ALL THINGS look queer in foreign places. No less in Switzerland, though the people there are quite sane.
One of the strange things you notice in Switzerland, and in Germany for that matter, is the abundance of window shutters. They actually work. Equally startling is finding them occasionally closed, which is a sign they not only work but sometimes even serve a function.
Workable exterior shutters, if you haven time lately to look closely, have become one of America's rarest beasts. Sure, you will see windows with shutters in suburbia and sometimes downtown. But if you examine them carefully, you will find most are not hinged. They are bolted solidly to the wall.
Some are shutters only on one side. The other side, the side you do not see, is hollow. It has taken a good deal of Yankee know-how to replace the functional shutter with a decorative scam.
Yet shutters are not the strangest thing you will find on the windows of Switzerland. Stranger yet are the exterior blinds, a device as common there as ski wax.
The Pease Company in New Castle, Ind., makes them out of vinyl, Soleil, in Coral Gables, Fla., out of wood. By pulling a strap inside the house you roll them out of sight into a casement above the window.
When lowered, the blinds can assume two different positions.In one position they are not completely relaxed and leave a space between each slat. This allows full shade in hot summer without cutting off circulation.
In other position the blinds are released so the slats fit snugly each on top the other, forming a solid barrier.
The Pease Company's exterior rolling blinds are made according to a German patent and sell for around $100 for an average three-by-six-foot window. The local distributor in Alexanria, Va., however, says they don't even bother to keep them in stock. The've had only one order for them in the last 18 months. (You should still be able to order them through your local lumber yard.)
Yet the National Bureau of Standards reports they are one of the most effective methods of protecting windows from heat and energy loss during the winter.
But let's leave the Swiss to their rolling blinds and move right on to other things Americans can do to improve their windows.
Aside from poorly insulated roofs, windows are probably the biggest source of wasted heat. Look around your house and you will likely find the builder has placed your windows without bothering much to think about this.
In northern latitudes, large windows on the north, east and west sides of the house are almost a total waste. Especially on the north side they exposed to harsh winds in the winter and full sunlight in the summer. One study conducted in Boston found that merely moving 80 square feet of windows from the north side to the south side of a conventional house cut heating requirements by nearly 10 percent.
Cold winds that circulate air around the window actually suck warmth out of the house. A slatted fence constructed against the wind will help prevent this by creating a quiet air space around the windows. A windbreak of evergreens, best placed upwind a distance equal to about two times the height of the house, will force winds up and over the roof.
Different studies in Nebraska and South Dakota have recorded energy saings of 23 to 34 percent in houses provided with windbreaks.
Trees can help prevent windows from radiating enormous amounts of warmth to the outside. In the winter at night, windows act like giant radiators, beaming heat out into the cold night sky. Evergreens placed close to north-facing windows will block some of that radiation.
Keep in mind that glass is a very good conductor of heat. The function of such devices as shutters and rolling blinds is to seal the windows and create a cushioning air pocket. The air, as long as it remains more or less static acts much like insulation.
Some work has been done in the past few years showing that you can get a similar insulating effect with common curtains and window shades. Studies sponsored by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air conditioning Engineers (ASHREA) at Cornell University, for instance, found that vinyl-coated cotton shades reduced heat loss through windows by more than 30 percent.
Achieving that figure required placing the shade one inch from the window and fitting it as snugly as possible against the sides of the window frame. Tests also used moulding around the sides as a track to help seal the fit.
Properly fitted curtains can also create an air cushion around windows, but they must fit as tightly as possible against the window area. Heat registers under windows should be rigged with deflectors to direct heat away from the window. The curtains otherwise become a cooling machine, drawing warmed air against the window and sending cool air into the room. Curtains should be hung so they can be drawn completely away from the window on both sides, especially on south-facing windows, to allow as much sunlight as possible to enter during the daytime.
You can also improve curtains by sewing polyester fill between the linings. Or you can buy window quilts, essentially padded shades that run on a track.
As well as insulating against heat loss, window coverings make rooms more comfortable. Warm bodies standing near uncovered windows naturally radiate heat toward them, giving people what is commonly known as the Chillis. r
Most of these studies have been conducted with single-glaze windows, which brings us naturally to double-and triple-glaze windows and storm windows. All serve the same function: creating a pocket of insulating air. And the more glazing the better against cold weather. A study conducted by the Edison Electric Institute found that replacing single-glaze windows with insulating ones in a ranch house can save more than 3,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.
Several companies have come out with do-it-yourself storm window kits consisting of plastic sheeting and joining frames. The plastic is made to be cut with a utility knife to fit odd sizes.
Kits are available in many hardware stores for $12-$15 for the average size window.
Perhaps the greatest menace to windows is air that leaks through around the edges. It's estimated that every three feet of window sash can lose as much energy as one square foot of glass. ASHREA has reported that weatherstripping can reduce energy waste by as much as 38 percent in a house with wooden double-hung windows, and by 60 percent where the windows are metal double-hung.
Many houseware stores such as Hechinger's now carry a vast array of weatherstripping materials. These should be applied around window edges as well as in the pile groove of double-hung windows.
And if you do have south-facing windows, put dark objects such as slate floors near them. They will act as a heat sink, storing radiant energy during the day and releasing it again at night. Plan the day's activities around the path of the sun using different rooms when the sun is shining on them.