Motorization, especially hardwired motorization, is the wave of the future as more customers with disposable incomes become aware of the benefits of motorizing window treatments. While the majority of workrooms might never have dealt with motorization, and therefore may be somewhat apprehensive, motorization is here to stay.
Workrooms aspiring to serve the high-end market most certainly need to be well versed in all the functions that workrooms serve as applied to soft coverings—and that includes motorization. Even workrooms that do not deal directly with the customer, and are not interfacing with an electrician, need to know about motorization. If for no other reason than that motorized soft treatments must be fabricated by a workroom before being attached to the appropriate motor application, then you need to know about motorization.
Regardless of the market your workroom serves, whether high-end or moderate, to stay up with cutting-edge technology at least a fundamental understanding of motorization is required.
As prices come down because of improvements in technology, more and more customers will be able to afford and want motorization. The aging of the population will create a need for security, which is a prime benefit of motorization because windows can be programmed to open and close at set times. Also, energy concerns (in heating and cooling interior spaces) will impact the need to have window coverings operate in an intelligent way. There is no doubt that trends in architecture have opened the market to motorization with bigger, taller everything—including windows.
Additionally, the entertainment industry is affecting the desire for motorization. The home theater industry, which is relatively new, is at the forefront creating desire for motorization. At the touch of a button people want to dim the lights, close the curtains and start the entertainment. Homes are becoming fantasy movie sets and the occupants are the players. Systems that produce the “intelligent” home create moods and scenes in indoor/outdoor lighting. This trend can only continue to grow, so the forward-thinking workroom needs to be proactive to take advantage of the natural progression of this trend towards motorizing soft coverings.
With that said, let’s look at specific things that pertain to workroom operations.
HOW IS IT CONTROLLED?
Sometimes the control is simply a switch on the wall, which simplifies things for the workroom. However, motorized treatments often will be controlled by a remote control. The remote control looks like a remote for any television. If it is controlled by remote, the control sends a signal to tell the motor to operate. There are only two ways in which it can send that signal. One is by sound, and the other is by sight.
Let’s consider sound first. When the remote is called radio control, or RF (radio frequency), the remote sends a high pitched sound that only the motor can “hear” through its antenna. A perfect example of a RF-controlled product is a garage door opener. Your garage door opener remote control sends a sound to your garage door. That is why you can open your garage while still driving up the street.
For window treatments, if the signal is RF, then you do not need to worry about providing a way for the receiver to accept the signals, as you do with an infrared (IR) system. Sound travels through cornice boards and draperies and even walls. The receiver and antenna are contained in a box that is slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes and easily hidden.
Now let’s consider remote control by that IR signal just mentioned. IR stands for infrared, which means the remote sends a light beam to a receiver in order to operate the motor. An “eye” to receive the signal has to be mounted close to the motor. It has to be “seen” by the remote but not seen by the casual observer.
This type of control can be compared to a TV remote, which has to be pointed directly at the TV to work, or perhaps the beam can be bounced off the ceiling or a wall behind you. The beam still is received by an “eye” on the TV, even though it is received after ricocheting. The IR receiver is the same size as the RF receiver with the exception of that “eye,” which has to be strategically mounted.
WHERE IS THE POWER SOURCE?
Power sources are described as either pluggable or hardwired. Pluggable motors are often used in existing construction, while hardwired applications are typically for new construction. In existing construction you often will find yourself searching for sources of electricity, such a nearby electrical outlet. Whoever orders the motorized window treatment will need to order the motor to be on the correct side of the window, the one that is closest to a power source (wall plug) and order a cord that is long enough to reach the plug.
Regardless of how it is done, the motor has to be connected to power. It might be plugged directly into a wall socket with a regular electrical plug or it might be hardwired, which means that the wire from the motor goes directly into an electrical box (junction box) in the wall. At the junction box, it is connected directly to wires that carry electricity. These wires run back to another location in the house (which might include a wall switch along the way) perhaps to a breaker box, which is a direct source of electricity coming into the home from the power utility, or to a home automation system for switching purposes.
DO I HAVE TO HIDE THE MOTOR SOMEHOW?
