Think of window treatments as the little black dress of your home. On one hand, Roman shades, silk curtains or plain old blinds are practical must-haves. They block streetlight glares and morning rays, help insulate against heat and cold, and even shield you from the eyes of prying neighbors. But with the right flourishes, they also serve as decorations, elevating your home from just-out-of-college bare to magazine beautiful.
There are many choices — and price ranges — when it comes to window treatments. Here’s advice to help you get good products and good deals.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. Consider what you need from your window treatments. Do you want to block out sunlight in a nursery, or do you need insulation for a cold den?
In addition to traditional wood or cellular blinds, most window-covering stores also sell plantation shutters, curtains, Roman shades (fabric shades that fold neatly when you raise them) and roller shades. The last, often crafted from sleek, natural materials or hip fabrics, have made a comeback recently, thanks to technology improvements and the minimalism trend. Roller shades now come in materials far better looking than the flimsy ones from decades past, and many of them can also block UV rays while still admitting light. Or, thanks to thin-yet-dense construction, they can obscure outside light.
Spend time visiting showrooms or perusing online to determine what you want. Like most types of retailers, online window-dressing companies continue to gain traction. Although most offer tools that let you visualize colors, models and types of coverings on generic windows, you’ll find it easier to evaluate options in a place where you can touch and compare materials and styles. Plus, at the best stores, pros will help you pick what works for your window type.
To help you find a retailer, Washington Post readers get free access until June 25 to nonprofit Washington Consumers’ Checkbook’s unbiased ratings of local window-treatment retailers at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/Window-Treatments.
In addition to specialty shops and big-box stores, some upholsterers and paint centers or design stores offer window-treatment services, usually for curtains or Roman shades. Although this sounds expensive, it is often cheaper than using big-name online outfits, and you have numerous choices of fabrics and colors.
A beginner’s guide to window treatments
Bring home samples (which should be free) of materials you’re considering. You’ll want to see firsthand what complements your furnishings, and it’s better to do this in the place the treatments will go.
You can tell workers or online sellers what your space and windows look like — or show them photographs — and ask for advice. Some stores will also send salespeople to your home to offer advice, show samples and take measurements. There’s usually no charge or obligation to buy, but ask to be sure.
Before deciding, tape samples to the wall near where the treatments will hang and see what they will look like at different times of day. And hold them up in front of the window during the day and night to see how much light filters through.
For most blinds and shades, you’ll have choices regarding how they function. You can order standard cords; continuous-loop cords; top-down, bottom-up treatments; or something cordless, which is ideal for families with pets or young children, for whom traditional hanging cords pose a strangulation risk. These work on a concealed pulley system; you operate them by pulling a bottom bar or a ring on the back. The Consumer Product Safety Commission continues to work with window-treatment manufacturers to eliminate cord strangulation. Check its website, cpsc.gov, and visit the Window Covering Safety Council’s site, windowcoverings.org, for warnings, tips and safety videos.
Motorized shades and blinds have become more widely available in recent years, and some can be connected to timers or controlled via smartphones. Although these models can seem cool and are useful for otherwise inaccessible windows, the add-ons can be costly; some stores charge $300 to $500 per window for automated systems.
Get product descriptions, measurements and delivery dates in writing, and ask for a written guarantee before paying. Pay with a credit card, so you can dispute charges if the store doesn’t deliver on its promises or refuses to correct problems. And compare warranties and guarantees, both for the blinds and for the installation (if you’re not doing it yourself).
Some stores offer lifetime guarantees, meaning they’ll send someone out to fix a broken blind slat, replace a malfunctioning motor or untangle cords. Although you might save money by buying from a low-cost online store and doing your own installation, this arrangement doesn’t provide the free repairs you’d get from a store that offers a customer-friendly, long-term guarantee.
Many blinds, shades and curtains are custom-made. This used to take as long as a month, but increasingly, some stores can deliver within a few days to a week.
If you’re in a hurry or want to save money, many retailers, such as Pottery Barn, Target, Ikea, Anthropologie and West Elm, as well as home improvement stores offer premade shades, blinds or curtains. With blinds, some stores can cut stock products to fit, and you might be able to shorten slatted ones yourself.
With stock Roman shades, there is wiggle room if they’re too long — but not if they’re too short. Premade curtains can also be shortened via hem tape or sewing, or by taking a trip to the tailor.
When Checkbook’s undercover shoppers sought prices for window treatments for four windows — including cellular shades, blinds and Roman shades — at a sampling of local stores and online outlets, they found a wide range.
For example, for cellular shades, Checkbook’s shoppers specified that they wanted four ⅜-inch single-cell, white, light-filtering cellular shades, 30 inches wide by 68 inches long. For the least-expensive brand available at each local store, not including installation, prices ranged from $437 to $2,010. Among local stores, price winners include the big-box operations (Costco, Home Depot, Lowe’s), plus J.C. Penney.
Be sure to factor in installation costs. At some stores, these are included in the price of the window treatments; at others, they are extra (or substantially extra). Some suppliers don’t offer professional installation. Don’t assume buying online will save you a lot of money. Some online sellers charge low prices, while others charge high. Plus, a few of the pricey Internet retailers were more expensive than local bricks-and-mortar options.
Kevin Brasler is executive editor and Jennifer Barger is a contributing editor at Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access Checkbook’s unbiased ratings of Washington-area window-treatment retailers free until June 25 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/Window-Treatments.