Installing smart blinds, shades, and drapes isn’t usually the first choice for people starting to create a smart home, despite the numerous benefits to installing smart window coverings.
In this article, I will be reviewing Graber’s cellular shades, solar shades, pleated shades, roller shades, natural shades and roman shades with Z-Wave motor technology and how they fit into the broader motorized shade market.
But, first, back to those “numerous benefits” of smart window treatments. Here are seven that I could think of:
- Daylight harvesting – When the sun is not shining directly into a window the window treatment can be automatically opened to provide indirect light into the room that minimizes the need for using electrical lights during the day
- Solar heating – In the winter, smart window treatments can be opened to allow the sun to shine directly into a window to help heat a room. When the room gets too warm, or when the sun is no longer shining directly into the window, the window treatment can be closed to provide additional insulation against heat loss through the window (according to the U.S. Department of Energy about 30 percent of a home’s heating energy is lost through windows). In the summer, smart window treatments can be closed when the sun is shining directly into a window to reduce solar heat gain and save on the energy required for air-conditioning your home.
- Glare reduction – Smart window treatments can be closed when the sun is directly shining thorough a window to reduce glare
- Safety – Smart window treatments can be automatically opened during an emergency to make it easier for family members to exit the home if normal pathways are blocked by fire. It also allows first responders to see into the home to help find anyone who has not been able to get out by themselves. In the case of a burglary, opening window treatments allows neighbors and first responders to see what is happening in the home. Finally, having window treatments automatically closed in the evening keeps outsiders from knowing whether family members are home, or not.
- Privacy – It is very easy for passersby to see into a home at night when lights are on in the home. Smart window treatments can be automatically closed at sunset to protect the privacy of the homeowners.
- Security – Programming smart window treatments to open/close during the day can, just like programming smart lighting to periodically turn on/off, make potential thieves believe that someone is home.
- Protection of valuable furnishings – Smart window treatments can be closed when the sun is directly shining thorough a window to protect expensive furnishings and artwork from damage from the sun.
A homeowner may want to automate the operation of window coverings differently depending on the room that they are located in. For example, a living room, or great room, may be outfitted with expensive furnishings that need to be protected from the sun. On the other hand, a kitchen may benefit from more natural light shining in so visibility in the room is optimized. Bathrooms and bedrooms will prioritize privacy unless the home is located in a rural setting, or is on a large property, without nearby neighbors or public access.
Introducing Graber Smart Window Treatments
Graber is a brand and registered trademark of Springs Window Fashions, whic was founded in 1932 by John N. Graber and today has more than 9,000 employees. Other notable brands registered by Springs Window Fashions are Bali, Horizons, Mariak, and SunSetter Products.
Graber window treatments are primarily sold by professional dealers and designers. However, Costco members also can purchase Graber window treatments, including professional consultation, measurement, and installation services, through the Costco website. In addition, for people looking for a DIY solution, they can also be purchased online through ZebraBlinds.
Graber offers a wide range of motorized blinds and shades including cellular shades, solar shades, roller shades, pleated shades, natural shades, sheer shades, layered shades, exterior solar shades, faux wood and composite blinds, wood blinds, vinyl blinds, and aluminum blinds.
Graber’s cellular shades, solar shades, pleated shades, roller shades, natural shades, and roman shades are newly available with Z-Wave motor technology. There are key advantages to Graber’s adoption of Z-Wave technology into their shades including:
- More than 30-percent quieter than earlier Graber motorized shades
- App control (both iOS and Android) using the Graber Gateway and a 2.4GHz, password protected, Wi-Fi network
- Voice control with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant using the Graber Gateway and a 2.4GHz, password protected, Wi-Fi network
- Multiple options for powering the shades including a powerful 3100 mAh rechargeable battery pack that maximizes the time before the battery needs to be recharged, AA lithium battery packs, plug-in transformer, and a multi-motor power supply. The rechargeable battery pack is expected to last approximately 1 year between charges (based on average use). AA lithium batteries are also expected to last approximately one year before needing to be replaced.
- Two- and three-button remote control options for those that may not want to use a phone app or voice for control of the shades. There is also an optional wall plate mounting kit available
- The ability to pair the shade with a Z-Wave hub, such as SmartThings or Hubitat, for more advanced smart home integration.
Hands on with a Graber Z-Wave Shade
Graber provided me with a sample to evaluate for this article. Graber offers a seemingly endless supply of different styles and fabric choices for their shades. Fortunately, Graber’s website makes choosing a shade as easy as humanly possible. Their “Visualizer” tool allows you to upload a picture of your room and overlay different shades over your windows. In this way you can try different styles and fabric options and see exactly how they will appear in your own room.