Often on new construction the electrician will mount a wall plug up high near the top of the window. If measurements are made too early in construction, the workroom could be in for a nasty surprise when it finds that the wall plug is conspicuously showing because the window treatment was made without allowing for the location of the plug/electrical source. Make measurements after all electrical work is done. Special consideration should be made to hide wires. It is a given that there will be wires that go from the wall socket or junction box to the motor. These must be hidden somehow.
Motorized drapery rods have a motor that is attached directly to one end and hangs down along the wall. Roller or Roman shade motorized rods have the motor contained inside the roller itself. Make certain to understand the dynamics and measurements of the components and wires that will need to be hidden. For example, if hiding a drapery rod motor, the length of the motor (how far it hangs down from the rod along the wall) and the wire hanging from it need to be considered when designing and constructing a valance or cornice board.
Sometimes there is a need to hide two motors. For example, my company worked on a job that required a motorized drapery rod 45 feet wide. There were a series of panels on one rod that worked simultaneously. Each panel drew back to the right to reveal a series of doors. The problem was that because of the massive size of the rod, a motor was attached to each end of the rod (tandem motors). As the panels all drew back in the same direction, the motor on the left end became exposed. The solution was to place a small nonworking panel at the very end of the rod to hide the exposed motor when the working panels drew to the open position.
DOES THE MOTORIZATION PROVIDER NEED ANY SPECIAL INFORMATION FROM THE WORKROOM?
Yes, the weight of the treatment is important in determining which motor is needed. Motors come in an array of sizes based on power. A heavy treatment will need a motor with more power. A specific motor will pull a range of weight with an upward limit. For example, a motor might pull up to 60 pounds. When helping select a motor size, it is best to opt for more power than is needed if the treatment is close to the upward power limit.
Some fabrics are obvious in their weight. For example, 16-ounce velour weighs 16 ounces per linear yard. Other fabrics and linings may need to be weighed.
The workroom may also need to decide on which side of the treatment to put the motor. Remember, the cord from the motor must reach power. If the workroom does the measuring, the workroom should specify how long the cord must be to reach power.
WHEN MAKING DRAPERIES FOR A MOTORIZED ROD WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
The draperies pass underneath the rod. So to determine the finished length, you need to include the height of the rod itself. This also means that motorized rods will show above the drapery panels. Rods come in limited colors, so it may be desirable to create a top treatment to hide the rod. Use sets of decorative brackets for motorized rods.
Motorized rods tend to come with many more carriers than are necessary. Before installing a motorized rod, remove extra carriers or the stack back will be dramatically larger than necessary.
When making a large pair of draperies, it may be desirable to have the rod in two sections so the overlap can be larger than normal. This is possible if a tandem rod is being used. To explain tandem, think of a rod with a motor on each end. It is possible to have the rod in two sections. One section is mounted in front of the other at the overlap position. When the drapery panels close, they overlap by acting as two one-way draw rods, one in front of the other at the center. These two sections work in unison because both are connected electrically and controlled together.
Be certain that your motorization supplier carries rods with motors that can be synchronous. Each independent side must work in exact unison with the other. A perfect example of needing this type of arrangement would be a church with a window behind the pulpit. A light gap on any part of the overlap would be a real problem in this instance. So a by-pass overlap of 12 inches or so would solve the problem. Some companies also can provide extra long overlaps. Extra long overlaps cost more and the workroom must allow for them.
WHEN MAKING A MOTORIZED SHADE WHAT DOES THE WORKROOM NEED TO KNOW?
In this case, the motor is inside a large tube that looks exactly like a large roller shade tube. The only exception is there are spools on the tube and each has a tape that runs down through the shade rings. The tube will come from the manufacturer mounted on a 1 x 4. This is the board on which the shade will be mounted.
The workroom needs to remember that an outside mount shade will have a large projection (1 x 4) to allow room for the tube and spools to work. An inside mount will show the tube and the spools to the exterior. It may be possible to design a back cover to hide the mechanics at the top of the shade from the outside, but otherwise an outside mount above the window may be more desirable.
When the workroom begins to mount the shade the entire assembly should be mounted on the wall with the motor attached to power either by plugging it into the wall or by using a test cable designed specifically for that purpose (Test cables may be purchased from the motorization supplier).
