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What I learned Automating Blinds

ano

Senior Member
Automated window coverings have been discussed here now-and-then, but the conversations seem to be focused on how to communicate with the controller for those with the blinds installed already. There is not lots of info on the actual purchase process.  I myself have never had these before, but wanted to in my new home. I should say the home is new to me but 18 years old, so NOT a new build, so it had to be wireless. If you want to know how to prewire for blinds, I cant help you.
 
So the first question I had is should I buy these from Home Depot/Lowes and install them myself? Should I get them from a blinds company? Or should get them from a home automation company? We did the home improvement stores first, and they DO sell Somfy type blinds from Bali and they do have a wide selection.  I believe that Hunter Douglas used to use Somfy, but I don't think they still do although they have automated blinds.  In any case, we decided not to go this route, because savings seem slight at best, and the sales people there weren't much help.  Since I had no knowledge of how to even measure for these, and my wife needed some design assistance, and the salespeople were pretty clueless, these stores wouldn't work for us.
 
I also should add that we needed about 10 blinds for the house not including drapes for the master. Drapes are pricey but they do look better in a bedroom than blinds and they block the light better.  I knew the home automation places carried automated drape motors so I thought I would buy that on-line. I used Automated Shade in Cranberry PA. A few clicks on their web site, and $1000 and two and a half weeks later, the Glydea 35e drapery rod was at my front door. 
 
So now for some blinds and drapes. We didn't know what exactly we wanted, but we DIDN'T want wood blinds. Had those in our last house and they are dust collectors. Besides, they never really open fully unless you pull them up which is hard for big windows, and they never really close fully. And they can only automate the tilt.
 
So we made appointments with three blind companies for in-home estimates. I told each I wanted Somfy RTS controlled blinds, and I would do the control with my HAI Omni Pro II.  I already have purchased the Somfy RTS RS-232 box which I showed them.
 
The choice in blinds was either cellular or roller blinds, both of which can be automated.  Each company was at our house at least 90+ minutes each measuring and going over the options.  They worked with me on the automation part and my wife on the design part. One of the companies seemed to be an expert on the Somfy technology, and the other two knew enough to get by. Although my house is not large, many homes around here are, with giant windows in the multimillion dollar range, so I'm sure the automated blinds are something they all must sell.
 
Blind motors they sell can use Zigbee, Z-Wave, RTS (the Somfy wireless standard) or they can be wired. We do have Zigbee here but I went with RTS because I know the HAI works with it. (They are a partner.) Zigbee might work too, but nobody knew for sure and it would be a big gamble and a large amount to spend not knowing fully if it will work.
 
There is also a choice on power. A battery stick, 120V power or solar. None of the blind people recommended the solar, and two pushed the battery pack and one the 120V option. I went with the 120V which added some cost to each.
 
So how much? We'll if you want cheap, you can stop reading now.  Overall, automated added about $300 to each blind. There are many fabric and options with blinds, and price varies with size, but for us, $300 of the $500 average price per blind was for automation. For the drapery, around $1000 of the total $3000 - $4000 price was for automation. This price does not include the part that connects to the panel, but the blind companies typically DO include one Somfy remote per room.  So count on automation roughly doubling the cost.
 
And prices varied from one blind company to the next. One charged $300 for a battery motor and $500 for a motor with AC adapter. Another charged $250 per battery motor, and $50 to upgrade to 120V. We went with the 120V upgrade, because the batteries would be hard to reach to change.  And each uses 8 batteries, so replacing them is a pain.  Also we couldn't automate one of our blinds because it was just too long and narrow, but that is O.K.
 
They should be installed in a few weeks if all goes well.
 
 
 
 
 

NeverDie

Senior Member
I like how you gave actual dollar amounts in your post.  For instance, I was surprised to learn that drapery automation would be 2x the cost of blind automation.  Why is the automation for one so much more expensive than the other?
 
To better calibrate the prices: how big are the windows that you're automating?
 

wuench

Senior Member
Excellent post Ano!   I have been wondering about this process for a long time.  Please update us on the install and post pics if you get a chance, I am especially curious how you are going to run the 120V wiring.  Most of the windows walls I have seen do not have space to run wires so I have always been puzzled on how best to do that....
 

drvnbysound

Senior Member
Great information and THANKS for sharing!
 
