Category Archives: window blanket

The Best Innovations Are Free

Innovation, someone once wrote, is in the eye of the beholder. Oh wait, that was me last week. How innovative!

See what I mean?

Someone else – I’m serious this time – once told me that perspective prejudices perception. In other words, the angle at which we look at something heavily influences the way in which we internalize it. This person was Eliot Coleman, a famous American market gardener and author.

I met Coleman about ten years ago, and found him very much of the eco-thrifty persuasion. We got on famously.

It will come as no surprise that the eco-thrifty perspective on innovation is very different from the infinite-growth-without-consequences perspective. The latter, what Australian author Clive Hamilton calls “Growth Fetish,” appears to be the dominant perspective of Wanganui District Council, made evident by the stacks of cash it throws at chasing this outdated paradigm.

Innovative councils across the country and around the world see beyond a reductionist vision of growth, and have reaped huge rewards. Name any vibrant, dynamic city on the planet with high quality of life for residents and you’ll find innovative planning, programmes, and services provided by local government. Last week I briefly described the Eco Design Advisor service offered by seven councils in New Zealand.

The service helps local residents make their homes warmer, dryer and healthier while saving on their power bills and supporting local businesses and trades persons. It is a win-win-win proposition that is about doing more with less, while simultaneously protecting the community from future price rises in energy and health care.

Doing more with less is a philosophy that we have engaged for the last three and a half years while converting a draughty villa into a cosy, healthy, low-energy home. This process involved lots of innovation…depending on your point of view.

One successful way we do more with less is by using window blankets in our home. These consist of bits of scrap wood and old wool blankets, but can perform as well as double-glazing. I’ve written about window blankets before, and there is a free DIY workshop coming up tomorrow (see side bar). If you plan to attend the workshop, please measure the width of one window in your home (inside the window frame), bring a piece of wood of corresponding length, and a wool blanket or polar fleece fabric. Wood dimensions should be in the range of 12 mm by 70 mm or 45 mm by 45 mm.

Another innovation that has helped us do more with less involves turning an open top curtain rail into a closed top curtain rail. The reason for doing this is that in most cases an open top curtain rail allows warm air to drop behind the curtain and cool off once it finds itself against a cold window. This air cools and sinks, pulling more warm air from the ceiling and the cycle continues all night long.

Put simply, you could have the best, most expensive, custom-made curtains in the world but if they are not installed properly they are not effective at holding in heat. I would estimate that 70% to 80% of all the curtains I see in NZ homes are not hung to maximize warmth retention. What an unnecessary waste!

The photos I’ve included show the before and after, but the process is quite simple. 1) take down the curtain rail and brackets;

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2) pre-drill holes in the rail and bin the brackets; 3) reuse the screws from the brackets to screw the rail directly to the window frame or wall;

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4) turn the curtain hooks around and re-hang the curtain;

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5) be warmer and enjoy lower power bills; 6) praise eco-thrifty design thinking.

If you have questions, come along to one of the events listed in the sidebar.

Peace, Estwing


Project HEAT (Home Energy Awareness Training)

Free Events

13th – Window Blanket DIY Workshop. 2:00 – 4:00, Duncan Pavilion. For materials info, see above.

16th – Drop-In Healthy Advice. 4:30-5:30, Central Library.

