Episode 753 01.11.22
Peggy and Jason Turner, vice president and cofounder, PowerShades, talk about the Sustainable Living Lab, and how PowerShades is contributing to the effort to help reduce energy costs in this Living Lab home. Turner explains how leveraging automated shades in existing homes has played a pivotal role in reducing energy costs and has paved the way for integrating digital technologies with lighting controls and even making homes generally more sustainable overall.
Peggy Smedley: So, Jason I have to tell you, you have an exciting background. When I was sitting there, and I was going through it… You’re just pretty smart. You’re the guy that understands how to make things work.
Jason Turner: My wife would tell you different.
Smedley: ….So, why she would say…You’re getting too technical….
Turner: Yeah. It is just since I’ve been a kid, I’ve always loved taking stuff apart and figuring stuff, and figuring out ways to make it better. And that’s just kind of what’s got me through life.
Smedley: But you know what? That’s what makes things, that’s the best innovation. I have the best guys on the show and gals on the show, that when they take things apart, they always tell me they find themselves the inner geek in them. And I know that today that’s probably, the woke world will say that’s wrong. But I look at that and I say, “You know what? What’s exciting about that is you create the best things. And that’s what is…”
I’m sure you’ve invented many other things or have been involved; but now you’re at PowerShades. And what I love that you’re doing with PowerShades, and I want you to tell our listeners all about it, is that today this is helping us in a society that we waste so much energy. You’ve now created a solution that’s helping us all think about being better environmental citizens. And I love that because that’s what… If you can think about taking things apart, building things, and now it’s leading us to be better and conserving our energy, I think that’s an exciting time. Tell me all about your company.
Turner: Sure. And again, I’m thrilled to be on here, and talk about PowerShades. But as you’ve mentioned, I’ve got kind of a diverse background in different things of all sorts of things: smart-home machinery, and even aerospace in the past; but the way that we started PowerShades, myself and my partner, my co-founder Ryan Chacon, we actually were involved in some hotel projects that, there’s some pretty cool stuff going on in hotels, where they are trying to figure out when the rooms are occupied. And not in any way to be creepy at all; they’re doing it for energy savings, which is the way we really got into this whole thing.
Everybody does it; they get into a hotel room, they turn all the lights on, turn the TV on, open up the windows, the shades, and crank the air conditioner down. And then they go down to the pool or the bar, or they leave. And they’re just wasting all that energy. And the hotels were trying to figure out a way to really determine when people are in the room, so that they can let them waste all that energy when they want to but be reasonable whenever the people leave.
And we were pretty heavily involved in that. And the more and more the hotels were trying to figure out how to intelligently control the shades, we really saw some gaps there in the connectivity, and the way that those things worked. And that’s what made us start PowerShades. We started a little bit different, because we are both engineers, and we designed first our own electronics, and a lot of the software that goes with those electronics and our own motors and everything. To be able to talk to those big hotel properties, and make it easy for the room, really, to tell us when it was unoccupied and to close the windows.
People don’t realize how much energy is wasted in the summer by leaving their windows open, and the sun just baking the room, and the air conditioner having to keep up to compensate. And on the flip side, they don’t realize how much energy they lose whenever they leave the windows open in the winter, or rather close windows in the winter. And they don’t get the benefit of that solar gain. So, by using these things intelligently, we can actually help keep the heat out when you don’t want it and let the heat in when you do want it. And that’s something that automating the shades can do that you can’t just do with a chain, whenever nobody’s in that room, to open and close them.
Smedley: And that’s the power of this. What I like about you talking about this is the energy wasted. We, as consumers, have just been a society of make, take, waste…But you’ve now come up with something that says, “Look. Let’s be more efficient. Let’s look at how we can do things better.” Talk about what we’re doing with our Living Lab. And I think most of us don’t understand just how much energy we use in just about everything.
Talk to me about… We wanted to be better citizens in general; and we’re determined to help all of us kind of become better actors of change. This is what I kind of look at it and say, “We need to be more sustainable, and we really need to understand what that means today.” I know that you believe that, as you just described. So, reducing our energy usage is the first step in achieving that objective. Now you just described that.
So, I think the most obvious question is, in PowerShades’ decision to help us help other people understand, how do you do that in a project like we’re doing in the Living Labs? So, we’ve created this Living Lab. It’s a home that we’re building, to show people what’s the best way to do things to reduce their energy, or to monitor their energy consumption. Talk to us why you guys felt that that was a really good idea to kind of help others understand it.
Turner: Well, again, it goes back to the hospitality industry, the hotels that we were working with; and successfully worked with and helped save energy. But we’ve taken… And we still do some of the, quite a bit of the hotel stuff; but a large part of what we do now is residential. And, it truly, it comes down to saving energy and comfort and privacy. People, it really surprises me just how little people think about the losses in their windows and all the heat coming in during the summer, and what they can… How they can help the air conditioner keep up with that.
