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30-Minutes with Workroom Tech: Episode Eleven / Roman Shade Lift Systems Q & A

In Episode Eleven of The Sew Much More Podcast: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech (air date March 14, 2019), Ceil DiGuglielmo and Susan Woodcock discuss shade lift systems; answering questions from listeners. There’s a lot to learn!  Questions ranged from how do you decide which system to use, to which headrails work best for large, tall or arched windows.

You can listen to this episode of the podcast here: Episode Eleven: Shade Lift Systems 

There are a lot of choices when it comes to shade headrails, and it takes time to research and learn new systems.  "Years ago I used two, maybe three systems.  That was it."  Susan shared. "But now there are so many more types of lift systems.  That’s not a bad thing.  We just have to do our homework".

Types of Shade Lift Systems

Before answering the questions, Susan categorized the different types of systems so listeners can have a better understanding of the basics.

  a. A basic board mounted shade with screw eyes added under the board.  The lift cords are threaded through the shade rings (with cord shroud) and the screw eyes and then exit out the side and are used to operate the shade.  Cord cleats and/or cord locks keep the shade in position.

  b. Traversing clutch: the lift cord wraps around the fiberglass drive rod and is operated with a continuous cord or bead chain loop.  The clutch unit shifts the drive rod sideways, so the cord wraps in a spiral to keep the shade lifting in a level position.

  c. Aluminum roller tube: the lift cord it tied to clips that are attached to the tube and the cord then wraps around the roller, or there are cord spools that you slide onto the tube for the lift cord. Roller tubes can have a clutch with a bead chain loop, a spring unit, or operated with motorization.  See the video below for a demonstration of roller tubes with motor and spring operation.

  d. Headrail track: the lift cord wraps around a spool inside the track.  The spools are turned by a drive rod and operated with a clutch and bead chain loop.  You can now get a track system with motorization (battery or plug and play). Common headrail track systems are EZ-Rig from Rowley Company; Roman shade headrail track from Textol Systems, Inc.; RBS from Forest Group; and AutoDescend from dofix No Sew, Inc.

Pictured below are the RBS-XL, and RBS track headrails. 

Roman shade headrail tracksystems

In addition to those four types of systems, there’s also specialty systems such as side tracks, bendable tracks for arched windows, and there is even a system with stainless steel wire guides and cross bars.

Within each of those categories there are weight and width limits, projections, and other things to consider.  It’s not one size fits all. And just when you get it all figured out, a new system will come along!  

Systems for Large Shades

Question 1. What are the best headrails for large shades? 

For wide shades, you want to be sure you can splice the system if it's over 10 feet wide, or it will need to be shipped by freight. Most systems can be spliced.

If you have a long length, then a roller tube will raise the shade faster than a system where the cord wraps around a small diameter drive rod or spool.  Roller tubes can be operated with a clutch, spring or motor.  But there are length limits for systems because of the amount of cord that the system can accept. 

For supersized shades, consider weight, and ease of use.  When you look in your supplier catalogs you will see clutch weight limits. Spring rollers have a width and length limit charts instead of weight limits. 

There are clutch options up to 53 lbs. But… and here’s the real question… is it practical and useable?  For motorization, lithium batteries can accommodate just over 25 pounds, and hard-wired motors can take more weight. 

The larger shades will need a bigger mount board to accommodate the roller tube, so make sure your clients understand that there is a greater projection.  If you go really big, you are getting into theater-sized shades!  I would subcontract that out to a workroom that specializes in those types of projects.

Suppliers and Subcontractors

For challenging projects, Susan recommends working closely with your supplier to make sure it’s the right system for that project.  If your usual supplier isn’t supportive, and doesn’t offer good communication and customer support, then you should look for one that does!  Use their expertise.  You don’t have to know it all.  Your supplier should be a project-partner.  But that does mean you are shopping for service and support, and not price. 

Susan shard, that for some projects she has sub-contracted to the installer, letting him specify and provide the hardware and headrails. Many installers take specialized training on home automation and motorization systems like Somfy, or Lutron.  "I like to partner with other experts, working as a team instead of going it alone" Susan said.

Small Sized Shades

Small shades can be a challenge, too.  You are limited on how close you can place the columns of rings with a track system because of the spools. Spring systems can be cut down, but there is still a width limit, and batteries can’t be cut down.  The simpler systems like a roller clutch, or using a board with screw eyes would be an option for very narrow windows.


