Automating your window shades in the connected home era: Part 2

Automating your window shades is easier than ever. These Graber Mezzanine layered shades have onboard Z-Wave motors and work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Image: Digitized House Media.
Automating your window shades is easier than ever. These Graber Mezzanine layered shades have onboard Z-Wave motors and work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Image: Digitized House Media.

As we wrote in Part 1 of this series, motorized shades and blinds are moving rapidly into the DIY connected home mainstream. You may no longer need to hire a CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) professional or engage with specialized window covering installers in order to get to top-notch motorized shades that integrate with popular home automation systems. In Part 1, we looked at the offerings from Lutron, Bali, and Graber. In this installment, we look at the varied offerings from Hunter Douglas, Link Shades, MySmartBlinds, and RollerTrol.

Hunter Douglas PowerView Shades

With their PowerView Motorization shade and blind products, Hunter Douglas offers homeowners what is likely the broadest support among window treatment companies for the major connected smart home automation systems and voice activation platforms. In addition to one or more Hunter Douglas shades, the base PowerView Motorization system is built upon several Hunter Douglas components, including the required PowerView hub—which connects to the home Wi-Fi network and serves as a central control point for all shades and stores system settings and scenes. Also part of the system is an optional PowerView Repeater, which can be employed to extend the network for larger homes. Once the system is installed, shades can be operated with a dedicated remote—the PowerView Pebble Control—or through the PowerView app on Apple iOS and Google Android mobile devices.

Hunter Douglas offers PowerView Motorization on their Silhouette sheer shades. Image: Hunter Douglas.
Hunter Douglas offers PowerView Motorization on their Silhouette sheer shades. Image: Hunter Douglas.

For the shades themselves, Hunter Douglas offers the PowerView Motorization option on a broad range of window coverings, including their Alustra Woven Textures, Applause, Design Studio, Designer Roller Shades, Designer Screen Shades, Duette, Everwood, Luminette, Modern Precious Metals, Nantucket, Parkland, Provenance, Silhouette, Skyline, Solera, Sonnette, and Vignette product lines. Most of the motorized window treatments are powered by onboard batteries, tucked away in the headrail.

Assuming one has the PowerView Hub and an Amazon Echo or similar compatible speaker in the home, adding Hunter Douglas shades to Amazon Alexa for voice control of PowerView scenes is a straightforward process, consisting of activating the PowerView Skills Scene in the Alexa app and running a discovery to find and select the scenes. Shades can then be controlled with a simple command. For example, “Alexa, turn on good morning” will activate the shade scene by that name.

Hunter Douglas also offers one of the few motorized shade systems that is part of the Works with Nest program, which means the shades can be integrated with the Nest Learning Thermostat and other Nest products. Once the connection with Hunter Douglas PowerView is authorized through the Nest app, the shades can be automatically raised or lowered based on activation of Nest Home or Away modes. For example, when the homeowner leaves, Nest automatically detects an Away event and can adjust thermostats and close connected Hunter Douglas shades.

Hunter Douglas PowerView shades can integrate with Nest products through the Works with Nest program. We captured this image of their sheer shades in the Nest Connected Home featured at the 2017 International Builder's Show. Image: Digitized House.
Hunter Douglas PowerView shades can integrate with Nest products through the Works with Nest program. We captured this image of PowerView shades in the Nest Connected Home featured at the 2017 International Builder’s Show. Image: Digitized House.

The Google Assistant can also be used to control Hunter Douglas PowerView shades with voice commands, which will require the PowerView hub and a Google Home or compatible speaker. Hunter Douglas also plans to add full Apple HomeKit compatibility to their system in 2018, which will enable Apple Siri voice commands and the Apple Home app to control the shades.

Other supported systems include the Logitech Harmony platform, Control4, Elan, Savant Systems, and Crestron. And the popular IFTTT service can be used to create applets for various automation sequences.

