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Automated Shading Solutions That Transform Human Comfort

Smart buildings used to be outliers, bringing that “little something extra” to a new build and making the company at the helm a noted innovator. However, in the 2020s, smart builds are almost expected in commercial environments. Opting out puts occupants at a disadvantage, creates a potentially inferior environment, and makes it difficult for the owners to stay relevant and on pace with rising commercial prices.

Automated shading systems are a vital part of green building design. They’re triple threats, becoming a crucial part of the exterior envelope of the building while also being budget-friendly and dramatically affecting occupant comfort. Pair them up with other pioneering technological assets, like controls that manage HVAC and lighting systems, and you set your occupants and finances up for success.

The Rise of Smart Shading Systems

Window shades aren’t a new concept, but the manually operated shades of yore have evolved. First came motorized coverings that reacted at the flip of a local switch. Now, we’ve arrived at completely automated systems controlled by central programming, with integrations that connect your shades to everything from your overhead lighting to your AC. It’s part of the rise in Power over Ethernet (PoE), which allows you to add multiple devices to awkward or out-of-the-way locations.

It's great news for sustainable construction and building design because PoE and this evolution in shade concepts facilitate energy-efficient window coverings that carry their own benefits.

  • Natural lighting optimization: Take advantage of sunlight when the weather allows for it and block out the glare when the sunshine negatively impacts occupants

  • Energy efficiency: Use shades to mitigate temperature fluctuations due to solar heat

  • Privacy: Keep sensitive information away from prying eyes with window coverings that completely disconnect the inside from the outside

  • Convenience: Smart shades connect to larger building systems that determine when the shades should be up and down, optimizing utility usage and saving on human labor

Manual shades can block light and reduce glare, but a lack of automation is a major deficit. Somebody has to notice a temperature dip and react accordingly, or wait for someone’s productivity to dip to realize that solar glare is distracting their team. Automated shades are responsive and triggered by data points reflecting and determining the greater good.

Integration with Building Management Systems

Automated window shading is a solid investment, but the truly impressive ROI comes when you integrate those shades with overall building management systems.

Connecting automated shades to a central point of control increases access and oversight. Property managers can schedule and supervise shade operation, look at the position of every shade in their building, and use lighting controls to fine-tune the balance of daylight and artificial light. Weaving in sensors connected to HVAC, internal lighting and movement only expands opportunities for use.

Imagine shades automatically coming down when a room has no movement for 10 minutes, matching a reduction in AC and automatically dimmed lighting. It’s a way to answer the call of the 51% of employees who won’t work for a company that doesn’t take a strong stance on sustainability issues and the more than 50% of millennial and Gen Z employees who research a business's environmental policies before accepting an offer.

Mecho SolarTrac systems are a stellar example of this integration at work. Mecho uses patented software solutions and proprietary algorithms to determine when shades should be raised and lowered. A trio of roof-mounted radiometers measure the full spectrum of light available via the sun and sky. Internal sensors read daylighting levels, and together, that network of technology pilots the position of the building’s shades to ensure sun penetration never exceeds the preset limits.

Enhancing Occupant Comfort and Productivity

Automated shading systems are sustainability powerhouses, but more practical impacts are at play, too. Working, shopping, or even just hanging out in a building with static window coverings can be a literal pain. Factors such as the flow of natural light, solar glare, and heat gain can play a huge role in determining whether occupants are comfortable and happy or struggling to be in the right state of mind to work or spend money.


A study conducted by Allwork.Space found that 78% of workers who luxuriated in natural light at the office had a reduction in headaches, blurred vision, and eye strain and experienced better well-being. In commercial spaces catering to shoppers, consumers bought up to 40% more if they could browse in stores with access points for natural light, such as skylights.

Automated window shades allow natural light in when it’s most beneficial and dial back incoming natural light when it becomes too much. Programs that put shades at half-mast when the sun is at a particular glaring angle can prevent solar rays from bouncing off computer monitors or shining down the boardroom table during Monday afternoon meetings.

Thermal Comfort

Heat regulation in buildings can be difficult to master. HVAC systems that blow cold air on a timer can leave occupants chilly and shivering one minute and restlessly panting in a stifled, overheating room the next. As the sun's position shifts and outside temperatures naturally fluctuate throughout the day, automated shading systems control the amount of solar heat that reaches the internal environment.


A comfortable work environment can boost employee productivity by as much as 12%. An established link exists between improved comfort and a greater ability to get work done. Fidgeting, going out for fresh air, fiddling with the thermostat, and asking building management to change the AC or heat take time away from the project at hand. Installing automated shades nips those problems in the bud, helping prevent plummeting productivity before comfort concerns become an issue.

Benefits of Automated Shading Systems: Energy Efficiency and Comfort

Automated shading systems are a vital part of managing thermal comfort for people who work, play, and visit sustainably minded commercial buildings. But energy efficiency is equally important. Luckily, so-called “intelligent shades” can tick efficiency and comfort boxes at the same time.

One of the biggest ways automated shades aid energy efficiency is by reacting to changing weather conditions without human oversight. Typically, shades operate on a standard schedule that assumes a similar baseline from day to day, with some changes depending on planned or expected deviations — knowing half your staff will be out for a holiday, for example, or transitioning from summer to fall. Standard schedules also account for daytime needs vs. nighttime requirements and room-to-room deviations for security and safety.

But weather isn’t standardized, nor is it always predictable. Automated shades connected to exterior sensors are triggered based on the data those sensors collect. They can tell if a day is cloudy or full of sunshine and act accordingly. Partly sunny? Open the shades wide and allow maximum daylight to enter the space. The sun’s high in the sky without a cloud in sight? It might be time for a partial deployment, leaving shades covering the fraction of the window that lets in the most sunlight and, subsequently, that headache-inducing glare.

These controls minimize the impact of external heat sources on your internal HVAC system. Without shades, solar radiation can increase the heat of your commercial space, decreasing HVAC efficiency, making AC work harder to achieve the same benchmark temperature, costing you money, and impacting the environment.

Future Outlook: The Impact of Automated Shading on Building Design

As far as automated shading systems have come over the past few decades, the evolution is just beginning. Occupancy sensors and AV system integration are just two of the forward-looking options on deck for builders and commercial owners, and it takes an expert guide to understand what’s available and how you can stay competitive and maximize your investment.

Whether you're interested in building automation for occupant comfort or rethinking sustainability’s role in your business plan, Contexture can help. We’re familiar with all the major shade manufacturers and stay up to date on industry trends. By jumping on board early in the design, our team can help you find the most appropriate system for your targeted performance level and cost. Powered by our innovative Design-Assist technology, we can construct the future of sustainable building practices and occupant-centric design.