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Shades of Green: Integrating Window Shades for Sustainable Building Design

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly one-third of energy used in commercial buildings is ultimately wasted. This is a bit of a gut punch for environmentalists interested in safeguarding our natural resources. But it should also ring alarm bells for building owners and managers eager to find ways to save on operating costs. If we can reclaim even a portion of that wasted energy, that could add up to a significant leap in sustainability and more padding in operational budgets.

The answer may well be as close as your nearest window. The future is bright (sometimes literally) when you start incorporating window shades for sustainable buildings and commercial spaces. While shade choice is often based on color or “green initiatives,” shades are actually high-performance products with untapped ROI.

With energy-efficient shading systems integrated into your building management scheme and sensors to increase responsiveness, you can dial in your values, your vision and your bottom line in one fell swoop.

Understanding the Impact of Window Shades on Energy Efficiency

Around 76% of the sunlight that hits a double-pane window turns into heat. To maintain the comfort of a building’s occupants, someone must combat the influx of heat by turning up the AC. It’s a constant tug-of-war that can lead to a loss of productivity and soaring energy bills.

Automated window shading optimizes performance by incorporating sensors that monitor conditions and respond appropriately — all without human intervention. Compare this to manual shades that are permanently in “set it and forget it” mode. The goal is to install a window and shade combination that enhances or improves the building’s solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC). That’s the rating assigned to the amount of solar radiation being transmitted or absorbed through doors, windows and skylights.

By controlling the heat gain coming into a space, it’s possible to reduce energy demand and boost HVAC efficiencies. In essence, the building is equipped to work smarter, not harder.

The Role of Window Shades for Sustainable Buildings

Traditionally, window dressing has been an after-market consideration. Shades and curtains were the purview of interior designers, not architects. But the current industry mindset sees window shades for sustainable buildings as an integral part of the design and lighting optimization processes.

In Europe, where the population spends as much as 90% of their time indoors, the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) investigates the links between indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and health. Indoor air quality, sound and temperature comfort and lighting all factor into IEQ and, consequently, the health and well-being of building occupants. One study found that office workers exposed to optimal levels of daylight were more alert, had better concentration and were in better moods.

The WELL Building Institute has similar recommendations for lighting, based on the belief that integrated daylight and artificial lighting can lead to environments that are both healthier and more productive. Automated window shading can ward off glare and reduce heat transfer while still facilitating proper illumination.

Technological Advancements in Window Shading Systems

The capabilities of automated window shadings continue to evolve alongside new technological advancements. Connectivity is one of the biggest upgrades. Smart shades that connect to and integrate with building systems can be managed from your phone. You can monitor shade position, spot trends in occupancy rates and weather and opt into schedule-based automations like sunrise and sunset adjustments.

Change will likely continue to come, too. New discoveries in sustainable materials, developments in artificial intelligence and advanced product engineering could mean shades that are even more eco-friendly. Something as simple as next-generation battery technology could translate to quiet shade movement or lower unit pricing.

Systems should become more nuanced as well. A larger network of sensors could dial in shade levels window by window. This could help adjust shades while accounting for differences in shading from one side of the building to the other or rooms that are not in use for large portions of the day.

Compliance with Energy and Building Standards

Sustainable architecture isn’t just about ticking boxes according to which measures seem “green” or will gain builders coveted eco-friendly designations. Ideally, energy-efficient shading systems should align with building and energy efficiency standards, including those outlined by BPIE, WELL and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Unfortunately, shades aren’t currently evaluated to meet energy codes, like those set forth by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Because automated shades are dynamic rather than fixed, HVAC engineers have to assume the shades are always in the up position and design for the worst-case scenario. BPIE is also a non-factor, but WELL status can be achieved if the architect writes statements explaining the benefits of window shades in relation to occupant well-being.

There is also Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) to consider. Buildings achieve LEED certification by amassing points given for addressing elements of sustainability, including energy, water and waste. Daylighting studies that show the impact automated window coverings have on HVAC efficiency and comfort, and overall energy savings in construction and operation are an important part of scoring those points.

Benefit Beyond Energy Savings

In addition to influencing utility costs and impacting environmental initiatives, energy-efficient shading systems come with several other key benefits:

  • Productivity: When automatic window shades are integrated with building management systems and sensor arrays, they can adapt to weather, occupancy and other changes as they happen. This leaves workers free to tackle core tasks rather than fiddling with the thermostat.

  • Visual comfort: Natural lighting optimization is environmentally friendly, but it also reduces the need for artificial lighting that could exacerbate eye strain.

  • Privacy: Window shades can be drawn to prevent the outside world from looking in, protecting gym-goers from prying eyes and safeguarding proprietary tech at an IT firm.

  • Safety: Window shades that are on a timer can descend when a business is closed or be set to a timer that makes it hard for outsiders to tell whether a building is occupied or not. This can increase building security, even when the premises are empty over the holidays or during long overnight stretches.

  • Professional aesthetics: Automated window shades are typically installed throughout a commercial build, creating a look that’s cohesive and professional. You can also customize the shades using colors, materials and construction styles that speak to your industry and/or branding.

  • Durability of furnishings: High-quality window shades don’t have to be replaced as often. They also mitigate the amount of direct sunlight that hits rugs, wallpaper, desk chairs and other furnishings. Less light means less sun damage and material deterioration, which should help those items last longer as well.

Key-Turn Sustainability: Integrating Energy-Efficient Shading Systems into Your Building Design

It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of choosing the right automated window shades for sustainable buildings. From natural light optimization to solar heat management, eco-friendly shading can increase energy efficiency, make occupants more comfortable, and even keep those secret board meetings extra private. The result is a commercial building that runs optimally, boasts cutting-edge tech and commands competitive leasing rates.

The first step to incorporating and maximizing the potential of energy-efficient window shades is to include them in your initial design. Contexture Design-Assist helps architects, project managers and other construction pros properly evaluate shade solutions according to use case, material selection and overall vision. Start a conversation to see how proactive design might be your key to optimize the indoor experience for people and the planet.