Oh, how far motorized window treatment systems have come. They used to be real convenience item for luxury homes—and were often one of the last things cut when affluent homeowners felt they had to scale back on their projects. They were luxury items for even the luxury set.
And the systems were largely standalone, meaning they weren’t often incorporated into other housewide control systems. Many motorized shading systems simply didn’t play well with others.
Yet in a very early issue of Electronic House (Sept./Oct., 1986), an advertisement for Home Run from Micromint of Vernon, Conn., declared: “Connect a photo electric sensor, and Home Run will turn lights off and on or open and close the drapes as the sun illuminates each room of the house.”
Yet … um … we are just getting to this today. Motorized shading systems are just being marketed to automatically open or close based upon how much light is coming into a room, to offset heating, cooling and lighting costs. Up until now, this was almost always done by tying the system to timers and hoping for the best.
“We did have products back then that could do that through daylight sensors and contact closures,” says David Weinstein, vice president of sales with Lutron Electronics, which is presently rolling out this technology in its RadioRA and HomeWorks lighting control systems.
But let’s face it. Sensors weren’t all that sophisticated and reliable then. And when they did work, there were programming challenges. For example, do the drapes or shades open every time the photo sensor detects a loss of light—then reopen when the sun comes out? At times, shades or drapes would be opening and closing by the minute.
That’s why it makes sense now to have that logic embedded in one system, so you don’t have disparate sensors, control systems and shading motors trying to communicate.
“Because of digital, today these systems can take into account latitude, longitude and the orientation of the building to the sun,” Weinstein says. “There’s also a simplicity of integration through common controls.”
Another thing that’s changed are homeowners’ perceptions. Motorized shading used to be a luxury for even luxury homes, and often reserved for those hard to reach windows or colossal banks of glass. Now, people are starting to realize that by opening and closing shades or drapes at the proper time, they can save on heating, cooling and even lighting costs.
Lutron isn’t the only company doing this. Somfy Systems, long a motor manufacturer for window treatments, this year is introducing its TaHomA system (for Total Home Automation) that runs on a wireless Z-Wave platform to integrate the “energy triangle” of shading, HVAC and lighting.