Tech

Smart drives and controls for roller blinds, curtains and shutters

In winter they are needed to darken against unwanted glances, in summer they should block out the sun: we’re talking about curtains, roller shutters or roller blinds. If light (comparison: 6 smart RGB lamps) and maybe even other components in the house (The best smart radiator thermostats 2021) are smart and controlled automatically, by voice or app, then this should also be the case with windows. Because roller shutters not only keep unwanted looks away, they also offer additional protection against break-ins and help save energy. Curtains or roller blinds are not just limited to privacy screens. Depending on the design, they also keep warm sun rays out. Accordingly, rooms heat up far less in midsummer. However, if you forget to close it in the morning, you will still find yourself in a brooding apartment in the evening. We propose various solutions to prevent this.

Depending on the state and location, not every apartment has shutters. Tenants and home residents can then only use curtains and blinds. The subsequent installation of roller shutters is expensive and time-consuming, and top-mounted roller shutters do not appeal to everyone and in multi-family houses they have to be approved by the other property owners.

Of course, sun protection curtains and roller blinds also offer manually operated protection against hot sunlight and brightness, but it is more reliable and easier with automatic and smart components. If you don’t want to lay power cables, you can use battery-powered products, which, depending on the manufacturer and frequency of use, should usually get by for half a year to a full year without recharging.

When it comes to roller blinds, interested parties will probably first stumble across two Ikea products: Fyrtur and Kadrilj. Behind both Ikea-typical somewhat bizarre names are battery-operated roller blinds that are automatically raised and lowered and controlled by app or voice. Thanks to the Zigbee wireless standard, they can not only be integrated into the Tradfri universe, i.e. the smart home system from Ikea, but can also be universally controlled using automatic rules with appropriate aids such as other suitable bridges. The difference between the models, which are available in widths of 60 to 140 centimeters: Kadrilj is opaque but not opaque, Fyrtur is both.

There are also smart roller blinds from other providers, such as Erfal. The manufacturer sells roller blinds and double roller blinds under the label “Powered by Homematic IP”, which are compatible with the ELV smart home system. We have extensively tested Homematic IP here (test report). The manufacturer understands double roller blinds as one behind the other with alternating opaque and opaque horizontal stripes, which can not only be adjusted in length as with conventional roller blinds, but also range from opaque to opaque by moving the two lengths of fabric against each other.

If you already have a roller blind and want to make it smart, you can retrofit motors. They are either pushed into the roller blind’s shaft like a roller shutter, but it is easier and more universal with motors that are placed on the window reveal and use the side chain hoist as a control option. The former is mainly offered by brand manufacturers such as Somfy or Velux, the latter is usually cheaper and is heavily used by Asian providers such as QiChan, Jinqii or RetroFun expelled. Such drives usually have app control and can be operated by voice.

Those who find pleated fabric more beautiful will also find what they are looking for. As soon as it comes to motor-controlled pleats, however, they can only be operated like a roller blind and no longer have the height adjusted above and below – it is then only about the type of fabric, i.e. smoothly folded against Corresponding providers such as Yoolax can be found at Amazon, a provider of made-to-measure, smart pleats is about Sonevo based in Berlin.

There are also fabrics for curtains that let light through and which block the brightness completely – the latter are particularly suitable as sun protection. Those who want to be able to operate them comfortably and on the go have little choice. But there are solutions, some of which are even surprisingly cheap.

One comes from the Far East from Switchbot. The Switchbot Curtain is basically a small motor in a smartphone-sized (but thicker) housing that is hung in the curtain on the curtain rail. Alternatively, there are also versions with U and I rails. The running time is set up from fully open to fully closed via app, communication between smartphone and Switchbot Curtain takes place via Bluetooth. Thanks to support for voice assistants (comparison test), the phone can remain in your pocket for later use and can also be operated while on the move using the assistant’s apps or integrated into automatisms. Switchbot Curtain can either open and close its curtain from one side alone, but it also works in conjunction if a larger curtain is to be closed towards the middle. If the curtains are operated by hand, the Switchbot Curtain recognizes this and continues the opening or closing movement.

