Lutron makes one of our favorite motorized shades, but the company also offers motorized blinds. What’s the difference? Window blinds are considered “hard” window coverings because they consist of slats—wooden, in this case—that drop down from the top of the window (or that slide left or right, in the case of vertical blinds).
The motor mounted in the headrail of the Serena blinds tilts the 2-inch slats for privacy and light control. The accumulated weight of the slats, however, makes them too heavy for the motor to lift—even though Lutron fabricates the slats from a soft, fine-grained timber called North American basswood. If you want to fully expose the window, you will need to lift the blinds by hand and pull them back down to close.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart shades and blinds, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
The upside is that tilting the slats from their closed position to allow maximum light into the room takes just a couple of seconds, versus 20 to 30 seconds to lift or roll up a fabric shade. The tilted slats in a blind can be adjusted to allow more light into the room than even a light-filtering shade, and they won’t entirely block your view out. Also, you can tilt the slats even if the blinds are partially lifted.
Lutron sells its Serena product line through custom installers who will take all the anxiety out of accurately measuring your windows and installing its products, or you can purchase them direct and install them yourself. We took the latter approach for this review. You can order single blinds in widths from 20 to 72 inches and in lengths up to 72 inches. The blinds are made to order, and it takes about two weeks for them to arrive at your home.
Styles and power options
Serena Smart Wood Blinds are available in four stained finishes (dark walnut, light oak, red mahogany, or walnut) and four painted finishes (arctic white, mist grey, soft white, or stone grey). Whether you choose an inside or outside mount (I went with the former), the blinds come with your choice of two valance styles that cover the headrail. The valances come in the same finish as the blinds, but one is slightly more ornate than the other. If you have very large windows or windows that are close together, you can mount two shades under a single valance (in widths from 40 to 96 inches).
Lutron offers these shades with battery (four D cells) or hardwired power options, the latter being either a $40 wall wart attached to a 15-foot cord for each shade, or a professionally installed Lutron Power Panel. The Power Panel can support multiple blinds and shades, but it costs $800, plus installation. I chose the battery option, as I believe most DIYers will. I ordered a pair for matching windows because I wanted to see if they would open and close in sync. They don’t quite manage that trick, but the delay hasn’t proven to be a bother because the transitions happen so quickly.
As with Lutron’s Serena motorized honeycomb shades, the batteries for its Serena wood blinds install in the front of the headrail. But rather than tilting the headrail down to expose the battery compartment, as you do with its shades, you slide the front of the valance down when you need to replace the batteries in the wood blinds. Battery life will, of course, depend on how often you adjust the tilt of the blinds, but I can report that the batteries in the company’s smart shade are still running strong after a year’s use with typically two operations (open at sunrise, close at sunset) per day. Having the battery compartment in the front of the headrail means there’s not much to see when viewed from outside the window, which is a good thing.
This is a good time to discuss control options. I’d say the simplest solution is to use Lutron’s Caséta smartphone app, but that depends on the presence of the Caséta Smart Bridge ($80), which I’ll get to in a moment. A less-expensive alternative is Lutron’s wafer-thin five-button Wood Blinds Pico remote, a $25 option with dedicated square buttons at the top and bottom for tilting the shade slats open and closed, respectively, triangular tilt-up and tilt-down buttons in the middle of the remote that adjust the tilt of the shades as long as you hold them down (until they reach their limits, that is), and a round “favorites” button in the middle of the remote that memorizes your preferred tilt position.
The Pico remote can be programmed to control just one Serena wood blind or as many as you’d like. Once programmed, pressing the buttons on the remote will control all the linked shades simultaneously—although as I’ve mentioned, not necessarily in perfect sync. This would work best for blinds installed on windows with the same exposure, allowing you to block glaring sunlight on some windows while still allowing light to come in from others.
Alternatively, you could pair each blind with its own remote, or assign groups of blinds to different remotes. However you set it up, the remote needs to be within about 30 feet of the blind(s) it’s intended to control. I didn’t order a Pico remote for these blinds, and I can’t say that I miss it. I’ll explain why next.
If you’re building out a smart home, or if you just want to use voice commands via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, you’ll need to pick up the aforementioned Caséta Smart Bridge. If you already own other Lutron smart home products, you probably already have one. This small device acts as a bridge between Lutron’s proprietary ClearConnect network and your home network.
This same bridge will also service the broad range of other Lutron smart home products, including its plug-in and in-wall switches and dimmers, ceiling fan controllers, motion sensors, and—of course—its motorized shades. The Caséta bridge is also compatible with Apple’s HomeKit technology and certain models of smart thermostats, and can even trigger Sonos speakers. The blinds themselves, oddly enough, are not HomeKit compatible.
With the Smart Bridge installed and start and end times programmed for each blind (this can be as simple as sunrise and sunset), a “natural light optimization” feature in the Lutron app will automatically control the tilt of the slats to admit daylight without exposing you to direct sunlight. The app tracks the location of the sun throughout the day so that during times when the sun is shining directly on a given window, the blind’s slats will tilt so that sunlight is directed up instead of directly into the room.
You’ll also need the Smart Bridge to set up automation schedules to adjust the blinds based on time of day and day(s) of the week, and to create “scenes.” Scenes can not only move the blinds but control all other Smart Bridge-compatible devices as well. I created a “Goodnight” scene that closed the Serena blinds in my master bedroom and the Serena shade in my master bathroom, turned off the ceiling fan in my home office (controlled by a Lutron Caséta fan controller) and the ceiling cans in my home theater (controlled by a Lutron Caséta in-wall smart dimmer), and paused the music on all my Sonos speakers.
You can also control Serena blinds using voice commands via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. I set up a routine for the Amazon Echo in my master bedroom that opens both blinds when I say “Alexa, open the blinds” and closes them with the command “Alexa, close the blinds.” (Actually, this command will work when spoken to any Echo-compatible device, but I use it most commonly when I’m in the same room as the blinds.)
As with smart window shades, the biggest barrier to outfitting your home with smart wood blinds is cost. The 34×58-inch Serena by Lutron Smart Wood Blinds ordered for this review cost $579 each (roughly $17 per inch, measured widthwise). Add in the $80 Lutron Caséta Smart Bridge (which I already had and heartily recommend) and the total bill would be $1,238. That makes them much more expensive than the DIY smart shades we’ve reviewed to date: $10 per inch for the Graber Virtual Cord, $13 per inch for the Powershade TruePoE roller shade, and $14 per inch for the Lutron Serena. (The cost of hubs, remotes, and other options is not included in my per-inch calculations to make apples-to-apples comparisons.)
Having a professional out to your home to measure your windows and install the blinds would add to that total, but I didn’t find this to be a particularly difficult DIY project (pro tip: Using a laser distance meter does a lot to alleviate anxiety over botched measurements).
Still, outfitting an entire home with smart blinds—or smart shades, for that matter—will entail an expenditure in the many thousands of dollars. If you decide to go down that path, you’ll likely want to do so one room or a couple rooms at a time. Cost aside, Serena by Lutron Smart Wood Blinds feature excellent build quality, look stylish, are easy to install, and are a snap to automate.
Wood blinds add an elegant flair to your home’s décor, and these Serena by Lutron Smart Wood Blinds offer sophisticated and inexpensive smart home options to boot. The blinds themselves, however, are anything but inexpensive.
Michael Brown – www.techhive.com