A guide to automated shading

October 04, 2019 by Steve Detmer, residential product manager at Lutron Electronics
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A guide to automated shading

Access to daylight is vital for the comfort, productivity and happiness of building occupants. However, too much daylight can have the opposite effect. When designing an optimal lighting scheme, you need to consider how to prioritise daylight access, glare control, views, and solar heat gain. For instance, minimising glare may be important in an office with lots of computer screens inside, but less important in a supply cupboard.
 
 

When using traditional blinds, occupants usually don’t want to constantly move them up and down throughout the day. Aiming to avoid glare and too much sunlight, the default setting on traditional blinds is usually closed. However, because of this, they lose out on the many benefits of natural light.


Automated shading 

Automation can alleviate many of these issues. A daylighting strategy that includes sensors, timers, and daylight-responsive software can work with a building management system to optimise the balance of natural and electric lighting for comfort and energy savings.
 
The benefits of sensors and timers cannot be understated. Rather than simply turning on the lights as you enter, sensors can be used to close the blinds and turn the lights off when a room is unoccupied, saving energy and protecting furnishings from sun damage. Daylight sensors can open the blinds to bring more daylight on a cloudy day or close the blinds to reduce glare as the sun dips towards the horizon. Automated blinds with timers can ensure your privacy by closing all blinds in the evening, and opening them to enjoy natural light in the morning.  
 
Admittedly, automated shading can be a tough sell. It’s difficult for end-users to understand the benefits of smart shading without seeing them first hand. The thing about great technology is that, when it works, it doesn’t draw attention to itself – it just works.
 
In addition, most occupant’s past experiences of automated shading can stand in the way. They imagine clunky and noisy projector screens, rather than the quiet, seamless, aesthetically-pleasing blinds of today. It’s critical that installers are able to demonstrate the benefits, via video or showroom, of automated blinds, as to be seen is to be believed.
 

Selecting the right material

 
When it comes to choosing your shading system, there are a lot of factors to consider. While blind styles have generally stayed the same over time, we’re seeing an increase in the amount of versatile materials being used for shades.
 
It’s essential that your chosen blind fabric balances performance and aesthetics. This is because different fabric properties affect how much light and heat gets through, and how clearly people inside can see out. The colour and opacity of the fabric, and the pattern of the weave, all have an impact – and there can be significant performance differences between fabrics of the same colour.
 
Blackout blinds are perhaps the best known, ideal for rooms where you want to block out all daylight. It gets a bit trickier when planning for spaces where you would like some natural light. When recommending materials for offices, installers should suggest a darker fabric with a greater openness factor. This cuts down glare, and reduces solar heat gain, but occupants can still see through it. This way, employees get the feel of being outside without the headaches caused by glare. Lighter fabrics offer a wholly different experience: they diffuse the light entering a space, and the whole blind becomes a light feature, illuminating the space.
 

The role of the installer
 

Many occupants struggle to understand the benefits of automated shading. It’s the role of installers to introduce clients to the benefits of shading, but their help shouldn’t stop there. They should also ensure that end-users are aware of the options available to them, which includes battery powered or wireless solutions for retrofit projects. Most clients will choose their blind fabric purely based on patterns and colours, and it’s up to installers to educate them on the need to balance performance with aesthetics.

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