Last year I wrote the annual shade column in May. This year it seems that spring has not Sprung but rather Leaped and I’m getting more and more calls about solar shades. What I said in last year’s column was mostly about the sun and light blocking properties of solar shades and that information is still good and valid. If you haven’t read the column, read it here: “How to Choose the Right Solar Shade”. There is a picture there, too, of what the view-through is from the outside in at night.
Here’s the skinny on the options available on solar roller shades which affect their look and operability: roll, valances, cassettes and lift systems. You should understand what these are before you go out to buy shades.
Roll: Regular roll causes the shade to roll off the roller from the front back toward the window. It places the shade fabric close to the window and is especially useful if mounting space is limited, or you have other window treatments to contend with. The downside is that the aesthetics aren’t that great. If you ask for a reverse roll, the shade rolls off the roller from the back toward the front with the fabric falling in front of the roller. When up, this roll looks a bit tidier.
Shade valances are 2-sided additions (sometimes they have returns — if they are outside mounted) which conceal the roller and roll mechanism. They look like a short valance and are typically covered with the same fabric as the shade.
A cassette encases the roller mechanism and the shade, so when the shade is in the up position it is not visible. The big advantage to cassettes is they create a sleek headrail profile, and you don’t have to look at the roller mechanism. The big downside is they can be very cumbersome — a typical cassette is three to four inches from front to back and from top to bottom.
Lift systems: This is a can of worms, and this is where the cheap models fail quickly and where the technologies of the higher-end companies shine. The basic roller operates on a spring mounted inside the roller bar. Continuous chain driven systems work well but the chains pose a significant safety risk unless they are secured in place which makes them more difficult to operate. One company offers a tension driven continuous pull cord — it’s wonderful — but it’s expensive, too. And, of course, there is motorization.
How you pick from all these options is by first assessing your needs and then finding the product which meets those needs.