Looking to create excitement in an integrated home? Install motorized window treatments; they score a 10+ on the wow factor meter. Many options exist at different price points. Unfortunately, gathering information can be a challenge because many treatment options are custom built. In many cases the companies that build the treatment are not experts in control. Purchasing the right treatment and integrating it to a remote control or automation controller can lead to countless hours of research, dead ends, and expense. This article is here to help outline the benefits of different types of window coverings, determine how to order treatments, choose the correct motor, and integrate the control with an automation system.

Window treatments have a number of uses. Interior Designers use them to create a feeling of comfort in a room or to control natural light. Just as a good lighting system can control the look and mood in a room, window treatments can provide the same level of control over natural light. Depending on the fabric, the amount of light allowed through can vary. A 10% weave reduces the amount of natural light yet allows the customer to enjoy seeing outside on a sunny day. To reduce glare, a 25% open weave may be used as an attractive alternative to window tinting that can be raised for nighttime viewing. In some high-end applications, a customer may choose a combination of two fabrics to provide different options for attractive natural light control. When window treatments are used for energy management, a shade can be used to retain heat during the winter and reflect light in the summer. As sunlight shines on glass, a portion of the heat radiates through, the glass absorbs another portion, and depending on the window, a portion is reflected. On average at sea level, the heat radiated from windows makes up nearly 1/5th of the cooling load. The window treatment helps control the amount radiated through the glass and into the room. Lighter colored treatments reflect light more efficiently and darker color fabrics are typically better to see out a window that utilizes a see through weave. Control of natural light becomes important when creating the theater experience.


For a projector solution, an opaque blackout treatment is very popular to provide total control over the space via artificial light. Blackout is often achieved with motorized drapes or shades. If the room uses wall-mounted display like an LCD or Plasma, it is very common to use an open wave fabric to reduce the amount of glare. After surveying the room and determining the window treatment application, the correct treatment must be selected.

“What is the difference between a shade, drape and blind?” It sounds like a simple question however, individuals incorrectly attempt to interchange each term. When working with a vendor, be certain to be clear when identifying the type of window treatment. Shades, blinds and drapes look different, provide different functions and are motorized in different ways.

For the integration market, the most popular motorized treatment is the shade. To simplify the definition, a shade has a piece of fabric that goes up and down. There are 2 popular mounting solutions. For windows with shallow sills a surface mount approach is most common. Most installers choose to cover both the window and the surrounding molding. Inside mounts typically require approximately 3-inch depth to allow for a flush installation. Because windows are rarely perfect 90° angles, measure the width in 3 locations and use the narrowest location to ensure the treatment will not catch as it moves up and down. The length will be used to set appropriate motor limit locations. There are a large number of motor options that range from 110 VAC, to battery operated. Battery solutions are great to around 7 to 8 feet wide. There is no magical size limitation because the maximum width is determined by the length, fabric thickness, and weight. By using RF control, a battery treatment is an easy, quick, professional installation. For new construction, many low voltage integrators prefer a solution that does not use batteries. For low voltage, custom installers, 24 VDC is the most popular motor. The pre-wire is simply an 18 gauge, 2 conductor run from the equipment closet to the motor. Some manufacturers require special cabling to the motor, so be certain to choose a motor manufacturer before completing the pre-wire. The way technology is progressing, a Cat5 to the motor is not a bad idea. There are communicating motors available today and IP solutions are certainly viable for the future. A Cat5 should cover whatever future communication technologies offer. If the treatment is larger, an AC motor is typically used. Our pre-wire is a 14 gauge, 3-conductor (red, white, black, and earth ground) Romex to an electrical box. Again, a Cat5 is not a bad idea but not necessary. The Romex is fed to the equipment closet to provide power and/or control. Shades are extremely popular due to their ease of installation, great aesthetic look, and the ability to blend into the room décor when not in use.

A drape has fabric, which is suspended from a rod that moves horizontally. The drape can pull from the left, right or center. Typically the installer will have to determine the motor side so the drapery rod can be configured properly. For low voltage control, the pre-wire would be 18 gauge, 2 conductor; however, be certain to choose the drape track manufacturer before finishing a pre-wire. To determine the rod length requires measurement of the opening and stack back area.

Stack back is the area the fabric retreats to when a treatment is open. In this example the sliding glass door opening is 68 inches wide and the customer would like the treatment to open from the center.

Using the chart, the opening of 68 inches means that a typical drape will need 36 inches for the material when the treatment is open. The total rod length would be 104 inches. These dimensions are estimates based on pinched pleat fabric that has 3 carriers per foot. A carrier is the small hanger that rides in the track as the drape opens and closes. Common applications for drapes are covering a sliding glass door, and covering a projection screen. High quality, professional solutions feature an integrated track and motor. One consideration when evaluating motor solutions relates to the track design. Some models allow the fabric to be manually moved while others can only be moved electronically. When covering a projection screen this is not an important consideration; however, when covering a sliding glass door, a customer should never be inconvenienced. Most standard installations use pinch pleat drapes. There are other styles of drapes so be certain to choose the correct motorized drapery system. Be certain to watch the fabric weight since each motor solution will specify a maximum pull weight. With the right motor solution and accurate measurement, installing a motorized drape system is not difficult.

Horizontal blinds are popular window treatment solutions that feature slats that tilt when controlled. Bi-Directional (tilt and lift) horizontal blinds do exist; they very cool to watch and are significantly more expensive. Blinds are excellent for installations where the user wants varying levels of privacy for natural light control. The slats can range in size with 2 inch being the most common. In addition, there are different materials used for the blinds with wood and faux wood being the most popular.

Now that the correct motorized treatment is chosen, how do you make a purchase? To understand why this might be a challenge, you must first understand how the industry works. For an installation a customer is looking to purchase as a complete treatment, every treatment is a sum of its parts. The process starts with measurements. They must be very precise; typically each measurement is made to 1/8 of an inch. From these dimensions a company called a Fabricator assembles the treatment. Each Fabricator typically represents a line of fabrics and motors. They are specialists at cutting material, attaching the material to a tube, hemming the bottom and fixing the motor assembly in a cassette or adding the necessary hardware for mounting. Essentially, every motorized window treatment is a custom order. Often a customer will ask to just add a motor to an existing treatment. While there are companies that will perform the conversion, they are typically the exception, not the norm. There are add-on cord motors for the Do-it-Yourself market; however, they often do not yield the quiet, professional solution that many customers are looking for. The primary solution for the integrator is custom made treatments.

Quite often the Fabricator only makes treatments. They typically rely on a sales force or independent sales people that specify the treatment. The “Specifier” helps the customer choose the appropriate treatment, fabric and color for the application. In addition they take the measurements and either do the installation or coordinate with a local contractor. The Specifier often has strong relationships with Interior Designers and Architects. In many instances the Specifier knows little about the control portion of motorized treatments. This can leave a system integrator scrambling to find a control solution. To eliminate this issue, many integrators are beginning to take control of the sale and specify the treatment.

Due to the number of companies involved in a sale a treatment can become expensive. The window treatment business is considered a high margin business. Knowing the right place to purchase a treatment can save hundreds of dollars. It is not unusual for a $300 motor to end up in a $1,400 shade by the time the Fabricator, Specifier and Installer are all paid. What is an Integrator to do? The Integrator needs to play the role of the Specifier. When an integrator is able to purchase at a wholesale level, they can often reduce the cost by 1/3 to 1/2. That is precisely what we do at Worthington Distribution. We teach integrators how to be specifiers.

Once the treatment is ordered and in place it requires control. How is the customer looking to interface with the treatment? Manual control from a handheld remote or wall mounted keypad? A clock based controller, or seamlessly integrated with an automation controller? Possibly the customer is looking for a combination of several control options. It is a good idea to consider these questions at the pre-wire stage. Keypads often require a multi-conductor cable like a keypad; however, radio frequency options exist from some companies like Somfy. In addition, there is contact closure, infrared commands and RS-232 serial communication. Options and wiring vary based on each manufacturer. Be certain to choose a motor manufacturer that will provide control options that are desired for the application.

Motorized window treatments can be an exciting part of an integrated home that adds to the décor and saves energy. Choosing a treatment is easy; all it takes is accurate measurements and proper wiring. The purchase requires doing your homework to find a wholesaler willing to cut out the layers of markup. The controls are straightforward providing a motor manufacturer offers a complete line and supports the application. Many dealers are hesitant getting started. There is no reason to let the sale get away. Motorized treatments can be a very profitable product offering that a customer will enjoy every day.

For more information, www.worthingtondistribution.com/somfy

Thomas Morgan is the Vice President of Worthington University. He has been working with Somfy for 3 years streamlining the process for specifying, installing and controlling motorized window treatments.