It could be the best home improvement you never see. Or not. It's hard to know.
Window film — a transparent barrier that, its makers say, keeps big bad sunrays from eating up your furniture and driving up your air-conditioning bills — is at its best unseen.
And that's the problem. How do you know it's there? Because it's invisible, I'm tempted to put it in the same category as the Emperor's New Clothes, or as those who buy and sell galactic stars. I worry that homeowners are buying into some big transparent lie.
It's like sunscreen for windows, those with more faith tell me. But I want more proof. Plus, I have other concerns about sunscreen for windows:
• I like natural light in a house. “The space has great light,” Realtors will say, pointing out a plus in a home. Why kill it?
• I like sunshine. I grew up on the West Coast, where, before I knew better, getting a great tan was like a second career. When I did know better, I avoided the sun like a bat and coated on sunscreen. Now I have vitamin D deficiency, from not enough sun. Someone is wrong.
• I like conspicuous consumption. I'd rather buy a new area rug or table than some non-obvious, no-fun home improvement, like, say, insulation.
• I've seen bad window jobs. And just like nose jobs, you only notice the bad ones.
As it happens, there is a man whose job is to turn unenlightened cretins like me around on this subject.
Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association, a group of manufacturers, distributors and installers, welcomes my skepticism. “We're trying to provide accurate information to those who have misinformation that is over 20 years old,” he said.
“I'm your target,” I said, then shot my opening round. “I don't like how window tinting affects interior color. Why go to all that trouble picking paint to go with your sofa fabric to blend with your carpet, then cast a pall over it all?”
(As Smith answers me, I get an email from his PR person who's listening in: No one calls it tinting any more these days. The preferred term is window film. Oh.)
“No, no, no,” Smith assured. “You can get products today that don't affect color.”
He explains. Years ago, window films used to screen damaging light rays either by adding a dark color to the film, which would absorb the heat and harmful rays, or by adding metal to the film that would reflect them.
“So that's how you got those dark, shiny buildings that made you certain a drug deal was going on inside,” I said.
“Today's technology uses absorbing metals and materials that have reflectors we can't see,” Smith said. “The harmful rays are still absorbed or reflected, but this work is done outside of the visible light spectrum.”
“Ohhhh. So it's like the National Security Agency.”
“In the past, if a window film stopped 65 percent of the solar energy, it would block 65 percent of the light, too,” Smith said. “Today's films can stop solar energy and be color neutral.”