Motorized Shades: Battery-Operated Shading

Photo courtesy of QMotion

Photo courtesy of QMotion

Battery-powered shades have improved so much in recent years that they are now a top contender for many homeowners looking for the simplest motorized shading solution. In most cases, they look and function just like electrical plug-in units, and manufacturers often offer them for the same price or less. While they aren’t generally recommended for very large windows or heavy shades, they are ideal for many shading situations. Here are some of the main benefits of battery-powered shades.

Low Upfront Cost
The battery-powered models in Lutron’s Serena line often wind up being less expensive than the company’s electrical plug-in units. Each plug-in unit requires a $40 cord, which will buy you enough D-cell batteries for a battery-powered shade motor to operate for up to 20 years (depending on the size and weight of the shade). Other manufacturers charge about the same amount for both plug-in and battery-powered units, with most running between $170 and $250.

Installation Ease
For do-it-yourselfers, this is the easiest and fastest type of motorized shade to install, often taking less than 10 minutes per window. Plug-in units hang just as quickly, but you also need to consider the extra work required to hide the cord with a cable guard or some other means.

Stylish Options
For the decor conscious, battery-powered shades are a great option because there are no wires to hide and nothing to plug in. You simply pop in the batteries, hang the shade, and it’s ready to use. Consequently, battery-powered systems look like the more expensive, professional in-wall, hard-wired shading systems.

Also available are battery-powered drapery units, mostly comprised of tracks with hanging hooks. QMotion offers the only trackless motorized drapery rod. This unit is indistinguishable from normal drapery rods and is available in six finishes.

Flexible Placement
If you have small windows above a door in a foyer or windows in any high or hard-to-access area, these shades are the simplest to install. They are also ideal for any window that doesn’t have an electrical outlet nearby, or for places like a sunroom where there may not be any outlets at all.

Versatile Applications
If you have any plans to move to a new home or apartment, battery-powered shades are easy to take with you. This goes for plug-in units as well but, again, every extra piece of hardware requires more time to remove and reinstall, so if you use a guard to hide the electrical wire, it’ll take some work to get it off the wall. As for more comprehensive systems with in-wall wired shades, you may be able to take the hardware and shade with you, but it will require a professional to come and dismantle the wiring, and that means more money.

There are also some factors you should consider when comparing brands and models:

Power and Noise
Every motor has a weight limit it can support, so for larger windows or heavier shades, you’ll need to be sure your motor is strong enough to work properly. Manufacturers have made great strides in minimizing the noise generated by the motors–even the heavy-duty models–with many systems now operating almost silently.

Battery Life and Cost
Whether they use alkaline D-cell or lithium AA batteries, every motorized shade or drape will eventually run out of juice. For both types you can expect a full set of batteries to cost between $10 and $20 and last anywhere from two to five years, depending on usage and battery quality. Long battery life is especially important for any hard-to-reach shades.

External Battery Tubes
Some battery-powered units, like those from Somfy, save space in the bracket box by using an external tube for the batteries. The tube can be mounted behind the bracket box where it stays out of sight, or along the inside of the window frame.

Special Accessories
Somfy has introduced a solar-powered option that uses a solar cell attached to the window to power the shades virtually forever. This eliminates wires and the need to buy or change batteries, but the unit adds $190 to each window. EH

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