June 22, 2009
| by Steven Castle
Guess what? Motorized window treatments can be green. Shades and drapes that open or close at the press of a button can save you energy by helping to keep a room cool in the summer months, warm it with sunshine in the winter or illuminate it with natural light.
This is nothing new. The motorized window treatment crowd has been touting the energy efficiency of its products for decades. Only no one cared until now.
How times change. Now saving energy is fashionable. And that makes motorized shades and drapes and blinds more than a high-end convenience. The shading systems engineers at Lutron, which sells a fair share of motorized solar shading, tell us that automated window shades can save up to 10 percent in energy costs. And some custom electronics professionals are seeing an uptick in interest.
Electronics installer David Haddad of Vidacom in Chicago is automating 100-plus windows in a 20,000-square-foot house. The automation will be based on time, via an astronomical clock, as well as the amount of light and heat in the room. So if it’s too hot in a room, the shades close.
But this level of automation is rare. Too often at Electronic House we’re pitched story ideas on homes where “the motorized window treatments make it green!” The motorized shades or blinds can only be enacted when the homeowner presses a button, which can’t possibly save as much energy as a properly automated system.
So what gives? We know that motorized window treatments remain an expensive option. But why not go for optimal energy efficiency? The high-end homeowners who can afford these systems can surely spend extra on a few sensors and automation programming.
“Any time you’re doing something automatically, you have to think how is it going to work and how will the homeowners live with it,” says Haddad. “You want it to enhance someone’s lifestyle and not become an irritant. Do people really want the window shades going up and down automatically [while they are there]?”
“Some of this has to do with personal preference. Part of doing these [automated] systems is that it really takes a lot of thought into getting a daily routine that works for a homeowner. And you have to have a way to override those automated modes [for when you don’t want them enacted],” says Andrew Wiatrak, owner/president of Sensation Design Group in Minnetrista, Minn., who uses motorized window treatments at his own residence. Some of the shades open to help warm his home and some close to protect his furniture from fading.
Protection against ultraviolet radiation is another good reason not to automate the shades all of the time. Though I remain convinced that more automation in this area can and should take place. “When people think of energy conservation, most people think of electricity and the lights,” says Haddad. “People just haven’t been educated in how motorized window treatments can have an effect.”
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates