Environmental control is a massively important aspect of the connected home, but it’s not all about managing your lights, home entertainment and music. It is perhaps an undervalued element of the home – but choosing the right blind, curtain and shade configuration can bring a number of benefits that ensure complete enjoyment of your property.
With current architectural inclinations tending towards buildings that heavily favour glass and steel, shading is playing a more prominent role than ever in maintaining a constant, comfortable temperature throughout the property.
When several windows need covering or heavy drapery has to be manipulated, motorised shades and curtains with smart control come into their own. When set to work automatically, they keep the property warmer in winter and cooler in summer, resulting in substantial energy savings while protecting your furniture from sunlight damage.
Select your shades
Almost any type of window, wall or skylight covering can be motorised, allowing your whole house to be configured to suit the needs of the household. Your requirements will not only depend on the construction and intended design of the property, but also the position of the building. Cost will undoubtedly be an additional factor, as prices will vary significantly depending on the type of fabric chosen and how it will be installed – as a general rule, the more discrete you want it to be, the more expensive it will be.
As well as traditional curtains, several variations of blind (roller, roman, venetian), security shutters and or even – in warmer countries – mosquito nets might need to be placed in various parts of the home. If a space needs to be multi-purpose, it can be desirable to use a combination of solutions, such as roller blackout paired with a sheer curtain (or voile), or tandem tracks with both roman and roller shades. Should your house feature skylights, then tensioned blinds, which have a mechanism to keep them taut so they can be deployed at a non-vertical angle, will likely need to be deployed.
When it comes to irregularly shaped windows, most of the time the only option will be a custom solution. In this scenario it is best to consult beforehand with a shading expert, who will explore the various options available and recommend the most effective means of window treatments to work within the particular constraints of the space.
If planned intelligently, all of the above can be unified under a single control system, making it much easier for a homeowner to manage.
While several systems allow for blinds to be controlled using a remote, some will allow you to predetermine when your blinds will be adjusted using an astronomical timer or alarms set by the homeowner. This causes the blinds to be raised and lowered in synchronisation with the rising and setting of the sun or the activities of the property’s residents.
While evidently desirable, such automation does need to be approached with caution; astronomically-timed systems have a tendency to become inconvenient and difficult to manage if not set up prudently. Strategies such as daylight harvesting (which is used in office spaces) are unlikely to work as desired, so it is important to consult a connected home expert to guide you through any automation that you wish to put in place.
Choose your configuration
The first thing that should be assessed is whether a shade needs to be hardwired or if you will be limited to a wireless approach. While hardwiring is the most expensive option and requires you to run additional cabling, it is also the most reliable method and makes it easier to to integrate your motorised shades into a whole-house control interface.
Plug-in and battery-powered blinds – which communicate over a radio frequency connection such as Zigbee, Z-Wave or a manufacturer’s proprietary protocol – tend to be less stable and, in some properties, will sometimes struggle to communicate over a significant distance, particularly if a property features thick columns and walls. As well as being reliant on the occasional battery change, these systems will also be unable to actuate as much fabric weight as a hard-wired set-up.
Within the various means of window treatment, there are several options to choose from depending on the effect that you wish to achieve. An inside or flush mount will look cleaner than an out-of-window configuration, but these offer less flexibility in terms of the window covering that can be employed. More importantly, implementing these may require plaster-boarding and additional structural work, driving up costs.
An inside roll will track more tightly to the glass and block more outside light, while a reverse roll will ensure the mechanism is less prominent visibly, and a valance or recessed pocket can be specified to hide it completely.
Similarly, choosing curtains comes down to more than just deciding whether you want ripplefold or pinch pleat drapes: any motorised system must be devised so that their behaviour reflects the natural behaviour of the homeowner. This includes whether curtains should draw from the right or left, or from both sides. It might be better to use two tracks rather than one, in order to support heavier curtains or to ensure optimum stackback (the space at either side of a window that is filled by curtains when they are drawn back). A curved or bent track might also be desirable, depending on the shape of the window.