As stated earlier, Graber shades are intended to be purchased through a dealer with skills to guide you through the process of choosing shades for your home, measure your windows so the shades fit properly, and install them. That being said, using the instructions that are included with the shade, someone with reasonable DIY skills could install it themselves. The real risk is making sure that the window is properly measured and the installation planned properly from the beginning. If you make a mistake – especially if the shade is going to be mounted inside the window frame – it may be expensive to rectify.
Basic Setup and Operation
If you purchase a remote control with your Graber shade, it will come already paired with the unit. The first step is to validate that the upper limit, lower limit, and home position (factory set halfway between the upper and lower limits) are set properly with the shade installed. Graber includes an instruction booklet for their Z-Wave shades that outlines the process in detail for each of the possible remote controls that they offer. The instruction booklet is also available for download from the Springs Window Fashions Support Center at www.motorization.support.
The “Standard” remote only includes two buttons (up and down.) The “Plus” remote adds an additional button that can be used to stop the movement of the shade or send it to the home position. Finally, the “Premium” remote includes a small display screen and 12 channels that can be used to control up to 24 shades.
With the basic setup of the shade complete, I tested the amount of noise produced by the shade during operation. I found the Z-Wave shade motor to be reasonably quiet. I measured the noise level to be around 50 dB at three feet from the shade. This is a bit noisier than shades from Lutron and Crestron but still fairly quiet, especially given the lower cost of the Graber shades.
If you want to control your shades with the Graber smart phone app or use either Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands to control your shades, then you will need a Graber Gateway to integrate your shades with your home’s Wi-Fi network.
Installing the gateway is, again, well documented in the Z-Wave shade instruction booklet. First you will need to install the Graber Motorization app from either the App Store or Google Play.
After starting the app it will tell you to plug in the gateway. Once the gateway has booted, you will need to connect to the Gateway’s SSID. At that point, you will be walked through the typical process of setting up an IoT device, including giving the app access to location services, creating an account, connecting the gateway to your Wi-Fi network, validating your email address, etc.
Before connecting the gateway to your shade, you need to un-pair the remote. Un-pairing the remote from the shade is, again, a simple process. On the premium remote, you begin by pressing the menu button on the remote for two seconds to display the function menu. From there you can select “ZWAVE” followed by “exclude.” With the remote set to exclusion mode, you then need to press the program button on the shade for seven seconds. Once the remote is excluded, you can pair your gateway with the shade.
Pairing a shade with the gateway is, again, a simple process. Start by pressing the “+” button in the Graber app. Then indicate that you wish to add a Graber product. The app will then place the gateway into pairing mode. Finally, press the program button on the Graber shade for three seconds and wait for the gateway to pair with the shade. The remote then can be paired with the gateway, and the wizard will guide the user through the process of linking the remote with the shade.
I ran into some trouble with the gateway as it went through the process of updating its firmware. Support helped me sort this out and, once updated, the gateway worked well.
Adding Alexa control of your shades is also very easy to accomplish. Using the Alexa app simply add the “Motorized Shade Control” skill, link the skill with your Graber account, and discover devices. The skill allows you to control the shades using voice commands such as “Alexa, open the shade” or “Alexa, close the shade 75 percent.”
More advanced control can be accomplished by creating routines in either the Graber app or using the Alexa app (if you have linked your shade with Alexa).
In the Graber app a routine can be triggered in three ways.
- By a defined-time interval. In this way if, to protect furnishings from the sun you want the shade to normally be closed, a routine to trigger a shade to close could be triggered every hour. So, if the shade is opened to allow natural light into a room, it would automatically be closed again
- On a daily, weekly, or monthly basis at a predefined day/time, at a time offset before sunrise, at sunrise, at a time offset after sunrise, at a time offset before sunset, at sunset, or at a time offset after sunset
- Once on a specific date/time
The routine can then be defined to open the shade, close the shade, send the shade to the “home” position, or set the shade to any predefined position.
In Alexa routines, a pattern can be created to send a shade to a specific position using a voice command, on a schedule, based on a smart home event, and more.
Advanced Smart Home Integration
For more advanced smart home control, Graber motorized shades with Z-Wave motors can be linked to both SmartThings and Hubitat Elevation hubs.
