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Shady business: Automated window shades slash energy use

31 May 2023

New research sheds light on the power of automated insulating window shades in reducing energy consumption.

Image: Illinois Institute of Technology
Image: Illinois Institute of Technology

A landmark study conducted by researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech) has shown that automated insulating window shades have the capacity to reduce energy consumption considerably. 

The study, which received funding from ComEd, highlights a promising path toward sustainability and energy efficiency in architectural design.

Led by Assistant Professor of Architectural Engineering Mohammad Heidarinejad, the research team focused on the often-overlooked role of window shades in energy-saving solutions. In climates similar to that of Chicago, temperature regulation typically accounts for 30 to 40 percent of a building's energy usage.

The team found that insulating window shades, when connected to an automated control system, can significantly decrease energy consumption during both heating and cooling seasons.

Addressing energy waste in existing buildings is a major challenge, as Heidarinejad explains, “If you’re designing a new building, you have a lot of freedom to look at new technologies that save on energy consumption, but for existing buildings, you have limited options.”

The study, conducted over 10 months, took place at the Equity Office at Willis Tower, which has single-paned windows and a high window-to-wall ratio.

In collaboration with Parata Solutions LLC and Amatis Controls, three control strategies for Parata's patented insulating shades were tested: fully manual control, a predefined schedule, and a sensor-based system – considering outdoor conditions and room occupancy.

The findings were remarkable: with the use of motorised shades, energy use was reduced by 25 percent during both heating and cooling seasons. Even more important was the positive response from office users, with 80 percent stating that they preferred the new shades over the old blinds.

Christopher Nurre, CEO of Parata Solutions LLC, praised the collaboration with Illinois Tech: “Working with Mohammad Heidarinejad and his team at Illinois Institute of Technology was a game changer for our company.

“Their rigorous field measurements helped confirm the efficacy of our shade system to drastically reduce energy use while offering a solution that occupants and building owners prefer over the incumbent.”

In addition to contributing to sustainable architectural solutions, the study provided Illinois Tech students involved in the project with a valuable real-world learning experience.

The study not only contributed to sustainable architectural solutions but also served as a real-world learning experience for Illinois Tech students involved in the project. 

Heidarinejad commented, “We had students doing instrumentation, data collection, and modelling, and their results were implemented in the actual build study,” says Heidarinejad. “It was important for students to learn how to collaborate on a real project.”

Further research is planned to explore the effectiveness of these innovative window shades under different conditions, such as in buildings that use natural gas, in different climates, or with windows facing different directions.

Further research is planned to investigate the performance of these innovative window shades under different conditions, including buildings utilising natural gas, diverse climates, and windows facing different directions.

Brent Stephens, a co-principal investigator on the project and the Arthur W. Hill Endowed Chair in Sustainability, said: “In addition to the exciting findings of energy savings and payback period, this project served as a perfect example of the type of industry-relevant research we enjoy – combining field measurements and computer simulations to evaluate a unique strategy to save energy in one of the most famous buildings in the world.”

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