One switch on the remote says “good night”; another, “good morning.”
Touch the first, and automated shades in the Charlottesville home of Michael and Prue Thorner roll down to provide nighttime privacy.
Touch the second, and the shades track upward, allowing the morning sun to stream in through their wall of windows.
Too much sun? A touch of the finger adjusts the gauzelike shades. “They filter the light on sunny days, and yet they enable you to see outside,” says Prue.
Automated lighting and shade systems in the Thorner home provide convenience and conservation, yet they were the children of necessity when the home was built in 2005. Michael, a medical professor at the University of Virginia, is paraplegic and uses a wheelchair.
“We built it so that if my husband were on his own, he could live here and manage everything from his wheelchair. That was the impetus for spending that kind of money,” says Prue, who retired in 2006 after 24 years as a U.Va. employee. The home has another high-tech feature — eight wells that vary in depth from 300 to 500 feet. They tap heat hundreds of feet below the ground to free the Thorners’ energy bills from dependence on nonrenewable resources.
While geothermal systems haven’t gone mainstream, the use of computerized wireless systems to control lights, shades, home theaters and energy use have grown in popularity in recent years, particularly among business executives, says Tony Lovette, president of Specialty Group Ltd. in Richmond.
In more sophisticated systems, sensors measure existing conditions (sunlight, temperature, whether a room is vacant) and make adjustments in motorized shades, electric lights, heating and cooling. Wireless remotes or wall panel controls allow homeowners to tweak the settings. At the same time, residents save money on energy bills and are spared significant hassle.
Using the same wall panel that controls lights and shades, the Thorners can access radio programs and a library of music. “You never have to search for CDs again,” Prue says. The system also makes sure the cover to their indoor pool is rolled back for Michael’s morning workout.
The Thorners installed automated lights and shades in the home in southern Albemarle County where they lived before building in Charlottesville. Retrofitting can be messy, Prue says, but “if you can afford it and it makes a difference in your life, then it’s worth doing.”
Sidebar: The Business
America’s boardrooms spawned the market for computerized residential light, shade and audio systems among business executives.
“The automated shade systems started for high-end commercial buildings where the executives could push a button and do their audiovisual presentations,” says Tony Lovette, who has been in the automated shade business since 1990. “The executives of these places decided, ‘These things are really nice. I want them in my home.’ ”
Lovette purchased the Specialty Group Ltd., which offers high-end light and shade systems, in 2002. Since then, he’s seen business more than triple, he says.
Light and shade systems can range from $2,000 to hundreds of thousands for a “mega system.”
The amount saved in energy bills depends on a host of factors, including the number of shade trees around a home and the position of rooms in relation to the sun. “Typically, harvesting natural light to reduce electric light saves about 20 percent in lighting costs,” Lovette says. Heating and cooling savings typically hover around 10 percent.
And there’s definitely a “cool” factor, as described on the Web site of RedBrick Technology Group, a Hanover County-based company that also provides automated systems: “Imagine being able to push one button when you leave in the morning and automatically turn off all the lights, set the thermostats in the house back five degrees, turn down the temperature of the hot tub and arm the alarm system.
When you return from work, call your house on your cell phone and automatically turn on outside lights, reset the temperature in the house to normal, open the garage door, turn off the alarm and warm up the hot tub so it’s ready for you.”