January 31, 2023
When Debbie and I began planning our home build project before the pandemic, there was a an enormous tech stack to consider. As the rise in cost of materials and supply chain became issues our overall vision hasn’t changed, just the timeline. Putting a positive spin on that whole mess, there has been significant smart home progress like Matter and mesh wifi. A fairly recent smart home addition has been smart window treatments which has gone through a rapid evolution over the last couple years.
When smart blinds first hit the market they had limited voice assistant integration and were all battery operated. As you all know, I love the whole idea of leveraging smart automation in our home but the idea of have to charge or replace batteries was a deal breaker for me. The last thing I wanted was having to explain to an EMT how I fell and broke my hip changing the batteries on my smart blinds.
So imagine my excitement when DC and low voltage options were introduced. Smart window treatments went back on the list! Solar became an option as well but neither Debbie nor I were too excited about the aesthetics of those.
Depending on your situation you now have a lot of flexibility when it comes to smart blinds and how you power them — by line voltage, low voltage, battery and solar power. As I’ve described a bit above, each power source has its pros and cons.
Old school automated blinds and some modern smart blinds, use line voltage — the same alternating current (AC) at 110 volts found in the outlets in your home. If you’ve ever been in a home with old school automated blinds long before smart home tech was common, some high-end homes had semi-automated systems controlled by wall switches or remotes. One of the dead giveaways of these types of blinds is that they’re noisy. Automated blinds that run off of line voltage tend to have very loud AC motors. There’s no question when they’re in operation and can be quite disturbing in a large room with multiple automated blinds.
One area where line voltage-powered blinds shine is strength. They may be noisy, but if you’re moving large blinds or heavy curtains, they’ll do so consistently and without worrying about straining the motor or having to swap the batteries frequently.
Line voltage motorized window treatments come in a couple different flavors:
- Hardwired directly into a circuit — this is usually done on a new build where the blinds are planned as part of the home operations. Wiring can be done on existing homes or during renovations but costs significantly more. Outside of high-end custom homes, windows wired with line voltage for motorized window treatments are rare.
- Plugged into a nearby outlet — This is a great option where installing line voltage is out of the question or even an apartment as it’s basically ‘plug and play’ once the blinds are installed. Of course, you’ll have the visible power cord from the shade to the electrical outlet to deal with and be prepared to fill up a lot of outlets plugging smart blinds in.
There are quite a few aftermarket options out there for line voltage smart blinds, shades, and drapes, but most of the best-selling direct-to-consumer options are from a company called Graywind — they offer both battery-powered and line voltage options. Not surprising, their line voltage options are the most popular.
Low voltage systems use direct current (DC) at 12 or 24 volts. Rarely, and like line-voltage setups usually only on higher-end custom homes, a home is wired for low-voltage wiring to each window to drive the window treatment motors. This is generally done through Power over Ethernet (PoE) via Cat5e or Cat6 cabling. I’ll be running Cat6 cabling throughout our new home to support Wifi, cameras, smart TVs, other AV, kitchen appliances, printers, etc., — pretty much anything with an Ethernet port will be plugged in. So running Cat6 cabling to windows were we plan to use smart blinds is in the plan.
It’s highly unusual for an existing home to have a low-voltage in-wall retrofit for window treatments though, so if you find low-voltage smart blinds in older construction, you’re more likely to find a plug-in model. In that case, the smart blinds run off low-voltage DC provided by a transformer plugged in nearby. Rollerhouse brand roller blind retrofit kits, for example, use DC power supplied by a plugin adapter.
On the upside, you never have to swap the batteries. On the downside — just like with wired line-voltage options — there is a wire dangling down your wall and a bunch of electrical outlets occupied by your smart blind transformers. It works, but it’s less than ideal.
If you’ve done any smart blind shopping, possibly trying to further automate your smart bedroom, you’ve probably noticed that the vast majority of the direct-to-consumer options on the market are battery-powered. The offerings from IKEA, Eve, Lutron, and others require no specialty wiring or connection to line voltages but instead use removable or internal battery packs.
Lutron’s Serena line of smart blinds use common alkaline batteries — and has an impressive battery life of 5+ years with regular use. IKEA blinds have a removable battery you charge once or twice a year. Eve’s roller blinds have a permanent internal battery you charge in place to get around a year of run time. Their competitors have similar setups using similar disposable, removable or internal battery designs.
Whatever the battery type, the battery-powered options offer the convenience of not tying up your outlets or requiring any special wiring.
Solar power is useful for powering some of your outdoor devices like security cameras, but it is useless for most technology in your home due to the lack of consistent access to the sun. But your window treatments are right there at the window, making solar-powered smart blind motors a natural fit.
One of the more notable solutions on the market is the solar-powered options from SmarterHome’s MySmartRollerShades line. In addition to the MySmarterRollerShades line, you can also find a variety of offerings from various smaller companies that include a solar panel you can stick to the window or place on the window sill. These aftermarket panels provide a trickle charge to smart blinds via a micro USB or USB-C cable. Obviously, small solar panels are only well-suited for windows that get full or partial sun throughout the day. When used in north-facing windows, you should expect a modest benefit and occasional recharge needs unlike the effect you’d get from southern window placement.
Adding smart window treatments to your smart home ecosystem is a great addition. With a variety of solution options and integrations with Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple Home Kit, it sets up all kinds of automations. Imagine waking up naturally with the sunrise by coordinating your smart blinds with the timing of the sun via the internet. Or closing your blinds when your smart thermostat hits a temperature threshold or a sensor detects too much sunlight entering a window. They could also be automated with a schedule to open and close while you’re away to give the impression of occupancy. Or simply respond to voice commands.
What are your thoughts on smart window treatments? I’d be interested in feedback on your experience if you already have them. If you don’t, are you considering getting some? As they aren’t exactly inexpensive, is the cost a barrier? I find their application interesting as it’s a really more personal aspect of smart home. And it solves a very different type of smart home challenge.
Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails what you think about smart window treatments. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’
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