My house keeps trying to light my car on fire.
May 8, 2013 1:21 PM   Subscribe

The previous owners of our house converted the original one-car attached garage into a semi-finished room, including removing the garage door and replacing it with a standard wall. In the replacement wall, they installed a row of horizontal windows, about five feet wide and a foot high, about six feet off the ground. These windows overlook the driveway in which I park my car, a first-generation Scion xB. The house faces west, so the windows receive a lot of strong afternoon sun. We love the additional interior square footage. We don't love the fact that the strong afternoon sun reflecting off the windows is melting my car.

From time spent parked in the driveway head-in, there are melted areas along the front grill and, most worryingly, along the rubber above the wipers in which the windshield is seated. From time spent parked in the driveway backed-in, there is a melted area of plastic in the wayback. One memorable afternoon, I was sitting in the car with the door open and watched a small area of the door's fabric upholstery catch fire.

Google is helpful at locating a great many anti-glare products that keep light from entering a room, but not products to keep light from reflecting back off the windows and incinerating my car. Googling things like "how to keep windows from melting my car" is, not surprisingly, useless.

I guess I could simply not park in the driveway and use the (ample, free) parking on my street instead, but I'd really like to be able to use the hunk of concrete in my front yard for the purpose for which it exists. I'm kind of afraid to put anything else there, anyway, for fear that I'll come home and find it in cinders.

Is there a way to prevent the windows from reflecting all that sun back onto the driveway? I'm open to any and all suggestions that don't involve nailing up plywood.
posted by jesourie to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You could hang some matchstick blinds on the outside of the windows. They are made specifically for hanging up outdoors.
posted by jamaro at 1:25 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

What time of day does it happen? Would an awning over the windows work?
posted by cmoj at 1:25 PM on May 8, 2013

I also own a first generation Scion xb and I feel your pain.

I think perhaps some strategically placed trees might be of use?
posted by bq at 1:32 PM on May 8, 2013

Does your car melt and catch fire when you just park it in a parking lot on a sunny day? The reflection from the windows physically can't be any brighter than normal direct sunlight would be (unless they are focusing the light of course, which flat glass will not do), so I'm not entirely convinced that the windows are at fault here. You might just have a car that's prone to melting, so any sunlight is going to be a problem, and the direct sunlight will be much worse than the reflected light.

That said, "anti-glare" seems to be a marketing term for anti-reflective films, which are actually what you want. I can't say how good the stick-on ones are in practice, but anti-reflective coatings can work quite well.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:35 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I should add that the house is a 1920s Spanish-style bungalow (not a photo of our actual house, but it's close enough to get an idea), so solutions that maintain that aesthetic are especially welcome.

kiltedtaco, it is entirely possible that the windows are cheap and not flat, and also installed poorly (in a similarly poorly-done wall) in such a way that a non-flat reflective surface exists. On the afternoon of the tiny fire, it was an area of about a square inch that lit, and it reminded me very much of being a kid and using a magnifying glass to light things on fire.
posted by jesourie at 1:42 PM on May 8, 2013

Some hanging plants? Window boxes? A pergola built in such a way to shade your car and block the sun from hitting the windows? Can you post a picture of the house so we can give you better ideas?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:48 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it is your windows focusing sunlight—which seems likely to me—there's going to be some specific distance, the focal length, at which the effect is most pronounced (just like if you're using a magnifying glass to light things on fire, you have to get the magnifying glass the right distance from the target).

Some sunny afternoon, move your car out of the driveway, and take some cardboard or other surface and use it to figure out where the sunlight is most focused—look for a particularly bright spot, move the cardboard back and forth. Note where the bright spot is smallest.