I've always liked the idea of automating some blinds/shades/drapes etc...  but honestly, we adjust our dining room window (blind) randomly - our dog likes to look out the window, and we have some covering our sliding glass door to the back yard which we only open/close to go in/out of that door. We rarely, if ever touch any of the others in the house, so I don't think that we'd really utilize the benefit of having them controllable/automated.
 

ano

Senior Member
There is no doubt that this was the most complicated home automation that I have done. You pop in a few light switches or locks and that is it.  Here its a complex blend of automation, style, capability and utility.  Of these, automation is the EASY part. For example take the master bedroom window.  In our house this is a 10 ft. wide window, the biggest in the house. So you want it dark when you sleep, but you also want light during the day, and you may want to prevent people seeing in.  So you could use a blackout blind, or a drape with a liner, or both.  The drape could block the light, and a blind could be used for a sheer to let light in during the day.  With a 10 ft. window, I would need two blinds because of the width.  So you could spend $1K for two blinds, another $1k for the drapery rod, and easily $4K for the actual drapery, so we are talking $6K for ONE window. We decided to add sun screens on the window outside to save the cost of adding two sheer blinds or a manual sheer curtain. 
 
For blinds there are more decisions than you could imagine. They can go in the window, outside of the window, you can have a wooden valance, a cloth valance, it can be automated or left manual to save money. And then there are MANY kinds of blinds that the wife needs to like. Again, automation is the EASY part.
 
NeverDie said:
For instance, I didn't know that drapery automation would be 2x the cost of blind automation.  Bigger motors, I guess?
For us its a $300 blind motor or a $1000 Sofy drapery motor and rod. So maybe 3 to 1 cost, but we have a very large bedroom window. It would actually take 2 $300 blind motors.
 
NeverDie said:
Are you doing the installation,  or is it the company you hired?
 
It sounds as though all the drapes and blinds will be installed at about the same time, rather than in phases?
Were having them install it. I considered doing it, but the measuring and installing is not easy, and measure wrong and it is NOT returnable.  I have done almost everything in my house myself, but this is not one of them.
 
Each of the companies tended to price the blinds as a separate project from the drapes.  We have all the prices for the blinds, but just to get drapery prices, it takes time. The blinds take a week or two to make and will be installed first. Making them is pretty automated. The drapery is a different story. They send it off to a place called a "workroom" and they are all made by hand and a liner is put on the back. It takes 6 to 8 weeks, and it costs much more than blinds, but it looks nice in a bedroom.
 
wuench said:
Excellent post Ano!   I have been wondering about this process for a long time.  Please update us on the install and post pics if you get a chance, I am especially curious how you are going to run the 120V wiring.  Most of the windows walls I have seen do not have space to run wires so I have always been puzzled on how best to do that....
Yeah, power is a big decision. I believe the battery powered and 120V powered motors are different. One company told me the 120v motors running on 24V are quieter than the battery motors, but I don't know if this is true.
 
When you get battery, the battery pack is installed behind the motor at the top back of the window. But each uses 8 AA batteries, preferably lithium. So with 9 blinds that is lots of batteries. If you choose, 120v, there is a small wall wart that needs to go in an outlet and it can power multiple blinds. So the wire will run down one side of inside the window frame, then across the bottom to above the outlet then down. Its low voltage so not that large. 
 
Another option is to cut a slot down the wall, insert the cord, then patch the wall.  I've done that for wires down to a motion detector with good results. I have outlets just below windows so I don't think it will be bad because the distance is short, but we shall see. Somfy has a solar option with a rechargeable battery pack and a solar cell said to last 10 years. I don't know the cost, but none of the companies recommended it.
 
drvnbysound said:
I've always liked the idea of automating some blinds/shades/drapes etc...  but honestly, we adjust our dining room window (blind) randomly - our dog likes to look out the window, and we have some covering our sliding glass door to the back yard which we only open/close to go in/out of that door. We rarely, if ever touch any of the others in the house, so I don't think that we'd really utilize the benefit of having them controllable/automated.
This is a first for me so we will see. With just remotes I would probably agree with you, but I think adding real home automation adds much more. I've only had wood blinds which are really hard to open, so you tend to always keep them closed and just tilt them to open. Personally I've never liked the lines/slates you see across windows even when they are open. I live in AZ and my wife would always tend to keep them closed due to the bright sun and heat.  Around here, the sun can easily fade funiture and wood cabinets, and it can heat your house up. So for me, this is a real way for the system to determine when blinds open and close.
 
Second, blinds being always open or always closed are a great to tell burglars that you are not home. I have a home office at the front of the house with a great view, so the blinds are open during the day. At night, if they are open you can see in, see my computers, server, etc. So I need to close these at night. 
 
Did I have to automate every blind? Probably not, but not automating them all could be a pain also if we get use to the automated ones.  My wife has an office/work room that just looks at a wall, and we weren't going to automate it, but we did for consistency. 
 
Automated blinds certainly aren't required, but like automated light switches or automated locks, it just adds one more nice touch. My philosophy has not been to just make a "remote control house" that I can control from my phone. I want a "smart" home that decides what to do itself, without my input.  
 

NeverDie

Senior Member
Yet another option I've seen illustrated in one of the other cocoontech threads might be to drill a hole through the window header and pull the wire directly to the hookup points on your blinds/drapes.  That way the wiring is effectively invisible, hidden by a valance.  
 
