Smart Shade Buying Guide for 202220 min read
With consumers increasingly concerned about privacy and security, more and more homeowners are choosing to elevate their windows with automated smart shades and smart blinds. Once the bastion of professional integrators and window covering installers, recent market shifts have brought more smart shade options into the realm of the DIY homeowner, while the offerings from professional installers are continuing to expand.
In this smart shade selection and buying guide, we will cover benefits you can expect to gain from installing smart shades and blinds, options for installing them, guidance on selecting your smart shades (including smart shade designs, power options, and shade controls), and where to buy them.
Finally, in our Recommended Smart Shades and Smart Blinds section, we list our top smart shade picks by brand, as well as how these smart window coverings can integrate with the Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings ecosystems (and more).
The Joy of Smart Motorization
It may go without saying, but all smart shades begin with smart motorization. While many smart home accessories may operate invisibly in the background, it’s the built-in shade motors whirring in synch with onboard wireless radio chips and software that make smart shades the undisputed extroverts of your smart home. To observe all the shades in your home raise, lower, or adjust in unison at your command is a sight to behold, and is sure to impress the guests at your next dinner party or backyard barbecue. But beyond the obvious wow factor, there are many other reasons to consider smart shades for your home. Read on to learn about the benefits.
Smart Shade Benefits
According to data from a U.S. Department of Energy study published at Energy.gov, 75% of residential window coverings remain in the same position day after day. That’s understandable, since it can be inconvenient or impractical to visit each window multiple times per day to manually adjust the shades through their cords or wands—based on whether you are home or away, or whether it’s cloudy or sunny, daytime or nighttime, summer or winter, and so on. Smart shades can be configured to automate all of those scenarios and more, as well as give you simple voice or app control to adjust them on a whim.
—Privacy, Safety, and Security.
Smart shades can significantly enhance your personal and family privacy, safety, and security through adjusting to meet your needs throughout the day and night. For instance, when working from home you may want to keep all of the shades on the street side of your home closed while opening the shades in the back of the home where your office, kitchen, and exercise room are located. Or you may want to have your shades open and close multiple times per day while you are away on vacation so as to not tip off potential burglars regarding your vacancy.
Since by definition most smart shades are truly “cordless”—meaning they require no operating cords to raise, lower, or adjust them—they eliminate the choking hazard of dangling cords, making them ideal for homes with infants and small children.
—Daylighting, Light Control, and Comfort.
Whether your goal is to maximize or minimize daylighting, reduce glare, or simply stay comfortable, smart shades can make it easy to automatically control the amount of light coming into your windows to meet the needs of the moment. This modulation can happen many times throughout the day, and can be tailored on an individual window or group of windows basis. You may want all of your shades to open at sunrise and close at sunset, or have them open or close at different times during the day based upon their orientation to the sun, time of day, and depth of overhangs.
Smart shades can make it extremely easy to adjust the view you are getting through your windows, whether that is a spectacular view of the ocean, the setting sun, or simply a view of the kids playing in the backyard. Whereas it can be drudgery to adjust a group of manual Venetian blinds by tugging and tugging on their cords and twisting the wands, smart shades can make quick work of it.
Imagine having the ability to granularly control every windows shade in your home from a single app. That’s entirely possible with many of the latest smart shades and smart home ecosystems on the market. Do you want to be able to issue an Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, or Google Assistant voice command to close all shades just before retiring for the night? You can also do that with many smart shades. Or do you want to have handheld or wall-mounted wireless remote control access to your smart shades? Also entirely possible. Just be sure to spend the time researching your smart shades to ensure you get the level of convenience you expect.
—Solar Heat Gain and Loss + Energy Savings.
Automations on on a schedule can help minimize solar heat gain through your windows on hot days by closing the shades (to reduce cooling loads), or maximizing solar heat gain on cold days by opening them (to reduce heating loads). These hands-off automations can help save on energy costs throughout the year.
—Preserving Fabrics on Furniture.
A lesser-known impact to daylighting may be the fading of fabrics on furniture pieces caused by day-in, day-out exposure to UV light through the windows. Smart shades can be set to adjust at specific times of the day to minimize or prevent such exposure.
—Home Resale Value.
Done right, smart shades should help increase resale value and make your home easier to sell down the road based on all of the benefits we articulate above.
