In addition, a knowledge of the best products to control light and meet durability and maintenance needs is important in making selections that will serve best in office situations.
Codes and Specifications
Codes are local laws or regulations that govern materials installed in non-residential buildings. They exist to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. Specifications are a written list of requirements for a particular product. In new construction, an architect will write specifications, or specs, that conform to local codes.
The professional who provides the product must furnish proof that it meets these specified standards. Specs also set a level of quality or performance so that all bids are for products of approximately equal materials and features.
When selling window treatments, even for existing non-residential offices, there are basic fire codes that the products must meet. However, an architect's specification may not exist for a project involving refurnishing an office in which items are selected and paid for by the owner or tenant.
One of the most crucial elements in creating a productive working space is light. Light is the most manipulative element once the office is organized and arranged. Lighting levels can affect the user's mental outlook and productivity. Correct lighting can augment physical energy, whereas incorrect lighting can make office workers tired and less productive.
Since natural light is desirable but not always possible in commercial office settings, artificial lighting should be easy on the eyes (not too bright, or too dim) and allow for the efficient completion of tasks. Where windows provide light, there always is a need to control and manipulate it. Natural light must be screened and softened to avoid hot spots, excessive solar heat gain and glare.
Window Treatment Requirements
The factors that play a role in the decision-making process for non-residential office treatments are:
• Price - The product must fit into a budget. Economy often is the top priority. When the product is not the least expensive available, benefits to the functionality of the office must be justified. Quantity discounts (lower wholesale costs) are a routine economy factor in non-residential window treatments, and typically are negotiated through the manufacturer's sales representative.
• Function/Light Control - Function is the ability of the window treatment to perform well. Controlling the quantity, direction and intensity of light is crucial in office settings, especially where computer monitors are in use.
When the window treatment functions well, it is easy to operate and is effective in meeting user needs. Functional window treatments not only control light and glare, but excessive solar heat gain and protect against winter heat loss.
• Durability - Non-residential window treatments typically receive more use and abuse from multiple users than do residential treatments. The user may not be familiar with the mechanism and may not operate it carefully. Non-residential treatments must be well made and be durable in order to withstand many years of use.
• Aesthetics - The product should be handsome, serious (conducive to office activity) and appealing both from the interior as well as the exterior.
• Maintenance - Products that need the least cleaning or do not readily show dust and grime are considered good choices for most non-residential settings. The products should be easily cleaned by sonic or traditional methods and look good after professional cleaning.
The four most commonly used office window treatments can be evaluated based on the factors stated above.
1. Horizontal blinds.
The most typically used in office settings are one-inch aluminum mini-blinds. One-half-inch micro-blinds and two-inch or wider aluminum or wood blinds sometimes are selected. One-inch horizontal aluminum blinds have advantages in non-residential settings.
• Price/Economy - Horizontal blinds, especially one-inch aluminum mini-blinds, are economical to purchase and to maintain. They have a long life span and can be repaired if necessary, making the investment economical in the long run.
• Function/Light Control - Horizontal blinds provide full functionality. When open, they allow full natural light. When tilted upward, natural light is refracted off the convex surface illuminating the ceiling and providing shade for work surfaces below. When the slats are tilted downward, the light can shine into seating areas to warm and bathe the interior with light.
Light-colored blinds reflect substantial solar gain. Privacy is quickly obtained by a twist of the wand and can be assured if the slat holes are routed toward the back of the slat. Mini-blinds can be motorized, set into angled glass and cut into specialty shapes including angled or skylight windows that require tracks.
• Durability - Horizontal blinds are durable and can withstand years of use. If the nylon operating cord wears out, it can be replaced, as can the slats. Aluminum blinds do not warp, crack, split or fade.
• Aesthetics - Horizontal blinds are aesthetically pleasing. In fact, horizontal lines often are the preferred look in non-residential settings. They are sleek and handsome.
• Maintenance - Horizontal blinds do catch dust because the slats present a flat, gravity-friendly surface. However, light-colored horizontal blinds usually do not show dust, and some companies use a paint coating that helps repel dust and air-borne impurities that can build up into grime on the slats. Horizontal blinds can be dusted or cleaned sonically, which dramatically increases the ease of maintenance.
• Price - Vertical blinds are available at many price levels. Although not as economical as mini-blinds, they are fairly cost efficient in the solid vinyl varieties. Life cycle costing - the initial purchase price divided by the number of years in use - makes them an economical choice.
• Function/Light Control - Vertical blinds are easy to operate and are energy efficient in controlling both solar heat gain and heat loss. Vertical blinds rotate and can control light efficiently. When solid vinyl blinds are closed, they darken the interior making them a good choice where this feature is desirable.
Vertical blinds can be motorized for ease of use and to cover hard-to-reach windows. They can be cut to fit specialty shaped windows. Many types of fabrics are available, from room-darkening solid PVC slats to perforated slats and fabric in many weights and opacity levels, which can be inserted into the vanes.
• Durability - Vertical blinds are highly durable unless the mechanisms are abused through rough use. The slats often will wear almost indefinitely, and the PVC slats especially will be durable for many years of serviceability.