So, part of our system, we’ve really taken it twofold. Number one, the motors themselves; we have developed and patented a special motor that is powered over ethernet, which is the industry only, and the industry first motor that truly, all it needs is a single cap 5 line ran to the motor and plugs into an industry standard power over ethernet switch. So, the motor consumes very, very little energy at all. And it sets on the network, and we’re able to do all the automation, whether you’re using a home automation controller, or you’re using our system, that is just a cloud-based system that you log into and username and password, and then you’re off to the races.
We know with each home that we sell product to, the zip code; we know the location of the home. Again, none of this is at all to be creepy. It’s we want to know what time sunrise, solar noon, sunset is for each of the properties that they go into. And of course, daylight savings time and all that kind of stuff. The other thing that we do ask whenever people place the orders, is what direction do each of the windows face, and what floor and room of the house. And a big part of that is, in our system, it becomes at that point, very easy to do things like good morning scenes, afternoon scenes, good night scenes. We know when solar noon is for the property, based on zip code. So, it becomes really easy to do things like an hour after solar noon, go ahead and lower all the shades on the west side of the house to block out the sun.
But then there’s some cool stuff you can do, that if it’s rainy or cloudy or those kinds of things; you don’t necessarily need to lower the shades. So, we’ve got really full-on energy optimization modes, where you can just let the system handle and close shades, open shades, do all the things you need to. Or you can do some more moderate scenes that just do like a good morning and good night. But all of our fabrics, they’ve got energy coefficient; it can get pretty geeky, pretty technical. Some of our fabrics keep more heat out, they reflect more light; others absorb it. So, we’ve even got different fabrics that are tailored for different climates.
Smedley: So, let’s talk about that, because I… Let’s talk about a couple of things because I think this is really important. As the average person sits there, and I can assure you, even if you are the most technical person, you might assume you know this, but you don’t know this. Because we think we pay attention to the things, but we sometimes think very myopically. We’re focused on the task at hand; we’re focused on, we’re an AR expert, we’re an AI expert. We’re focused on the inner area of things. But we’re not focused on what fabric choice we have to make. We’re not focused on these things that might do that solar noon that you just described.
And so, as we think about these things, I think that’s where we all have to focus on understanding there’s so much we can do in our homes. We’re all talking about sustainability. We’re all talking about resiliency in the global sense, to help do better at our businesses. But we haven’t looked down what we can do individually or as families. And this is a perfect example of how we can bring that down to our homes. And every one of us can make a contribution without having to say huge expenses to actually make a difference by energy consumption, energy savings, and how this changes considerably for the next generation that we’re talking about.
Turner: Yeah. That’s a good point. And a lot of people do think that motorized shades are only in the houses you see on MTV cribs and big, expensive homes. And certainly, you can spend a lot of money on these, but they don’t have to be expensive. We’ve got… I guess the least expensive solution here is, a lot of times when somebody’s building a home, that’s the best time to think about it, of course. You’re putting pencil to paper. You’re figuring out where do you want light switches in the house? Where do you want all the different things in the house? That’s the best time to think about shades like this, motorized shades. It’s extremely inexpensive to just run wire to the windows, so that you’ve got a constant power source. And sky is the limit at that point.
We do a lot of… We do manual shades as well. I know our name is PowerShades, but we do offer manual shades. And we find a lot of times people will do those in rooms that they don’t spend a lot of time in, or even sometimes they’ll do it as a budgetary thing, where we’ll do the really important windows motorized for now. And then later on, we’ll upgrade. We’ll put manual in the other rooms and then upgrade those to motors later when our budget allows.
But the motors themselves are not that expensive, especially when you factor in the fact that you’re going to be putting something on the windows anyway. A lot of times, people will do the 2-in. wood blinds or manual roller shades, whatever. So, the motor aspect to it is just an upgrade. And it’s, as you’ve already mentioned, the energy savings alone, a lot of times, there’s a payback period here, the return on investment that a lot of people don’t realize; where the amount of energy saved by utilizing these in an energy saving mode, where you’re keeping the sun out in the summer, letting the sun in, in the winter, a lot of times can pay for itself in just a couple years. And then after that, you still get the benefit of all the privacy, the energy savings, the security. And let’s be honest. A lot of times they’re pretty cool to watch these things go up and down on their own.