Smart Shade Downsides
We love smart shades and the benefits derived from them, and have installed them in 3 different homes over the past several years. However, like any other technology there can be downsides. For smart shades, the devils in the details are cost and lead time.
—Cost. Cost. Cost.
First and foremost, the cost of smart shades can be prohibitive and a big hit to your household budget if you are installing more than a few of them.
For example, take the case of a basic 34-in. by 72-in. room-darkening fabric roller shade made to order by Bali Shades. Available as a DIY-installable shade from The Home Depot, the shade costs $89 when ordered as a manual shade with a standard pull cord. However, the cost increases to $278 when upgraded to a battery-powered motorized smart shade with Z-Wave networking built in.
This $278 per shade costing for the Bali smart shades was generated during a 40% off promotion at The Home Depot (the regular retail price of this configuration was $465). You would still need to add a third-party Z-Wave hub in order to add the shade to your smart home, so you can tack on another $100 or so (but of course a Z-Wave hub can typically control an entire house full of shades).
Keep in mind promotional discounting to the tune of 25 to 40% is often common among some of the larger manufacturers and online retailers, so look out for that to significantly reduce the cost burden. On average, however, you can expect to pay $250 to $500 for most basic DIY smart shades after any discounts.
There are some more palatable solutions to the cost dilemma. For instance, worldwide home furnishings retailer IKEA began selling their DIY motorized smart shades in the U.S. market a few years ago. Their Fyrtur blackout roller shade sells for $160 in a comparable 34-in. by 76.75-in. size. IKEA smart shades are available only in a limited number of pre-made, off-the-shelf sizes. They are only available in a single color, so they may or may not fit in with your home decor. IKEA also recently introduced their Tredansen black-out cellular shades, so that may be another option.
Furthermore, if you are working with an integrator or installer, expect the cost per shade to rise significantly to cover their installation, integration, and support costs. Some recent research by CE Pro Magazine found the median price per installed motorized shade in the system integrator realm was $1,625.
Since most smart shades are made to order based on your specific window measurements, production and delivery of them can take anywhere from a week or two to several months. So be sure to plan for that when you lay out your project. When working with professional installers and integrators, also keep in mind they will need fit you into their installation schedule once the shades arrive in their shop.
Selecting Your Smart Shade Installation Method
While some smart shades are designed to be installed with basic DIY skills, others may require more advanced skills or may require installation by professional installers or integrators. Still others may require specialized smart home hubs, network repeaters, or special wiring. So before you embark on your project, consider your level of competence in adding smart home components and doing other DIY projects around the home.
- Basic DIY. In most cases, at a minimum you will need access to a power drill driver and bits for attaching shade brackets to your walls, appropriate wall anchors for securing the screws, and a ladder. And depending upon the shade type, you may also need to supply the batteries for the shades and remotes.
- Advanced DIY. In addition to the the basic DIY requirements above, you may need to install an accessory smart home hub (such as a SmartThings, Z-Wave, or Zigbee hub), pair the shades with the smart home hub, and possibly do some creative wiring to connect the shades to power.
- Professional Installer. In this case, you will work with a professional installer well versed in the selection, purchase, and installation of the smart shades. They generally handle the install from start to finish, then hand the smart shade system over to you when it’s completed. Typically, professional installers will work through established window covering manufacturers like Bali, Graber, Hunter Douglas, Kirsch, and others. When ordering smart shades through stores like The Home Depot, they can also connect you with a professional installer.
- System Integrator. In much the same way as the professional installer, the system integrator will coordinate your smart shade selection, purchase, and installation from start to finish. Often affiliated with CEDIA, integrators may cater to higher end smart shade installations as well as facilitate system integration with professional home control systems such as Control 4, Crestron, Elan, and others. They may also have access to specialized smart shade products tailored for professional install.
Selecting Your Smart Shades
So, you are all in on trying smart shades for your home. But where do you begin? Start here, and begin to consider the type of smart shades you need, how you’ll power them, and how you may want to control them once they are installed.
Do keep in mind that motorized shades are not necessarily smart shades. For instance, sister companies Bali and Graber offer their cellular, roller, and solar shades with their new Motorized Wand control. This control at the shade enables push-button controls to raise, lower, or adjust the shade but the shade cannot connect to an app or smart home ecosystem.
—Types of Smart Shade Designs.
