Window Treatment Terms To Know

At Blinds To Go we make it easy. Let us explain some terms commonly associated with blinds and shades and take the mystery out of finding the perfect window treatment.

A cartoon illustration of many types of different windows.

When shopping for window coverings you may hear a lot of terms that are not already familiar to you, words like: blackout, light-filtering, cordless, smart lift, light gaps, and openness factor. Purchasing blinds or shades shouldn’t be a difficult chore. At Blinds to Go our tag line is “We make it easy” and our stores are stocked with knowledgeable design consultants that are all trained to demystify the process of buying custom window treatments. All you need is windows and/or doors that need covered or enhanced.

Now let’s discuss some window treatment terms that you may not be familiar with:

What is a window "jamb"?

Window Jambs: The jambs of a window are the shallow walls inside the window frame. It is on the top jamb where brackets to hang window treatments are most frequently mounted. If you are going to have professional installers measure your windows then knowing this term is not as important. If you are measuring your own windows please read our "how to measure windows" measurement guide. We recommend that you measure the top, middle, and bottom of your window’s width and height "jamb-to-jamb". To get the best fit you should use the smallest of the three numbers to get the right measurement for the width and the largest of the three numbers to get the right measurement for the height. The height is top jamb down to the window sill, or bottom jam and this is how you get your height.

A hand holds a measuring tape spanning from the window's left jamb to the right jamb.

Measuring window width "jamb-to-jamb"



What is window "depth"?

The "depth" is the amount of space that a window is set in. Many people come into our showrooms seeking a quote, with the measurements of only the height and width of their windows, having forgotten to make a note of the depth. Knowing the depth is very important for window treatments that require a deeper jamb in order to sit flush with your walls or window trim: like Cascade shades or Serenity sheer shades and wood blinds. You can install wood blinds in a window with a depth of 2" but it will not be fully flush with the wall and window because the brackets for hanging wood blinds require 3" depth for a full recess, which means that 3" is minimum depth required for a flush mount of wood blinds.

A hand holds a measuring tape against a window's right side jamb.

Measuring window depth on the right window jamb



If your window does not have the depth required to hang the window treatment that you have chosen inside the frame, you have two options.

Option #1: Switch to a different window treatment. For example if you only have ¾" depth you cannot mount wood blinds inside your windows frame, but you could inside mount cellular shades, which have a minimum depth requirement of 5/8".

Option #2: Opt for an outside mount. With an outside mount the depth of the window is not important. (See below the next section for more info on inside and outside mount.)

You need to know if you are going to mount on the inside or the outside of the window frame before you order your shade because an inside mount requires jamb to jamb measurements. After you sign off on your jamb to jamb measurements our factory will make a deduction in the measurement of your shade to make sure that it fits perfectly inside of your window frame. In contrast, an outside mount requires that you decide how wide you would like your window covering to be. You can choose to cover all or only a portion of the trim/molding around your window.

What is "inside mount" and "outside mount"?

As briefly mentioned above, window treatments can be mounted inside the top jamb of the window frame or outside of the frame altogether. An inside mount is often the first choice for those shopping for window treatments. If your window does not have adequate depth for inside mount then you will have to “outside mount” your blinds or shades, and attach the brackets that hold up your window treatment to the wall, ceiling, or the molding outside of your window. Outside mount may block out a little more light but will partially or fully cover your window frame. Read more about Inside Mount vs. Outside Mount

two side-by-side windows show inside mount classic roman shade and an outside mount waterfall roman shade



What are "light gaps"?

A “light gap” is the amount of light that can still seep into a room in between the fabric shade and edge of the window jamb when you window covering is fully closed. If you are covering windows in a bedroom, nursery, or a home theatre you may have strong feelings about any light coming in. Light gaps are minimal on most window treatments and do not effect the privacy that your window treatment provides. Roller shades that uses a chain to bring it up and down can have a gap as large as 3/4 of an inch on the side where the chain is located. Cellular, or honeycomb shades, have the tightest fit but still allow a little light to creep in. For the most part light gaps are unavoidable, but there are things that you can do to reduce them. If you are looking to block all light consider blackout shades paired with drapery, backed with a blackout lining or consider doing an outside mount which still lets a little light sneak around but tends to block a little more light than inside mount shades or blinds.

A close-up image of light gaps in a roller shade, a cellular shade, and a wood blind.

What does "light-filtering" mean?

It is common on websites that offer window coverings to see the blinds and shades labeled as “light-filtering” or “blackout” or “room-darkening”. Light-filtering shades will provide privacy, but will still allow a good of brightness into the area. These window treatments are better for areas of your home or business that you want to maximize light, but still have no one see in. Roller shades can come in solar shades, which is the sheerest and provides really no privacy, light-filtering, which maximizes light and privacy, or blackout, which, except for light gaps can darken the room almost completely.

What is "room-darkening"? & What is "blackout"?

Blackout in general is rather self-explanatory, but let's shed a little light on the specifics. You can guess that blackout window treatments darken your room when the shades are down and no light can get through the fabric or material from which they are made. But does that mean that a room with blackout shades will be totally dark during the day? Not exactly. Light will almost always creep around the border of the shade, as mentioned in the section above regarding light gaps. So what are room-darkening window treatments? When you see products listed as "room- darkening" it is not quite blackout but made of a material, or lined with a material, that will block most of the incoming light. Room-darkening shades and drapery/curtains block the large majority of incoming light and are great for bedrooms and nurseries.

