Monthly Archives: March 2015

Automated shades: Save energy without sacrificing workplace happiness

office roller shadesIn early 2003, the New York Times Company approached the Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory with a problem. The paper’s new corporate headquarters – an all-glass structure in Manhattan – was intended to be an architectural symbol of the paper’s commitment to “transparency.” But all that glass – in addition to providing a compelling metaphor – presented unique architectural challenges. The company wished to keep the building as “open” as possible, while still ensuring employees’ comfort and minimizing energy costs.

 

The company used this challenge as an opportunity to push the envelope in terms of sustainable design. The system they eventually developed – which combined automated shades with dimmable lighting and an underfloor air distribution system – consumed 24 percent less electricity and 51 percent less heating energy than a comparably sized building designed just to code. It also provided a tangible embodiment of the paper’s commitment to its readership.

 

Chances are you aren’t interested in the metaphorical implications of this anecdote. However, if you are responsible for managing a large space – whether it be a school, hospital or office building – the New York Times project has a lot to teach about good window design – a vital component in any energy saving strategy.

 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that nearly three-quarters of all U.S. commercial energy usage comes from lighting and HVAC systems. In this context, windows represent both a challenge and an opportunity.

 

Windows can save energy by reducing our dependence on artificial light and heating – to say nothing of the increased productivity that comes with plentiful sunshine and good views. Still, if not managed properly, windows can also increase glare and drive up cooling costs.

 

Increasingly, facilities managers are relying on building automation systems to help strike the appropriate balance. These systems range in price and complexity – with more advanced models integrating lighting controls, automatic shades, photocell daylight dimmers near windows and occupancy sensors.

 

Despite the promise these systems hold, one persistently annoying quirk is the lack in many of effective manual override controls. This point was driven home in a post-occupancy study of the New York Times’ offices. The study, in addition to demonstrating the environmental and economic merits of the experiment – highlighted some of the challenges inherent in daylighting schemes.

One of the most persistent of these is the inability of most systems, no matter how intelligent, to control for confounding factors like glare. For this, there is still no substitute for human intelligence. Studies have consistently found that workers in buildings with automated shade systems want to be able to manually override the system when necessary, and are frustrated when they cannot do so.

Knowing this back in 2003, the paper’s management insisted their system incorporate such an option. The company that eventually won the bid for the New York Times office relied on local switches and touch screens to override the controls.

 

QMotion has found a much more elegant and intuitive solution in its patented manual override feature, which allows shades to be raised or lowered with a simple tug, as well as from users’ smart phones, tablets, or home automation systems. The QMotion system – unique among its peers – can minimize workers’ frustration, ensuring that energy savings don’t come at the expense of workplace happiness.

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Smart outlets, talking toasters and Jetsons reruns: Home-tech trends to watch in 2015

qmotion honeycomb kitchen

It looks as if 2015 might be the year smart-home technology finally goes mainstream.

 

At least, that’s the conclusion of many industry analysts who attended this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show, where smart-home tech abounded.

Past experience proves many of these gizmos – no matter how glittering or innovative – will never make it from the show room to the shelves.

Still, some will, and we’re excited to see what the new year brings. From power outlets that won’t burn your finger to talking ovens that will stop you from burning your dinner, our homes are getting wittier by the day.

 

Here’s our roundup of home trends to watch in the year ahead:

 

  1. Knowledge is power.

 

Earlier this year, Digital Trends predicted smart-home giant Nest’s next project would be to build a smarter power outlet. Unlike other products already on the market, they predicted these outlets would do more than allow users to remotely control their homes energy usage. Instead, they would learn from users’ behavior – cutting power to inactive, vampiric devices so they don’t drain power, for instance.

 

Recent innovations suggest they might not be far off. Just this year, Brio applied itself to the smart-outlet problem, releasing a line of outlets that eliminate the risk of electrocution by discerning between a plug and a foreign object (like a finger).

 

  1. You’ll spend more time talking to the walls. (And they might talk back.)

 

By now, we’ve grown accustomed to people talking to their phones. However, natural language processing technology is slowly creeping its way from our handsets to our homes.

 

Nest and Apple are positioned to be leaders in this field, making use of existing smartphone capabilities. However, other companies are hopping aboard, also. Among these pioneers is Dacor, which this year debuted an oven that responds to voice commands.

 

  1. Forget home visits, your home will become your healthcare provider. 

 

This year saw the intersection between mobile technology and health grow more crowded, with wearables blowing up in a big way. In 2015, expect this trend to spill over into the smart home field. Among the things you might see hit the shelves in coming months: Smart air purifiers that alert you when your allergies are at risk of flaring, motion detectors that track your activity and appliances that tell you when you need to lay off the cookies and pick up an apple.

 

  1. Besides talking to you, your appliances will get better at talking with each other, too. 

 

In many people’s minds, the word “smart-home” still evokes a Jetsons-like world where any domestic task – whether it be dimming the lights, cooking dinner or taking out the garbage – is only a command away.

 

Flights of fancy (and flying cars) aside, the smart-home field has more often resembled a clutter of systems with communication problems.

 

Standing on the cusp of 2015, more and more people are putting their mind to the task of addressing this problem, with Nest and Apple again poised to be leaders.
With technology moving at such a breakneck pace, it might not be long before you can control your entire domain from your Apple TV. Until then, there’s always Jetsons reruns.

 

You know what they say about glass houses …

 

Despite what people say, the annals of modern architecture are full of bold statements in glass.

It’s been nearly a century since architects first began deconstructing the traditional notion of the home as a box for living.

 

Today – inspired by their minimalist aesthetic and a growing emphasis on sustainability – architects continue to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor space.

 

One of the most famous examples of this aesthetic is architect Philip Johnson’s “Glass House,” in New Canaan, Conn.

 

The hilltop abode – built in the late 1940s on Johnson’s sprawling, 47-acre estate – overturned nearly every convention about what a home should look like, enveloping residents in 365-degree views of the surrounding countryside. It also gave the surrounding countryside 365-degree views of the residents.

 

While this bold artistic statement earned a place in the textbooks, it wouldn’t make an ideal home for those of us who prefer a little privacy now and again. All that glass, if not managed carefully, can also create a greenhouse effect that drives up energy bills – an impractical proposition in our increasingly energy-sensitive society

 

For those who want to bring the outdoors inside – with the option of letting it back out when a bit more discretion, or cool air, is warranted – automated window shades provide an ideal solution.

 

QMotion manufactures whisper-quiet shades that can be controlled from your iPhone of tablet or integrated with other home automation systems for maximum efficiency.

 

These shades can be set to automatically adjust throughout the day – so that glare and heat are minimized and your views are maximized – and, with our patented manual override feature, can be adjusted with a simple tug.

 

We can’t help you with the stones.

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