Smart shade types and designs can be as varied as the windows they are intended to cover. However, most shades tend to be universally adaptable to most window types. For instance, the ubiquitous roller shade can be used on single- or double-hung windows, awning widows, casement windows, sliding windows, picture windows, clerestory windows, and more. The same can be said for cellular shades, layered shades, and sheer shades. It really comes down do what you are looking for as far as personal style, the type and color of fabrics and materials, the amount of light you want coming in through your windows, the amount of privacy desired, and of course your budget.
- Roller Shades. Roller shades are the most universal of all smart shades, and nearly every manufacturer will offer them in their product line-ups. Mechanically, these are the simplest of all motorized shades and generally require the least amount of lift force from the motor—meaning the batteries tend to last longer. Their cost tends to be at the lower end of the smart shade range.
- Layered Shades. Among the newest designs are smart layered shades (often called banded shades or zebra shades), where the shade consists of two layers or fabric with alternating bands of sheer and opaque material. They tend to be at the higher end of the cost range, and can be the most dramatic to watch as they raise, lower, or adjust.
- Sheer Shades. Also among the newer designs are smart sheer shades (often called soft blinds), all-fabric shades that have two layers of fabric connected by fabric vanes. They function more like Venetian blinds, and also tend to be at the higher end of the cost range.
- Cellular Shades. Cellular shades (also known as honeycomb shades) are also offered by many smart shade manufacturers, and these are generally in the middle of the cost range. They typically offer more energy savings than other designs due to the air trapped inside the cellular vanes.
- Venetian Blinds. There are many smart Venetian blinds on the market to choose from. Due to the nature of their design, they tend to be heavier and require more lift force than other designs—so typically the lift operation is not motorized. Instead, the motorization and automation are restricted to tilting the vanes for light control. These shades can be made of aluminum, vinyl, wood, or other materials. Cost tends to be at the lower to middle segments of the range.
- Other Designs. Shade manufacturers are constantly innovating so expect to see more and more smart shade options in the future. By way of example, Hunter Douglas offers the Sonette roller shades, which are a hybrid of roller shade technology with an insulating layer of fabric for more energy efficiency. They have also introduced their Palm Beach Polysatin interior shutters, which can include motorization of the tilt function.
Light Transmission and Privacy Options. For shades made with fabric, you will also need to consider the amount of light and privacy desired for your windows. As such, many shades will be offered in sheer, semi-sheer, light filtering, or light blocking (blackout) variations. And while we won’t delve into the specifics of shade fabrics, rest assured there is an extremely wide range of fabric and material options out there.
—Types of Smart Shade Power Options.
Concomitant with smart shade motorization is the requirement for continual access to electrical power. While many smart shades will be powered via batteries by default, be sure to consider all the options here. Certainly, the operation of the smart shades themselves will be via wireless connections, but in some cases you may need to consider hard wiring the smart shade to an external power supply.
- Batteries. The majority of DIY smart shades are powered by an array of AA batteries (or possibly C-cell or D-cell batteries in the case of roller shades), but beyond more than a few shades this can be problematic since the batteries may require replacement multiple times during the course of a year. The replacement interval varies widely depending on frequency of usage, shade type, and size. It’s not uncommon for individual smart shades to require a minimum of 8 to as many as 16 AA batteries to power them, and many manufacturers stipulate more costly lithium batteries. Typically, one or more battery packs may need to be installed behind the smart shade housing. For roller shades, the batteries may install inside the shade roller.
- Rechargeable Battery Packs. These are removable for easy charging away from the smart shade, so may be a reasonable option for a home with many shades. They tend to go longer between charges than the AA battery option.
- Plug-in Power Adapters. A viable option may be a plug-in power adapter or transformer, particularly where you plan on installing a large number of shades throughout the home. These typically plug directly into the shade housing in lieu of a battery pack. The caveat with plug-on adapters is finding a creative way to hide the necessary wires, as well as ensuring there is a wall outlet nearby for plugging them in.
- Hard Wiring. If you are installing smart shades in a new construction scenario, it may make sense to install dedicated in-wall control boxes and power supplies in strategic locations. This will enable you to invisibly hide all wires in the walls.
- Solar Panels. Some manufacturers offer local solar panel options for their smart shades. In this case, a small solar panel positioned near the shade is used to keep the batteries recharged. This may be a good option where the window location receives sufficient sunlight to fully recharge the batteries each day.
