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In New York City, most people want privacy without forgoing natural light. That means windows that let in the sun, not the gaze of a stranger.
There were so many brands and types to choose among that I was a bit overwhelmed deciding which to try: stained glass, colored, rice paper or a pattern as well as solar window films designed to reduce glare and carpet or furniture fading, improve comfort and lower cooling and heating costs. Security film is supposed to protect against broken glass.
I focused on the decorative film, so that my bedroom window, which faces York Avenue and a slew of buildings, would allow in sun but appear frosted. I bought a Remlor brand white, vertical-striped film to match the striped wallpaper that covered the surrounding wall. I chose clear seashells for my friend Agnes, who was trying it on her garage windows. (O.K., she has a house in Queens. But a window is a window. Just read this to see how the products performed.) She didn’t want neighbors to look in on the mess, but she did want enough sunlight so that she could organize household items and plantings in the garage, and her daughter could play there.
Following website instructions, I measured the length and width of my windows and was told to order four rolls of the striped and three of the clear sea shell film. Each roll was $7.22 for a total of $50.54. (Full disclosure: The company waived the charge to BrickUnderground, as well as the $6.99 shipping fee.)
I was confused when the package arrived, because there was only one roll. Customer service explained that this is done for ease of shipping. The material comes with a small Exacto knife, a plastic squeegee and instructions. Reading them over, this seemed like a simpler version of wallpapering (which I've done successfully in my apartment).
As instructed, I cleaned my window thoroughly with my own wetting solution made, as the company suggests, of mild detergent mixed with water. (You can also use baby shampoo or dish detergent.) I squeegeed the solution from the surface, then wiped with a paper towel.
I re-measured the height and width of the window glass and added an inch all around before cutting the film with scissors as a start to fitting it to the window. The instructions said to lay the film on the glass with its "release liner" face up to confirm the overall fit.
The next step is to remove the liner and expose the adhesive surface. (Think BandAids or self-adhesive wallpaper.) The directions for doing this involve placing a piece of tape on either side of a corner and pulling film and liner apart.
Once the layers were separate, I dampened the adhesive surface (the side that would be applied directly to the window) and generously wet the glass to prevent it from immediately sticking, allowing me time to move it into position. I squeegeed to remove air bubbles and trimmed the edges with the razor knife. It took a few days to completely dry.
The instructions were reasonably easy to understand, although I was initially confused by the need to pull apart the layers. Luckily, illustrations showed me precisely what to do. The job was a bit messy, however, and is best done by two people, especially if you're trying to cover a large area. I did it alone and the huge pieces of film (my bedroom windows are about 6 feet high and 3 feet wide) were hard to handle, with the film sometimes sticking to itself. I also found it difficult to trim the edges, because holding the film against the window without it sliding while holding a knife became unwieldy. My friend Agnes fared better by herself because her windows are small.
On the first day, my room was still sunny, but I could barely see the cars below my window. The film's thick, opaque stripes obscured the view. In my case, the clearer pattern my friend used would have been better.
The real test came at night, when I had the bedroom light on and asked a friend to go outside and see if she could see me standing close to the window. She reported seeing only a slight shadow and that she couldn't tell if it was of a person, clothed or not. Agnes said she could see whether someone was standing directly in front of her window, but not who it was or what the person was wearing or doing.
Window film is a much less expensive alternative to costly custom stained glass or frosted windows. And it isn't permanent, which makes it great for apartment dwellers who can’t afford or aren't permitted to make changes to their unit. Film is also better at allowing light while maintaining privacy than curtains and blinds, which tend to get dusty and can be hard to clean. I haven't had the film in place long enough to confirm that it doesn't wear or fade. I can say that in more than three weeks, it didn’t peel, bubble or tear.
Agnes found the film easy to remove -- peel back a corner, wet the area underneath and keep peeling (and wetting) it back. It left an adhesive residue that had to be removed (a water-based adhesive remover is available through the Window Film website). After that, however, her window was as good as new.
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