You begin by removing any pairings between your remote and shade, with a gateway, or with each other. Depending on your remote, you will need to reset the remote’s Z-Wave settings using the process described in the Motorized Shades Featuring Z-Wave Technology instruction booklet. The shade’s Z-Wave settings are reset by pressing and holding the shade’s program button for seven seconds until the shade jogs. If you have paired your shade and remote with the Graber Gateway, this process will un-pair the devices from the gateway and the next time you open the Graber app you will find that the shade has been removed from the app.
Next, you need to acquire the shade and remote with your smart home hub. After placing your hub into Z-Wave acquire mode, simply hold the programming button on the shade for three seconds. When you release the button, the shade will jog. I had no problem pairing the shade with my Hubitat Elevation hub, though the shade was only recognized as a generic Z-Wave device. I had to manually go into the device settings and tell the Hubitat that my shade was a “Generic Z-Wave Shade.” After that, I could open, close, and set the position of the shade without issue.
At first I was not able to pair the premium remote with my Hubitat hub – even using a procedure that other people had used that was described on the Hubitat community site here. This was solved with the help of Graber technical support. The Premium remote, with its small display, has an entire sub-menu dedicated to Z-Wave functions. It turns out that while the Z-Wave->Include function that is used to pair the remote directly with a shade it won’t work to pair the remote with a third-party hub. Instead, you need to use the Z-Wave->Learn function to pair the remote with the Hubitat Elevation hub.
Then using the Crestron-Hubitat Integration driver that I wrote (available for download here) I was able to integrate both the shade and remote with my Crestron system. I also integrated the shade with the Crestron shade automation software I wrote (available for download here), that tracks the angle/elevation of the sun as it moves across the sky during the day. This allowed me to fully automate the operation of the shade, perform daylight harvesting, and protect the furnishings in my home from sun damage.
A few additional notes about the integration of a Graber shade with a Hubitat Elevation hub.
- The shade doesn’t report its battery level as other battery-operated devices Z-Wave do to the Hubitat Elevation hub. However, the premium remote does report its battery level
- The premium remote’s “up” button reports as button one to the Hubitat Elevation hub when pressed. However, the “down” button reports as button 13, and the home button reports as button 25. You just need to take this into account when working with the remote.
Areas for Improvement
I found the Graber Z-Wave shades to be a good option for a smart home. However, there are a few ways I think the product could be improved.
First, it would be nice if there was a published API available to integrate shades into a smart home directly through the Graber gateway. The gateway and Graber app offer some nice capabilities that are lost if the shade has to be connected to a third-party smart home hub.
Second, even though the Z-Wave instruction book has a nice troubleshooting section, the operation of programming buttons and indicator lights for all the different devices (Z-Wave shades, handheld remote controls, and the Z-Wave Gateway) isn’t documented in a single, easy-to-find, location. Instead, it is scattered in different places. The motorized shade manual should have an appendix that includes, for example, what does pressing the programming button on the shade for three seconds do? What does pressing it for seven seconds, or even 15 seconds, do? What does it mean if the light on the gateway is blinking at one second intervals? What happens if you press the up and down buttons on a two or three button remote for three seconds?
Last, while the Graber Z-Wave shade does report the battery level to the Graber Motorization app when the app is used to control the shade, the situation is somewhat problematic when a shade is connected to a Hubitat Elevation hub. The Hubitat Elevation hub normally reports the battery level of battery-operated Z-Wave devices connected to it. However, the Graber shade doesn’t seem to report the battery level in a way that is understood by the Hubitat. So, other than through the indicator light on the shade (which is hidden by the valance), you can’t tell what the shade’s battery level is when it is integrated with the Hubitat (and possibly other third-party hubs). If the battery level was reported to the Hubitat, a notification could be sent when the shade battery is low so a homeowner could preemptively re-charge/replace the batteries when they get low. Otherwise a homeowner will simply be surprised when the shade stops working and they will be forced to go through an entire troubleshooting procedure to figure out what is wrong.
In summary, Graber Z-Wave shades are reasonably priced when compared to other smart motorized shades on the market, are available in a wealth of fabric choices and designs, and the “Visualizer” tool on the Graber website makes it easy to choose a shade that fits the décor of your room
Graber Z-Wave shades can be battery powered, so retrofitting wiring to windows in a home isn’t required
Multiple options for smart home integration of Graber Z-Wave shades are available. They offer app and voice assistant control using the Graber Gateway or, for more advanced smart home integration, they can be directly connected to residential Z-Wave hubs, including offerings by Hubitat and SmartThings.
Finally, while Graber window treatments are primarily sold by professional dealers and designers, they can also be purchased online by people with the DIY skills to install the shades themselves. People who decide to go the DIY route need to understand the risks as a simple mistake in measuring a window opening may be expensive to rectify.