The right smart shading solutions offer a world of benefits to every project
April 27, 2023 - Smart shading has been considered something of a luxury item — a "nice to have" feature in a connected home. That's changing — and quickly. "The perception of smart shading has evolved quite a bit in the past few years," says JoAnn Arcenal, director of business development at Crestron. "Now it's becoming clear that the right shading options can help in a variety of ways: sustainability, energy efficiency, living in place, privacy, and many more."
The key is first understanding just what the term means — smart shades are electronically controlled window treatments that can respond to various user-triggered or automated functions. They also form part of a whole-home solution, says Arcenal: "This is technically part of a lighting system. We're balancing the artificial and the natural light in a home. We can program different scenes for different rooms in the home, and there are lots of options for programming and controlling those shades."
Controlling and Automating Smart Shading: Options Abound
A single button on a touch screen, for example, can "manually" lower or raise the shades as the user wishes or trigger a pre-set level of shading. Other solutions are clock-based. "There are astronomical clocks that are integrated into processors," Arcenal explains. "So, yes, they are controlled by the time, but perhaps more sunset or sunrise based. That's going to change drastically between December and July, and occur at different times in different parts of the globe — but all that's adjusted automatically by the system."
"There's also voice control," adds Arcenal, noting further that each solution isn't simply binary: You can command the shades to raise or lower by a certain percentage and not simply "open or closed." "We can also integrate with either photo or occupancy sensors for even more efficiency," says Arcenal. "We can balance those levels with a photo sensor to know exactly when and where artificial light has to compensate and complement the natural light. With occupancy sensors, we can shut an entire room down where no movement's been detected after a certain amount of time."
When smart shading becomes part of a home's energy solutions, the results can be downright surprising. "This past year, we debuted two show homes that met net-zero status," says Arcenal. "Actually, one of them met net-negative 15 status," meaning that the home was generating more energy than it consumed. "Automated shading was integrated into each of those projects and certainly contributed to the heating and cooling needs of each room," she adds.
Choosing the Right Fabrics
"The looks we're able to achieve with the available fabric options for these shading solutions are as varied as clients' tastes," says Arcenal. But beyond aesthetic considerations, the choice of fabric is one of opacity. Arcenal suggests having the client answer some questions: "What is the purpose of this? Do you want more of a transparent fabric that will allow you to enjoy the view, but you still want some protection from the elements? If you're looking at that, that's fabric defined as transparent."
That transparency is expressed as an "openness factor," in this case a range from 3 to 17% — that percentage is the amount of light that can pass through the fabric. "If you want a bit more privacy, that's 1 to 3% — translucent — and then your blackout or room-darkening, that is your 0% allowing no light to come through. That's popular in bedroom applications where someone really wants that uninterrupted sleep."
Privacy and a solid sleep cycle aside, fabrics that let light in and keep heat out are also excellent aspects of an overall energy-saving solution. "There are dual-sided fabrics that are available, says Arcenal. "On the inside, you can choose from a variety of colors, and on the side that's facing the exterior, you can have a reflective surface that keeps that radiation out."
Convenience — and Assistance
"One of the greatest benefits of smart shading is its convenience," says Arcenal. Especially in larger, luxury homes — where window treatments can number well more than a dozen — raising or lowering each individual shade can become a chore. There's another aspect of a manual clutch, however: "Smart solutions have proven extremely beneficial for those living in place," Arcenal notes. "As someone's dexterity or manual strength starts to diminish, being able to still enjoy the sunshine and the sunlight, that natural light, without having to operate a manual clutch is really key."
The ability to control shading remotely is another benefit. Arcenal offers this example: "We've all had those days where perhaps we're out a little bit later than we had expected. So now we have some of the lights on in the home. We have our shades open because perhaps we only expected to be out for a certain amount of time. There's nothing you can do with a manual solution until you actually get home." With a smart solution, however, a quick tap on your mobile device solves the issue.
Shading is also becoming more important as some high-end clients move away from the idea of dedicated in-home cinemas in favor of multi-use media rooms. "Ambient light can take away from the impact of a display," says Arcenal. "And as we move toward 'entertainment everywhere' integrations, having the shades lower as a display comes on — automatically — adds yet another layer of convenience."
Power Options and Professional Installation
Because shades can now be powered with various sources — from hardwired connections to onboard battery systems — shading solutions are applicable to projects no matter the construction phase. Arcenal outlines all the options: "You can have a hardwired shade solution from day one. You can have a manual solution that's pre-wired so that you can swap out the shade for a smart solution when the budget allows. And then, of course, you have battery-powered options for a retrofit or remodel."
Understanding what window treatments are needed where is also key to a successful smart shading solution. "As we mentioned, blackout shades in the bedroom are popular. For other rooms, a client might use shading to really pump up the 'wow' factor. Perhaps a client doesn't need such a dramatic look in the office and will opt for something simpler. Bathrooms may not need smart shading at all, although we do offer mold-resistant fabrics for those installations. It's definitely not an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to integrating shades into your space."
Consulting a pro will go a long way toward a successful smart-shading integration. "There are specialized installation experts and integrators for almost every trade out there," says Arcenal. "Shades are no different. You need to have someone trained in this kind of technology, who knows that this is not just hanging a window covering.
"There are so many different facets to this that have to be considered — but the right smart shading solutions bring a world of benefits."