I suppose you can well believe that this article has taken me months to write, as I have been experimenting as I drafted. Although I have been renting for years and, yes, I do have a fund of experience with blackouts, this year, British Summer Time coincided with moving to another house: new orientation, different window sizes… did that mean yet another round of purchases, to block out the light and make it possible for us (and the children) to sleep?
Of course, it would be wonderful if blackout solutions were well-fitted and remained with the property, rather than having to travel with a tenant, but only one out of my last five rental properties has had blackout curtains in situ. I understand that “simple” (especially unlined) curtains are cheaper, but… well, any sight is a depressing one at 4:30am! Therefore, if you find it difficult to sleep unless it’s dark, you will need to sort your own.
Blackout curtains and blinds work best when exactly fitted to the window, which could be expensive if you keep being moved on (I’ve now been moved on from four rental properties because the landlords wanted to sell, and there are, of course, no penalties for exercising legal notice periods : long-term rental is tricky to guarantee).
So, let’s look at some solutions which can become part of your portable inventory.
Anything can be blackout material, as long as it is either dark in colour or impermeable to light. In my son’s current room, which is north-facing, we use black Ikea fleece blankets, a channel sewn at the top and tension rods pushed through. This is extremely cheap, and cosy in the winter, a very good solution for draughts as well. Moreover, if sunlight hits the black colour on the window side, it is absorbed, and can warm up a room better than the greenhouse effect of a single-glazed window.
This was our blackout solution in all the windows of our last house, which was not very well insulated, but in the summer, the greenhouse effect is not always desirable, so probably the best solution all round (though considerably more expensive) is blackout material.
Blackout material in fact appears white; it is coated cloth, which lets through pretty much no light, only letting in light around the edges of the curtain/blind. It also has thermal properties, trapping heat in a house/flat in winter, and reflecting heat from the outside in the summer.
Yet even blackout material has its disadvantages, apart from expense. If it is pierced, light shows through, so can only be sewn once (not easy if you are changing from house to house, with differently-sized and -shaped windows, and it’s rather expensive – and bulky – to keep a stock of it as you move around). A certain amount of piercing could, however, be covered up with duct tape (incidentally, it’s not a bad idea to use duct tape to hem blackout material, instead of sewing). The thickness of the material is another drawback, as the drape is extremely important; light bleeds around the edges of the material and so a good fit is important… alas for the Renter Nomad!
The best solution I’ve found for using blackout material to best advantage is ready-made lining, which includes the heading tape for the hooks. I have a much-travelled pair of these, but recently saw similar at Dunelm Mill. This sort of lining requires curtain hooks, to attach it to the curtain heading tape of the existing curtain (a bit of a pain if it’s one of those idiotic trendy eyelet curtain tops, but it wouldn’t be too, too bad to sew the top of the blackout lining to the curtain, or if too much light leaks through at the top of the curtain, see my next suggested solution, below). If the liner is too long for the curtain, you can always “hem” with duct tape (be careful to respect the drape, or the curtain will look as though it’s wearing a tulle skirt underneath!). It would be a shame to trim the blackout material, though: you never know when you’re going to need that extra length!
As always, there is the risk you will buy such blackout material/liners and either have nothing to hang them on (e.g. your next property is fitted with Venetian blinds throughout, no curtain rails!) or the windows are a different size and/or shape. Yet it’s handy to have in the inventory: I’ve recently brought a blackout curtain back into use. I originally bought, and used it, when living in a Victorian building, where the windows were long. It had to go into storage for the next, also Victorian, property, where the curtains had been decently blacked out. More recently, in our new area, the houses have wide, short windows. I tried looping a single curtain lengthways over a tension rod in the window, which fitted close to the window and was effective against light, but it kept falling down (I didn’t want to sew or duct-tape it!), so I have hooked it behind the existing curtains. This lets in a bit of light around the edges, but that is because the curtain rail is too far from the window. I also haven’t cropped the curtains to fit, so it looks a mess at the bottom, but I’m not prepared to lose the use of the full length, for the future…
Even shorter-term improvisation
Some baby products might be a solution here, for example the static-cling-fitted Magic Blackout Blind or this or this. OR this. However, those are, again, window size specific, so not very sustainable, so, for real short-term use, either revert to the tension rods or else use a dark-coloured fitted sheet: the elastic at the corners holds she sheet on the curtain rail, and the dark colour dims the daylight out. This is what we do at my mother’s house on visits, so I can recommend it as being very sustainable over years!
All these materials MUST be aired. You do NOT want to cultivate mould in your curtains and blinds.
Materials: pros and cons
Pros: cheap, warm, easily available, blankets and material can be used for other purposes
Cons: dark colour traps heat, so not suitable for summer and/or south-facing use, not totally light-proof, can trap window condensation and grow mould.
Pros: This is the solution preferred by people who don’t move around so much, as it is extremely effective against light and also has thermal properties (against the heat in summer, against losing heat in the winter).
Cons: expensive, lets light through if pierced so cannot be hemmed more than once, except by something like duct tape, must be fitted exactly to the window’s shape or thedrape will make it gape, can trap window condensation and grow mould.
Blackout “paper”/ film
Pros: quick, sizeable to whatever window, applied by static cling, easy to “open” and “close” for light and dark.
Cons: not sustainable for moving between different window sizes, therefore not an economical buy for domestic use.
Fitted sheet (about double-bed size should do it)
Pros: very cheap, quite effective even over thin curtains, easy to put up and take down, not necessary to take one with you (leave a cheapie navy sheet in polycotton at your parents’ or inlaws’ house), can be used over blinds as well as curtains
Cons: not the most beautiful curtain, not 100% effective against light, requires curtain rail or blind fitting outside the window aperture