Hands On: Crestron Roller Shade Solutions
The automation manufacturer makes a splash with motorized shades.
May 15, 2013 by Arlen Schweiger

You probably don’t think of your “A/V guy” (we prefer to call them custom electronics professionals) as the one to be installing window treatments in your home. But you should. Besides, these days chances are his company is already doing plenty more than slapping a flat-panel TV on your wall—if you’re considering a home tech project you’re likely looking at home automation and controls, lighting control, security, climate and housewide A/V distribution.

Motorized shades are another logical solution in the mix, one that if integrated into a larger-scale project can afford you ease-of-operation and daily lifestyle benefits of other tech systems. That means stuff like touchscreen control and automated presets on the operation side, plus energy efficiency, privacy and glare control on the benefits side.

Only homeowners just don’t usually think of shades when they think of high tech. Like lighting control, it really needs to be experienced for the whole thing to sink in. And that goes for more than just the results—there’s quite a bit that goes on behind the scenes to make everything fit and work right. Which is probably why there isn’t a glut of companies making motorized window treatments (most notably Lutron, Hunter Douglas, MechoShade and Somfy have really furthered the category’s cause in the custom electronics world), even though it’s a product most homes could use.

To get a better idea of the nitty-gritty involved with shades and the types of solutions offered, Crestron Electronics recently invited me down to a full-day training at its Rockleigh, N.J., headquarters. The company is best known for its all-encompassing automation systems, but added shade control to its offering within the last year … so many of its dealers are just learning about motorized shades themselves. And from what I saw (and I would guess this goes for CE pros who install shade solutions from other manufacturers as well), your “A/V guy” needs to be just as proficient with math and measurements when it comes to installing shades as he does with video projection and surround-sound systems.

Forget baseball—motorized shades is a real game of inches.

Crestron’s shades are offered in four flavors: motorized and manual roller shades; Roman shades; drapery track systems; and skylight shades. For this “hands on” purpose, we’ll focus on the motorized roller shades, which comprised the majority of the training event. And we won’t knock too hard on whoever wants to get the manual shades … but if you’re going to get a home automation system, why not have everything motorized?

There are a lot of factors for the homeowner (and/or interior designer) to consider, despite the shades’ seemingly simple singular task of covering windows. Then again, that’s part of what can make shade installation more complicated—because you can choose from more than 400 fabrics with different “openness” factors depending on how much light you care to let through, and you can have dual rollers installed, for example, to combine transparent/translucent and room darkening/blackout options depending on what best suits a particular room. Is this for a bedroom? A media room? A dining room?

Along with the fabrics, you’ll want to consider the aesthetics, which influences the way the shade will be installed. During the training we worked on solutions that touched on all facets of Crestron’s options for this, which features three main mounting bracket and hardware options: Architectural Series, Décor Series and Designer Cassette Series. Each has its inherent benefits and limitations, such as different finish options or support for coupling multiple brackets together to cover a set of windows more seamlessly, for example.

Crestron calls the Architectural line its most versatile, because it can be used in all four main methods of mounting a motorized shade: inside the window jambs, outside the jambs, coupled for multiple windows (up to six mounts powered by one motor), and in a pocket (either square or curved fascia provided by Crestron or homeowner/designer selected). The Décor Series, on the other hand, needs to be mounted outside jamb and it keeps the roller shade assembly exposed (decorative end caps can pretty up the bracket) from its wall/ceiling placement. The Designer Cassette is a little more like the Architectural Series in that it conceals the shade, but in this case the extruded aluminum housing is part of the assembly—so it can’t be coupled—but the housing can be painted or wrapped in fabric for added visual appeal. Finish options include: white, ivory, clear anodized, black and bronze for the Architectural and Designer Cassette; white, chrome, brushed nickel and antique bronze for the Décor.

After taking some preliminary online courses, it was interesting to be a part of the course at Crestron HQ, whose motorized shade room includes four-sided window stations that have been fabricated to mimic real-world situations. And the way the walls were constructed, that means dealing with real-world issues such as windows that aren’t exactly level. 

So that’s when the fun began, as the groups of installers (along with me and my colleague Bob Archer) split up to start installing window treatments for the four windows. Before getting to that, a bit about the general design and calculation considerations (which Crestron does make easier for its installers with a web Design Tool, though depending on the type of hardware there are some variables to be made while inputting data): measurements need to be made for width and height, with the design taking into consideration whether the entire window casing will be covered (no light gaps); where the hardware will be mounted (inside/outside jambs, how far above window); what it will be level with; measurements for height and width, taking into account measurements of particular fascia, bracket-to-bracket width, end caps, adjustments, room above casing, etc.; and weight of fabric and hem bar to determine what size roller shade tube and motor to employ. 

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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com and Electronic House magazine.

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