In the two images below you see a room-darkening cascade sheer shades and then a blackout cellular shade. Both window treatments are mostly open but you can see in the second image that the cellular shade doesn't allow any light to come through the shade. The room would be dark with the room-darkening cascade sheer shades in the fully closed position but light would still peek though all of the points where the horizontal dark lines meet. However, the cellular shades is not only seamless, but it also has a mylar lining in each cell to block maximum light.

A bedroom with a large windows with a lot of light blocked with dark grey room-darkening Cascade sheer shades

Room-darkening Cascade Sheer Shades



A bedroom with a large windows that feature blackout cellular shades in black

Blackout Cellular Shades



What does "cordless" mean?

With cordless blinds and shades you use two hands to bring the window treatment up and down by holding the bottom rail. Cordless blinds and shades may still have cords as part of the construction but the cords to raise, lower, and even tilt your blinds and shades have been replaced with other mechanisms. At the time that this article was written it was recently made a requirement in Canada that all new, non-commercial window treatments to be sold as cordless. And we expect US government regulations to follow suit shortly. Cordless products are safer for kids and pets and have a clean modern look that people love.

What does "smartlift" mean?

“Smartlift” is a term that we use at Blinds To Go to indicate that a shade has a mechanism that is controlled with a heavy duty cord to raise and lower it. These are popular, necessary even, on extra wide cellular shades. Cellular shades are available in widths up to 120 inches and a “smart lift” mechanism is often suggested starting at widths around 70” and above. Smartlift shades are no longer available in regions where corded shades are no longer sold.

A close up of the thicker cord on a shade with smartlift cord

Our thicker "smartlift" cord is recommended for larger corded shades.



What does "softlift" mean?

“Softlift” is the name of a cordless lift mechanism that is available on roller shades and solar shades at Blinds To Go. Softlift shades features a very smooth operation and allows you to raise and lower your shades by simply pushing the bottom bar up or pulling down on it. They are so easy to use, they are great for people with limited mobility. Their clean, modern, cordless look looks great in any decor and is a safe choice for houses with pets and children.

A hand with light pink fingernails demonstrates the cordless operation on a softlift blind.

Cordless Softlift shades operate with a light touch.



What is "openness" in solar shades?

The "openness factor of solar shades" simply refers to the size of the gaps in the weave of the material and the higher the openness percentage, the larger the gaps and thus the greater the view the shade provides when in the closed positon. Some solar shades are meant to reduce glare but to allow full view of the outside through the shade. These shades have a higher openness factor, between 7-10%. Such shades are popular in office and commercial buildings that have large windows and need to reduce the incoming light or UV rays at certain times of day but do not require full privacy. Solar shades with high or medium openness factors are also popular in high-rise apartments with large windows. Most solar shades offer a little privacy but allow you to keep your view of the outdoors. The lower the openness, the less light that will come in and the more privacy will be provided. There are solar shades with 1-3% openness that offer that tighter weave of the material and much more privacy, these are popular in kitchens and dining rooms because they are so easy to clean with their sturdy wipeable woven pvc.

Three side-by-side images of solar shades in various openness factors



What are "honeycomb" shades?

Also known as cellular shades , honeycomb shades get their name from the construction, a side view of which looks like the cells of the honeycomb that bees make to store honey. This construction helps trap air and insulate windows with a super light-weight window treatment with a low profile.

a close up of the sideview of cellular shades



What are "cellular" shades?

See honeycomb shades above.

What are "top-down bottom-up" shades?

Top-down bottom-up shades ” refers to shades that can not only be raised from the bottom, like tradition window treatments, but can also be lowered from the top. The ability to lower the top of your blinds is great for windows where you need privacy but also want to let some natural light in. These are great for bedrooms, bathrooms, or any room in your home that faces a busy street.

Modern bathroom bathed in light with top-down bottom-up Roman shades in tan hue.

Top-down bottom-up roman shades with classic pleat in Domino, Fossil



What is a "valance"?

A window valance is a small decorative accent made of fabric, or wood trim at the top of a window treatment that hides the mechanism that operates that window treatment. Valances are usually made out of the same material as the blind or shade with which they are paired. Some window treatments come without valances, like waterfall roman shades and solar shades. While others have the valance built in as a housing unit for the shade when it rolls up, like that of Serenity sheer shades or Cascade sheer shades. If the mechanism is housed in the valance, then it is not optional. Some window treatments have the option of valance or no valance, like real wood blinds, faux wood blinds, Melody® sheer verticals, and roller shades, among others.

A close-up image of the valance and valance returns on a vertical blind

What are "valance side returns"?

Valance side returns come into play for outside mount blinds and shades or inside mount shades that are mounted on shallow windows. Simply put they are the side pieces on a valance. So if you mount a wood blind inside a deep window there will be no valance returns, but if you outside mount that same blind on the wall or trim above the window you probably want side returns on the valance to hide the sides of the headrail.

There you have a quick primer on window treatment terms. If we have left out any terms that you would like to know more about, we invite you to stop into the Blinds To Go, nearest showroom and have a chat with any of our highly-trained design consultants. We hope to see you soon!

- Michael Duris, Design Consultant, King of Prussia, PA

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