—Types of Smart Shade Controls.
The types of available smart shade controls also varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer. While it is generally safe to expect some sort of smartphone app control or voice control, be sure to do your homework on what is available out of the box versus what is offered as an option or requires additional hardware. The standard here—unfortunately—it that there are no standard control offerings across makers.
- App Control. In some cases, there may be a dedicated app from the maker designed specifically for a given smart shade. In other cases, the smart shade may work with the apps of one or more of the predominant smart home ecosystems—Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings.
- Smart Displays. Smart displays such as the Google Nest Hub or Nest Hub Max can offer touch control for smart shades, though the controls may be limited to basic open or close operations. Smart shades typically connect to Google smart displays through Works with Google integrations. Integrations may also be possible with Amazon Echo Show displays. Smart displays also incorporate smart speakers so they can also be used for voice control commands.
- Voice Control. Again, do your homework here. Voice control with Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, or Google Assistant may indeed be an option for a given smart shade, but to enable that functionality may require an add-on smart speaker or smart home hub.
- Remote Controls. Many smart shade makers will offer a companion wireless remote control option. These can be convenient when you want to operate an individual shade (or even group of shades) without having to locate your smartphone or trying to recall a specific voice command. They can be snapped to the wall or sit on a coffee table for easy access. These may communicate with the smart shade via radio frequency (RF), Z-Wave, Bluetooth, or other wireless communications protocol.
- In-Wall Lighting and Control Systems. Another option for some brands of smart shades can be in-wall lighting and control systems. Typified by the Brilliant brand, these gesture-activated smart lighting controls are designed to replace standard lighting wall switches, and can also be fitted with optional color LCD touch-screen displays for control of smart shades and other devices.
- Whole-Home Automation Systems. Installed by system integrators, these higher-end systems with dedicated on-wall touch panels, remotes, and mobile device controls can integrate with motorized and smart shades.
- Smart Home Scenes. With scenes, a number of smart shades can be controlled at the same time by tapping a button in an app. These scenes are easy to set up and can be combined to control other smart home accessories on the same network, such as smart lighting or smart door locks. Generally, scenes can also be executed with voice control.
- Smart Home Automations or Routines. Taking scenes a step further, automations or routines for smart shades can be set up in an app to trigger a scene (or a group of devices) at a specific time each day, at sunrise or sunset, at the opening of a smart lock, based on your location through geofencing, or myriad other conditions.
Smart Home Ecosystem Integration
While the new Matter smart home standard may help over time, today the compatibility of smart shades between the Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings ecosystems is very mixed. It’s best to plan and research very carefully before you buy to ensure the features you expect in your smart shades are supported within the ecosystem you are planning to use.
From our experience, smart shades that include onboard Z-Wave or Zigbee radios can offer the best integration across the ecosystems, particularly when used with the Samsung SmartThings platform. They are also a good bet for the longer term since they will ultimately work with Matter and are also among the favorites of professional integrators.
For Apple ecosystem users, the number and variety of shades with Apple HomeKit support are growing, but they are still few and far between compared to those supported by the Amazon Alexa and Google Home ecosystems. In our recommendations section, we detail the available smart home ecosystem integrations for each brand.
Where to Buy Smart Shades
Most basic DIY or advanced DIY shades are available directly from online retailers like SelectBlinds.com, Zebra Blinds, and Smith & Noble, or through big-box home improvement stores like The Home Depot or Lowe’s. Even membership warehouse Costco offers smart shades from Bali for online purchase.
If you are looking to buy smart shades off the shelf, IKEA is really the only game in town. They can be a good option if your windows fit with their limited sizes.
None of the major window covering manufacturers we researched currently sell their smart shades through Amazon. However, Amazon does offer products from multiple smart shade makers so these are worth considering.
If you are going with a professional installer or integrator approach, expect them to front-end the purchase process for you. The exception may be Costco, where professionally-installed Graber smart shades can be purchased at a membership discount. However, Costco refers the consumer to a local Graber professional consultant and installer to plan, quote, and execute the project.
