Window shades always have had a fine reputation as equipment that keeps people from peering in your windows, but how often do you think of your window shades as energy savers?

A standard window shade can cut down on heat loss through a window by as much as 20 to 25 percent. That's not bad for a device that only costs about $8 to $10.

The most common shades, made of cambric with a thin coating of vinyl, are the most effective. Fancier shades made of porous material do not perform as well. So when it comes to saving energy, in the window shade department, more is less.

A shade performs best when spaced about a half-inch from the window. But most shades are mounted so that they come off the roller well in front of the window. You can reduce that spacing by reversing the shade -- roller and all -- from its mounts -- simple metal brackets nailed or screwed to the window frame. Remove the brackets and put the left one where the right one was, and vice versa. Then turn the shade, end for end, and replace it in the mounts. It will now unroll off its rear surface. The shade will fit closer to the window and reduce the air circulation behind the shade. This will cut down on heat loss by another 5 percent and won't cost you a penny.

The U.S. Energy Department says that three to four times more heat escapes through the glass of a conductor of heat and cold. So remember to pull those shades down on frosty nights. You'll be protecting your privacy and your pocketbook.