Supported voice activation systems: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant. Apple Siri to be added in 2018.

More info: Hunter Douglas PowerView Motorization website

Link Shades

Link Shades takes a different approach than other motorized window covering makers by producing shades that were designed from the ground up to connect with your home Wi-Fi network. As such, these shades easily integrate with the Amazon Alexa voice activation assistant as they come out of the box.

Solar Roller Smart Shades from Link Shades work with Amazon Alexa voice activation out of the box, as long as you have an Amazon Echo or compatible speaker in your home. Image: Link Shades.
Solar Roller Smart Shades from Link Shades work with Amazon Alexa voice activation out of the box, as long as you have an Amazon Echo or compatible speaker in your home. Image: Link Shades.

Available directly through the Link Shades website, the shades are currently available in Blackout Roller Smart Shades and Solar Roller Smart Shades variations, while a Honeycomb Smart Shades design is planned for Spring 2018 release. Again bucking the trend with other manufacturers in the motorized window coverings space, the shades are available in fixed sizes only rather than in made-to-order dimensions—and are available only in a single color.

All of the Link Shades models include the shade, integrated motor, manual control box, and a 12-volt power supply that plugs into a nearby 110V outlet.

The Amazon Alexa integration requires nothing more than an Amazon Echo or compatible speaker in order to work. Link Shades can also work with Google Home and Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings, and other smart home hubs by connecting them through the IFTTT service and various supported applets.

So, these shades can be just the ticket for homeowners that have windows that fall into the limited shade sizes that are available, and are looking for a DIY solution with Amazon Alexa support at a much lower price point than alternatives from most other window covering brands. Cost of a single Link Shades turnkey shade package with the motorization feature begins at $130.

Supported voice activation systems: Amazon Alexa. Google Assistant sport can be enabled through IFTTT.

More info: Link Shades website

MySmartBlinds

With an array of products ranging from turnkey motorized blinds to add-on automation kits that can be used with blinds from other manufacturers, MySmartBlinds offers automation solutions tailored to the DIY homeowner.

Venetian blinds from MySmartBlinds require no tools for installation and can automatically adjust their tilt angle based on sun tracking. Image: MySmartBlinds.
Venetian blinds from MySmartBlinds require no tools for installation and can automatically adjust their tilt angle based on sun tracking. Image: MySmartBlinds.

Their turnkey motorized smart blinds begin at $198 and are made-to-order in a wide range of custom sizes, available in either white or walnut faux wood colors. One caveat with MySmartBlinds: The motorization feature is limited to tilting the vanes only, so if you want to raise or lower the blinds the built-in manual cords will have to be used.

But there is a great deal of smarts available in these MySmartBlinds, including the ability for the vanes to automatically adjust their tilt angle based on sun tracking. Furthermore, a compact, add-on solar panel strip option can be used to keep the onboard batteries charged without the need for a separate charging cord.

Installation of the turnkey MySmartBlinds could not be simpler. There are no screws or hardware to be found in the package: An ingenious lever system at the top of the casing is used to cinch the blind securely to the inside of the window frame, no tools required.

Control of MySmartShades can be done with the mobile app on Apple iOS and Android devices. The app enables viewing and control of all MySmartBlinds products in the home, plus settings for energy savings mode, daily and weekly schedules, and sun tracking capability that adjusts as the seasons change. A version of the app is also available on Apple watchOS.

For the add-on approach, the MySmartBlinds Automation Kit sells for $119 and can be used to automate most 2-in or 3-in blinds from other manufacturers. This kit offers all of the same smart features and app controls as the company’s turnkey blinds. The automation kit cannot be used with mini blinds, cordless blinds, or cellular shades.

MySmartBlinds plans to release their forthcoming Smart Bridge in Spring 2018, which will sell for $89. This product recently went through a Kickstarter campaign and will integrate the MySmartBlinds system with smart-home automation systems, including voice activation with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant—plus compatibility with the Samsung SmartThings ecosystem.