Recommended Smart Shades and Smart Blinds
|Brand||Description||Smart Shade Product Types||Smart Shade Power Options||Smart Home Ecosystem Integrations (see footnotes below table)|
|Bali||Custom smart shades, broad type and style options. Bali App + Gateway offers turnkey solution. Good for DIY, also Pro install.||Cellular, Layered, Natural, Pleated, Roller, Roman, Sheer, Solar Shades||Battery, Plug-in Adapter, Rechargeable Power Pack||Bali Gateway + App, Z-Wave, SmartThings, Amazon Alexa, Google Home 1, 2|
|Eve MotionBlinds at SelectBlinds||Custom roller shades, based on Eve MotionBlinds technology. Apple HomeKit out of the box. DIY or Pro install.||Roller Shades (Layered Shades may be available at other Eve MotionBilnds online sellers)||Rechargeable Battery, Charging Cable||Eve App, Apple HomeKit|
|Graber||Custom smart shades, broad type and style options. Longer warranty than sister company Bali. Graber Motorization App + Gateway offers turnkey solution. Integrator and Pro install, or DIY thru Zebra Blinds.||Cellular, Layered, Pleated, Roller, Roman, Sheer, Solar Shades||Battery, Plug-in Adapter, Rechargeable Power Pack, In-Wall Power Supply||Graber Gateway + App, Z-Wave, SmartThings, Amazon Alexa,
Google Home 1, 3
|IKEA||Off-the-shelf smart shades in limited styles. Apple HomeKit out of the box. DIY install only.||Roller, Cellular Shades||Rechargeable Power Pack||IKEA Home Smart App, Apple HomeKit, Zigbee, Amazon Alexa, Google Home|
|Leviosa Shades||Custom roller shades, with extensive smart home integrations. Good for Apple users with HomeKit and Siri support. DIY, Pro, Integrator install.||Roller Shades||Battery, Plug-in Adapter, Hard Wired||Leviosa Shades App + Leviosa Zone controller, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, SmartThings, System Integration Options 4|
|Lutron Serena||Custom smart shades and blinds. Good for Apple HomeKit users. Integrator, Pro install.||Honeycomb, Roller Shades; Wood Venetian Blinds||Battery, Plug-in Adapter, In-Wall Power Supply||Lutron App, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, SmartThings 5|
|Hunter Douglas||Custom smart shades, blinds, and shutters, with the broadest range of types and styles. PowerView Automation system offers extensive control and integration options. Integrator, Pro install.||Cellular, Banded, Roller, Sheer, Sheer Panel, Solar, Woven Wood Shades; Vinyl Shutters; Panel-Track; Venetian Blinds; Custom Drapes||Battery, Satellite Battery Pack,Plug-in Adapter, Rechargeable Battery, In-Wall Power Supply||PowerView App + Gateway, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Systems Integration Options 6|
|SmarterHome Tilt||Custom MySmartRollerShades and MySmartBlinds, with add-on kits for standard shades and blinds. MySmartBlinds include optional tool-free install feature. Great for DIY.||Roller Shades, Venetian Blinds||Standard Internal Battery with Solar Charging Panel, Optional Charging Cable||Tilt and MySmartBlinds Apps, Tilt by SmarterHome Bridge, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, SmartThings 7|
|Smith & Noble||Custom smart shades and blinds. Smart Shades app + Smart Hub for turnkey solution. DIY or Pro install.||Cellular, Roller, Roman, Sheer, Solar, Woven Wood Shades; Wood Venetian Blinds||Rechargeable Motor, Charging Cable, Solar Panel||Smart Shades App + Smart Hub, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple Siri 8|
Footnotes to Recommendations
1. Amazon Alexa or Google Home control requires a SmartThings hub or equivalent Z-Wave hub.
2. Amazon Alexa or Google Home control requires Bali Gateway + App.
3. Amazon Alexa or Google Home control requires Graber Gateway + App.
4. Integrations require Leviosa Zone controller. Also includes Control 4, RTI, Home Assistant, Savant, and others coming.
5. Integrations require Lutron Smart Bridge.
6. With PowerView Gateway, integration with Clare, Control 4, Crestron, Elan., RTI, Savant, URC.
7. Integrations require Tilt by SmarterHome Bridge.
8. Integrations require Smith & Noble Smart Hub.
Ready, Set, Go!
We hope this content helps you decide if smart shades are in the cards for your home, and you come away with a better understanding of how to select, purchase, install, and integrate them into your smart home. If you have suggestions on improving this content, drop us a line via [email protected]