• Aesthetics - Vertical louvers often are associated with non-residential settings because of their straight lines and no-nonsense appearance. They are handsome and have a clean appearance. Insertable vanes allow fabric to be combined with PVC vanes making the side that faces inward more attractive. Insert vanes provide flexibility - even wallpaper or fabric can be laminated and inserted - for an upscale, coordinated look.
• Maintenance - Because they are vertical, little dust or grime builds up on vertical blinds. When they are rotated or stacked in an open position, dust will shake lose and fall downward. Vanes selected for non-residential settings usually are washable using mild soap and a clean cloth or sponge. They need cleaning only about as often as the walls next to them.
3. Pleated and Cellular Shades
• Price - Pleated shades usually are a more economical choice than cellular shades. They are specified less often than mini- and vertical blinds, but have some advantages.
• Function/Light Control - Pleated shades are easy to operate, stack up into a very small space and are good at light diffusion. An important advantage to pleated and cellular shades is that they work nicely in motorized tracks, which make them well suited to skylight and greenhouse-type of windows. When they are closed, the room is not completely darkened. Softened and diffused light is allowed through to eliminate glare. The view also is eliminated, except in sheer pleated shade products. The soft light they provide is easy on the eyes, especially in computer office settings.
• Durability - The material used for these shades typically is a durable product. When problems occur, it most frequently is in the clasp mechanism because hard jerking movements by users can cause them to break prematurely. This abuse also causes the nylon cording to wear out. Where possible, specify a continuous loop cord that allows the shade to be operated smoothly. There is an upcharge for this feature, but it will ensure greater durability and fewer problems. Look for products with fabric that repels dust and dirt and has a track record for durability.
• Aesthetics - Pleated shades are decidedly handsome. They are considered by some to be an upscale product over horizontal or vertical blinds because they possess the same sleek lines but with soft fabric.
• Maintenance - Pleated shades that repel dirt will be the easiest to maintain. Check with the manufacturer for this feature in products you specify. Pleated shades can be dusted, vacuumed, lightly sponged and professionally cleaned. Like vertical blinds, they often shake off dust when operated.
• Price - Drapery prices vary according to fabric yardage costs and the labor required to fabricate them. They are comparable in price to the other products listed here, usually more than mini-blinds, about par with some verticals, and hover near the cost of pleated or cellular shades.
• Function/Light Control - Draperies have long been desirable because of the ease in operating them and their ability to control light, glare and heat gain and loss. These factors, of course, depend on the selection of the fabric.
• Durability - Drapery life spans are comparable to the alternate products listed above. Fabrics that pass tests for sunlight fading and dimensional stability should be the first choice. Of course, the fabric must pass a specified test required by local code.
The type of hardware selected makes a big difference in the durability of draperies. Non-residential hardware can eliminate pulley cords that tend to break with inconsistent use.
• Aesthetics - Draperies are aesthetically pleasing. They are excellent at absorbing noise and visually and physically softening the hard architectural lines of many non-residential settings. Draperies humanize interiors through their three-dimensional depth, color, texture and pattern.
• Maintenance - Non-residential environments that stay clean are better for draperies, as frequent cleaning tends to remove fabric finish, wear out the buckram, and make the fabric more limp. Consider remote control operation where the controls can be within easy reach of the work surface or computer station so the user is less likely to touch the fabric and fumble with the hardware.
Non-residential window treatments need not be intimidating. If this area is new and you are interested in providing product to non-residential clients, it often is best to start in smaller (or new) settings with the products listed above in order to become familiar with the requirements listed in this article.
Success builds confidence and knowledge, both of which are waiting for the professional who dares to forge new territory.
Fire Codes Fire codes are the single most important feature a window treatment will need for non-residential installations. The product must have been tested and have met these standards. The local code usually will require the product pass one of the following tests:
• NFPA-701 Small Scale Test - Drapery fabrics or pleated and cellular shade fabrics usually must meet the standards of the National Fire Protection Agency 701 test. In this test the fabric is hung in the center of a vertical burn chamber so that oxygen can flow freely on both sides of the sample. A natural gas flame of 1 3/8 to 1 1/2 inches is applied for 12 seconds, then removed. This test may be done to a particular fabric before and after finishing. To pass the test, the fabric must self-extinguish within two seconds, and the char length must be less than 6 1/2 inches.
• ASTM 84 Steiner Tunnel Test - This is a test for direct glue and flat applications. In the test, 24 feet of fabric is attached to a reinforced concrete board and placed into a chamber in which a gas burner propels four feet of flames across the panel for 10 minutes then is removed. The first four feet of the fabric are consumed in the burn, and the char length beyond that is measured to develop a flame spread index.
The fabric is given a Class A or Class B rating. Class A rated fabrics may be used in any public interior area. Class B rated fabrics are limited to areas with sprinklers.
• Boston Fire Code - This test is similar to the NFPA-701 in which the fabric is hung vertically and tested. Samples must be tested by the Boston Fire Department.
• MVSS-302/NFPA-261 - These two tests are done for upholstery fabrics. In this test, the burn chamber is horizontal. A mock-up sofa is constructed for the NFPA test. MVSS is the Motor Vehicle Safety Standard. All states except California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and the New York Port Authority require upholstery fabrics to pass one of these tests.
• California Technical Bulletin #133 - This is a level of fire protection that must be certified by the upholstery manufacturer.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, IDEC, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.