Add the decorative touches
For home cinemas and media rooms where the perfect film-watching environment is desired, blackout shades can be installed to block out all unnecessary light from filtering in. An optimal solution, incorporating side tracks and a thick buffer brush or sill channel on the base, can completely block all outside illumination and create the perfect ambience for relaxing in front of a movie.
For those who would prefer their drapery to remain out of sight, out of mind when not being used, there are several options for doing so. By integrating tracks and brackets into the ceiling or walls, homeowners can add a touch of minimalist class throughout their property. Alternatively, several roller blind systems can be visually improved with the addition of a fascia to hide unsightly elements.
A fully architecturally integrated solution will require a lot more planning in the design stage, as well as needing to draw expertise from a number of skilled tradespeople to accomplish, yet this will yield the best result. As all motors will need to be serviceable in case of faults, this should be properly managed to ensure that problems are avoided further down the line.
With manual systems and roman blinds, it is crucial to make sure that they meet child safety legislation. A cordless set-up such as Lutron’s mesh system is ideal but, if not, then all cords, chains and loops need to be located so that they do not pose a suffocation threat.
Likewise, a window treatment should be secured in such a way that it acts as a ‘breakaway’ device that will detach should a child become entangled in it. With motorised shades, this is not an issue, as they remove all operating cords that may pose a threat.
Hitting the outer limits
With all smart window treatments there will be a limit to the maximum width and weight that the system can handle – Lutron’s largest offering of roller shade can cover a treatment surface of up to 3.56m x 3.65m, for example – so this will need to be factored in when making decisions on what type of fabric or shutter to employ. To ascertain whether your preferred option is viable, you will need to make sure that the blind’s motor or tube (or just the motor if it is a set of curtains) can support the weight of the fabric that you intend to use and that the unit is fixed to the wall in a appropriately secure manner.
When a window is too large to accommodate a standard blind width, then two or more blinds can be placed side-by-side. The space needs to be measured extremely carefully and extra width specified to make up for the standard factory deductions made by the blind manufacturer. Tubes can also be coupled using a clutch, which means that one motor can drive multiple treatments, even if they are positioned at an angle to one another.
A neater alternative, depending on the space that needs to be filled, is to railroad the fabric so that it fills the full width of the window. As fabric bolts only come in a certain width, the horizontal side of the blind is measured along the roll’s length instead. This allows blinds of any width but limits maximum the length, so multiple lengths of fabric might need to be joined together to achieve full coverage of a window. Not every fabric can be joined, so it is important to check before you specify.
The larger the width of the shade you intend to use, the more the fabric will sag – a phenomenon known as ‘tube deflection’. This can cause an unsightly ‘smile’ effect or vertical ripples in the material, which is aesthetically unappealing. While reducing the shade width or electing for multiple drapes to cover the window will resolve this, it might also be possible to increase the diameter of the tube that holds the fabric, add a horizontal fibreglass stiffener (called a batten) into the panel, or use special reinforced tubes – these all work to reduce the effect of tube deflection. Curling and waves around the edge of the shade will also be a factor when covering particularly long windows; again, one or more battens can be integrated to counter this.
When planning for a system whereby multiple blinds or curtains will need to move in concert with one another, it is vital that you pick the manufacturer carefully. Currently, only Lutron has been able to achieve perfect synchronisation control thanks to its Intelligent Hembar Alignment system; most other window treatment solutions run the risk of having irregular movement rates between individual units when raising and lowering a set of shades.
If you are performing a renovation in the United Kingdom, then it is likely that the space around the window will not be completely flat, due to the original build. Steps should be taken to make sure that any inconsistencies in the window construction are mitigated as much as possible ahead of the installation of any treatment. There are myriad possibilities for window coverings and the choice can be slightly overwhelming, particularly for larger properties. While proper planning beforehand will go a long way towards avoiding frustration at a later date, it is always ideal to consult a shading specialist in order to ensure optimum results.