Windows present a tricky dilemma when it comes to balancing the need for privacy with the desire to have light and fresh air entering your home. Most window treatments are both costly and a compromise between the neighbours peeking in while you're getting dressed in the morning and natural light. Since I was in no way inclined towards investing lots of time and money into making it possible to leave my bedroom windows open and still have all the privacy I needed, I did things the Lifehacker way by coming up with a solution that was cheap and quick to implement.
Above is the view from one of the sets of windows in my bedroom. I already had window treatments (cellulose semi-opaque blinds) in my bedroom, but drawing them dimmed the natural light and meant that I had to close the windows—not a very acceptable option on a humid day. Replacing the blinds with the kind that you can raise or lower would have cost several hundred dollars and required waiting for a window treatment company to custom make them for my odd-sized windows. Custom window tints would only work during the day and would look out of place in both my neighbourhood and in my cooler northern climate, not to mention materials and installation would be pricey. Replacing the windows themselves with frosted privacy windows would be even more absurdly expensive. Finally an extremely cheap but terribly irreversible method would be to paint an etching solution on glass and render them permanently milky. None of these solutions was practical or particularly cost effective. A rather cheap solution that we have covered here at Lifehacker was to put bubble wrap over your windows, but I wanted something a little more aesthetic. The solution I ultimately settled on for it's combination of thrift, semi-permanence, and quick application? Painting the windows with acrylic based wall glaze.
Why glaze? When you paint acrylic wall glaze that people use to apply tinted accents to their walls on glass it dries as a milky opaque film. Whatever pattern you brush, sponge, or roll onto the glass with the glaze stays there. To remove it all you need to do is scrape it with a stiff object like a credit card and it will flake off. If you want to remove it without the flakes you can wet it with a sponge first and after a few minutes you can peel it off like plastic sheet (even if it doesn't come off as one big sheet, you can peel it easily in big strips). A full size glass sliding door in an old apartment was the first time I experimented with using acrylic glaze for privacy, when it came time to move out I was able to restore the sliding door to its previous state in a matter of minutes.
Above are the only tools I used for my project. A bottle of Windex and shop rags, a can of acrylic accent glazing, a quarter to open the can (my paint can key was out in the garage and I didn't want to walk out to get it!), and a sponge brush. The total cost was $16 (not counting the Windex and rags I already had on hand). The can of clear acrylic tint was $15 and the bag of sponge brushes was $1 in the clearance bin in the painting section. I only used one sponge brush for the project however and the individual brushes were $0.97. If you use the can of glaze for other rooms or share it with a friend, the price is even better. Out of that entire container of glaze, I only used about 1/20th of it to do all the windows in the bedroom.
I opted to paint only the lower panes of the double hung windows so that I could leave the bottom half down, and open the tops to let in fresh air. In my former apartment I painted the sliding glass door 3/4 of the way up from the floor for a similar reason to preserve the view of the trees without being able to see my neighbours or the parking lot. If you need more privacy, you can paint the entire window. In the above picture I paused between painting windows to show the contrast already forming between the clean window and the window with a single coating of glaze on it. Before it dries the glaze has a very intense shine to it, but it dries to a more opaque milky color.
It took roughly 10 minutes to do the first coat of all the windows and about 20 minutes for it to dry in the hot weather. (Drying time would likely be a lot longer on cold windows.) The first coat ended up being more than enough to create the privacy I wanted, but I did a second coat just to touch up a few spots that I didn't notice weren't covered very well until the glaze had dried.
The real test of course was to go outside and photograph the window from the street at night to see how well someone could see in. In the following photograph the only thing visible from the street inside the bedroom is the wardrobe mere inches from the glass. A word of caution in regard to the glazing: objects within a few inches of glass retain more of their details than things farther back. Stand right against the glass and wave to your neighbours and they will know you have no pants on.
Planning on undertaking the project yourself? Here's a quick bullet list of tips to help make sure your project goes as planned.
- Make sure you purchase untinted/clear acrylic glaze. The label on all the brands I looked at very clearly indicated it was clear and that you must add tint in order to see anything when you paint it on the wall. For our purpose no tint is needed unless you really want rose coloured windows.
- Use the sponge brush to edge the windows first, paint a rectangle around the window to make sure you don't miss and leave a little gap.
- Whatever pattern you paint is how the glaze will look when it dries. I chose to use a very linear vertical stroke and when the glaze dried it had a similar look to the brush marks on matte stainless steel. You could just as easily paint swirly patterns or be creative with masking tape and make a checker board.
- Check for missed patches when the first coat dries, on several windows there were a few tiny dime sizes spots I just didn't see during the first coat. You're painting a clear paint on a clear window, you're bound to miss a spot.
- If you press the sponge brush to the glass and then make your stroke, it leaves little bubbles and dimples of glaze. By beginning your stroke in the air and then touching the brush to the glass, you'll find that your strokes are clean and neat without the initial blob of glaze.
- If you hate the results, the glaze comes off easily by either scraping it or soaking it with a wet sponge and peeling.
This window frost technique is cheap, easy to install, easy to remove, and you can keep a room light and airy. For a $16 outlay, you'd be hard pressed to find a more effective way to achieve the same effect. If you undertake the DIY privacy windows as a weekend project, tell us about the results in the comments.
Jason Fitzpatrick lives in a house built in the 1930s—which makes it a DIYer's field day. .