Smedley: So, a couple of things. Every time we hear… We’ve had guests on, they always tell us the payback; because we did some analysis on a couple other solutions. The payback, I would have to be in 40 years from now. And I can assure you, I’d love to be around here 40 years from now, but I’m probably not going to be around 40 more years in my lifetime. So, it’s kind of interesting when they do payback. So, this is realistic payback. And I think that’s the kind of things that we have to show. And when people are looking for that, and we want them to understand, is how you look at things. So that’s a very important comment, is to say realistic payback; because I think that’s what people need to see. Secondly, I think the important thing you talked about is battery. And I think when we look at batteries today, we’re kind of saying, “Are batteries going to be something that are going to be bad for our landfills?” Your type of batteries you’re talking about are what type? Lithium? Describe to me the battery; because that’s the first thing people get nervous about.
Turner: Sure. Yeah. And that’s a… I’m glad you brought that up. So, as I already mentioned, a lot of times people will pre-wire in new construction; and in those you don’t need a battery at all. But we do a tremendous amount of business in homes that are pre-existing. And in those, of course, you’ve got to have a battery. Otherwise, you don’t want… That’s where they can get expensive, is having to have people come in and fish wire through walls and do an install like that.
But our batteries that we do in our battery-powered shades, they’re built into the motor; and it is a lithium-Ion battery, that easily has at least a 10-year lifespan, if not better. We do some interesting stuff in there, to make life better on the batteries. We don’t ever let the batteries get fully depleted. We don’t let the people overcharge them. We do all that stuff to keep the batteries in their sweet spot, to where we can really extend the life of the battery. And in normal operation on these things, they’ve got just a little plug on the motor head, whereabout once a year, you would just plug the motor in, and charge it overnight, and you’re good. We have had great luck with them. People love being able to do that. And so, you don’t have to run any wires at all.
Smedley: So, looking at these. Now, because that’s the kind of thing people, homeowners have to decide. We’re at that point where some people are trying to retrofit, like you just described. Other people are doing new construction. So typically, always when you say new construction is when you really need to be considering these things; and you just described it. As we’re talking about this Living Lab, we’re talking about where should we do this? We’re trying to say, “Let’s be the guinea pig. Let’s do different types of options to see what people like.” Because part of the challenge with any connected technology or anything is, everybody says, “Let’s do it all.” And then you find out that people aren’t going to like it. It was a big expense, in general, with things that they never use. And I’m not saying that about PowerShades, but I’m giving you the example. We find that that’s where the frustration comes in.
With a lot of these things you just described, it’s the type of range. It’s the fabrics choices, or the style, or the look. And you just described, there’s those options. There is the rooms you’re not going to use, and maybe you don’t need to go all full out. You have that flexibility when to use motor, when not; and that’s the kind of thing everybody doesn’t have to do all in or all out. They have an option; and do people really understand that? They get so overjoyed and excited by all these things; they can still have an energy efficient home, and do the right things, without going over the budget.
Turner: Absolutely, they can. And as far as I guess the continued use of them and interaction with them like you talked about there, we do a lot of, what we kind of call “set it and forget it.” And that’s what we… I guess that makes this… The best energy use of these is, very often, our customers will go in, and they’ll set up a good morning scene, a good night scene, and maybe an afternoon scene. And with our kind of drag and drop system in our cloud-based control, we already know all the windows that are on the west side of the house. Or we know all the windows in bedrooms or living rooms. You can just choose what rooms you want to interact with. And whether it’s the time of the day or the position of the sun, most of our clients we’ll just set those up.
For instance, in my house, I’ve got every morning, at a certain time, all the shades in the house will open. And then, every day at a certain hour after solar noon, shades on the west side will go down. Now, we like to look out at the sunset and all that later in the evening. So, I will raise the shades later after the heat goes away. And then, every night at sunset is when I tell all the shades to go down.
And that becomes pretty cool, because I don’t have to know what daylight savings time, summer, winter, any of that kind of stuff. The shades just automatically do it. So, I don’t really ever go around, or very often I don’t go around and touch the buttons or hit the buttons, and raise and lower them manually. They just do it. They just do what they’re supposed to do. I don’t have to remember to go around and close them in the afternoon to keep the heat out. Or I don’t have to remember to go around and open them in the winter to let the heat in. It just, it does it.
And I can set different schedules for wintertime and summertime. There is even ways that I can, like I mentioned earlier, I can know if it’s cloudy and rainy out; so I don’t have to close the shades if I don’t want to. Those kinds of things really make it to where you put your energy desires and goals in, you set it, and then you just leave it alone and let it do its thing. And of course, there’s a button on the wall if you ever to override it, and open them and look outside, or close them for privacy, whatever the case may be. You can always override them; but a lot of times just putting your schedules in, and then let it do its thing is the best way to go.
