Whole Building Approach to Interior Roller Shade Fabric Selections

Many factors impact building performance, energy efficiency, and aesthetics
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Sponsored by Draper, Inc.
By Barbara Horwitz-Bennett
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Fabric Certifications

Another important factor in roller shade fabric selection is ensuring that the product meets key health and safety standards, which are designed to show no negative impact on the health of the building or its occupants. In particular, specifiers should check that the fabrics have been certified by the following:

  • NFPA 701: Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films, which measures the flammability of a fabric when it is exposed to specific sources of ignition.
  • ASTM G 21: Standard Practice for Determining Resistance of Synthetic Polymeric Materials to Fungi, which determines the fabric’s resistance to fungal attack.
  • ASTM E2180: Standard Test Method for Determining the Activity of Incorporated Antimicrobial Agent(s) in Polymeric or Hydrophobic Materials.

Many projects require that fabrics be flame retardant, particularly in schools, health-care facilities, and government projects. Most fabrics use chemical additives—typically brominated chemicals polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a class of organohalogens—to make the fabric flame retardant. Because these chemicals have been known to cause adverse health effects, more fabrics are using flame retardants without these chemicals, while others have dispensed with the need for any additional chemicals because the fabrics are inherently flame retardant.

Regarding acoustics, window shade fabrics do not impact sound reduction to the extent that other products and systems do, but they are considered as part of the building design’s overall acoustic strategy. As such, shade fabrics are assigned a noise reduction coefficient (NRC)—the higher the number, the more sound is absorbed.

In addition to performance factors, there are also environmental considerations when selecting shade fabrics.

In evaluating whether to invest more in “green” fabrics, there are a number of factors to consider. In addition to the added expense, there are fewer products available, thus choice is more limited. Further, some fabrics can be difficult to work with and may be more prone to damage.

That said, “green” fabrics offer a number of benefits, including no hazardous chemicals, no off-gassing, no hazardous by-products from manufacturing, some recyclability, and the opportunity to preserve building and occupant health. There are also fabrics coated with plant-based plasticizers, which have the added benefits of petroleum savings and greenhouse gas avoidance.

If sustainability is a priority, architects and designers will also want to look into GREENGUARD certification, Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute’s verified ratings, and health product declarations (HPDs) data.

GREENGUARD standards are less about what is in the material, and more about how much of those ingredients escape into the air via off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Consequently, GREENGUARD certified fabrics meet some of the toughest chemical emissions standards in the world. GREENGUARD Gold certification means the fabric has passed an even more rigorous standard, designed to protect more vulnerable populations, such as children in education environments.

The Cradle-to-Cradle rating system is based on renewable energy, clean water, material health, social responsibility, and material reutilization. Qualifying products receive a basic, bronze, silver, gold, or platinum rating, which require recertification every two years.

HPDs can be consulted to determine what, if any, potentially hazardous chemicals are contained in a shade fabric.

In addition to reducing carbon, sustainably certified buildings have been shown to reduce vacancies and increase productivity.

For example, the U.S. Green Building Council cites a San Diego real estate market study that found the vacancy rate for green buildings to be 4 percent lower than non-green properties, and that LEED-certified buildings often brought in the highest rents.

Further, the engineering firm Cundall reported that its London office demonstrated a positive return on investment outcome from its WELL-certified facility within three months by calculating the reductions in sick leave and attrition alone.

Quality Standards and Availability from Domestic Manufacturers

While shade fabrics are manufactured around the world, sustainably minded architects advise working with more local, domestic manufacturers.

For example, Andow relates that LEED v4’s Regional Materials credit recently changed to be a multiplier if the product meets the other product disclosure requirements and is manufactured within 100 miles. Formerly, the requirement was within a 500-mile radius.

Another noted benefit is shorter lead times. “Shades are typically custom fabricated to fit the window sizes, which takes time,” Angarano notes. “Having a product with a shorter, more reliable lead time is important for project schedule.”

Additionally, Adams points out that having a good relationship with a local distributor can help expedite the process with quick responses to questions and by working through any concerns that may arise.

When vetting manufacturers, specifiers should ask the following questions:

  • What kinds of manufacturing processes do they have in place? Are they using the latest equipment and methods?
  • Where are they located, and how responsive are they? (Working with fabric manufacturers that can deliver quickly and maintain inventory on hand and at shade manufacturing locations will ensure a minimum of project delays.)
  • How tight are manufacturing tolerances? What standards are followed, and what happens when fabric is produced outside of these standards?
  • Do they have an active quality program in place? Do they test their fabrics to make sure they perform as advertised?
  • Are the fabrics visually inspected using a backlight to search for flaws?

It is also helpful for architects to have information about technical fabrics and performance fabrics. The former are manufactured to very tight tolerances. The manufacturer knows exactly how many yarns are in the weave and how this affects fenestration.

Performance fabrics offer enhancing attributes outside of openness and color. For example, they may have a metalized backing or additives that allow a dark fabric to reflect heat as well as a light fabric. These special capabilities mean that these fabrics have the highest impact on building performance and occupant comfort.

Part of The Whole

Overall, it is important that interior shades are not simply viewed as an interior design decision, but rather addressed as an important component in an overall whole building context. With the help of modeling tools and an integrated design team working together to assess the shades’ impact on building performance and integration with the facade and exterior environment, optimized solutions can emerge.

This approach will enable roller shades to best control glare, support daylighting, enhance occupant comfort and productivity, and contribute to the overall building aesthetic.

Barbara Horwitz-Bennett is a veteran archi-tectural journalist who has written hundreds of CEUs and articles for various AEC publications. www.bhbennett.com


Draper, Inc. Based in Spiceland, IN, Draper manufactures projection screens, AV mounts and structures, window shades, and gymnasium equipment. The family-owned and -operated business was founded in 1902 by Luther O. Draper and is owned and managed by his descendants. With locations in the United States and Sweden, Draper ships products to dealers throughout the United States and more than 100 countries. To learn more about Draper, visit www.draperinc.com.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in March 2021