Cellular, roller and Roman shades can take the place of draperies

Cellular, roller and Roman shadesToday’s modern window coverings include shades and blinds, which are often referred to as “hard treatments.”

Consumers value these window coverings for their privacy and energy efficiency. Further, some hard treatments are less expensive than drapes and some are more stylish.

* Cellular shades, with their pleated or honeycomb construction, are durable, provide sound absorption and help insulate a window against the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Further, their cost can be a tax deduction for energy-savings under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Cellulars can be raised from the top or the bottom in order to give more privacy and a different view of the outdoors. Some styles are cordless and are operated by moving the top or bottom rail handles up or down.

* New roller shades include solar, nylon and blackout shades, which can be custom-made to suit light control and privacy needs.

Solar shades allow the homeowner to see outside but prevent sunlight from entering the room. Blackout shades are ideal for the bedrooms of those who sleep during the day and for home theater rooms.

* Roman shades offer a softer touch. They rise into neat folds at the top and can be made of fabrics, woven woods or grasses, such as rattan and bamboo. They are available with a continuous loop-cord pulley system.

* Blinds, vertical or horizontal, can be adjusted to allow more or less light into a room and provide privacy. The slats are made of materials including wood, aluminum or vinyl.

Solar powered radios, lights

Solar products don’t require electricity or batteries, and their quality is improving each year. The Energy Federation recommends:

Walkway lights. Intermatic’s Malibu solar lanterns glow for eight hours after five hours of sunshine. One costs $27.95.

AM/FM/ radio. The Coleman Freeplay’s reception is very good. If the sun doesn’t shine, hand crank it for 30 seconds for 30 minutes of play. Can be ordered for $40 at coleman.com.

Decorating the backyard with a solar power

In the past, homeowners who wanted no-wire electricity in their yards had few options beyond solar-powered walkway lights.

Improved technology is now making everything available from a lighted patio umbrella ($190 from hammacher.com) to water fountains to stepping stones to light the way across the yard ($100 for three from jacksonandperkins.com).

At Target stores, you could get a $130 outdoor shower with solar-powered hot water. At Gaiam Real Goods, Broomfield, Colo., they stock 15 solar products including a copper patio fountain, mulching mowers, and birdbaths with burbling fountains.

The demand for solar power, especially among nations without large oil reserves, has increased more than 20 percent annually over the past two decades. Japan makes more than 45 percent of the world’s solar “cells,” They are efficient and cheap to operate.

Going solar is still only practical for things that don’t take much power, like the small panels embedded in solar stepping stones. Gadgets requiring more power use a solar panel that is about a foot square and requires five hours of daylight a day to operate correctly. They work if the sky is overcast, but not if there is no sunshine at all. Many have battery backups.

‘Zero energy’ homes

The Department of Energy reports that more families are showing an interest in zero-energy homes, a design meant to produce as much electricity as it uses.

The Energy Policy Act provides a tax credit of up to 30 percent of the system’s cost up to a maximum of $2000 when purchasing a new home with solar equipment. It’s part of a nationwide effort to reduce home energy consumption.

For more information about the tax credits, visit www.energystar.gov.

What’s your solar potential?

Thinking of installing some sort of solar power for your home? Wondering whether a home you might buy would accommodate solar?

One Web site can help you evaluate whether solar is feasible for your roof and help you compare costs.

Roofray.com cleverly uses satellite images to help users see for themselves how useful solar arrays might be. The easy solar modeling service even lets you compare utility costs over time.

Users simply type in their street address and nearly instantly a rooftop picture of their home appears. Then a few point-and-clicks later you quickly get an estimated percentage of potential for solar, power per square foot, the area of the solar arrays you drew and a total peak power estimate.

Have your utility bills for the year in hand and you can get an estimate of current costs versus solar costs.

Launched in August 2008, the Web site is up and running but some aspects are still being upgraded or even under construction. At this writing there is no useful help section, but check the blog link for updates on what features will be added.