After mounting the shade on the board, the motor should be tested to run to its upper limit first. The reason you want to be certain where the upper limits are is this: If you should tie-off the shade and raise the shade up and the upper limits did not stop the shade in time, it could wind the shade up into the motor and harm the motor and the shade.
Next, run the tapes down past the length of the shade and tie off the tapes. Then, reset the bottom limit to the desired length. Raise the shade to its top limit for transport. Instructional material should be provided by the manufacturer with directions how to reset the up and down limits.
DOES THE MANUFACTURER NEED ANY INFORMATION FROM THE WORKROOM?
Since all styles of shades involve some type of ring and cord/tape system to raise and lower, the workroom will need to determine how many rows of rings are required. This tells the manufacturer how many spools are needed on the tube. If the spools need to be moved on the tube, it is usually simple to loosen them and slide the spools over.
WHAT ABOUT THE ELECTRICAL PART, HOW MUCH DO I NEED TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT ELECTRICITY?
When ordering motorized window coverings, the main concern is how will the unit be operated? Does the customer want a switch on the wall or a remote control? You even can have a remote control with a backup switch on the wall. The manufacturer can provide technical support to help you with the proper components to operate the treatments as the customer wants.
Your customer may want to integrate his or her motorized window coverings to an A/V board or in-home theater system.
An A/V board is an Audio/Visual board. Think in terms of an auditorium or a large church with a sound booth and a control board with lots of buttons. A sound technician controls microphones or visual projection screens or other multimedia equipment. That same technician would want a way to control motorized window coverings from the sound booth. While interfacing with A/V equipment or in-home theater equipment sounds hard, really it is a matter of asking the A/V equipment provider what they need to integrate the two systems.
Technical support is available through your motorization provider. Personnel are there to talk directly to electricians and A/V technicians to coordinate the exact components you need. Additionally, electrical schematics, otherwise known as electrical diagrams, are available. Any electrician working on new construction should be able to read a schematic and provide the correct wiring for the correct application.
The next concern is where will the power come from? Is there a plug near the window that can be used, or will it be necessary to call an electrician? Be certain to have a clear understanding with the client about who pays the electrician if one is needed.
The optimum situation is for electrical considerations to be addressed when the building is being built rather than as an afterthought. Try to become involved in the planning for motorization in the early stages of construction, if possible. New construction always follows a certain progression. After the building is dried in, which means the building construction is far enough along to withstand rain, the electrician does his rough-in. This means that he is planning locations for electricity to terminate in wall plugs and running wires to those places.
When the electrician wires a building, he is concerned with how much electricity will be needed on each set of wires (circuit). He may want to know how much electricity the motor will pull so he will not overload the circuit. The manufacturer will be able to provide that (amperage/amps).
The electrician also will want to know how to wire multiple motors if there is to be a bank of windows and motors. There are special considerations for wiring when there are multiple motors, so check with your manufacturer in those cases. The electrician will want to know how the motors will be controlled, whether by wall switch or remote, or both. After discussions with the electrician to determine what questions he has, a workroom or designer that is new to motorization would want to coordinate a meeting with the electrician and an authorized dealer who understands motorization.
You can find authorized dealers in your area by contacting the manufacturer of your choice.
Successful motorization involves a team effort. Other than a workroom for constructing soft coverings, it could involve an electrician, designer, authorized dealer, A/V technician and a technical support person provided by the manufacturer. The important thing to remember is that a workroom doesn’t have to know everything there is about motorization, it just needs to know the right questions to ask, and what is expected for its part in fabricating products to be motorized. All of the people involved in motorization are happy to help and are proud to be part of a cutting-edge product that has a bright future.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the owner of a retail and wholesale workroom. Starting with only $50 and a home sewing machine in 1985, her business has expanded to include a showroom, 12 employees and two locations. She firmly believes that in this business only the tough survive. Finding the humor in the everyday life of a “curtainlady” is how she not only has survived, but thrived in this industry. Plumlee is often seen traveling around the country teaching classes and seminars. She is the author of The Adventures of Curtain Lady and has launched a workroom related blog: www.workroomintelligence.com.