Innovative Energy Saving

Only very rarely do I pass along a guest post, but a reader sent me such a spectacular energy saving do-it-yourself idea (and wonderful writeup about it) that I just had to pass it along. The only change I’ve made to this article is highlighting a few key pieces. This article comes from Allie, a long time reader of The Simple Dollar who likes frugal hacks at least as much as I do.

I don’t post much but I really wanted to share this energy hack with you. I think it would be a help to many readers.

I live in Central Florida. Our very old farmhouse faces west, and there’s no longer any trees to shade it. So on any given day from March to September, during the afternoon, the west side of the house (where the ancient windows are) is HOT. Hot as in you can barely touch the glass. I don’t want to use the “fry an egg” cliche but my mom thaws food on the windowsill in record time. A credit card placed there will be floppy in a couple of hours.

The a/c (necessary for me, an asthmatic, and my elderly mom, to breath in wet-wool-blanket heat) pounds away, sucking money out of my pockets to where I can almost see it flying.

I investigated solar curtains, solar shades, and they all were priced out of my reach. However, after studying them for a while, I came up with this hack:

For every window, buy an emergency solar blanket, sold at Walmart and other stores for about $1.99. They come in a box the size of a deck of cards in the camping section. Buy a couple extra for emergencies: they make a great emergency poncho, tent or clean place to lay an injured person. They vary in size, but are about the size of a twin sheet. They are thin and tough, like tissue foil. Gather up some tension curtain rods (I got mine at yard sales but the Dollar Stores carry them and you can buy the small diameter, the foil material weighs nothing) to fit your windows, and some of those inexpensive jaw clips women wear in their hair. Any family with females will have an abundance of these.

Fit the tension rod inside the window.

Lay the blanket, which comes compactly folded, over the rod, and unfold until it is the right width to completely cover the glass. I even up the front and back ends for double insulation

Secure with the clips over the rod – two does it for a 36 inch window. Tweak it until it covers all the glass – I use a bit of tape or small thumbtacks to anchor it.

Re-arrange your normal window covering over it. You’re done.

The house will be somewhat darker (although if you use just one layer, it is like window tinting and does let some light through) and the temperature will drop. In my case, I was able to raise the a/c to 76 and maintain an ambient temperature of 73 in the house, which is poorly insulated due to its age, during 90 degree days at 1700-1800 hours, the time when the sun is fiercest. The west side of the house was maybe 75 in front of the large windows and with numerous ceiling and floor fans, quiet pleasant. If you put your hand between the foil and the window, you can feel the intense heat that’s being blocked. The foil remains fairly cool.

Trent, I did 6 36-in square windows for less than $20.00 total. It might have been a little more if I had had to buy the rods new. Time – less than an hour. But that’s still a bargain. I also stapled neatly cut sheets over our glass window insets… anywhere that afternoon sun blazed in.

Our bill (scandalously high) showed a $75 reduction during this record heat and best, you no longer feel that you are walking by the Gates of Mordor when you pass a west-facing window.

In the winter, they are quickly removed and put away – I’ve folded them and used them over and over. I’m not going to say they add a lot of curb appeal, but function bests form here. People in well-insulated houses may be able to get away with a single panel, thus saving more money on the purchase of the blankets.

I have plans to insulate, of course, replace awnings, plant trees, but survival is taking priority. I will say that we do utilize this intense heat in green ways: the Magic Windowsill Thawer, the world’s fastest and best sun tea, clothes that dry almost instantly on the line, and even with conventional plumbing I can take a warm shower using the cold water tap if I’m fast. The resources are all around us, we just need the tools and thoughts to use them. I look forward to the day when my heat pump and solar panels are installed and the power barons buy energy back from me – that’s my goal.

Anyway, Trent, if you can present this idea – I didn’t intend an article, I just wanted to pass the idea on – I truly think it would benefit our frugal friends. Sometimes when something works, you just want to share it. Feel free to use this idea as you like. My small gift to you after so many large gifts given to me here at The Simple Dollar.

A final note: What’s happening here is that the blankets essentially reflect the light that comes into your home. This will work spectacularly well for unused rooms. The best part is that it’s incredibly easy to put up and take down as you wish (even if you just want to use it during some summer daytime hours, for example).

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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