Supported voice activation systems: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, with addition of to-be-released MySmartBlinds Smart Bridge.

More info: MySmartBlinds website

RollerTrol Automation Systems

Clearly positioned on the more technical end of the spectrum, RollerTrol caters to the DIY homeowner interested in doing a custom roll-your-own solution, with their offerings of add-on motorized solutions for roller blinds and shades—as well as motorized window and skylight opener kits to automate the operation of the windows themselves.

A roll-your-own solution for shades, RollerTrol offers a motorized solution kit that includes a motor housing, brackets, and remote control that will work with many roller-type shades. Automation can be added via several available options. Image: RollerTrol.
A roll-your-own DIY solution for shades, RollerTrol offers a motorized solution kit that includes a motor housing,  electronics, brackets, and remote control that will work with many standard roller-type shades. Automation can be added via several available options. Image: RollerTrol.

The basic RollerTrol motorization kit for a typical roller shade begins at $159 and consists of one of their tubular DC Series RollerTrol Motors, hanger brackets, a 12-volt power supply that plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet, and a 5-channel wireless remote control.

RollerTrol tends to use the terms blinds and shades interchangeably on their website, but these DIY kits are designed exclusively for conventional roller-type shades which are built around a long cylindrical tube wrapped with some type of shade fabric. A good example would be the IKEA Tupplur blackout roller blind, which is available in several widths and lengths and can be found at most IKEA stores. The RollerTrol motor mechanism installs securely into the existing roller blind tube.

Linking a RollerTrol-equipped roller shade into a home automation system can be done in several ways. Probably the most straightforward way would be to use one of the RollerTrol Z-Wave Motor Controls, which can integrate with home automation systems that support the Z-Wave networking protocol such as the Wink 2 or Samsung SmartThings hub. An individual RollerTrol Z-Wave control could be installed at every shade, or a single control could be used to connect a group of shades located near each other. This controller needs to be wired into place, but the rather complex installation process may go beyond the skills of the average homeowner.

RollerTrol also offers another automation option—the BroadLink Smart Hub—which can integrate the RollerTrol shade motors with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control. This option also requires the installation of the open source Home Assistant software, which is a versatile home automation platform running on Python 3. Home Assistant creates a bridge between the BroadLink hub and Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to facilitate the use of voice commands. Again, this solution will require a higher level of homeowner technical expertise to deploy.

For homeowners looking for a motorized RollerTrol shade system without having to do as much of the integration work themselves, the company recently launched their RT Motorized Blinds & Shades website. Here, the company sells many designs and colors of Mermet roller shades already bundled with their RollerTrol motors and wireless controls that are sure to work seamlessly together—so there are fewer decisions to make. Taking these shades to the next level of automation will require using one of the RollerTrol automation options mentioned above.

We have used their RollerTrol window opener motors to automate clerestory Andersen casement windows in past projects, and successfully integrated them into Z-Wave environments using RollerTrol Z-Wave Motor Controls and Samsung SmartThings. These products have proven to be rock solid and reliable performers.

If you have questions about RollerTrol’s dizzying array of motorization and automation options or need support, chances are you may end up working with Adrian Biffen, a senior partner with the firm. We have always found working with Biffen and his team to be a genuinely positive experience.

Supported voice activation systems: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, when used with the BroadLink Smart Hub and Home Assistant software.

More info: RollerTrol website
RT Motorized Blinds & Shades website

More about this topic:

Automating your window shades in the connected home era: Part 1
iDevices bridges Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa worlds
Smart-home power broker: SmartThings Hub from Samsung
More from Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home

Tom Kolnowski
About Tom Kolnowski 152 Articles
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC and Digitized House Magazine, and has enjoyed a career in hi-tech, publishing, marketing, and creative roles—including 10 years as head of global content publishing at a leading hi-tech firm. He lives and works in Austin, Texas.