that could ruin drapes made from delicate fabrics. Others don’t work well with the spacing of big grommets. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and not to have to deal with any of the above issues. But chances are … you won’t.

Roller shades

blackout curtainsAn economical choice, and they don’t need to match the width of your curtains. They come in both light filtering and room darkening. Hanging them is simple, but the process of having them cut to size can be painful, especially if you don’t have an old shade to take to the store for matching the length. A recent roller purchase took us four trips to the hardware store for trimming. Measurements need to be spot on, because it’s a custom (i.e., nonreturnable) cut. If you go even 1/8” too short, the shade will pop out every time you pull it, and you’ve wasted your money. However, once you get the perfect size, roller shades do filter light quite nicely and are reasonably cheap.

Minor down side? The shades are about a half inch smaller all the way around the window, so light creeps in around the edges. Roll-up shades also don’t come in sizes for really big windows. Typical length available in-store tops off at about 72”. Btw, vinyl roller shades are best pulled up when not in use, because they’re unattractive. And why darken the room if you’re not sleeping?

room-darkening curtains and blinds

Ready-made blackout curtains

These are another economical choice, and also easy. Pros?  Blackout curtains are widely available and do a pretty good job of filtering light. Most home stores carry at least some light-filtering curtains. When choosing, be aware that the amount of light filtered can vary widely depending on the product. Try holding the curtains up to the light in the store to see whether they filter light or block it. The more light they block, the better for sleeping. Besides, you never know when you’ll be tempted to take an afternoon nap. Blackout curtains also are thicker than other curtains, meaning they can be more energy efficient and also help to block outside noise.

Cons? The heavier material can necessitate sturdier (i.e., more expensive) curtain rods. But the biggest drawback about blackout curtains is a blatant case of the uglies. They either don’t drape very well or tend to look cheap and synthetic. The only ones that didn’t offend our inner interior designer were ones that had light blocking linings. Choices of these are limited at affordable price points, especially if you want colors beyond beige or prefer patterns. You can try making lined panels yourself (time-consuming but easy if you do clip-on curtain rings!). This option can still wind up being pricey, though. Cheapest blackout lining we saw was $6/yard, and that’s before you pop for the outer curtain fabric. Home décor fabric is typically wider and stronger than apparel fabric. Which means it costs more.

Made-to-order curtains and blinds

blackout blindsThese work well, look great, and there are lots of options. Roman blackout shades, roll-up bamboo shades with blackout liners, gorgeous fabrics in rich and soul-satisfying colors. Internet and local stores that make them aren’t hard to find. But be prepared to part with a major chunk of change, even if your windows are small. Prices start around $200 per panel and go up (and up!) from there. If you opt for blinds or shades, consider the new ones with cordless mechanisms that prevent kids and pets from getting tangled and possibly choking.

Motorized window treatments

These are among the newest “smart” home items, They have all the pros of the more traditional blackout items we covered above, with one huge additional benefit – they allow you to wake to glorious natural light in the morning without leaving your bed. You can program the shades to automatically rise in the morning and lower at bedtime, and you can also operate them manually from your smartphone anytime. As you might expect, these come with an equally huge con:  a 36” window starts around $300. Ouch. Other down sides? They’re either battery operated or have a power cord. So you’re either dealing with a lot of batteries to replace or extension cords, unless you’re lucky enough to have outlets right under all your windows. These are also more functionally complex than a curtain rod and therefore more likely to malfunction.

Blackout curtain rods

blackout curtain rod

Room darkening rod from CrateandBarrel.com.

Even with blackout curtains, light can peek out from the area between the curtain and your wall. Some manufacturers have recently come up with a new room-darkening curtain rod style that wraps around at the corners, blocking even more light. Prices are in line with other typical rods on the market, and they’re not hard to install. If you’re really sensitive to light, these are a good addition to your room-darkening arsenal.

Conclusions

It all depends on your budget and your taste. After looking at all the options, we decided to make our own lined blackout curtains at some future date. Too cheap to spend the money on custom treatments, and too picky to settle for beige or ugly. We installed end-wrap curtain rods in anticipation and room darkening roller shades to tide us over. They’ve definitely helped with sleeping longer in the morning, though we do miss waking up to natural light. Good luck in making your own decision, but don’t procrastinate. Every moment of sleep is precious, and this is one way to make a big difference in your sleep hygiene immediately. Sleep well!