Smedley: Is all of this technology starting to integrate together? You have PowerShades; are you integrating with other solutions on the market? We see Amazon and Google and all these things doing it. Are they all… Are you integrating with all of the other platforms that are there?
Turner: Absolutely. We have all of the Amazon Alexa skills, the Google Home skills, all of your major players in the home automation market. You’ve got Silvan, RTI, Crestron, Control4, URC, Elan. You name it, we’ve worked with them, and we’ve got the drivers. I know most of your audience is pretty technical people; but these drivers, I guess you could liken it to a printer driver on your computer. It’s just something we’ve developed. It’s a plugin. And it makes it work with whatever home automation system you have. So absolutely, they’re working together. So, whether it’s an afternoon scene, a lot of times people will do a scene so they can watch a movie, that’ll dim the lights, close the shades, turn the TV or projector on. So that interaction with all the other systems, we have invested heavily in, and work really well with.
Smedley: What do you think is the biggest challenge we have right now? We see that we’ve lacked a lot of standards in the industry. Are we getting better as an industry, as a whole? We have a lot of disjointed… We talk about the need for integration; and we’re getting better. We’ve got a lot of these big behemoths; and it has to be harder for a company like yourself. Are they getting better? Because as the homeowner, we’re kind of like, “What do we do?”
Turner: Yep. That is a great question. And it’s kind of funny, because to us, it was such a simple question. For us, we developed that motor that’s power over ethernet. So that motor just plugs into the network in your home just like your computer does. And it makes it very easy to control. There are still players out there that want to try to keep everything proprietary, so that you have to buy all of their components. I think the industry is getting away from that some. I think the Amazons and the Googles of the world have made it to where you’ve got to play nice with everybody, because everybody has an Alexa or a Google Home in their house now. And so, you want to be able to just tell it to close the shades in your living room, or tell it to turn the lights off, or lock the doors, whatever. So that those players have, I would kind of say, made the world play nicer together. So, I think in that aspect, those have all been very good for us.
Smedley: Well, we can only hope. Right?
Smedley: We’ve seen what’s happening…in the manufacturing space….Will this be a part of that? Because that’s the ultimate goal we, as consumers, need to see how much we waste. Will this contribute to that?
Turner: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We’ve already done case studies, and we’ve worked with partners that they’ve got their energy bills from previous years, and then they put systems like this in place; and it’s stark. It’s not just a IT kind of works. You’re able to look at the energy consumption from one year to the next, when the systems were in place and when they’re not. And it’s very… It’s stark. You can definitely tell an energy saving. We’re even starting to dip some toes in the water about energy rebates, kind of like your high efficiency appliances and things like that, to where in the near future, you may be able to do these kinds of energy rebates, by putting known energy savings window coverings in place.
Smedley: When you look at this, Jason, in your mind; you talked about security and privacy. I love that you’ve talked about all of these things. What’s your favorite feature? I know you’ve done this right now in your mind; because for me, I’m excited about this. I’m excited about this project we’re doing; one, from a sustainability side of this. Two, because I’m going to talk about it, because I think once we get to track all these things and be able to show consumers show, I think builders don’t do enough to show that this is more of an opportunity for them. I think, want to show cities; I think there are so many folks involved in this whole environment, that don’t realize the benefits.
I guess my question to you is, is there one audience that is yet to recognize it? …. Or there’s just a lot of pockets, once they see it, it’s just going to bubble up, and that’s the favorite part that you hope to really educate the most on.
Turner: I really think it’s most of the residential segment still is yet to get on board or figure it out or realize the savings. Like we talked about a little earlier in the show, everyone still thinks that they’re very expensive; and sure, there is an upcharge. And it just… People don’t think about that early on in the design. Of course, everybody is looking at picking their countertops, picking their tile, picking their paint colors on the wall; but window coverings are almost always an afterthought. That’s why the biggest sales outlet that we have, we sell through a network of about 1,500 dealers nationwide, that are the smart-home dealers, what we call the CDM market, that are the integrators and the dealers who are out there already putting these in, putting home theaters in. They’re putting smart lights in. They’re meeting with these clients as they’re conceptualizing their home, or the upgrades to their home, whether it’s distributed music, lighting, smart lighting, of course, that can save a lot of money on your energy bills.
These dealers are meeting with the clients early enough that they can pitch this, that they can get the wires in the wall, that they can put the network in the house for communication for all those things, for energy savings. That’s a big reason that we’ve partnered with a lot of those dealers, is they can get in there early, and really educate the homeowners or the benefits of it, whether it’s all the things you’ve already mentioned. It’s privacy, it’s security, it’s energy savings. And the homeowners, the energy savings of window coverings, I don’t think is on a lot of people’s minds. And so, we’re working to try to fix that.
For more information on PowerShades, go to www.powershades.com.