In the vast new housing developments of Orange County, the battle against the sun begins early each day.
Built mainly on hillsides, with nary a tree in sight, these homes begin soaking up the heat early in the morning and get no reprieve until the last rays are gone.
South- and west-facing windows must remain curtained or shuttered most of the day, and still the air conditioner labors to shed the heat building up.
Until the shrubbery grows tall enough in 10 or 15 years, one way to block the radiant heat problem is by tinting the windows.
Window-tinting is not a new technology, but it is one that acquired a bad reputation a decade or so ago when early, thicker films sometimes peeled, bubbled or turned purple.
But new-generation polyester films such as Mylar--properly installed--have nearly eliminated those problems, and should last 15 to 20 years.
Denise Duval, owner of Sun-Tec, a Laguna Hills tinting company, said that while commercial buildings had accounted for the bulk of her business, the trend now is toward more residential tinting.
"Tinting offers so many benefits. It cuts down on heat, keeps rugs and furnishings from fading and makes windows safer," said Duval, who has been in the business for 11 years.
There are three basic types of window-tinting film:
Reflective, which cuts up to 80% of heat passing through the glass. The polyester tinting film is laminated with an aluminum layer that gives it a mirrorlike appearance from outside. While this may not be the best look aesthetically, the film also provides the most protection against fading of furnishings.
Non-reflective, which reduces glare and provides some protection against fading but offers the least reduction of heat. The treatment changes the outside appearance of the windows the least.
Sputter, which refers to a process used to coat the film with microscopic metal flakes that reflect and scatter light. This means that the windows are only slightly reflective from the outside--an aesthetic compromise. This film provides more protection against heat, glare and fading than does non-reflective film.
Tinting companies base their charge on the area of glass to be covered and the difficulty involved.
French doors with many individual panes cost more, for example, than a typical sliding glass door. In addition, the more windows to be treated on a job, the better the price most companies will offer. As a reference, Duval said, a standard sliding glass door can be tinted for about $125 using reflective film or $140 using the more expensive sputter film.
Most whole-house jobs can be completed in one day, she said.
The process of applying the film is deceptively simple, not unlike wallpapering. The difference is that there is no room for error in tinting. "This isn't like do-it-yourself wallpaper," Duval said, "because you have to be able to see clearly through it when you're done."
Before tinting film can be applied, glass must be spotless--not just cleaned with a cloth but scraped clean with a razor blade to remove any clinging particles of dirt or paint that could keep the film from adhering.
Once the glass is clean, a mist of soapy water is sprayed on, allowing the tinting film to slide while it is being positioned.
A rubber squeegee is then used to press the film flat against the glass and force out any trapped water. The edges of the film are then trimmed with a sharp blade.
After the film is applied, the windows are slightly cloudy for about a week until all of the water evaporates through the film. Once dry, the windows are crystal clear.
When treated properly, scratch-resistant tinting film remains unblemished for many years.
"It's very tough," Duval said. "You'd need to go after it with a knife or key to run a scratch in it."
Over time, though, the fibers in paper towels or newspapers can cause microscopic scars that mar the film, so cleaning should be done only with soft, cotton cloths, Duval said.
There is a grade of tinting that is not scratch resistant and is about 10% cheaper, but Duval said she won't install it. Sun-Tec and other firms guarantee tinting for up to seven years.
In addition to saving on cooling bills, tinting also makes homes safer from break-ins and earthquakes. If a tinted window is smashed, it is held together by the film. This could be a lifesaver in an earthquake and a deterrent to a burglar in a hurry. Duval said tinting is standard at banks and other businesses where security is essential.
Southern California Edison recommends tinting as one means of cutting fuel bills but has not calculated the savings rate, said company spokesman Keith Sheldon.
Jeanette Herren, whose house perches totally exposed high on a ridge above Rancho Santa Margarita, knows without calculating that she is saving a lot.
"By 2 p.m., the house was so hot you couldn't stand it. The sun just beat in. You had to wear sunglasses in the kitchen to cook," Herren said.
"On most days, I had to turn the air conditioner on at 10:30 and run it all day. Since we tinted the windows, I've run it only once."