Automation options for shades/blinds

I must be doing something right. My wife and I are looking for shades for a bunch of windows across the back of our house and she is asking me how we can make them open and close automatically. I guess all that work with integrating lighting automation with the security system is deemed a success (thank you Insteon and Elk).

We are looking at hunter douglas shades, because we have always liked the brand, and these have a power rise option. Essentially a battery powered motor that can be controlled by an IR remote aimed at the top of the shade unit or a remotely mounted IR reciever. There is also a manual push button next to the IR receiver in case your remote is dead.

So I am considering my options for automating the shades and am looking for input from anyone that has some experience or insight into options that are preferable.

1) I can pretty easily hard wire relays (already use relays with the Elk to automate open/close of garage door) from the M1 to jumper the wires on the hard wired switches on the shade units. I have to believe these push button switches are just a simple contact switch. This will allow me jumper one relay to a series of shades that I want to open and close at the same time (4 windows together in a bay window, etc). advantages are rock solid operation and control from the M1 rules and eventually from Insteon controllers once the Elk adds support for recieving Insteon group commands. Also, the handheld remote that comes with the blinds should still function. disadvantages are running wires.

2) I can add IR support to my automation system and control the blinds through IR signals. advantage of this option is not having to run wires to the individual shades to control them. The disadvantages to this option is the added expense of adding IR control to my system and at this point I don't fully understand what I need to make this work. I am looking into some PC based automation to enhance my M1 capabilities but I don't know if that helps with an IR solution or not.

3) I understand that Insteon is working on their RF products (supposed to have been released in 2006 but there are many questions floating around as to what is going on with Smarthome and the products they had promised with Insteon for 2006 that have never materialized). Even if Insteon adds support for RF I don't know how this helps me out if I have IR controlled shades. I have alot fo learn about IR and RF automation.

Thanks in advance for any recomendations and also links to other good references that will help me learn more about IR and RF automation.

I second the Somfy (also available via Worthington). The Hunter Douglass we integrated a month ago in a loft theater were just this side of worthless. They only have 2 possible IR addresses and the reciever were not terribly reliable. Thankfully, the client purchased against my recommendation and it didn't become "my problem". Somfy has an interface that also allows for RF, IR or close contact for control. Not cheap but super well built and will work. I would also advise against battery operated motors if you're planning on operating the shades more than once or twice a day. I'd look at some LV solutions.
I'm currently using the Somfy blinds and they work well and are of high quality. I have the RF remote and using a combination of AC and battery operated shades since AC was not near some of the shades.

Have not tired to automate them yet with the Insteon or Elk but if someone has some ideas on the best way to do it that would be very helpful. The batteries seems to hold up fine so far but we generally open/close them normally in the morning and at night.
As I understand it, the Insteon solution will be a plug-in bridge to RTS, the existing Somfy RF protocol. I actually just ordered a pair of roller shades with Somfy RF motors to try out, and the Somfy programmable remote, which lets you automate dawn/dusk easily. When/if the Insteon solution comes out, it should be trivial to add more complex automation.

Are you looking for automatable cellular shades specifically?
I automated all of my IR controlled wooden blinds using a combination of the Ocelot IR controller and HomeSeer. Each morning at sunrise the blinks open and each evening they close.
Thanks for all the input. It sounds like I should stay away from the Hunter Douglas shades if they are a bit flaky when it comes to automation.

I am specifically looking at cellular shades and that is why we had been looking at Hunter Douglas because we have had great luck with their shades in the past. That's not to say that other brands are not as good or better.

I keep hearing about Somfy and I really like the idea of RF instead of IR. Especially since Insteon is supposed to offer RF products in the near future. It still isn't clear to me if Somfy offers finished window covering products or just the automation components. If its just the components should I be looking for shade companies that use Somfy or should I be looking to buy the Somfy components and add them to whatever shades I purchase. What brands of shades have people found and liked that use Somfy?

I was planning to call Somfy to get more information.

Somfy basically just has roller shades. Not too much in the way of options except how much light comes through.
One thing you could do if u want cellular is to get the continuous loop option and then and add the motor for them.
Haven't tried it, but was thinking about trying it.

Definitely stay away from Hunter Douglas. We ordered 12 PowerRise blinds from Hunter Douglas a little over a year ago. It was a total nightmare! Three of them basically self destructed the first time I tried to raise them. The string got tangled as it was being reeled up and the motor torque caused the housing to break loose. Hunter Douglas continued to send us defective replacement units. It took about 6 months before we had a working set of blinds and even then I got nervous evertime I raised or lowered them.
I've had pretty good luck with Hunter Douglas blinds. We have had about 20 cellular powerise units in our house for a couple years now. They seem to be pretty solid - however, I have not automated them yet other than with timers. I have a xantech IR blaster I was planning to experiment with, but have not had the time. We really only open/close a room at a time, so the limited IR addressing is not an issue for us. The batteries last about a year. So far no mechanical issues. Fairly easy to install and maintain. A little noisy though. However, it would be really really nice if someone made an X10 RF to IR bridge, or relay for these suckers so I could operate them from my elk without jumping through hoops. Zwave would be even nicer.
Anyone know of a good place online to buy somfy?

I got mine preassembled from The generic shades themselves (I got cheap white blackout vinyl) have a kind of mediocre-quality feel, but work fine, and the Somfy motors and RF control system have been flawless. You can also buy the Somfy stuff individually from them and then easily install it into your own standard roller shades.