Assuming your driveway is long enough to park farther away (or closer), the solution may be as simple as not parking your car at that particular distance from the window.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:52 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's an old picture of the house with the car parked in the driveway. The windows in question are visible immediately above the car.
posted by jesourie at 2:05 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It might not look super-fabulous, but you could frost the glass with a spray coating on the inside (or, heck, with a bar of soap) to see if that helps any.
posted by Andrhia at 2:10 PM on May 8, 2013

Screen window?
posted by Rock Steady at 2:18 PM on May 8, 2013

Cute house! I think this half pergola project is the perfect solution. Put some planter boxes below and train a vine over the pergola.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:27 PM on May 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah I had the same half pergola/awning idea as PorcineWithMe, except I thought to make a wooden awning to match the shutters above.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:32 PM on May 8, 2013

I doubt that the windows are the cause of the problem. It is highly unlikely that the surface of the windows is so distorted that it is focussing, not just reflecting, the sunlight onto your car. I suspect that the problem may be the age of the car, and the deterioration of the car's materials making them more prone to sunlight affecting them. If this is the case, any sunlight will have this effect. Obviously, anything that you can do to shade the car from the sun will help while it is parked there, but will not help when parked elsewhere in the sun.
posted by GeeEmm at 2:34 PM on May 8, 2013

What about putting up a windshield sunshade when you park it at home?
posted by advicepig at 3:00 PM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

To test the idea that the melting is the windows' fault, rub a bar of soap over the outside surface of the windows. You can make the windows pretty opaque and non-shiny this way, and see whether the problem is solved. If it is, then you can invest in solar screens or other suggestions. If not, the soap is easy to remove and hasn't cost you much.
posted by Ery at 3:02 PM on May 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

Put an awning over the window.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:08 PM on May 8, 2013

Take the panes out of the windows and put them back in so that the inside surface is now outside.
posted by jamjam at 3:11 PM on May 8, 2013

You can look at the reflection and tell if it's focused. Where the reflection hits the car or the pavement, does it have more or less the same rectangular shape as the window?

Take the panes out of the windows and put them back in so that the inside surface is now outside.

That will not do anything and if it did it would violate the second law of thermodynamics.
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:48 PM on May 8, 2013

Take the panes out of the windows and put them back in so that the inside surface is now outside.

That will not do anything and if it did it would violate the second law of thermodynamics.

What? Assuming that this is what's happening, it's essentially a mirror lens. If it's reversed, the light will be scattered instead of focused. Not that I'm convinced that's the easiest solution, though it might be the cleanest.
posted by cmoj at 4:16 PM on May 8, 2013

nthing the pergola! Grow some grapes! Or even, if you've got that much light, something flat-topped and sturdy that will hold a little tomato garden.
posted by nelljie at 4:18 PM on May 8, 2013

What? Assuming that this is what's happening, it's essentially a mirror lens.

My fault, sorry! I was interpreting this under the unfocused assumption. Under the focused case, then yes there is clearly a difference.
posted by kiltedtaco at 5:12 PM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I saw this on "Ask This Old House" a couple weeks ago. Essentially, the front of the car is getting (nearly) 200% of the solar radiation that it normally gets. The sun hitting it, and then whatever reflects off the glass also hits it. On the show, it was PCV siding that had melted for seemingly no good reason. Their solution was to install a screen over the window causing the trouble. This cut the reflected energy down enough to no longer melt the plastic. This may help you.
posted by gjc at 7:18 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oooh, I agree, I think you could do a pergola over at least half the driveway and then vine something over it -- hops grow quick and fast (though die back in winter). Maybe, passion flower? I think it is evergreen. Here's an image search for spanish pergola to give you some ideas. While you're waiting for all the greenery to come in, just cover the windows with some exterior blinds. With the right slat spacing overhead, you should be able to shade the blinds fairly well and only get the last bit of sunlight near the horizon which is usually not as intense due to haze.
posted by amanda at 8:23 PM on May 8, 2013

You can test this by putting a thermometer on top of the car. I would get some translucent/ frosted contact paper/ adhesive plastic, and use it on the windows. You could use stencils to make an attractive design.
posted by theora55 at 4:46 PM on May 9, 2013

« Older Please help me with my sports addiction   |   Nice way to decline sister's baby shower? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.