The battery should last around three quarters of a year, then charged via USB C. The running time can be extended using solar panels, which theoretically do not need to be recharged. According to the manufacturer, each Switchbot Curtain can move curtains weighing up to 8 kilograms and is therefore also suitable for heavy blackout curtains.

Alternatively, there are complete automated rail systems for curtains. At Pearl, for example, buyers get the motorized curtain rod Carlo Milano for curtains up to around 2.8 meters, which closes the installed fabric in the middle and can be operated by remote control or free app. The app can then be used to integrate voice assistants and automations as usual. Other manufacturers (Abalon, HC) are involved in such systems, which then sometimes even work around corners. In some cases, corresponding curtain rails up to a total length of even 8 meters are possible. Here, too, there is mostly app control and the integration of voice assistants is possible.

Let’s get to roller shutters. If you already have some, you should first think about automating manual roller shutters. This is now possible with motor-controlled belt winders without great effort. You continue to rely on the typical roller shutter belt, instead of having to lend a hand, but the sometimes strenuous work is done by a motor. The electrical belt winder is used instead of the mechanical one. Under certain circumstances, it may be necessary to expand the existing shaft in the wall. The actual installation, on the other hand, is no problem for users who are reasonably skilled in their craft.

The biggest obstacle here is possibly the power requirement, a 230V connection must be available for use. Anyone who does not want to lead a corresponding cable openly to the next socket can make do with cable ducts or have to pry open the wall. For this purpose, each roller shutter is automated at least “stupidly” with comparatively little effort, since even simple models allow programming of schedules and in some cases even automatic control of the light protection after sunrise and sunset. It becomes even more convenient with smart belt winders that, like the products described above, have an app and allow voice control.

Anyone who already has electric roller shutters whose motor is not in a clearly visible belt winder, but in the roller shutter shaft in the roller shutter box, can also upgrade them. There are three ways to do this: changing the tubular motors to wireless ones, adding smart flush-mounted actuators and swapping the conventional rocker switches for smart ones.

Corresponding replacement tubular motors are primarily worthwhile when the roller shutter boxes are open anyway (e.g. when renovating) or when the built-in motors are showing signs of fatigue. Corresponding smart motors are primarily from brand manufacturers such as Somfy or Schellenberg and are among the most expensive solutions when it comes to making the roller shutters smart. It becomes cheaper with flush-mounted actuators from third-party providers such as Fibaro or Homematic IP. With a little luck, they will fit behind the old rocker switches for the roller shutter control and then allow integration into the smart home. If that doesn’t fit, however, additional empty cans have to be planned in – in normal residential operations, this dusty matter cannot simply be taken care of on the side. This is where switching actuators come into play, which are installed instead of the old switch and can then be controlled via the old rocker switch and an app – provided that the switch series originally installed is branded switches such as those from Gira or Busch Jaeger. Such models do not fit with “hardware store counters”.

However, there is a solution for this too, for example at Amazon: Simply replace the entire switch including the rocker. Cheap models like the Luminea NX-4667-675 look modern thanks to the glass panel, touch controls and illuminated buttons for up, down and stop and appear surprisingly high-quality despite the low double-digit euro range. Like other devices, they have app control and can then be operated by voice.

The problem with this is that the switch mentioned is chic, but too big for conventional switch frames, it replaces both. This works with individually positioned switches, but not with switches that are installed next to or one below the other in a multiple frame. Here, too, there are a number of alternatives that not only work via WLAN, but also with other smart home technologies.

Curtains, roller blinds and shutters are an important part of your own home, so it is absolutely worthwhile to “go shopping” here as well. Because this allows control when you are out and about if you have forgotten to lower the light protection in the middle of summer and also increases safety. In addition, a closed roller shutter saves heating costs in winter.