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Enhance Building Performance: Aesthetics with the Right Shades

A comfortable temperature and plenty of daylight are among the most attractive benefits commercial building owners can offer occupants. In addition to energy savings, solar shading solutions provide these essential benefits and contribute to a pleasant work atmosphere for those who spend their days working indoors.

Choosing the right shade color can have a dramatic performance and aesthetic effect in any building. Doing it correctly, however, isn’t simply black and white.

Managing Daylight

Performance-based design concepts emphasize the value of design and material selections as they relate to the successful implementation of the building. For instance, selection decisions such as shade fabric color and Openness Factor (OF) can impact the available daylighting for building occupants. As a result, architects, designers and building owners are incentivized to employ technologies that enhance daylighting, preserve views to the outdoors, and contribute to overall occupant wellbeing.

Solar control fabrics provide solutions for a wide range of daylight conditions for commercial buildings. Understanding the influence of shade color is the first step to managing daylight with shades. Fabrics for both interior and exterior shades generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Dark fabrics
  • Light fabrics
  • High-performance, thermal control fabrics

Choosing Shade Colors Based on Design Intent

Shade colors should be matched to the design intent of each building. Before choosing a shade fabric color solely on looks, it is important to evaluate the performance needs of the building. The specific needs of a building can be affected by its orientation, position relative to other buildings and the intensity of year-round sunlight based on local climate.  

It is equally important to understand the task needs of building occupants for proper daylighting. For retrofits and renovations, existing temperature readings and general observations of glare can be valuable information to determine the right shade color for the specific application. Of course, there are varieties of factors that come into play. They should be evaluated together to determine the best product selection that matches the design intent.

If an architect’s main design intent for adding shades is to maximize the reductions in annual energy consumption, then light colored shades should be considered for their thermal performance properties. Using light colored shades increases solar reflectance while maximizing daylighting. However, light colored shades may still experience glare and be highly visible to the exterior.

Conversely, if the design intent is for the shades to blend with the reflected color of the glazing, then darker shades are the best selection. Dark colored shades will maximize glare control and preserve views to the outdoors, but may absorb and re-radiate too much heat for occupants sitting close to the shade to be comfortable.

Light vs. Dark

To better understand the trade-offs between aesthetics and performance in light and dark shade colors, building owners must consider the distinct advantages and disadvantages of each choice:

Advantages of light shade colors:

  • Preserve natural light and reduce the need for artificial lighting
  • Reflect a higher percentage of solar energy
  • Reduce interior heat gain, resulting in lower energy expenditures for cooling
  • Increase privacy levels due to visible light reflectance (Rv) properties

Disadvantages of light shade colors:

  • High visible light transmission (Tv) values can add to visual discomfort or glare
  • Depending on glazing selection, may be highly visible from exterior and interfere with street-side aesthetics, causing unintended visual noise

Advantages of dark shade colors:

  • Significantly reduce Tv values and enhance glare control
  • Provide superior view-through for enhanced connection to the outdoors
  • Often virtually invisible to the street-side, providing exterior continuity to building aesthetics

Disadvantages of dark shade colors:

  • Absorb more solar heat than light colors
  • Can be less energy efficient when compared to light colors

Is Black the New White?

One option to simplify decision-making is to choose a shade fabric that has been designed for maximum performance across many conditions. This option allows building owners to ensure shades are aesthetically integrated into the building design, while also maintaining a comfortable interior space free of glare and excessive heat gain. Innovative shade fabrics that enable dark fabrics perform with levels of solar reflection that approach those of white or light fabrics, while still providing reduced glare and excellent visibility to the outdoors.

Color and Shades – the Great Equalizers

Shades aren’t simply window covering attachments meant to look beautiful on the inside of your space. Selecting the appropriate shade color for the building’s design intent will have a large impact in managing interior building temperatures, lighting and glare throughout the life of the building. Shades can effectively update the energy efficiency of older buildings and can be an attractive, sleek accessory to update a building aesthetically. Perhaps most importantly, they can be integral in delivering the level of occupant comfort and well-being that is desired in the built environments of today.

Colin Blackford is the Innovation Manager for Mermet USA. For more information, please visit

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