Motorized Shading is Heating Up

Motorized Shading is Heating Up

TecHome Builder recently had the opportunity to tour some penthouse suites in Las Vegas’ Mandarin Oriental residences, which offer some stunning views overlooking the Strip.

These condos have all the high-tech amenities, including Elan home control systems, automated lighting control, serious surround-sound and multiroom music systems, even a glass Roche Bobois Astrolab table with visible gears that work to tuck its glass leafs beneath it to seat six rather than eight. (If a table were an expensive “Complication” watch, this would be it.)

But the pièce de résistance of these suites? Motorized shades from Lutron that go up or down to reveal stunning views of the Strip. The shades are from Lutron’s Design Collections, including the company’s upscale Coulisse fabric line.

Sheer solar shades serve the living areas, blackout shades darken the bedrooms, and all are motorized by Lutron’s ultra-quiet Sivoia QS roller motors, tucked into deep pockets, that can communicate wirelessly with the control system or Lutron controls and a mobile app (yes, for smartphone and tablet control).

Lutron’s shading business has become its highest growth area, and the company is now targeting the design community such as interior designers with its extensive fabric lines, in addition to technology integration companies like Eagle Sentry in Las Vegas, which installed the Lutron systems in the Mandarin suites.

Eagle Sentry’s shading business is up dramatically, due largely to the company’s promotion and marketing of it, showroom demonstrations and the Las Vegas area’s “desert contemporary” architecture that requires the clean lines Lutron’s shades provide, says Eagle Sentry vice president Greg Simmons.


Big Efficiencies

There’s another reason motorized shading is (ahem) on the rise in sunny places like Las Vegas.

“A lot of the windows are high now, and we're using a lot of glass. It needs to be covered. It’s sunny here 365 days a year,” says Simmons. That means heat, with 110-degree (Fahrenheit) summer days and searing rays that need to be blocked for comfort, to protect furnishings from fading—and for energy savings.

Drop those shades or close the drapes when the sun is high and hot, and you help cool a home and defray air conditioning costs. Raise the shades or open drapes when the sun is shining in colder months and you can help heat a space and reduce heating costs.

“Putting a shade over a window pretty much doubles the [insulating] R-value of the window,” says Lutron Electronics vice president and general Manager Ed Blair.

The energy efficiency message is resonating with consumers looking for ways to defray costly heating and cooling bills. People are beginning to understand the energy-saving potential of using shades, drapes or blinds to let the sun shine in—or not. This has helped spur growth in this area, with several new and aggressive entrants.

Simmons says Eagle Sentry does an effective demo of the shades in its showroom, by opening the shades in a conference room and letting potential clients feel the room almost instantly heat up.

Just how much can be saved? Lutron says motorized shades can save an average of about 10 percent in heating and cooling bills. That’s pretty significant.


Automating Shades for Greater Savings

Homeowners can save even more on energy bills by having their motorized shades, drapes or blinds automated. When used with a control system, the shades can be activated via timers to rise or drop each day at specified times, for example.

Some commercial buildings automate the shades via photo (solar or daylight) sensors and sophisticated software, going so far as to lower or raise the light and temperature levels depending on the amount of natural light entering a space. This is a very cool and significant energy-saving technology that’s also possible in the home, though it’s been slow to start.

Lutron has flirted with bringing this kind of automation to the residential market, and is releasing a daylight sensor that can work with its upscale HomeWorks lighting control system.

Such shading automation in residences is still a tricky proposition, as there are times when a person won’t want a shade, drape or blind to open and close on its own.

Wireless communications like that between the Mandarin condos’ Lutron Sivoia QS motors and  RadioRA wireless lighting system could also trigger lights to illuminate or dim, depending on the shade position. TecHome Builder sees a day when this kind of automation, including daylight sensing, will be much more commonplace. We are, after all, entering the age of sensors.


Not Just for the Rich

Finally, if you think motorized shading is just for the rich, think again. Lutron, for one, also sells battery-operated Serena remote-controlled roller or Honeycomb cellular shades, the latter which create energy-efficient air barriers, for $400 and $350 per window respectively. This brings motorized window treatments down in price and accessibility.

Lutron already sells its lower-priced shading systems through Lowe’s, and Blair can see selling a midrange line through homebuilders’ design centers.

Somfy, one of our TecHome Builder Summit sponsors, has a TaHomA (Total Home Automation) system, in which motorized shades work in conjunction with wireless lighting and thermostats to form an “energy triangle” of shading, lights and HVAC.

As more motorized shading becomes affordable and more people see the energy-saving potential, builders of all sizes should consider offering this designer-friendly technology. Especially when—and this is one of TecHome Builder’s pet peeves—you’ve offered up a bathtub with a view and one very hard-to-reach window.

Best Practices

  • Some motorized window shading requires design considerations for wiring or to conceal roller motors or tracks.
  • Plan for shade pockets, the deeper the better, and low-voltage wire runs early in the design process.
  • Bring in a technology company to help specify the proper motors and wiring and controls for the job very early in the design process.
  • Wireless shades using batteries are gaining popularity, but battery-operated motors won't have the power to move tall and wide shades.

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