Question 2: How do you decide when to use motorization?

Ten or more years ago, it would have been critical to be involved in the building or remodeling of a home if motorization was used. You would need to pre-plan the wiring to match up with the motor system placement. This extra service would have been for a certain level of customer and is still a big part of home automation. But today there are easy-to-use and affordable battery-operated shades.  A game changer!  

Susan recommends to always include a motorization option when planning, and selling.  Certainly it’s the absolute best idea for hard to reach windows ,but motorization eliminates operating cords so that makes it a good choice for many reasons.

Susan shared that at a Comfortex Window Fashions seminar in Phoenix, AZ, the presenter, Elizabeth Salas shared this with the audience…

"Children born today may not ever use a window covering with an

operating cord or bead chain loop”. 

Let that sink in for a minute. 

We use technology daily whether it’s driving with GPS, or communicating with Alexa.  It’s time to stop thinking about motorization as an up-sell for wealthy clients.  It’s becoming mainstream.  Hesitance to get onboard could hurt your business.   "Many students at Workroom Tech don’t have experience with the older systems" Susan said, "I show them all the options from clutches, to springs, and motors.  Once they see and use a motorized shade, they are sold.  They see the other systems as clunky, outdated and unattractive".

Getting Started with Motorization

Susan suggests that you get started with one of the lithium battery roller systems with a wand or remote control, like the system from Pro Design LLC shown in the video below.  Make a sample shade for your own home to learn the system, or a sample shade to show customers.  "I promise, it’s as easy, or easier than the systems you are already using" Susan said. 

Arched Windows Question 3: Which lift systems do you use for an arched Roman shade?

It depends on whether you can have a horizontal board or track mounted below the arch.  If yes, then you can use any system that you wish.  You will make an arched mount board with a horizontal board below the arch.  The photo below is from Deborah Cronin with  Leatherwood Design Company. Deborah used the Rollease soft shade traversing clutch for this shade.

arched roman shade from Leatherwood Design Company

If you can’t have a horizontal mount board then you will want to use the dofix RPS track with clutch.  It is flexible and can be steamed and shaped for arched windows.  There is hook strip on the system for attaching the shade, or you can mount it under an arched board.

Defining "Cordless"

Question 4: What makes a shade cordless. Some systems are described as cordless but there are still cords on the back?

It can be confusing when you see a shade described as “cordless” and there are clearly cords on the shade!   Manufacturers and suppliers are referring to “no operating cords” when they say "cordless".  This leads to a lot of confusion. Spring roller shades and motorized shades are cordless, in that they don’t use operating cords... but they do have lift cords.

Question 5: Is there a shade system without any cords?

You can fabricate a shade that is completely cord free, without operating cords or lift cords, by using the CordlessPRO™ Professional Wide Band Lift Sheet Systems from Safe-T-Shade in combination with a spring roller or motor.   This system has been around for years, but there are still a lot of workrooms who haven’t tried it yet.  The system is not hard to learn, and you can make the Roman shade the same as you always do, except the shade rings are turned to accept a horizontal bar, instead of vertical cord.  The photo below shows this style of shade ready to be mounted to the board.

Because this system is completely cord free, you don’t have to limit your vertical ring spacing to be compliant with cord safety standards.  If you want to have the shade fold to a pattern, and you need 10 or 12 inch spacing you can do that.  (To learn more about cord safety standards, reference episode five, and episode seven of 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech).

Inside Mounted Shades

The last question….

Question 6: What’s the best system to use for inside mounted shades?

If you have enough space to install a 2 or 2.5 inch board, then a motor or spring system is a great choice because it eliminates the bead chain loop.  Because the cord safety standards require a tension device to be installed on the bead chain loop, it can be awkward to find the best location with an inside mounted shade. If you can reverse mount, with the bead chain in front of the shade, that could work better for an inside mounted shade than having to reach behind the shade to access the operating cord.  

Final Thoughts

Workroom and interior design professionals need to stay up-to-date with shade systems.  Education is key.  Network and learn with in-person workshops and online training opportunities.  Every job is custom and an opportunity to learn something new.  Building relationships with suppliers and other professionals will help you to get the best results. 

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