Edit: I tracked it down (HomeSeer forum):
 
attachment.php

 
Note: though the photo illustrates the notion, it might be advisable to terminate those wires inside a proper junction box.  Check your local codes, etc.
 

LarrylLix

Senior Member
"Around here, the sun can easily fade funiture and wood cabinets, and it can heat your house up. So for me, this is a real way for the system to determine when blinds open and close."

I guess in the warmer climates Low-E panes with argon gas are not common. We don't have the uv problems with our northern designs and of course  they let the heat in but not out, as the iR wavelength changes, anyway.
 

pete_c

Guru
Thank-you Ano for your post and sharing your experience.
 
Historically over the years the whole blind / windows dressing thing has been one effort of much time / monies for our homes. 
 
And always a two endeavor of wife and I; mostly wife here as the shades / blinds have never been automated.
 
I did like the professional sales person windows guru dealings way better than the big box shopping and DIY of the installation. (DIY has been done once in the last 40 years).
 
In the current home we do have 120VAC outlets below every window except for a few which are utilized today for the automated holiday lighting stuff.  Windows here are monotonous on the outside with unique dressings on the inside and all almost identically sized except for a few.  Well current spring (now summer; skipped spring here) endeavor is relating to outside shutters (which are were installed for appearance and not function).
 
Here we also have one room with wooden blinds and personally they are left closed most of the time.
 
We have wood floors on 3/4 of the main floor and I have noticed the sun fading the finish of the wood in certain sections of the house.
 
I do have a few plants in front of a few windows and have this regimented morning / night exercise of opening and closing shades / blinds / drapes.   Well too the parrot is surrounded by windows and she does remind me about opening her stuff for her view every morning; she does get whatever she wants here.
 
I do prefer these days to do the manual thing of opening and closing shades (must be an age thing with me) and today's endeavor is replacing a hedgehog on my old automobile (more into this stuff lately) which has nothing to do with shades but is related to WAF (comfort level thing).
 
NeverDie said:
Yet another option I've seen illustrated in one of the other cocoontech threads might be to drill a hole through the window header and pull the wire directly to the hookup points on your blinds/drapes.  That way the wiring is effectively invisible, hidden by a valance.  
 
Edit: I tracked it down (HomeSeer forum):
 
attachment.php

 
Note: though the photo illustrates the notion, it might be advisable to terminate those wires inside a proper junction box.  Check your local codes, etc.
FWIW that is LV, 100% legal junction there. Not asthetically pleasing or what I'd recommend, but it'll work for someone that doesn't know better or care how it looks.
 

NeverDie

Senior Member
DELInstallations said:
FWIW that is LV, 100% legal junction there. Not asthetically pleasing or what I'd recommend, but it'll work for someone that doesn't know better or care how it looks.
 What would you recommend?
 

ano

Senior Member
Most of the Somfy motors have their wireless called RTS, built-in.  They also have Z-wave and Zigbee and wired contacts, but I think those all are special order.
 
I like the Somfy RTS stuff because they make remotes and wall switches and sun sensors that can control it. They also make a control box with RS-232/RS-485 which connects to the Omni Pro II. Another nice thing about RTS is you can use multiple channels to control banks of blinds. So one channel might open or close blind #1, but a second channel could open or close all the windows in a room together.
 

zenix

Member
Ano,
 
ano said:
we DIDN'T want wood blinds. Had those in our last house and they are dust collectors. Besides, they never really open fully unless you pull them up which is hard for big windows, and they never really close fully. And they can only automate the tilt.
 
While I am not fan of wood blinds myself, you are not right about automation. Lutron's venetian blinds have automated lift and tilt - they can go up/down and can be tilted open/closed, at the same time.
 
ano said:
There is also a choice on power. A battery stick, 120V power or solar. None of the blind people recommended the solar, and two pushed the battery pack and one the 120V option. I went with the 120V which added some cost to each.
 
There are other options - I think they are actually most common - low voltage DC wiring. Lutron has two options - 24V and 12V. While 24V motors are hardwired, 12V motors can be had either on batteries or hardwired. Hunter Douglas uses 18V DC, and if I recall correctly, can be battery powered too.
 
ano said:
So how much? We'll if you want cheap, you can stop reading now.  Overall, automated added about $300 to each blind. There are many fabric and options with blinds, and price varies with size, but for us, $300 of the $500 average price per blind was for automation. For the drapery, around $1000 of the total $3000 - $4000 price was for automation. This price does not include the part that connects to the panel, but the blind companies typically DO include one Somfy remote per room.  So count on automation roughly doubling the cost.
 
$500 is about right for HunterDouglas, and $300 is about right for Lutron shades. You can reduce that cost to about $200 if you go with Serena shades. Yes, drapery is another story, and much more expensive.
 
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