Wooden Venetian Blinds in an Open Position
© Savvapanf Photo / Fotolia

The right window treatment not only improves the appearance of your home, but it also makes your home a more comfortable and energy-efficient place to live. Like other window treatments, both blinds and shades have their advantages and disadvantages.

The Difference Between Blinds and Shades

Although the terms blinds and shades are often used interchangeably, the two are distinctly different.

Blinds have slats, also called louvers, which can be turned to change their angle. This lets you control exactly how much light comes in and how much visibility you have. Partly closing the blinds provides you some privacy without totally blocking the light or airflow. As the sun moves throughout the day, you can adjust the louvers to keep the light out of your eyes yet not block it completely.

A shade is a single, continuous sheet of fabric, woven wood or other material that you can raise and lower. Partly lowering the shades blocks light and visibility from the covered part of the window, leaving the part below the shade completely open. Some shades can be opened from the top, bottom or both ends to give you more control over your light and privacy.

Choosing the Right Design for You

Textured White Roller Shades
© amphotolt / Fotolia

When choosing between blinds and shades, there are a number of factors you’ll want to consider.

Light requirements – If you want to give the room a light and airy look, blinds will achieve this more effectively than shades. On the other hand, shades will do a better job of limiting light coming through windows in direct line of the sun. If you need complete darkness during the day, blackout shades are your best option.

Privacy requirements – Both blinds and shades made of thick material offer equal amounts of privacy when fully closed. Shades made of sheer material obscure the view, but still allow silhouettes and movement to be clearly seen through them.

Energy efficiency – Because blinds let you reduce the light without blocking airflow, they’re perfect if you like to leave your windows open to keep your rooms ventilated. Shades, on the other hand, provide better insulation than blinds precisely because they don’t have slats that let air flow through them.

Price – There are blinds and shades to suit every budget. The price differences are due largely to the materials used as well as the design. Natural materials such as wood and linen tend to carry a higher price than plastic and polyester.

That said, aluminum blinds and bamboo shades are possible budget-friendly alternatives using natural materials. To keep costs down, consider investing in more deluxe window treatments for your main rooms, but sticking with lower-cost options for rooms that are used less often.

Design – Consider how well the window treatment will fit with the decor in the rest of the room. Woven wood or bamboo shades add texture to a room, but will look out of place in a modern or industrial decor scheme. Similarly, aluminum won’t be a good fit for a traditional decor scheme that’s rich in wood. If you already have or plan to add curtains or drapes, keep their design in mind when you look for additional window treatments.

Maintenance – While most blinds don’t require professional cleaning, they’re magnets for dust and the individual slats need frequent dusting. Textured shades hide dust better and can be cleaned by vacuuming or with professional cleaning.

Safety – Cords pose a danger to young children and pets. If you have either, cordless designs or those with short cords are the safest options.

Finding the Right Type of Blinds or Shades

Typical Venetian Blinds Blocking Light From Entering
© sv_production / Fotolia

Once you’ve decided whether blinds or shades are a better choice for your windows, you’ll need to choose from among the various types of blinds and shades available.

Venetian blinds – Also called Persian or slat blinds, these consist of horizontal slats made of metal, vinyl, wood or another stiff material. The slats are connected by a string or strip of cloth tape that, when pulled, rotates all the slats simultaneously. This lets you make minor adjustments to the angle of the slats depending on how much light and visibility you want. The blinds can also be drawn up or down. Venetians are the most common type of blinds.

Mini blinds – These blinds are designed the same way as Venetian blinds, but have slats less than half the width of those found in standard Venetian blinds.

Vertical blinds – As the name implies, vertical blinds consist of a slats hung vertically from a track that attaches to the ceiling near the top of the window. The slats are typically made of stiff fabric, plastic or, less commonly, metal. Like the slats in Venetian blinds, these slats can be turned to control light and visibility. They can also be drawn aside. Vertical blinds block light more effectively when closed and collect less dust than Venetian or mini blinds.

Roller shades – The standard shade design is a single sheet of material, such as fabric, woven bamboo or woven wood that runs the entire width of the window. The shade can be raised or lowered using a pull cord. When raised, it rolls up into a compact tube shape at the top of the window. Although not technically blinds, these are often referred to as roller blinds.

Roman shades – Typically made from fabric, roman blinds are more decorative than most types of blinds or shades. These shades come in two main design types.

  • Flat roman shades – When fully lowered, these shades lie flat against the window. They offer a clean, simple profile that won’t make your window treatment look overly busy.
  • Hobbled roman shades – Looped, teardrop, and waterfall are alternative names for these shades. When lowered, they form a series of overlapping folds that cascade down the window. Their free-flowing appearance adds depth and a romantic touch to a room.

While roman shades work well as blackout shades, they provide relatively little help with temperature control. When raised, Roman shades create an accordion-like stack at the top of the window. This isn’t usually an issue on tall windows, but on smaller windows, it can cause an unacceptable loss of visibility and light.

Cellular shades – Also called honeycomb shades, these are made from stiff fabric or paper formed into a row of horizontally lying honeycomb-shaped cells.

These cells trap air to form a barrier between the room and the window, which improves temperature control in the room. They’re especially effective at reducing heat gain, so they keep the room cooler in summer. Cellular shades are available in single-, double- and triple-cell models, meaning a single, double or triple row of cells. The more cells, the greater the insulating ability.

Rather than rolling up when raised, these shades fold up into a more compact form.

With so many varieties available, it’s worth taking some time to consider not only whether you prefer blinds or shades, but also which style of blinds or shades best meets your needs. Find the right one, and it will give you a more beautiful and more comfortable home for years to come.

Editorial Contributors
Henry Parker

Henry Parker

Henry Parker is a home improvement enthusiast who loves to share his passion and expertise with others. He writes on a variety of topics, such as painting, flooring, windows, and lawn care, to help homeowners make informed decisions and achieve their desired results. Henry strives to write high quality guides and reviews that are easy to understand and practical to follow. Whether you are looking for the best electric riding lawn mower, the easiest way to remove paint from flooring, or the signs of a bad tile job, Henry has you covered with his insightful and honest articles. Henry lives in Florida with his wife and two kids, and enjoys spending his free time on DIY projects around the house. You can find some of his work on Today’s Homeowner, where he is a regular contributor.

Learn More