Window Blankets: The Ultimate in Eco-Thrifty

Double-glazing is great. Secondary glazing is awesome. Thermal curtains are sweet-as, if they are fitted properly. And pelmets are da bomb!
We have incorporated all of them into a diverse strategy for improving the thermal comfort of our home in Castlecliff while keeping costs low by using eco-design thinking. The eco-design process takes in a multitude of factors and plans for efficiency, effectiveness, and redundancy. When applied to the built environment, good eco-design includes what some call the ‘Green Rule of Energy,’ which goes something like this: Saving energy is cheaper than producing energy.
My New Hampshire (USA) farmhouse inspire me to think about keeping warm on a budget.  
For example, a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) uses just one quarter as much electricity as a standard incandescent light bulb while producing the same amount of light. If a 25-watt CFL were run next to a 100-watt incandescent for 10 hours per day, the difference in running costs for one month would be about $5. The difference in running costs for a year would be – you guessed it – $60.
The dramatic difference shows the power of the Green Rule. Imagine the savings by changing two light bulbs, or five, or every light in your home or business. And, as an added bonus, CFLs last about 10 times longer than incandescents, so there are additional savings from buying one bulb instead of 10 over a period of time.
Another example of the Green Rule of Energy is insulation. Please be aware, however, that insulation comes in colours other than pink! In other words, there may be a specific product we associate with the word ‘insulation’ – batts – but insulation itself is simply trapped air, such as that in between two pieces of glass in double-glazing. The second piece of glass is not the insulator, it is the trapped air in between the two. So, in a sense, insulation is invisible because it is air! Abracadabra!
The original window blanket in my 1782 farmhouse.  
Now that I have blown your mind, I’ll describe what is quite potentially the lowest cost / highest performance way to insulate a villa, bungalo, beach bach, houseboat, or even a sheering shed. This incredible breakthrough in air technology has previously been unknown to New Zealanders because…well, frankly I made it up, and I only arrived a couple of years ago.
Of course, there is another possible explanation for such an extraordinary technological breakthrough being kept secret. And that is, of course, that the greedy New Zealand health care industry wants Kiwis to live in cold, damp homes so it can reap grotesque profits from treating preventable illnesses. Oh, what’s that you say? Nevermind.
I call it a ‘window blanket’, and it is an excellent example of Yankee thrift meets Kiwi ingenuity. When I first started building them a decade ago for my 220 year-old farmhouse in New Hampshire, I used two pieces of wood, a few screws, and a second-hand mattress protector (quilted mattress pad) with the elastic cut off. Now that I build them for our villa in Castlecliff, I use two pieces of wood, a few screws, and a second-hand wool blanket.
The ‘modern’ version of a window blanket in our Castlecliff home.  
Because we have a lot of wood hanging around from our renovation, and there are ample op shops in Whanganui, the average cost per window blanket has been about $7. If properly fitted, they perform as well as double-glazing. This is significant because up to 30% of heat loss from a home is through glass doors and windows – about as much as the heat lost through the ceiling.
This is not to say that you should not invest in double-glazing if you have the means. What it is to say, is that with window blankets everyone has the means to make their homes cosier.
Want to learn more? A DIY workshop on window blankets will be help the 1st of June from 1:30-3:30. Registration essential.

Upcoming Workshops

Two Workshops, One Day. June 1st, 2013
1:30-3:30 pm. Window Blanket DIY Workshop
4:00-5:30 pm. Growing Great Garlic, Plentiful Pumpkins, and Tomatoes Before Christmas

Window Blanket DIY Workshop.
1st June, 2013. 1:30-3:30 pm. Quaker Meeting House. 256 Wicksteed St.
As effective as double-glazing but at a small fraction of the cost, window blankets are one of the best things a householder can do to make their home warmer, dryer and healthier. In this workshop, you will learn how to make your own custom fit window blanket to take home and install. You’ll also gain the knowledge and skills to make more of them at home.
All tools will be supplied. Either bring your own materials or buy them at the workshop for a small fee.
Space is limited.
Registration essential. – 344 5013
Workshop fee: $20 ($15 unwaged)
Materials fee: $8 – $16
Growing Great Garlic, Plentiful Pumpkins, and Tomatoes Before Christmas

This workshop shares  some lesser-known tips and techniques to enhance the growing of common garden vegetables organically. On our small section in Castlecliff, we grow 400 beautiful garlic and over 100 kilograms of pumpkins with very little effort. Last year we had our first ripe tomatoes on 15th December without a glass house.
1st June, 2013. 4:00-5:30 pm. Quaker Meeting House. 256 Wicksteed St.
Space is limited.
Registration essential. – 344 5013
Workshop fee: $15 ($10 unwaged)