Smart blinds are an expensive upgrade to your smart home

Technology

Lutron’s Smart Wood Blinds work great, but come at a cost

When it comes to smart home gadgets, there are the simple, basic things that most people start with, such as smart light bulbs, smart outlets, or a smart lock. Any of those can be purchased for a relatively low price and installed in just a few minutes. Then there are the advanced smart home gadgets: things like smart sprinkler systems or extensive surveillance systems. Those are more expensive and more challenging to install.

Smart window shades and blinds sit somewhere in the middle. They are expensive, sometimes abhorrently so, but installation is simple and straightforward. They aren’t as immediately beneficial as a smart light, and they won’t save you money on your energy bill like a smart thermostat, but they can make your day to day slightly better, especially if your window fixtures are in a hard to reach place.

We took a look at Ikea’s smart window shades last year, but those are limited to letting in or blocking all the light — you can’t have them partially let in more or less light as the sun changes. They also are only available in specific sizes, which may or may not fit your windows. Lutron’s new Serena Smart Wood blinds on the other hand, can be customized to the size of your windows and offer more control. Like other horizontal slat blinds, the Serena Smart Wood Blinds can be adjusted to let varying amounts of light in throughout the day. But instead of pulling on a drawstring cord, you can use a small remote, or Lutron’s smartphone app, or even your voice to control them.

Or, best of all, you can have them run automatically. By giving the app access to your location and telling it which direction your window is facing, the blinds will automatically open at sunrise and close at sunset. They will also adjust their position through the day to minimize glare and maximize the natural light in the room. You can even enable a “Fade Fighter” feature that will adjust the tilt to minimize fading on carpets, furniture, or artwork that are near the windows.

I’ve been testing the Serena Smart Wood Blinds in my kitchen for the majority of the summer and though they are excessive and unnecessary, they turn a mundane and often annoying experience into a delight. The blinds are already partially open and letting light into the room when I enter the kitchen in the morning to make coffee and breakfast. By mid-day, they are fully open, allowing all the light into the room. And then in the evening, just as the sun sets, the blinds close fully for the night.

Thanks to this fully automatic function, I rarely used the remote, app, or even voice commands to control the blinds. On a few occasions, I wanted the blinds to open more fully earlier than they normally would do so on their own, but outside of that, it’s been very much a set it and forget type of experience.

Surprisingly, the motor that opens and closes the blinds is very quiet — I can only hear it when I stop what I’m doing and specifically listen for it. The blinds I’ve been testing are powered by eight D-cell alkaline batteries — you can also opt for an AC adapter when ordering the blinds for permanent power. Lutron says the batteries last for two to five years with typical daily use.

Installing the blinds is the same process as any other wooden slat blind and, so long as you have the right size, only takes a few minutes to finish. Lutron does not sell these off the shelf — each set is custom-sized to your window and takes about two weeks to get to you, so it’s important to measure once, twice, and probably a third time to make sure you’re getting the right size.

If you just want to use the remote to control the blinds, you can pair it directly to them, but if you want to use the app, Alexa, the Google Assistant, or the automatic functions, you’ll also need to have Lutron’s bridge installed and set up on your home network. That obviously introduces another level of cost and complexity to the mix, but the hub can be used to control Lutron dimmers, switches, and other devices.

I warned up top that the biggest impediment to the Smart Wood Blinds are their cost, and this is by far the worst thing about them. Pricing starts at $599 — the blinds that fit my single, 65-inch wide kitchen window came to just over $800 including the remote. I already had a Lutron bridge set up, but if you don’t, that’s another $80 you’ll have to spend. Outfitting my entire home with these blinds would easily tally into the thousands of dollars, and is much more expensive than comparable manual wood blinds that I can buy from my local Lowe’s or Home Depot.

There are a couple of other odd limitations, like the fact that they work with Alexa and the Google Assistant, but not Apple’s HomeKit or Samsung’s SmartThings, both of which are supported by other Lutron products. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t find much use for the voice controls, but if you wanted to set up an automation through HomeKit or SmartThings to close the blinds when you leave the house, you don’t have the option to do it.

Finally, while the opening and closing of the wood slats is powered by the motor, actually lifting and lowering the blinds to open or close the window behind them is still a manual process. You can lift them up part way and they will hold their position and the automatic functions for controlling the slats will still work. There’s also no way to open or close the slats without the remote, app, or voice controls. That might make it a bit confusing for guests to operate them.

Still, despite their steep cost and limited platform support, the Smart Wood Blinds are among the most enjoyable smart home devices I’ve used in years. They are easy to install, straightforward to use, and reliable to the point where I just forget about them as I go about my day. Many smart home gadgets overpromise and underdeliver, but the Smart Wood Blinds behave exactly as you expect them to. You just have to pay a lot for that privilege.