By O’D McKewan
This article will take a deeper dive in the very specific category of rechargeable battery-powered systems for motorized window treatments. I state “systems” because there are different ways to utilize rechargeable batteries.
The first option is the DIY rechargeable battery system. This is where you have a low-voltage motor that can be used with standard batteries and, instead of using disposable batteries, the client uses off-the-shelf rechargeable batteries. Most manufacturers warn against this, as the motors are very sensitive to voltage drops and rechargeable batteries fluctuate in voltage significantly depending on the charge. So, we do not recommend using rechargeable batteries in a standard battery system.
Instead, you can use a rechargeable battery pack. This is different in that the manufacturers use a separate battery pack that has small electrical circuits that regulate the amount of energy sent to the motors. This enables the motors to use the rechargeable battery packs without issues to the motors.
Today, these battery packs contain lithium-ion battery cells that can hold their charges much better that the old-style rechargeable batteries. Thus, manufacturers provide the proper rechargeable battery packs that will work best for their motor systems. It is not recommended to use universal rechargeable batteries for any motorization system on the market.
When it comes to manufacturers’ rechargeable battery packs, not only are they brand specific, they are generally motor specific as well. Certain motors require different voltages and amperages to properly power the motors. The manufacturer also determines the housing location and the charging options for the battery packs. Some manufacturers have external battery packs and some have internal battery packs.
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An advantage to external battery packs is being able to mount them in locations that can be easier for the client to reach to recharge. You can also sell additional battery packs so the client can have a spare battery pack charged and ready to use when the motor pack dies. They can just switch them out and there is no downtime for the client’s usage of the motors. They can then charge the used battery pack and have it ready for the next time.
Lithium battery packs have a very long shelf life when fully charged. A fully charged battery pack stored in a cool, dry place should maintain almost all of its charge for six to 12 months.
The downside to external battery packs is the extra space required to mount them and the extra work needed to conceal them. If you have a limited amount of space in the window (especially in an inside-mount application), the battery pack can create a challenge for mounting space.
There are two types of internal battery pack systems. The first is an external-style battery pack mounted in the headrail system of the window covering, eliminating the issue of mounting. Some manufacturers have an external charging port that allows you easier access to charge the battery.
The other type of internal battery pack system is the embedded battery pack. This system has a rechargeable battery cell inside of the motor. This is mainly found in tubular motors. This option eliminates all the mounting issues. The charging port is either on the motor head or a short wire connected to the motor head. Being able to access the charging port is absolutely necessary. Your client needs to be able to plug in the charger preferably without having to dismantle a covering or top treatment.
Whether you use an internal or external battery system, charging the system is a mandatory recurring event. The amount of time needed for a charge and how often you have to charge the battery is different for every system. Most need four to six hours to completely charge, and most systems need to be charged every nine to 12 months. This definitely varies by the size of the window covering and how often it is used, but these are fairly accurate expectations.
One very important aspect of charging any system is that all rechargeable batteries have memory. To get the most life out of your rechargeable system, make sure to follow your manufacturer’s directions for charging. Improper charging will greatly diminish the life of the battery system. Some of the higher-end systems have electronic components that regulate the charge and keep the batteries from overcharging. As I mentioned above, offering extra chargers so that clients can charge multiple motors at the same time can be a good idea as well.
One other option for charging the battery packs is a solar charging kit. With a solar kit, the solar panel creates the necessary power to keep the rechargeable batteries charged. The solar panel does not actually power the motor; it just charges the battery pack that is connected between the solar panel and motor. Although this does eliminate the need to plug in a charger, it also can create a mounting issue, since you will now have to mount a solar panel and battery pack if you are not using an internal battery system.
Lastly, there are two important concepts to consider when offering any rechargeable battery system. The first is the client’s need to access the charging port or battery pack. Consider the fact that your client may need to get on a ladder to charge or change the battery packs once or twice a year. Is that something they are willing and able to do? You might consider offering the ever-elusive service package plan where you offer to charge their systems on a regular basis. Just remember that unless you are going to hang around for four to six hours while the packs charge, you will have to make two or more trips.
The second important concept is that all rechargeable battery systems have a limited life span. By design, rechargeable batteries can only take a certain number of charge cycles before they stop accepting and retaining their charge. This means that once the battery has reached its life cycle limit, it will need to be replaced.
If you are using an external battery system, you only need to replace the battery pack when it no longer takes a charge. If you are using an embedded battery system, when the battery cell stops taking a charge you will need to replace the whole motor. With an average rechargeable battery life cycle of five to seven years, you can expect to have to replace the battery systems accordingly. As a salesperson, if you properly explain this to your clients, you can eagerly await their call in a few years to help them update their systems.
As you can see, there are some important concepts to consider before offering rechargeable systems to your clients. Just make sure that you both are on the same page and that you are setting the proper expectations for the smoothest possible outcome.
In the next edition of Motorization Playbook, we will discuss wiring specifications and options for hard-wired motorization systems.
O’D McKewan, the product coach for Window Covering World, is a master of motorization and a leader in the motorized window covering field. He has almost two decades of hands-on experience with motorized window coverings, including fabrication, installation and selling.