Hands On: Crestron Roller Shade Solutions
The automation manufacturer makes a splash with motorized shades.
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.
Most of our installations went rather smoothly, but the first one highlighted a couple of those common issues that may arise. My team was thrown a small curveball on that initial install of a Décor Series mount, as we were told to design the shade system so that it was level with the ground. Another group had to level theirs to the window. You can imagine how this difference might affect the look of a shade, but from my own experience I can say that “cockeyed” isn’t desirable: when my living room flat-panel TV was being wall-mounted above our fireplace, it needed to be adjusted because at first it was made level to the ceiling … which made it appear way crooked because the ceiling was about a half-inch higher on the left side, leaving an odd, noticeable gap between the bottom of the TV and the mantel on that side; so we leveled it to the mantel and the TV looked more in sync.
And that’s what we got a taste of by leveling our Décor Series shade with the ground—as it neared the sill, you could see that there was a small gap on the left side. In order to cover the entire casing, the bottom hem bar needed to dip below the sill, which isn’t a total eyesore, but to a homeowner that’s paying to have the smoothest-looking installation possible where the bottom of the shade lines up nicely with the sill, it’s not desirable. It reminded me of when Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir would banter between songs when the band was tuning its instruments that “we want to make sure everything is just exactly perfect.”
Along that same thought, installers need to make sure there’s enough room with the bracket-to-bracket dimensions as we found out with the Décor Series installation as well. We had enough clearance beyond the window casing so that the shade descended and covered the window without any light gap, but then discovered we could have used about an eighth of an inch more because toward the top (and because of what happened with the “crooked” leveling) the right side of the shade was too tight with the right bracket—which could mean it might snag, or if it did go up and down all the way after several uses it could start fraying. Again, it’s a game of inches.
Custom electronics pros work on putting a Decor Series roller shade into place.
Throughout the training, which was led by Crestron’s Stan King and Shayna Bramley, I was impressed with the quality of the mounting hardware and the fabrics, as well as the ease of using the motor buttons, in this case, to configure the start and stop shade presets. The Architectural Series and Designer Cassette series installations we followed with went smoothly, and produced eye-pleasing results. They were ear-pleasing too—the Quiet Motor Technology (QMT) that Crestron uses really delivers on its promise of silent operation, especially the larger QMT 50 motor that offers 6 Newton-meters of torque and can be used in applications from 37 5/8 inches to 12 feet wide. Standing next to the shades they were barely audible while going up and down. I will say that the QMT 50 was quieter than the smaller, 2 Newton-meters QMT 30 (good for applications 18.5 to 37.5 inches wide), which we used in our fourth installation—there was a small amount of whirring, which also felt more pronounced after having gone from the ultra-quiet QMT first. Still, it was far quieter than, say, a motorized projection screen.
In terms of the aesthetics, Crestron seems to be on the right track with its nascent motorized shades program. The Architectural Series will be most commonly employed, and provides for plenty of back-and-forth talks with homeowners and interior designers concerning the type of pocket that will cover the roller, making this a good personalized tech decision. I really like the seamless appearance of the Designer Cassette option too, as the shade just descends from its housing that together feel like one flowing piece.
The big takeaway from learning more about motorized shade solutions in general—and especially for homeowners who wind up hiring CE pros that specialize in Crestron systems that can now integrate shades into automation and lighting projects—is that there’s more to shades than meets the eye, so don’t take this part of a tech renovation lightly. Style, functionality, application, remote operation … though they may not look the part, these are high-tech systems. Now more than ever there’s no reason for your “A/V guy” not to include them in your home.
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